Whenever the question of why prison writing matters comes to the forefront, I have occasion to smile. Because the answer in my opinion is quite clear; it has relevance. Yet, I understand the need to expound upon my answer for those who have not suffered the perils of physical confinement; and its’ an obligation I do not take lightly.
We write as prisoners in an effort to keep lines of communication open with the outside world. In a society as technologically sound as the United States, its’ easy to forget subcultures like ours are not privy to e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts that free-society can take for granted. Rest assured many inside these confines are saddened by the continued threats of cutbacks to the U.S. Postal Service; snail-mail in most cases being our only means of communication, outside of phone calls.
Many individuals, myself included have had to use paper and pen as a resource to aid our spouses and significant others in raising our children. Recent conversations I’ve had with men locked up for decades at a time confirms this as fact. They did not sit idly by and let the obvious estrangement incarceration breeds absolutely disconnect them from their children. Writing in most instances, according to them, prompted the child to reciprocate. And trust me when I say no one negatively critiques the large, misshapen alphabet and abstract drawings of young children sent through prison doors. The individuals who receive this mail act as though they’ve received the writings of Thomas Paine or the abstract drawings of Pablo Picasso in most cases. They also prominently display and speak of these artistic renderings with pride.
The necessity of prison writing can also be found in the realm of jurisprudence. Recent circumstances in Illinois have shown a conviction in a court of law is not always a clear or convincing indication of a defendant’s guilt. There will always be a need and desire for prisoners, (both state and federal} to defend their criminal cause, pro-se. And considering the indigent status of many incarcerated individuals, this objective can only be achieved through legal correspondence with the courts.
Prisons across the country are also offering individuals the opportunity to pursue both Adult Basic Education (ABE) and academic degrees from on-site colleges and universities; a process to which writing is extremely essential. Depending on the class or test, there is a vita l need to draft speeches, essays, or other narratives in pursuit of higher education.
The notion of restorative justice is another reason for writing; as we may feel the need to let a victim, his/her family or others with whom we’ve interacted in the past know we have changed or are trying to. I believe as incarcerated people, we have an obligation to promote notions of positive reinforcement in an often-cynical world.
Finally, prison writing is relevant because as prisoners, we’ve encountered someone among us who lacks the capability to draft a simple letter to his/her loved ones. And we recognize our own social obligation in that respect; we know there comes a time despite our current situations that we must create fo r ourselves the kind of world we want to live in. Helping another with his/her challenges is fo r all intents and purposes a great place to start.