The Power of a Letter by Tina LaChange

The Power of a Letter by Tina LaChange

We’re so pleased to introduce one our newest volunteers, Tina in Canada, whose work behind the scenes to help with our enormous backlog has been absolutely invaluable. Here she writes a warm and lovely tribute to her grandmother, and vividly describes the value and impact of letter writing.
 

 
When I served away (in the military) for weeks or months at a time, I imagined life at home coming to a complete stand still. But letters from our homeland remind us that time marches on; babies born, degrees earned, marriages begun (and some ended), promotions and demotions received, loved ones passing — and every life scenario not mentioned occurring in between. It was easy to believe that everyone was wondering what I was doing, the same way I was imagining what they were up to. But without mail, a person feels the sting of being out of sight and out of mind.
 
Handwriting a letter is mostly a lost art now. In my childhood years, I would receive beautifully hand-written letters from my Grandma Jean on stationary she thoughtfully selected. Often the artwork of the stationary matched the season or even my Grandmother’s mood. Sometimes in her haste to send me a note, she would grab a discarded grocery list or write on the back of a flyer — she never wasted paper, nor the opportunity to re-use a sheet if one side remained bare. I carried on her tradition and enjoy buying cards and sending them to loved ones far away — and even to those near me. I often slip a handwritten note to my children under their pillow, penning a sentiment of how I feel about them or an affirmation of their worth.
 
Letters say this: you’re worth the time it took to write this, you’re worth the cost of the stamp, you’re worth the walk to the postbox to send it!
 
This is why Adopt an Inmate has appealed so deeply to my senses. A letter (to an inmate) says: I stopped everything I was doing — to think of you — to reach out to you. In this moment I’m here with you. My friendship is tucked into this envelope. It’s a special part of me and I’ve chosen to send it to you. I hold no record of your wrong-doings. Your offenses do not offend me. This letter comes to encourage you, never to discourage you. My letters to you will carry your birthday wishes and acknowledge the holidays you choose to celebrate. I want to make time in my days to affirm that you matter.
 
My Grandma’s notes scribbled on the back of a grocery list spoke volumes to me about my worth. They were as important and as cherished as the pop-up birthday cards and sticker-embellished Christmas stationary she would send. My Grandma passed away before I traveled for work, so I never experienced hearing my name called by the Postmaster to say a letter had arrived from her. Her letters would have been a welcome reprieve from the dust and deprivation of the Middle East — but she did establish a set of values in me that I want to pass onto my children and others. Words matter. Words can give life to a dying soul. If you have 20 minutes a month and a stamp, you could write to a person who would be dramatically affected for the better by your compassion to reach out. You don’t need fancy stationary. You don’t even need paper, if email is your preference, but I would encourage you to consider the value of a hand-written or typed note, or even a scribbled note on a postcard. You could be the reason someone has felt love for the first time in a long time. You could be the reason that someone was reminded that they still matter. Mail has a peculiar way of arriving at the exact moment a person needs it most. Please consider adopting an inmate today.
Cards, Letters and Jail Shenanigans

Cards, Letters and Jail Shenanigans

Regardless of the typical squabbles between siblings, my brother has always been someone I’ve looked up to — it’s even fair to say I have idolized him. (Except for the times I want to smash his face in, like all siblings do from time to time). Growing up, he was both the comic relief and the genius of the family. The class clown. Popular with teachers and students — though he didn’t seem to notice that. Every single one of my girlfriends had a crush on him (which continued after we became adults). He is the favored uncle to my kids. He’s HIGH-larious. Seriously — he’s Jerry Seinfeld-funny. He has the kind of talent as a musician that intimidates other artists. He has a photographic memory – I’ve never seen anything like it. (A friend was stunned when Rick described what was on page eight of a schematic he hadn’t seen in years). He is wrong so infrequently that it is super annoying. I mean come on! He’s impossible to argue with, which is usually why I want to smash his face in. I used to argue with him constantly. He’s my only sibling. When he and his wife bought property in Texas back in 2000, turning the talk of a long-distance move into reality, I couldn’t even speak the news out loud. It felt like I was losing my best friend. I thought it was the worst news ever.

It wasn’t. In the summer of 2013, our dad delivered the actual worst news ever. Rick had been arrested, because someone told a lie. A monstrous lie. In Texas, that’s a go-directly-to-jail card. Everything in my life is measured by that day — what happened before it, and what happened after it.

I wrote the true story below back in December of 2014, after a year and a half of the daily anguish every family member knows only too well when you’re seeing someone you love suffer unjustly.

And yet, one of the first things Rick said to me from a phone in Travis County Jail was, “There are a lot of good people in here. And a lot of sad stories.” In the midst of his own despair, he wanted to do something to help people — and Adopt an Inmate was born.

While, three and-a-half years after his arrest, we have adjusted to a “new normal,” and it helps Rick and the whole family every time we can share news that we’re helping more people — certain memories still feel like a fresh kick in the gut. This is one of them.

I hardly ever want to smash his face in any more.


Cards, Letters and Jail Shenanigans

It took four attempts to collect it from the jail. After a number of blatant lies and conflicting stories from a handful of guards and post officers, the bag was lost. We feared it had been thrown in the trash. On the third attempt to collect it, I was shouted at by one of the guards, who literally refused to hear anything I had to say.

Finally on the fourth attempt – I was shown some measure of civility by one guard, who informed me that the property had been located, and would be walked over to the video visitation building, where I was waiting for my last visit with my brother before I flew back home, and before he would be moved to prison. The guard who shouted at me exhibited great maturity when, after the bag was delivered, refused to hand me the bag even though it was six inches in front of her on the counter. She actually called another guard over (the civil one) to pick it up from in front of her and hand it to me.

This is what it’s like to try to get anything done for someone who is in jail. It is exactly how everything else has gone since this nightmare began. Save for a few angels, it is pure hell.

But wait, there’s more.

Because I was made to wait an hour and a half for the visit, even though there were over 20 —TWENTY! — available video booths and zero people ahead of me (they have perfected the art of causing families to suffer every possible unnecessary nuisance), I missed my flight. Then because of weather (now the landing time would be after dark), the connecting flight was first delayed, and then diverted, so instead of arriving home at six pm that day, I landed at an airport in a different city, and took a two and-a-half hour bus shuttle, arriving home at 4:00 the next morning.

Thanks, Travis County Correctional Center.

property bag

This bag of letters was my carry-on. I held on to that bag like it was made of gold, as if Rick himself were in there. I carried it with me through the airport to my connecting gate, clutching it until my flight finally departed. I read the cards and letters in the air, and wept quiet tears of both joy and grief, trying not to disturb my seat mates.

Among the letters were also notes from other inmates, that Rick would pass on to us so that we could contact family members and give them messages. There are many pre-trial detainees that don’t have someone on the outside with the resources to help them, so we tried to fill that gap when we could – but mostly we felt helpless.

Innocent until proven guilty? No. Not in this country. Unless you are wealthy, or have some substantial political clout, you will not be permitted to participate in your own defense. If you are charged – you’re going down.

This, and every other shenanigan we have been forced to go through, is exactly why we are starting a non-profit, to address these kinds of issues. These people have no lobbies, and thus no voices – their stories go unheard, their urgent needs unmet. That is not okay.

Look for news about our non-profit in the near future, and please continue to send cards and letters while we wait out this next chapter. We’ll get through it by focusing on this positive work, and looking forward to his release.

Trust me, there will be a big party. You’re all invited, and I can’t wait to see you there.