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.
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.
This publication was created for you – family members, friends, and advocates of prisoners. In each issue you will find useful resources for and from inmates; artwork, stories, recommendations from both adopters and adoptees; and news from the staff. Don’t forget to print and send a copy to your inmate loved one. We welcome your feedback and comments.
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People hate us. It sounds melodramatic, but it is true nonetheless. We’re hated by each other, by people on the outside, and by people working on the inside. By ‘us,’ I mean incarcerated persons. Offenders, inmates, convicts, prisoners. And there are people who make it their mission in life to let us know that hatred is all we deserve.
An inmate can be persuaded otherwise through cards and letters. Phone and visitation are also effective ways to do this, but it all starts with mail. You can’t visit me or receive a phone call until one or two letters pass between us. Therefore, those who staff prison and jailhouse mailrooms have the power to wreak havoc on an inmate’s psyche. The mailroom is the hub of most love entering or leaving prison. Limit mail? Limit hope.
This isn’t lost on people working in mailrooms nor those who make rules and regulations governing mail delivery. Some examples:
Stickers – Many prison mailroom employees around the country believe stickers are abhorrent. It is unclear why adhesive is so detested. Prison mailrooms consider it so dangerous, mail will be returned to sender if any adhesive-backed material is attached anywhere on a piece of mail – including an address label. It is a wonder why stamps exempted from the no-sticker rule.
Pictures – There is a major industry which supplies provocative photos to prison inmates. Inmates pick from proof sheets supplied by various companies and take their choices to the mailroom when they are ready to order. Personnel review photos after they arrive to ensure they aren’t too revealing. They will also carefully scan any photo sent by family members. An inmate I know was told that a picture of his four-year-old daughter had been rejected because she was flashing a gang sign. He later found out she was holding up a peace sign.
Address rules – Letters from prison require complete return addresses in case they contain threats or illegal instructions. The USPS doesn’t care as long as the ‘To’ address is deliverable. I once absent-mindedly omitted the city and zip code of the return address on a letter. Rather than add this to the envelope, a ten-second operation, the mailroom employee grabbed a carbon-copy form, filled out the violation details, stapled it to the envelope, and sent it back for correction. After I completed the missing information and dropped the letter back into the mailbox, it was rejected once more (in triplicate) because I had used an abbreviated first name (Rick, instead of Richard).
Handmade items – Some mailrooms will reject homemade cards – something children love to make for loved ones in prison. An inmate on my wing needed to mail a large drawing but couldn’t afford the 8″ x 15″ envelope from commissary. He made his own envelope. The mailroom rejected it, claiming that the envelope “couldn’t be properly inspected.” Someone donated an official envelope and helped transfer the stamps from the rejected envelope. Technically this was also a rule violation. Inmates aren’t allowed to give commissary items to one another. Its considered extortion. Don’t give a friend a stamp or an envelope — it leads to rape. Or so one would think.
Stationary – Families in Texas were once able to send their incarcerated loved ones writing pads, pens, pencils, and even stamps. No longer. Other states have followed suit and force inmates to purchase stationary at inflated prices.
Postage – Commissary sells various stamp denominations but nothing else that might be useful. For instance, USPS offers a flat rate box which is economical — compared to stamps — if one needs to send home books. Because mailrooms are notorious for banning books, inmates often have to pay return postage for a rejected book. Not only will the mailroom refuse to sell you a flat rate box but they will also inflate the number of stamps required to send bulky items. Because they can, prison scum.
Eff Ewe – Maine recently tried to ban all non-legal mail to any of its prison inmates. Only judicial notices and legal correspondence would have been allowed. If the people of Maine hadn’t stopped the proposal, I have no doubt that many other states would have done the same. They may even yet try.
There are some reasonable rules regarding mail delivery which aim to ensure prison security, say, don’t send explosives or metal files through the mail. Yet, when you look at many rules and more importantly, the way they are enforced, it’s obvious that safety is merely a lame excuse offered for efforts to drain hope from the incarcerated. On its face this seems odd, doesn’t it? Why would prison officials want to squash an inmate’s hope? Because they don’t know who they’re supposed to serve. If they were intent on serving society, they would turn out hopeful, educated individuals who are ready to lead positive, productive lives. Instead, they make decisions which tend to embitter and degrade their charges— the very thing which leads to recidivism— costing society dearly.
Of course, not everyone can be educated. Not everyone can be turned from their anti-social behavior. Certainly though, belligerence and hatred greatly lowers the odds that one will leave prison better than when they entered.
The prison mailroom should be a conduit for love and hope and it is in many cases. It could be more, and you can be a part of that more if you’re on the outside reading this.
You could adopt a inmate, for instance. If you’re so inclined, you could also help by raising awareness about spiteful prison mail policies. Share this. End hateful prison mailroom practices.
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).
Thanks to our supporters on both sides of the wall, we are less than $600 away from our goal of $3,000 for our website fundraiser!
From the letter above, which included a donation of six stamped envelopes from an Arizona prisoner:
“You have taken on an enormous task, and placed on your shoulders a heavy burden, because on your shoulders you now carry the hope of those who were hopeless.
Prisoners who have jobs get paid 35¢ an hour (some a bit more). So please keep in perspective that each letter you receive with a SASE represents two hours of raking dirt in 105° Arizona heat, or sweating in a humid upholstery shop. Their letters to you are no small investment but they are worth it to these men. Because they carry hope.”
Volunteers have been working around the clock in preparation for the launch of our re-designed website. Completion of this project will enable us to reach more adopters, and in turn, more forgotten inmates.
Send us some love this holiday, please help us raise
the final $600
We are a registered domestic non-profit and rely solely on donations. no one at AI receives a salary, and 100% of donations benefit prisoners directly. If everyone reading this gave a few dollars, our goal would be met in an hour.