If you are a “sucker for love” like I am, whatever you do, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to begin corresponding with a a prisoner! Because no matter HOW MANY times you tell yourself you are JUST reaching out a hand in friendship, you WILL eventually fall for your “pen pal”. Trust me, I know this from first hand experience.
Back in May, after reading “The New Jim Crow“, I decided that I wanted to do some work towards prison/criminal (in)justice reform. So, I joined a group on facebook dedicated to changing the way the criminal (in)justice system works. And I posted a message asking for anyone who would like to discuss the issues and what can be done to ameliorate racism in the system to please contact me.
My first message was from a man named Dante. His fiance maintains a facebook page for him, as he has been a prisoner for the past 12 years, convicted of murder as a juvenile (he actually was an accessory, but was still charged as a principle). He was bamboozled into accepting a deal that was not in his best interest, and now he devotes much of his time and energy into changing the way juveniles are treated by the (in)justice system. I began writing to him, believing that someone INSIDE the prison system would be able to best inform me as to what needed to be done to bring about true reform.
So, we began corresponding. Things went very well, so I decided I wanted to open myself up to correspondence with other inmates as well. I went to a prison pen pal website, looked through the profiles, tried to find men who seemed to be “conscious” and dedicated to changing themselves AND the corrupt system,and started to write letters. And, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I enjoyed being able to discuss my viewpoints with other like minded individuals. I had 5 pen pals, and we would discuss issues of racism and corruption in the (in)justice system and in the American system as a whole.
Then, I met Carlos. And, wow, how things changed. My first letter to him outlined what I was looking for… a relationship in which we could correspond on a regular basis, in the spirit of friendship but ALSO as political comrades. I could tell from his ad that he was a “conscious” individual, as many men who have spent time in prison become after being in that environment. He was a Muslim, and for years I have wanted to learn more about Islam. He was an older man, and he seemed wise, with a lot to offer as a “mentor”. So, I decided to send him a letter. I CLEARLY TOLD HIM I was looking for friendship and political conversation ONLY. I shared some of my political views with him, and asked him to share his. We began to email each other back and forth, and I sent him my phone number.
Well, from our very first conversation, I was HOOKED. I seriously thought this man was a mind reader, because ALL OF THE THINGS I believed in, he was expressing to me BEFORE I EVER MENTIONED THEM. After our first conversation, I spent hours thinking “Why can’t I meet a man like him out here?? Why do I have to meet him when he is in a circumstance where I cannot see or touch him, cannot hold him? Where do they make men like him, and how can I find one for myself?” But, I STILL was going to keep my distance. I was determined not to fall for YET ANOTHER man who was unavailable to me.
But, after speaking to each other every day, constant emails back and forth and daily letters, apparently, my heart decided it was time to throw caution to the wind. Yup, always a sucker for love, I fell HARD. I could not imagine feeling such a strong connection with another individual. I imagined us spending our lives together, being “righteous warriors” for justice. I pictured us raising a family together, raising children who were “soldiers” for the cause.
Carlos told me he loved me. I told him I loved him. We spoke about what we would do together, where we would live, how we would run our lives when he became a free man. He asked me to come visit him. He wanted me to speak to his sisters and his mother, to get to know his family. He sent me a book that portrays the environment he grew up in. And, unlike the image that people have of prison pen pals, Carlos never asked me for a thing. Not a penny for his commissary, not a single gift, all he wanted was someone to write to and speak with. He even pays for his own phone calls.
I talk to Carlos almost every day now. He is the most supportive man I have ever met. I can tell him my dreams, my hope, my fears, and he is there for me. He encourages me to do things that my inhibitions have keep my from doing. He cheers me up when I am sad, and comforts me when I am scared. He is the perfect boyfriend.
Ummm, yeah, slight problem. As much as I love Carlos, and he claims to love me, it is all an illusion. A pipe dream. He is in a federal penitentiary and will be until 2042, barring a miracle.
Part of me wishes I had never written that first letter. I do not know if I am cut out to be the girlfriend of a prisoner, it is NOT something I ever IMAGINED I would be involved in. But, I should have seen it coming. As a “sucker for love” from birth, I should have KNOWN I would fall for this man, sight unseen. Do I sometimes wish I could go back in time and decide not to write that first letter? Of course. But, part of me knows that my life is a happier place with Carlos in it.
But, I want to warn the other people out there who are also “suckers for love”. If you do not want to fall for someone who is literally unavailable to you, DO NOT write that first letter to a prisoner. Because just like iron is strengthened by being put in a fire, many individuals who are in the prison system have become the strong, self assured, culturally and politically aware people that we dream of having in our lives.