I started pen-palling with prisoners in 2019. Why? I honestly do not have a clear answer. I wanted to see how these people live their lives behind bars, I wanted to know about their emotions, their feelings and everyday life. Whether they deserved to be there, and whether they have regretted their past actions.
However, there is much more than that going on.
First, I read up on experiences of other people that had previously tried pen-palling with prisoners and most women that had that experience talked about a lot of red flags to look out for. For example, how some prisoners might ask you for money, or how they might start love-bombing you and tell you that you are their dream woman, that once they get out they will marry you and start a family with you, and unfortunately, a lot of women still fall in that trap.
Specifically one of them reported that she was feeling very unloved, going unnoticed by the men around her, and when her pen pal promised her the world, she believed him. She would correspond with him daily, she would pay for his calls and all his necessities inside jail, as well as send extra money for things she did not know what it was being used for. When her pen pal got released, she picked him up and gave him a home to stay at. A week later, he left her, after mocking her for believing him.
Having said that, of course not every prisoner is like this, and not all people on the outside are vulnerable to such events. Being so interested in crime but also the societal values around the world, I decided to go ahead with it, and chose three pen pals.
The first one, never replied after the second letter. With my second pen pal, we would occasionally write, but there was not much to say after a certain point, which is a reality that a lot of us experience when trying to make friends in our everyday lives too.
My second pen pal had some very controversial but understandable views about his actions and his life. He would tell me that even though he has tried to stay out of trouble, it was very hard for him to do so every time he was released, and he didn’t think that this time would be any different. He thought that being a “criminal” was all he knew, and that he had a loyalty to his gang that he had to prove time after time. He specifically said once “I hope I will be out for a while, but I don’t see it happening. I will probably be back a few months later after my release.” Being from a low socioeconomic background, as well as an immigrant, I understand the need to fit in when you are a child, especially when growing in dangerous neighbourhoods, seeking your place in gangs.
My third pen pal was the most interesting by far. His name is Javi, and before I even started this magazine, I asked him if he would write for me, and he gladly agreed. So know that before I wrote anything about him, I obtained his consent to do so.
When we first talked, Javi came across as highly educated and intelligent, which he is. He has been studying while in prison, and already completed a degree. What struct me the most about Javi, was his case.
According to court records and journalists, as well as Javi himself, he used to be in a gang in California since he was a child. His story in a few words, is that a homicide was committed, and even though the weapon was his, Javi was not the one to pull the trigger. Even though the person that committed the homicide confessed to doing it, Javi was sentenced to life as well, as the gun was his and it was found in his car. For a young adult on his very early 20s, you can imagine how this changed his life. He went from having everything, to having nothing. And even though he realises that the people he surrounded himself with was a conscious choice, I still believe that people like that are worthy of second chances.
Not every one of us comes from the same background, whether that is racial, social or economic. Sometimes life works in chaotic ways and our course can change in the matter of seconds. I am not specifically talking about Javi’s case, but for many others out there, that are spending a lot more time in prison than I deem necessary. After all, the main reason for prisons is reformation. But how can you reform an individual when you provide them with no resources or chances towards positive change? This is a long conversation, maybe for another article.
For now, all I have to offer you is Javi’s letter, word for word. I am not putting this out there to change your mind for how prisoners should be treated, but maybe, someone will see it and will choose to research prison systems a bit more. The question of second chances still remains, and that is not only up to each individual to answer for themselves, but also the circumstances of one’s crimes. Just remember that a crime does not start the moment someone commits it. It starts a long time before.
“A lot of you guys might be thinking how long have I been down and when do I get out? Right? The first answer is 14 years. The second one is a bit tricky. I was handed a life sentence as an accomplice to murder. Given light years. No joke, here in California. It was my gun, my car and even though I didn’t pull the trigger nor there was any evidence that I told the other person to do it, under the old law it was sufficient to find me guilty. Now, the laws are changing, in the next couple of years, I have no doubt I will be given a date, and second chance to go home. The laws that pertain to me in which are relevant are the SB 260, SB261 and SB1437, Prop 57 with an anticipation to additional ones to come.
I am a writer at heart, I’ve always had a passion for writing since I can remember and has been the key for deciding into changing my life around from inside these walls. I am also on the path of higher education. I am currently coming up with great ideas for everything that I’m passionate for. I am enrolled in college and currently joined Microsoft classes for editing.
On June 17th, 2019. I joined to be a member on an online pen pal service. My experience so far has been that of meeting pen pals from my home state of California, across the country and overseas. The service is not only a great way to communicate with others, but also to find people that might share the same views, outlooks and beliefs as you. If you’re lucky, you might even find someone special that you can value and hold dear.
I started using this service in order to look for friendships and be able to have conversations with people for personal growth and to also try to improve my social skills outside the prison walls. The way it works for us is through a prison tablet which is connected to the Wi-Fi, and we basically message back and forth using paid stamps. Basically texting through a Wi-Fi.
I have talked with people from all over the world, England, Germany, Australia. When I asked one of them why they decided to reach out to a prisoner, they said that they were not always compassionate towards people in jail, and felt it was their fault, but they were able to change their mindset about prisoners deserving a second chance.
Their understanding of my situation compelled me with emotion and also gave me more strength to push forward and not beat myself up for something I ultimately didn’t do. Having said that, I have been guilty of putting myself in that position. For many years I have felt that I had a choice, and it turns out that yes, I did have a choice, but looking back and seeing how young I was, I believe everyone deserves a second chance in one form or another, including me.
I will conclude by saying that there’s actually great people in prison doing time and reflecting day in day out how they failed and how they can become better people. Obviously not all, but some like myself are very eager to change their life around and make positive changes for their future, even though it is a work in progress for many of us.
Joining a pen pal service has not only been life changing, but it has become one of the best decisions I could have made. It has gave me a greater purpose beside myself, and I feel complete.
Sometimes God challenges us, and if we ever questioned him, he would say: “You prayed, you asked, and I gave you. It was there the whole time; you just never cared to clearly look and see”.”