Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#117 Prison Communication pt 1 (retro)

Prison 101:Communication

I wanted to spend some time talking about the importance of communication for those with a loved one in prison. I’ll get to that in a sec.

Today after like 6 weeks of babysitting, my nephew finally went home…and I miss him.

So I got my free time back to write, but I miss the tons of hours of video games, taking him to the pool, the begging for snacks and cartoons. It was busy at times, but kinda fun. Kinda sad to see him go, but they start school soon so he needed to get back home anyway.

Anyway, email me at derf4000 (AT) embarqmail (DOT) com to ask me about my “Grades of Honor” books, my prison cards and other products, or visit my gallery at Zazzle.

I want to discuss how important communication is in prison, regardless of which side of the prison wall you are on. But since most folks are loved ones of inmates, I will try to focus it towards you.

The idea for this came from a story I heard while watching the Summer Olympics in China. They were talking about how China has a huge part in saving the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. For those of you that might remember (because I barely do), the Soviet Union had decided to boycott the Olympics, since USA had done so in the 1980 Olympics. The problem with this was that USSR had also promised that as many as 100 countries were going to boycott too.

If this happened, this would have crippled the legacy of the Olympics. Imagine having a world wide event with only about 100 countries or so….kinda like those Good Will Games that Ted Turner had a hand in….

Anyway, the man in charge of the Olympics had to do something or it would be a very embarrassing event and equally embarrassing to the US. So he sent people out to as many of those countries as he could, to act as ambassadors to try to convince those countries to come to the Olympics. One of the key targets was China.

It was absolutely critical that China come, even though they clearly had sided with USSR, and were not coming to begin with. The Olympic committee sent a man to talk to the China government and persuade them to come to the LA Olympics, which was a near impossible feat. You really have to understand how times were back in the early 80’s and how opposite US and USSR were.

Things looked pretty bad, and our country would have been very embarrassed to host a world-wide event, but half the world not showing for. Even the legacy of the Olympics as we knew it was on the line here, with the possibility of being reduced to a simple collection of events, rather than the largest sporting event in the world. There was so much on the line, and the situation did not look promising.

But in the end…it got done. China accepted the invitation to the Olympics and came with a show of numbers…and were warmly greeted by Americans and all fans alike.

How did this happen…communication in the face of negative situations.

Lots of you are thinking this is a large stretch to tie into prison issues, but I disagree. Every facet of life is nothing more than an example of how communication is so important, even with prison issues.

Heck, isn’t that why Brett Farve is with the Jets instead of staying with the Packers? A breakdown of communication (and a hell of a lot of foolish pride).

In prison, communication is extremely critical to help in the rehabilitation of a person that is in prison. But I think is has been underused because we don’t really get a grip of what communications really means. For most people, we just assume that you wait for a call from your loved one, or send him a letter or go visit him. In the simplest of ideas, you are communication with them.

But if you REALLY want to get the most out of it, you have to peel back some layers and really look into what communication is, and how to get the most out of it. I mean, isn’t that what you want with your loved one in prison?

Let’s break this down into some sections. I can probably blog about prison communications in these areas:

1. Types of communication for inmates.

2. Temperature of communication to inmates.

3. Communication by inmates.

4. Communication on prison support sites.

Each one of these parts is essential to understanding what prison communication is about…now before I begin, let me make this perfectly clear…I am NOT saying this is the etched-in-stone-gospel. There may be 100 more things I may forget to cover or that may be more important than this, but since I got your attention to read my blog, this is what I believe and am trying to share.

Use this as a guide, not a gospel.

Let’s start with the basics. When dealing with inmates, there are basically 3 forms of communication. You can get a phonecall from your loved one, you can write/receive letters from your loved one, or you can visit your loved one.

Why is this important? Because prisons believe that it is important for human beings to retain that humanity by keeping in reasonable contact with people that care about them. This is human nature, we have to have contact with people in some manner, whether we are a sinner or saint. I am not saying to always be around folks, but to NEVER be around folks is not a good thing for a human being. Now don’t get me wrong, there are people that must be isolated from others. I mean, in the general sense that is what prison is about…isolating law breakers from those who respect the law.

But in most cases, communication is important because it gives that inmate a chance to remember that they are loved. Rehabilitation works best when there is love, rather than pure punishment. You’re likely to change if you know you are loved, rather than hated. You’re more likely to believe I care about what I communicate with you in my blogs if you believe I do care about you, rather than insulting you about how your loved one ought to be locked away from society forever.

As I said, there are basically 3 forms of communication. The most common is by letter or card. It is by far the cheapest way to communicate with a loved one. I mean, you can type out a letter and print it out, or you can hand-write it on regular paper and mail it for a couple of quarters. You can buy a card and send it for a couple of dollars….

(cheap plug…I DO have prison cards, email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com about that and other stuff…)

Anybody can send a letter or a card. No crazy phone charges or high rates for gas to send a letter. The big plus with this form of communication is that it is easy and by far the cheapest. Another big plus is that it does not require a time. You don’t have to wait for the right time or coordinate times to make it happen, you just do it. You can take your time and write what is in your heart, whether it takes 1 page or 6 pages. Or, you can find the right card to say what you want to say. Even if you are in a rush, it would not take much to buy a nice card, write in a nice sentence or two and mail it.

But what are the drawbacks?

One, most people just don’t like writing. I don’t mean that they don’t like writing at ALL, I am saying to creatively write. Lots of people just can’t express themselves on paper like they can in person. To me I have no problem, as you can probably tell. I can write my butt off, and have thousands of pages of writing to prove it.

But most people are not like that. This is especially true for inmates. When I was in prison, most guys just didn’t like writing. That was one reason I was asked by so many to write a letter for them, or a poem. I mentioned in my first “Grades of Honor” book about how one guy paid me to write letters for him. I was paid by snacks…and was GLAD to get since I was broke.

Another drawback is the fear that your private thoughts are being read by officers. Now, is this true? Are officers in prison actually reading your letters to your loved ones? I think I can answer that…

Yeah…and no.

“Clarify please”

Well, the answer is both. YES, it is possible that your letters or cards CAN be read by the prison officers that work in the mail room. But the chances of them being read is less than you think. Some people think that every letter sent to every prison is being read. That is impossible.

Do you realize how many letters and cards come in to any prison on a given day? Some people think there are like 50 mail clerks working in every prison…not true. Most prisons I have been in might have anywhere from 1-4. Do the math, it is impossible for mail clerks to read every letter that comes through. IMPOSSIBLE.

But some letters ARE read. Some are read because some inmates might be a security risk to the prison…others are read because the mail clerks are too damn nosy. I remember a kitchen officer telling us that she saw and knows that some of the clerks do read some of people’s mail.

With that in mind, it is important that you consider WHAT you say in your communication to your loved one in prison. If you don’t want someone to know your intimacy with your husband or boyfriend, don’t write it down.

Another small drawback to communicating by mail is that there IS a limit. Most prisons do have a number of cards or letters you are allowed to keep. This is something most people don’t know about. Some of the camps I have been on had in their rules that inmates are allowed to keep a certain number of cards or letters. Any more than that has to be sent to an address of the inmate’s choosing or thrown away.

How many of you knew THAT?

So some of you that feel like you have to send him a card or letter every other day need to think about that. Now I grant you, most prisons don’t get picky with that unless it really gets to be a problem, but I am just throwing that out there that they COULD.

But regardless of the drawbacks, this form of communication is highly desired. For many guys, mail call is the best time of the day because it is kinda a reminder of who is loved in prison. Think about it like Christmas if you can. How would you feel if you were expecting something on Christmas day, and when you looked at the Christmas Tree, you didn’t see anything with your name on it? (and don’t try to get all self-righteous about Christmas on me, just go with what I am sharing ok)

For inmates in prison, letters and cards are by far the most common, and are often the small bright lights that can make their day a little better. For some it might be a card or letter from their mom or girlfriend or wife. For some, it might be money to put in the inmate account. For others it could be a number of other things.

I often wrote to many people, most were people who didn’t really know me personally. I wrote to ministries, I wrote to the Inmate Grievance Resolution Board ( a TOTAL waste), I wrote to state officials, prison official, federal officials, prison organizations and even professional sports teams.

You’d be surprised in some of the letters I got…some I wish to share in future books….

But we’re talking about communication by correspondence. It is the simplest form when you have a loved one in prison, because you can’t talk to them as often as you may want, and you certainly can’t visit them as often as you want.

But understand the great value in letters and cards…they LAST. A phonecall can be forgotten in time, even an hour after you finish, visits can fade too, but an inmate can always go back and read that letter you sent, or that card you sent. The same goes for anything sent to you.

In fact, I was in the attic the other day looking around at some of our stuff, and came across a box of my old prison letters to my mom and family, as well as come prison cards that I sent her. I was surprised that she kept those, and I quickly separated them and put them somewhere…I want to take a look at what I wrote during some of my most difficult times of my life…and if I get the guts… (and some support) I may want to share those here.

The written word of communication is like time in a bottle. To guys in prison, these bottles become so important because it helps them to keep track of life…the life they are missing. Those of you with children really need to get a hold of this. The letter you write to him in January about the baby crawling, and the letter you write to him in April of him walking may not mean much to you…but imagine what it could mean to him?

He may not be there, but those letters allow him to at least be a part of that. There is just something about a letter or card that a guy in prison can almost drop his guard and just relax and read something from “that world out there”. It’s also a reminder that he is not forgotten, somebody still cares and took the time to write him, or send a card.

You may not know how much that means to a man or woman in prison. This is indeed a very critical part of the inmate’s rehabilitation, or his chance to find hope in himself. You can tell how a guy feels by whether he got mail or not. Not everybody breaks down when they don’t get mail, but a person expecting mail can get pretty discouraged when too many days go by without mail.

In a corny way, getting mail is like Valentine’s Day at school. When I was in the 3rd grade or so , the teacher would make a paper packet of every student in the class room, and put it on the big board. On the days leading to Valentine’s Day, we would put a Valentine or some candy in the person’s packet that we liked. Then on Valentine’s Day we would empty them out and collect the cards (and candy). Some people got a lot, some got some, some got a little bit…some got none.

As a kid that didn’t bother me so much since I got quite a bit of Valentines, but when you sit down and think about it, it can be a very sad thing to know someone who got nothing…it’s like nobody cared about him or her.

That’s what it can feel like in prison.

Now, I didn’t share that to make you feel guilty to send your loved one 74 letters in a week to make up for that. I am just saying that this is how an inmate could feel. Nevertheless this is just one form of communication with a person in prison. I think I saved everything I got while in prison, and still have those things with me now. The only things I left in prison were some of my faith magazines sent by ministries. I had accumulated so many that I had to leave some behind, so I donated a lot of them to the prison library.

There is much more to say on this, but I hope to cover this later. I didn’t think this subject was going to be this large, and I have barely gotten started…so if you tune in next time, we can continue this discussion about prison communication. Until then, email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com…

Oh, if you comment on some of my blogs…please use more than one sentence. Some spammers have figured out that they can push their crap on blogs by not even reading a person’s blog, and adding something super generic like “nice post”. There are lots of spammers out there that make cheap comments on blogs that are not based on what they read. It’s like a lot of members of prison support sites like Prison Talk that copy and paste the phrase “hi and welcome to PTO” or “I am so sorry to hear about your problem, you will find lots of support here at PTO”, and then paste it to hundreds of posts to rack up cheap numbers.

So if you make a comment, at least share a few words to let me know that you read it. Or, if you wish, email me, I am approachable, I won’t bite.

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