Thursday, June 16, 2005

Letters from the Big House 

The other day I came across a real treasure trove, a file folder of mail from prisons. The folder contains an archive of letters we have received from the incarcerated from all over the world. We make a good faith effort to answer all questions we receive, no matter what the nature of the question or from where it originates.

Most of the questions are straightforward and sincere: “What is the mailing address of the United Nations?” Others are more whimsical, the products of a bored mind trying to pass the time. “What is considered the greatest book of all time, and why?” Some are wistful, and have a sad, yearning, almost lonely hearts flavor to them. “I grew up in your city but moved away when I was young. I returned as an adult but fell in with the wrong crowd. I love your city and dream about it often. I wish I had made better choices. Please could you send me a brochure of your city, and some information about its history? Please write back soon if you have the time. I look forward to hearing from you.” Those you have to be careful to keep a remote, professional distance or the writer might pay a visit to the library looking for you when released.

They are unfailingly respectful and courteous, even the ones from the desperately insane, which of course hold the most interest for me. Here is an excerpt from a Texas prisoner that consists of 4 pages covered with tightly packed script. The letter is one giant sentence of Faulknerian/David Foster Wallace length.

The main reason I am writing is really mainly because I would like to know just how do you go about having a computerized tomography (CT) or a Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) done to examining your head would you have to go see a special kind of psychologist and pay to get it done because I really want to be tested I believe I hope a little bit of everything multiple personally I know I have obsessive thinking very bad and I always make my whole life competitive like for a good example I will do something out the ordinary like go for a girl she can be just as ugly as sin but it like a real powerful force I try my best no to do it but I cannot help myself and I can be doing just fine perfect find and I will do something on purpose to file it up and do not want to something so bad so many times it will be just plain old broke you will not be able to fix it like getting a girl pregnant now I do not believe I am psycho but I do have really bad hallucinations...

After a few more pages in this vein he wraps up the letter with, OK you have a great Thanksgiving Day and have a Merry Christmas also eat a lot of pecan pies, and million dollar pies I really appreciate you taking your most valuable time to help me and answer my questions, all my questions, all my questions, all my questions please let me hear from you as soon as possible.

Right after I got my MLS I actually considered becoming a prison librarian. The pay is good and I wanted to atone for being a bureaucrat/foot soldier in this country’s abominable war on drugs, where women are languishing for decades in prison while they serve preposterous mandatory sentences because they rode in the car with their boyfriend once to pick up some fertilizer so he could make meth.

Each job announcement includes the warning that if you are ever taken hostage during a prison riot, the administration will not negotiate your release, so I thought better of it. After reading Wally Lamb’s collection of stories from the writing workshop he conducted at a women’s prison I’m inspired to try to get involved, but on a volunteer basis.

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