Nine years ago today I walked into court with my wife of nineteen years on my arm. We were nervous but sure that we would be walking out together. We. were both wrong.
Nine years ago today my nightmare began and it was a journey that only got worse as it went. I lost the great loved of my life. She was my Goddess, my muse, and my passion, and despite all of the betrayal, I still miss her.
Prison is an adventure in losses. In the first year you lose the respect of your children, the love, loyalty and faithfulness of your spouse. Losing your freedom is only the beginning. It is also the one that hurts the least compared to your other loses.
It isn’t until your second year that you actually find out that your wife took a lover only a few weeks after your conviction. This is around the same time that you find out that she has given birth to a child that could not possibly be yours and you are served with child support papers and divorce papers in the same month.
The very last thing you finally lose is the one thing that is easiest to lose given the circumstances but it’s the one thing you need the most. I’m speaking of hope.
All of your aspirations of greatness, of creating an enduring positive legacy is gone. You are a fragile shell of a man. You need a hero in your life, somebody capable of sharing their greatness.
Nobody is born great. Sure some people may be born with expectations of doing great things during their life because of family history. Sometimes those expectations fall short of the dreams of those who raised or even created the person in question.
Perhaps greatness is not something your born with or even aspire to but is something different. Maybe it’s something that happens most unexpectedly by those who have the singular characteristic of being compassionate.
As I write this, I’ve had the extreme pleasure of being a lucky individual who was adopted 34 months ago through Adopt an inmate by Clare. Our relationship has its ups and downs as every relationship does. There are rare times that myself and Clare both struggle to keep the long distance relationship going. Running out of things to talk about in our emails is a real problem from time to time. I’ve found that by opening myself up, making myself vulnerable even to the point of making serious mistakes is the best way to have a lasting and honest friendship. Most of the time our friendship is just so easy and comfortable. It’s like being hugged by for the very first time every single time I receive a letter or email from her.
Having no expectations but keeping yourself open to the possibilities of a good friend I feel is the secret to being adopted and having that friendship last.
Clare has become a proxy for all of the people I lost. She reminds me that life continues even during the worst of times. She is just a caring person with a little extra time that she wishes to share that time with me.
With the millions stuck at home bored out of your skull ask yourself. Do you have the time, the compassion to be a light in the darkness of somebody’s nightmare. Then consider Adopt an inmate. You can’t binge watch The Office forever you know.
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.
We are so pleased to partner with Ashley Asti. Ashley creates organic custom skin and body oils to honor the skin and soul, with a commitment to ethical creation, sustainability and wellness. She is also one of our adopters.
Each month, Ashley Asti donates a custom oil “to an individual who deserves access to loving self-care, nourishment, and celebration but who may not be able to afford one of my oils on her or his own.”
I was thrilled and grateful to be the recipient of my own custom-made oil this month. Along with the oil, Ashley provided a lengthy description of every ingredient in the bottle and its function.
In Ashley’s own words:
I set out to write women who are incarcerated because I wanted them to know that they are not alone. I wanted them to know that they are loved and supported and that their stories and lives matter because, the truth is, we heal with love, not isolation. But what I’ve gotten in return is a gift far greater and far more precious than any I can offer.
The letters these women, these now friends, send me are lessons in life. I am moved by the strength they hold, the endurance they convey, the powerful rumblings of faith that seem to lift themselves up off the page. These women are my sisters in spirit, guiding me.
I stand with Adopt an Inmate because caring about and respecting all living beings matters, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. Because, in truth, we are destined to bring ourselves down until we know that dehumanizing one dehumanizes all. Bars, isolation, and violence are no longer the answer. We must find better ways to heal and co-create justice.
See these additional worthy organizations that Ashley partners with.
This month at AI we’re coordinating with many of our angel volunteers to get holiday greetings out to prisoners all around the country.
Thanks to everyone who is helping in this effort, including Jen at Inmates Matter Too (and her volunteers), and many of our adopters, including our friend Ashley Asti (visit her shop for organic and ethical skin care products this month, and 20% of your purchase goes to charity).