I love you. I know you know that, but I feel it’s important to explicitly reaffirm it from time to time. Where do I begin? I don’t quite know, but there is so much in me that I want to express to you, so you’ll know exactly what’s in my heart.
First, I cannot express how truly lucky and blessed I am to have had you as my brother and best friend my entire life. My dear twin. My brother. My other half. Despite the fact that we are fraternal and, therefore, only share 50% of our DNA, we couldn’t be closer in every other way. We shared the same space for nine months. We were glued at each other’s hip growing up, involved in many years of Little League, Boy Scouts, and Pop Warner football together. Where one of us went, the other was only steps behind. What one of us did, the other was sure to follow. You were my security blanket in school because I knew I was never alone. My shyness kept me from freely making new friends, but with you by my side I didn’t feel compelled to. I cannot thank you enough for that, Brother.
When we came of age and gained some independence from Mom and Dad, boy, did we take advantage of it! We did many mischievous things during our identity-formation years as teens, but then you scaled back and managed to figure things out before life got out of control. I, on the other hand, was a bit more hard-headed.
Even though I wound up in prison at 19, you didn’t condemn me, make me feel less than you; instead, you were there to visit me every chance you got. You were always quick to put money on my books, answer my expensive collect calls, and even sat down many a night to write me letters (Lord knows you dreaded that!). You sacrificed so much to ensure that your twin was okay in this dreaded situation.
When I got out at 22 you were there with Dad to pick me up. Our three-year separation had taken a toll on the both of us, but now we were reunited and vowed to never be separated like that again. You took me everywhere I needed to go (treatment meetings, parole officer’s, dentist and doctor appointments), despite the fact you worked hard and had your own obligations. If there was ever a way to repay you for your tremendous generosity, I would have done it. But then again, you would never accept anything from me because you saw yourself doing what any twin brother would do for his other half. This is just another testament to how blessed I am to have you as my brother, my best friend, my other half.
Then I put you in the worst situation one could have that fateful night in 2003. I disregarded your life when I ignored your dire warnings to slow down; instead I defiantly sped up and recklessly crashed. Thank God you were not injured. I don’t know how I could have lived with myself had I hurt you – or worse. The thought itself makes my stomach churn.
I put you in this horrid situation once again: collect calls, visits, letters and birthday cards through the mail. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t even come close to the level of remorse and regret I have for not living up to my vow to never separate us again. Yet, staying true-to-form, you never held it against me or made me feel worse than I already felt when this happened — that’s not who you are. Having said that, I still can’t help but live with great disappointment for letting you down; for subjecting you to this life of supporting your brother behind bars. But you are not one to complain, and haven’t in the now-15 years you have been in my corner. Words are simply incapable of adequately conveying my immense gratitude toward you.
Twin Brother, I could not have a stronger bond with another human being on this planet. You have been my best friend and role model for many years. I have always admired you for so many reasons — both growing up and now at 39 years old; but not even this can compare to how much I love and appreciate you. Thank you for never giving up on me, supporting me unwaveringly through my darkest hours, and showing me what unconditional love looks like. I love you.
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.
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.