Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#39 Prison Mail (new)

Prison Mail

Today I wanted to touch on one of the many issues when it comes to prison talk, and one anybody with a loved one can relate to. Today I want to chat a little about prison mail.

Before I get into that, I want to remind some of you that I will be sharing a prison short story on my anchor blog soon, and it won’t be shared anywhere else. As you know, I currently blog on 3 sites, but I will make one my anchor because it might allow me to monetize it and try to earn some money. So for that reason there will be times I share blogs there that I do not share on the other two. If you are reading my blogs and notice spaces between my numbers ,that means you aren’t reading my anchor blog. You can always ask me where it is, I will be happy to share that with you.

Now, I wanted to get into the idea of prison mail, because it is one of the three forms of communication you are allowed with a loved one in prison, the other two being visitation and phone calls. Now remember, this is not the same across the board, every prison is different, so don’t take my word as gospel.

I could really, really get deep into this but I don’t want to exhaust myself on these issues unless I know I have a group of people wanting to know more about it. So what I will talk about is the idea of prisons treating an inmate’s mail.

One great advantage I have in prison writing is that I wrote numerous journals while I was in prison, and many, many letters. I made the mistake of throwing away my writings while I was in jail for 17 months, but everything I wrote while in prison I have. The advantage it gives me is that while time may pass and I might naturally forget details, with a journal it is impossible to forget, because those details were recorded. It is that example I want to share with you today.

I have a large stack of writings from prison, and one of the is about the idea of prisons and how they might treat inmate mail. I want to share with you something I wrote while at Tyrrell Prison Work Farm in 2000. To set this up, let me give you the quick notes:

I had been at Pasquotank Correctional in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and was just transferred from there to Tyrrell Prison Work Farm in Columbia, North Carolina. But my concern was my mail, and if I would still receive it. I had written many, many letters, and I do get mail quite often while in prison, but with a transfer, what would the prison do with my mail. Would they forward it to me or destroy it? Who knows?

I was on the camp for a few weeks and realized that I was not getting any mail, and was concerned about this. I didn’t quite know what to do, and I had not yet begun to start writing grievances, so the only thing I could do was write to myself, kinda like thinking aloud. This is what I wrote:

“Page 17 of the Rules and Policies of the Department of Correction state that as far as incoming mail is concerned, if I am having any of my mail withheld from me, I must be told in writing for the reason for that action. I bring this up because since I was transferred from Pasquotank Correctional Institute to Tyrrell, I’ve only received one letter from PCI.

I have reason to believe that PCI is unfairly withholding my mail. I was transferred here because of an investigation on an high ranking official who said something about inmates contrary to the 8th Amendment. At this point I have been here at Tyrrell for over 3 weeks, and I have only received one letter, from In Touch Ministries.

I know I have more mail than that for several reasons. One, while at PCI I received mail almost every day, and many times it was more than one letter. Two, the week before I transferred, I mailed out at least a dozen letters. Three, I receive mail regularly from several ministries like Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Victory Christian Center, Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Jesse Duplantis Ministries, and others. Each ministry sends a letter, small booklet or their monthly magazine or any combination. Between those 4, and In Touch Ministries, I get something every week. And that doesn’t include Joyce Meyer Ministries, Faith Correspondence School, Mac Hammond Ministries, Dennis Burke Ministries and more. As I said before, I get mail nearly every day at PCI. So why haven’t I received it here?

I asked about the situation, but it took a week for the mailroom to even get around to me. I got here (Tyrrell) March 23rd. As of this date, April 14th, I’ve yet to get my back mail. What can I do if indeed PCI has withheld my mail, sent it back, or destroyed it?”

As you can see, I was very concerned about my mail, and was wondering what Pasquotank was doing to my mail. My transfer from PCI was not normal, it was based on retaliation after what a captain said to me, something that could quite easily gotten him in a lot of hot water….and in fact must have stirred something because the prison shipped me out without a request. Funny that, PCI was filled with guys dying to get a transfer, and I get one with no effort at all…even against my wishes.

I sat at Tyrrell Prison waiting for some mail, any mail, and only received one. One thing I did probably better than anybody was write, and I wrote my butt off. It was very common for me to send mail, not just to ministries, but also to prison officials and government officials and the sort. So it was also common for me to receive mail as well. But when you are at a camp 3 weeks with only one letter to show for it, something is wrong.

Normally what prisons do with inmate mail is simply reroute it on the prison bus. You see, here in NC inmates are usually transferred on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When they do, not only do they load up on the prison bus, but all the mail as well. If I was shipped to Tyrrell, then that next Tuesday or Thursday, any mail that went to Pasquotank should have been saved and put on the bus on shipping day, and it would have been sent to the proper prison where I was.

If I am accurate in what I said, and I think I am, then my mail should have started getting to me inside of a week…not three weeks. There is no way a letter in the prison system should take 3 weeks to get to me, if it has been sent to the location I formerly was. It caused a lot of frustration with me, because I had to wonder, what are they doing with my mail. Are they reading it, did they discard it? Did they “return to sender”? What if it was important mail, like money from mom, or an important letter from someone who read about the things I was writing about? I had no way of knowing, or trusting that the prison would honor my mail. And that caused me to worry.

I don’t think I ever got my back mail, which may be one of the reasons I started writing as much as I did. It was about this time, while at Tyrrell Prison, that I realized that prisons will do what they want, whether they should or not, as long as it will benefit the prison. I was starting to learn about this time that sometimes you really have to stand up for yourself, if for nothing more than to stand your ground. As I look back at this old journal I wrote, it was one of the foundations for all the things I would write while in prison. Without knowing it, I was about to make a lot of enemies from the prison system, and get kicked out of several before my release. In fact, me being at Tyrrell at that time was indeed the equal of being kicked out of a prison. Pasquotank had to get rid of me because of the investigation, so they took the cowards way out, as most prisons do, and just transferred me to another camp.

Anyway, I have stacks and stacks of such letters and journals, I hope to share some with you as we go along. Until then….

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