For Those Behind Bars, Letters are a 'Lifeline'

For Those Behind Bars, Letters are a 'Lifeline'

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Ed. Note: Prison officials in Santa Clara County, citing security concerns, are set to impose a restrictive new policy July 1 that will limit written correspondences to and from inmates to small postcards. Opponents say the policy would hinder rehabilitation and unfairly punish those inmates who do not use the privelege to smuggle contraband. Steeda McGruder is founder of the inmate advocacy group Sisters That Been There, a peer lead support and re-entry program in Santa Clara County. She says the policy would not only sever a key lifeline, but would put a limit on what inmates "can think and say." Below she shares her thoughts on the policy, and several letters sent to her organization. 

As I sat in my jail cell in November of 2010, I read closely an article entitled “The Power of a Letter” from Women’s Day magazine. Although I knew the impact of a letter at that time, I was impressed to see that others on the outside had remembered the powerful art. I had thought it was something that only existed for people affected by incarceration.

Receiving mail is an experience in itself, but to open a letter addressed to you is a gift that no longer gets the recognition it deserves. Letter writing is a lifeline for the incarcerated women I work with. For any human in lock up of any sort, it’s the only way one feels a sense of freedom. That is why any proposal to limit inmates from receiving mail is tremendously harmful – to the inmates, their loved ones, and our collective community.

In the writings you will read here, you will see the true power of the letter. It is life altering, life-saving, therapeutic, a source of mental health support, and much more. You will see that letters are what keeps inmates focused on leading a successful life on the outside, and serve as important reminders that there are people out here ready to support them.

I Have Your Letter Taped to My Wall, Thank You

I woke up at 5 this morning here and found some mail had been slid under my door. Naturally I knew this was some sort of mistake, because I had only been here a short few days. When I opened the card from all the girls at S.T.B.T and read, "Welcome home and we are praying for you" all the days I have spent holding my emotions in and being visibly strong through this entire ordeal came to an instant surface. I cried so hard for the best part of two hours. I am moved by your support and believe you are a gift from God as he knows my heart and who I am. Please thank all the girls for me and I can't wait to meet all of you. I am so excited at what lies ahead.

I have your letters taped to the wall here in my cell. I reminisce constantly about meeting all of you. I cry every time I read the words in my card "welcome home.” It's been a long, rough road, but I did it. Thank for making me feel loved, not alone, and home. I love you all.

You Made Me Feel Less Alone

"For my sisters, the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they dont have any.”
--
Alice Walker

I like that. Man, you don’t even know just how your letter has made me feel not alone, like someone really does care about me. All I can say is thank you. I’ve been so depressed I don’t know where I went wrong. I never felt so lonely, I never cared how I hurt my family until now, until this moment. I feel so alone. Well, my sisters, I just needed to vent and you were that one. I was the first one to see the article in the Mercury News about Sisters That Been There. Love it. I love you, keep up the positivity.

Need a Letter or Picture As I Start a New Life

I'll be 33 years old this year. I’m currently doing a 3 year sentence at Elmwood. I’ve been in and out of jail since 2002. I put myself in program, so I can start my life on the right path. I don’t have support from my family and I don’t blame them. But time is so hard without a picture and a letter time to time. I’d like to receive a list of services your support group offers. I look forward to hearing from you.

Please Help, Thinking of Giving Up

I have a long history of drug use and my trauma goes back to the age of 4. I am learning how to change the behavior that get me locked up. I just feel like giving up sometimes. I have 6 months clean and I need all the help I can get. Please help me. I’m 50 years old and I have lost everything. I’m thinking maybe I should just give up.

Please Send Photos, I’ll Be Here for a While

Hi, my friends and I were talking about the new mail rule for inmates. We will only be able to have postcards sent to us. Some of us don't have any family willing to send us pictures, and our friends brought you up. Is it possible you could please go on our facebook pages and print out some pictures and send them to us? I am 28 years old with two daughters. I will be here for a while and no one writes me. Please help!

A Letter Is Always Timeless For Those Doing Time

There are only a few ways of staying connected to the outside world when you are behind the wall –phones, visits, tv, newspaper, mail and often time lyrics to music. Most people never experience calls, or get visits, so the way we stay connected to the real world is mail at 10pm at night in the women’s side of Elmwood. And for those that don’t get mail, the power is in your cell mates sharing some inspiration. We share photos to uplift our spirits, and read from the folded pages to our podettes. To limit this would be limiting the basic livelihood of inmates period. If us who have been there don’t speak up, no one would ever know the power of a letter – stamped, signed, sealed and delivered to you in a place that feels so far from the real world, but yet is so close when put in the hands of a confined soul! A letter will always be timeless to those doing time!