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A free world penpal shares their story

Free world penpals are sharing stories about their penpal friendships! Would you like to write a short piece? Send us your thoughts using this online form.

 

I knew about Black and Pink for at least a year before I started getting involved. It sounded like something I would be interested in, but I was also really nervous. I knew that the social justice position was that prisons are “bad,” but I didn’t know a lot about abolition, and I had a lot of intense feelings about certain kinds of crimes, and the big questions: what about the people who definitely did it? What about the people who are “dangerous”?

When I became disabled, it happened both slowly and very fast. Suddenly I spent a lot of time in mental hospitals and I remembered the loneliness and institutionalization I felt when I was first hospitalized when I was 18. How scary it was and how inhuman I felt. The fire alarms went off once– not a drill– and we all had to stand in a stairwell until they were sure there was no fire, because they didn’t trust people who were there voluntarily not to run. I suffered the violence of a strip-search. I was scared. I can’t say it more clearly than that. My life was in other people’s hands, and I was scared.

So when I had a lot of time on my hands after I stopped working, I happened to re-encounter B&P and started doing mail processing. I really liked that people were accommodating and would bring a big stack of mail to my house when I tried going to group processing and experienced a flare-up of symptoms. It made me feel helpful and connected to people in prison and to a network of radical queers to do simple data entry.

Maybe a month or so into processing, I read a letter from a man who had been brutally insulted. I couldn’t help but reply to him, and when he wrote me back, it felt so good to know that he was doing better that I had to let him know /that/. Soon we had a regular correspondence going.

The way I look at prisons has really changed through my involvement with Black and Pink and especially with my friendship with Jery and other people that I maintain a postcard friendship with. I started noticing how excited I was to see an envelope with Jery’s writing in my mailbox– something in the back of my head just said “hey, there’s my friend!” I’ve noticed over the past couple months that I have stopped calling him my pen-pal and started calling him just my friend.

My friendship with Jery has meant a lot for me, and for him too. It’s so weird how I lucked into a person with a life so much like mine, who is literally my father’s age and bouncing between federal facilities. I’m so thankful that I was the one to read his letter; being his friend has given me so much. He’s probably the person I share the most of myself with, and it feels really good to get parts of his life in return.

We both started out afraid that our lives were too small and would be boring for the other person– he is in the SHU, and I am often confined to bed, other than for doctors’ visits– but our friendship has made our worlds larger. I’ve become really involved in Black and Pink because I want more people to get to experience this. A lot of the fears I used to have about prison have gone away now that I have a friend on the inside. It’s really been an uplifting experience in a year when my world has really shrunk and I lost so much to disability; Jery makes my life feel bigger. I’m so thankful to Jery, and to Black and Pink for bringing us together.

-Eli

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