Christmas is a festive time of year, when family members get together to enjoy robust meals, open presents, and share good ole’ rare quality time. During the holidays, people tend to let bygones be bygones, differences become trivial, and allow their love for one another to rule the day. It’s the season of giving, cheerful volunteering, and routinely putting others before ourselves. Who wouldn’t love this time of year? I have an answer.
Prisons across this vast country incarcerate over 2.3 million people – PEOPLE! This means tens of millions of people are directly affected by this epidemic. Countless children wake up on Christmas morning to open gifts with one parent there to watch their shining faces as they rip open packages of their favorite toys, while the other (in most cases Daddy) sits in a cell, heartbroken that he has missed out on yet another Christmas Day with his family. If he’s lucky, he’ll get to make a limited phone call later in the day to wish his family a merry Christmas, but many are not even afforded this luxury.
I have been incarcerated for fifteen years, and am beyond blessed to have had the love of my family for the entire time. Others around me, however, have not been as blessed. It breaks my heart to see so many men for so many years go without even a single phone call on Christmas. They have no one to call; they have no family to answer on the other end, no family to send them a Christmas card, no family to come visit them. They carry on as though they are unfazed by their lack of family support, but when you’ve been around these people every day, year after year, their pain is evident in their faces, and heard in their voices.
Also evident however, is the camaraderie I have witnessed over the last decade and a half during this time of year. Guys come together unlike any other time of the year, piecing together assortments of canteen ingredients to prepare “spreads,” burritos, nachos, and any other fine prison cuisine they can concoct. The banter is louder, the playing is more, well, playful, and the overall mood is palpably more jovial. It’s certainly no replacement for time spent with our families, but the surrogate families that are created in prison and on full display during the holiday season is encouraging and dare I say even heartwarming. It is, in fact, all that many have to look forward to, accepting they can expect nothing from the outside world during this season.
Some are fortunate enough to receive visits – even on Christmas itself – and cards, to remind them they are still loved, important, and dearly missed. But then I am forced to think about the impact on the family that comes to see their confined loved one. How do they feel when they leave him or her behind and return home to enjoy their Christmas dinner, and open gifts? And how do they answer the four-year old who repeatedly asks why Daddy or Mommy is not home for this special day?
For those of you who have a family member incarcerated and are in a position to support him or her through their hardship, please know they appreciate your devotion more than they can ever express. I thank you for giving them the invaluable gift of knowing they still matter, despite the rest of the world having essentially forgotten they even exist. For those of you who know someone incarcerated but haven’t, for whatever reason, found time or energy to write, visit, or send a card in years, I strongly encourage you to find a way to do so this holiday season. The gesture would be met with indescribable gratitude. As mentioned earlier, I, personally, am grateful for the unwavering support my family has shown and continues to show through my plight; others in this horrid situation are not as fortunate. Therefore, it is my solemn plea to all who read this and know someone who is incarcerated to send a card or letter, or to visit during this precious holiday season. This is all I want for Christmas.
On this day, which is almost nine years in the making, I wish to dedicate this AI blog post to Michael Henderson. Michael’s hearing is today (finally!) and I am in attendance (we are finally in the same room!).
I have known Michael for going on three years. The past two he has spent in the Pinellas County Jail, most of that time waiting on his Public Defender to show up. Very rarely did he put in an appearance, nor did he accomplish one single thing in 20 months to progress Michael’s case. With thanks to a benefactor, his paid attorneys have taken the bull by the horns and the hearing is finally taking place today, Friday, March 16.
In the time Michael and I have known each other, we have exchanged countless letters and emails (not to mention spent a small fortune on phone calls – you’re welcome GTL!). Though I am quite biased, Michael’s words are pure treasure. In honor of his big day, the purpose of this post is to share some of his words with you:
- “I have been blessed with an understanding of the difference between what I need and what I think I need.”
- “I can tell you, without reservation, that some of the best people I have met in my life have been here in prison. The stories behind each one are as varied as the individuals who live it.”
- “If prison doesn’t teach you patience, tolerance, and humility, you probably aren’t teachable.”
- “Keep strong in all you face, tempered with compassion, topped with love.”
- “A slice of life only tastes really good when you share it with a friend; otherwise you keep eating humble pie.”
- “I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I will ask the questions, and hopefully, that’s a starting point. As for my part, I pledge to have personal accountability and invite anyone to join me, whether you are in a prison or a palace, change starts with you.”
- “No matter how long I’m in prison, I will not allow prison to reside in me.”
- “It’s not rocket surgery.”
Please take a moment to send a blessing to whatever power you believe rules the universe for our incarcerated loved ones everywhere. And remember – do all things with Love.
Leah a.k.a. Dove
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) is in the process of implementing a new service for our inmate population. Through JPay Inc., a Florida–based company, the Department will make available a variety of multimedia services to inmates through both an interactive kiosk, available in each general population housing unit, and secure tablets. These services are geared toward enhancing family connections, expanding educational opportunities, and incentivizing positive inmate behavior at no cost to the Florida taxpayer.
FDC will implement kiosk services in all major correctional institutions, annexes, work camps, re–entry centers, and Department–operated Community Release Centers throughout the state. Implementation of kiosks began in August 2017, with a projected completion date in the Spring of 2018. Upon completion of the kiosk implementation, secure tablets will be made available for purchase. (projected Spring 2018). Educational content, including JPay’s Learning Management System (LMS) Lantern LMS and Khan Academy Lite videos will be available.
Additional services include:
|Kiosk Services||Tablet Options|
|Secure Email, including pictures||Educational Content (including JPay’s Learning Management System (LMS) Lantern LMS and Khan Academy Lite videos)|
|Video Visitation||Movies (available for rental)|
|Electronic Greeting Cards||eBooks and Audio Books|
|Link to Employ Florida Marketplace job search||Video Grams|
Video visitation will be offered at the cost of $2.95 per 15-minute session, making it a very affordable option for inmates who want more access to their families, and competitive with the rates in other states.
Secure Mail is available to inmates at a cost of $0.39/stamp, with one stamp purchasing one email. This is $0.10 cheaper than the cost of a first-class postage stamp, currently at $0.49. The cost of Secure Mail covers the cost of the infrastructure to support it and monitoring of the messages for safety and security purposes.
All inmates who currently have a digital music player, through an existing contract with Keefe Commissary Network, are eligible receive a free JP5mini tablet, along with a $10 credit to apply to media purchases. All other inmates will have an opportunity to purchase either the JP5mini (4.3” tablet) for $79.99 or the JP5S (7” tablet) for $129.99. Additionally, for the first 60 days after implementation at their institution, inmates can purchase tablets for a 50% discount.
Each secure tablet will come with complementary content, provided at no additional cost to the inmate, including several games, 100 classic eBooks, relaxation music, and access to educational content including Khan Academy Lite videos and GED preparation. The cost of games, movies, ebooks, audiobooks, and music will vary depending on the item purchased, similar to how prices in online stores like Apple iTunes and Google Play vary.
The Department is committed to ensuring that services provided to inmates are offered at a fair and reasonable cost that maximizes the use and benefits of these services. Through careful monitoring and a clear contract, this partnership with JPay, Inc. has the potential to modernize programming for inmates and provide the Department a delivery channel for future innovative programming ideas.
Dear Potential Adopter,
I want to thank you for taking this first step.
For most of my life I believed what the media and television wanted me to believe. Everyone convicted by the courts is a criminal and should be thrown in prison. The keys should be tossed into a lake somewhere and they should spend the rest of their miserable lives behind bars and barbed wire – so that the rest of us will be protected from them.
I believed them to be sub-human, not worthy of … anything, to be honest. When I would hear about them watching cable TV I was outraged. I mean, who do they think they are? Cable TV? Health care? A decent meal? Bread and water, I say! Don’t spend my hard-earned tax dollars on trying to help some … some convict. They’re nothing but a bunch of animals – sausages, all of them. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have stayed out of prison. My life hasn’t been a bed of roses. Let them suffer, I say.
Then I found myself standing before a jduge, court-appointed attorney by my side. I’ll be okay. I’ve seen the TV shows. I’ve been a firefighter for 26 years. I’m one of the good guys.
My heart leaps to my throat. Eight years. The sound of the gavel makes it official. I’m now one of “them.”
My family still believes as I once did, never having had to experience the judicial process. I’ve been deemed guilty, therefore I am. They turn their back on me and I find myself alone, in a place not meant for me, with no one to talk to. I’m afraid. I’m surrounded by “them.”
Weeks, then months pass. It can’t be. How is this possible? “They” are just like me. I’m no longer afraid. We talk and I realize we’re not so different. Am I becoming an animal? A sausage? Or had I been wrong all these years? Are these convicts actually human? With feelings? And people who care about them? I was so sure of myself. How could I have been so wrong? Me? I’m usually right.
Months turn into years. I now have friends. I share in their happiness, their pain. I read about a birthday, a graduation, a death. We smile, shed tears, but they never ask me about my family, because they know I’m one of them now.
I go into my cell. Bury my head. I don’t want them to know.
You may not think a few words scratched on a piece of paper to be very important but I want to let you know that they can be life changing. You have an opportunity to truly touch another human being in a way that most cannot comprehend. I’ve seen the power of words turn men away from hate and violence and lead them to enlightenment.
You may not think you have anything to offer or anything in common with someone in prison. Trust me. It doesn’t matter. Just knowing you took the time to write is more than enough to form a bond and cause one of “them” to come out from under his blanket and yell, “Hey, Fred! Look what I just got!”
If you would like to drop Kenneth a line, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for his contact info.