Every year on my birthday, I make a list of new things I want to try. Some things are difficult, some are weird, some are shockingly mundane. You can read about past adventures here.
Here's something that might surprise you: I'm quite passionate about prison reform. I even applied for a job teaching ESL to male inmates a few years ago!
If you're not sure why you should care about prison reform, here are a few things to consider:
24% of inmates have mental health issues
Despite a lower occurrence of violent crime, we have more people in jail
Non-violent offenders make up 60% of the prison and jail population
State correctional spending is estimated at $52 billion per year
60% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate
61% of Minnesota's inmates will be convicted of another crime and return to prison. Most states have a recidivism rate of about 40%
Shocking and sad, right? I don't really have any answers, but I wanted to do my part to make things a little bit easier for someone in a tough situation, so I used this website to find a lady inmate who seemed like she'd be a good match for me. I found a woman who, pre-prison, worked as an accountant, has two kids, and was looking for letters from either sex. Seems pretty legit, right?
It was a little bit weird putting pen to paper in a letter to someone I've never, ever met. I told her a little bit about myself and my life, but didn't want to err too much on the side of "and then I went to Europe for six weeks and it was greeaaaaaat! PS whatsprisonlikeanddoyouhavetowearthoseorangejumpers?" I settled on a middle ground of asking her about her kids and if she'd liked her previous job.
I've just dropped my letter in the mailbox and I'm interested to see if I ever hear from my new penpal. I sure hope so!
Edited to add: On November 27th, I received a return letter from my pen pal!
First, let us acknowledge that getting a handwritten letter is The Actual Best, regardless of its source.
My penpal wrote about her kids (a boy and a girl, ages 5 and 7) and how much she missed them while they lived with her mom for the time being. She wrote about her job in the prison, helping cook for 1,300 other female inmates. She talked about preparing the Thanksgiving meal desserts "7up cake, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie :)"
Really, she seemed super sweet! I totally plan to write back.
Have you ever written to an inmate? Would you? Has anyone in your life ever been in prison or jail?
If you're interested in helping but not comfortable writing a letter to an inmate, consider Books Through Bars. Thanks for the suggestion, Jesse!