While the Canadian and American prison systems say the community is an important part of corrections, they have pulled the welcome mat in.

A friend of mine wrote his experiences in prison. He spent two years in a Mexican prison and eight years in a Canadian prison. Which did he like better?

In Mexico:

  • The guys did not hate the guards. The attitude was that the guards had a job to do.
  • When families came to visit, the whole family came. They brought big meals and went right up to the cell, where they spread out a feast for the inmate and his cellmates. Children from different families played together in the hall.
  • Local sports teams came into the prison to play football (soccer). My friend boxed his way to a regional title in that area of Mexico.
  • Yes, my friend admitted that Mexican prisons were poor, but they were humane. Canadian prisons had better facilities, but a poor attitude.

A community writer in my creative writing class attended a class in prison right before Christmas. The year before, this volunteer had financed a collection of the inmates’ writing and had it printed at a cost of $3200. When she got home from this Christmas class, she wrote a card to two of the guys. She liked their work and encouraged them to continue. A week later she was dismissed as a volunteer, no warning, no discussion. She was told that she shouldn’t have written to these two guys.

I suggested she appeal, but she was a shy, gentle person who did not like conflict.

A year and a half later I added my name to the list of kicked-out volunteers, as I have written about.

This is not the way to treat volunteers.

Study European prisons – they know that inmates are eventually headed back to the community, so they invite the community in. Inmates need to see that there are other kinds of life, other kinds of people, than those they have met in the crime world.

visit1What can you do? First establish a correspondence with an inmate. Then apply to visit the person. First the inmate has to say that he or she wants to have you as a visitor. Next the prison system approves you as a visitor (in most cases), after they have informed you of all the rules, It’s difficult to do, but it can mean the world to an inmate.

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Comments
  1. Catana says:

    I’m writing to two prisoners, one in Texas, and one in Florida. Unfortunately, I live in Pennsylvania and can’t afford to travel. But I know, not just from those two, that contact with the outside world is crucially important to people behind bars. Too many of them have been abandoned by their families, if they even have families, and correspondents who will write to them regularly are appreciated to an extent that we in the free world can’t even imagine.

    But please don’t start a correspondence if you can’t write regularly. Prisoners *live* for letters. I’ve seen a few posts by someone on WordPress talking about how she really means to write to her prisoner, but she’s just *so* busy. And the stuff she writes about doing that keeps her *busy* is so trivial that it makes me sick. So he waits for months and is supposed to be grateful, and she thinks she’s doing a good thing.

    A good place to find prisoners to write to is Between the Bars: http://betweenthebars.org/

    • Ed Griffin says:

      As always, Catana, a great post and a very helpful one, too. A lot of my former students in prison write to me and it’s a challenge to keep up my correspondence with them. But you are so right, that inmates LIVE for contact with the outside world.
      Ed
      http://edgriffin.net/

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