Sunday, January 22, 2012

Inmates and media: The Prison Show, snail mail and appreciating the Apostle Paul

A coupla interesting stories discussing inmates' relationship to media caught Grits' attention. First, NPR this week had a feature on The Prison Show, emphasizing how the long-running Houston-based radio show focuses on connecting inmates to their families.
"So many people go to prison and those relationships end," [host David] Babb says. "The families will write to them for a while, they'll go visit them for a while and it becomes a burden, it just tends to fades away."
But the show gives prisoners a way to stay connected and the call-ins they get from children are proof of that. One daughter left this message for her incarcerated dad: "Well, school's going great. I don't have any classes with my friends but I'm seeing that as the bright side to make new friends ... And I'm just loving school right now. So I hope you can wish me luck when it comes to all the tests I have to take this year. OK, love you, Dad. See you soon, I hope."
At The Baptist Standard, there's an interesting article suggesting inmates understand the ancients' relationship to the written word more innately and viscerally than those in the free world because of their relationship to snail mail.
Stephen Presley, who teaches a biblical interpretation class at a maximum-security prison near Houston, said the inmates' familiarity with letter writing has given them a unique perspective on the epistles that comprise a large portion of the New Testament.

"I think that (for) those of us who live in a world that's dominated by e-mail and controlled by other forms of technology, sometimes it's hard for us to understand the genre of letter writing—the genre of the epistles," Presley said.

"But for those who live in this world (behind bars), it was so easy for them to comprehend and to almost identify with the early church in the way they would have felt receiving these letters from Paul and how they would have treated the letter, perhaps, even in ways we don't, in terms of reading it from start to finish, reading it closely and observing every word."

18 comments:

Harry Homeless said...

Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

It works the other way too. A letter from my husband is the most valuable part of my day. It is through those written words that we speak our hearts.

RSO wife said...

My husband spent 18 months behind bars and we wrote to each other every day. His letters were the highlight of my day as much as mine were to him. I wanted to make sure he knew that he wasn't forgotten like so many of his cell mates were. It was also a way for him to get out his frustrations, knowing that what he said wasn't going any farther than me.

Before he went to prison he spent a lot of time working in the yard so I sent a lot of pictures of our house, his rose bushes as they bloomed, our yard as the seasons changed, and he used them as book marks. He also gave some of them away to guys who never got anything from their families. They loved getting the pictures of the roses, one guy even sent one of them home to his wife as a gift.

I belong to an organization who sends Christmas cards to prisoners and the response we get from some of the guys is amazing. Lots of them either don't have any family or their families have abandoned them. Any kind of contact is so greatly appreciated.

Please remember that although the people in prison have done something to break the law, they are still people. Human beings with feelings and they need to know that though they are imprisoned, they are not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

I wish my nephew had access to snail mail where he is incarcerated. It would certainly help to keep the contact current. Letters sometimes take a long time.
According to the information I get, Wayne-Scott has no computer access for inmates. No wonder so many go crazy!

Phillip Baker said...

Without intending to, I now find myself writing to a small group of inmates. A couple are exploring Buddhism and were referred to me to ask questions about that. One I have known for decades- he was held in the prison I worked in 20+ years ago and managed to keep in touch with me when I left. The others are connected in some way to a man I fought TDCJ and UTMB to get him proper medical care. Getting mail is a big things for these guys. That's why I keep writing. How else can a person do an act of kindness that is so gratefully received, so easily? A few minutes and a stamp. Or JPay. And getting a Christmas card lifts a man so much. Holidays are really hard in there.

But here is what bothers me (Sorry to rain on the otherwise happy and loving posts)- TDCJ claims it makes efforts to keep those family ties going through various programs. Yet the phone system they chose is expensive, and they make about $6 million profit a year on it. JPay is great- but mailrooms seem to collect them up in a bunch before delivering. Indeed, mailrooms in TDCJ seem to take a very casual attitude to inmate mail - slow to deliver, lost of "lost" letters, etc. And in this 21st century world, why in the world does TDCJ not install Skype on every unit? To be able to talk to AND see your family would be a powerful incentive for an inmate to stay out of trouble. Yes, there would be a period of adjustment and security matters to consider, but all easily done, and the benefits would be huge. BTW, after a group of us pressed Carol Young Medical Facility for 15 months+ to put phones on the male side of that infirmary, I hear TDCJ is finally doing it. They claim the lack of phones was "an unintentional oversight". Those folks can't tell the truth no matter what.

RSO- What's the group that sends cards?

Anonymous said...

So many seem more focused on their gang than on their family. When they get out they're rippin and runnin and forget about their family.

When they're inside, they want letters from those boring old relatives especially if they supply cigarette money. One thing for the baby mammas to remember - if he writes to you when he's in the can, did he chase some when he was free? What will he revert to when released?

Kevin Stouwie said...

Anonymous@9:46- You may be correct that some offenders will not live up to their end of the bargain with family relationships and obligations upon their release from prison. However, I think most of them will succeed in this regard.

But who has the crystal ball that tells us which ones will fail and which ones will succeed? Also, an act of kindness or compassion to a person in need often benefits the giver as much as the recipient. Most of the men (and women) I have interviewed in prison genuinely wish to atone for their past mistakes and desperately want to be able to love and be loved. Until that day comes, it is important not to crush their hope and their spirit.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 9.46 ~ if you are going to flame, at least try and get your facts right; TDCJ inmates don't have "cigarette" money because TDCJ is a tobacco-free zone. That's not to say that some don't have tobacco smuggled in through various means, but they can't buy it legally. Why not say "stamp money" instead?

Phillip Baker ~ because TDCJ does not do anything to aid the inmates, or their families, it is there purely to warehouse inmates and if the Legislature wanted to do anything to change it they could but they don't have the balls or the will.

I asked a prominent Senator's office why inmates cannot make international pre-paid calls, and the response was that no one asked for that capability when they put the new phone system requirements together. Nobody in the whole of the Legislature thought that inmates might want to call overseas - when "overseas" and "international" happens to also include Mexico, Canada and Alaska. Just like no one has up to now thought that children might like somewhere to play with their fathers or mothers when they go to visit in the prisons (as in other states) instead of having to sit at a table with nothing to do for as long as the family can stand it. TDCJ claim they want to encourage family contact but they do next to nothing to physically behave as if they do.

Anonymous said...

This is something The Senate Criminal Justice Committee should look into. How can two officers at the Crain Unit have sexual relations with inmates and there is no arrest record to be found? One inmate is supposedly at the Reception Center pregnant and five inmates are being treated for gonorrhea on this unit. The inmates were severely punished for this. Punish the victims when the Justice Department and the state of Texas say’s there is no such thing as consensual sex in confinement. Sure they could have said no but everyone knows you cannot say no to an officer in prison. So we punish the victims once again. How many people are sitting in prison in Texas behind the “Laws of Parties” a Texas state statue? Why is it the people not running this prison are not being charged under the “Laws of Parties” for helping to facilitate these criminal felon acts.

Michael W. Jewell said...

The Prison Show is a valuable bridge between the incarcerated and their families and friends on the outside, but it is also an invaluable medium for inmate family organizations and activist groups. Joan Covici and I founded Con-Care Services in order to mediate between inmates and their families, and the prison administration. This past December we appeared on the Prison Show twice, and were able to properly introduce ourselves and our work to the inmate population. Since that time our inmate mail has quadrupled.

When an inmate has a problem with the administration, we intercede and contact the most appropriate department to resolve the issue.

The prison show is also an excellent medium to promote causes we passionately believe in. For example we object to prison employees receiving free meals while the administration has cut some units to two meals on weekends. Why should prison employees be entitled to free meals when no other state employees are? Law enforcement officers and fire fighters have to pay for meals, why not prison employees? See our petition on Change.org

RSO wife said...

To Philip Baker: The group that sends Christmas cards as well as other correspondence to inmates is TVRJ, PO Box 23539, San Antonio TX 78223. You can also access their website at www.texasvoices.org to get more info.

I totally agree with your summation on TDCJ's effort, or lack of it, to get mail to and from prisoners and the exorbitant cost of phone calls. However, the phone calls through JPay are cheaper than the collect calls from Harris Co jail, those are $5.00 each.

TDCJ does claim to help retain family contact, however, they don't put their money where their mouth is. In the facility where my husband was incarcerated, visiting day was a nightmare, but I have heard that it was great compared to some of the other units.

The visitors room held 25 tables and was extremely small. You can imagine what it sounded like in there with a minimum of 75 people (one inmate and 2 adult visitors per table) and lots of kids, plus 3-4 guards. There are several vending machines in the room, but most of the time they didn't work, there is no AC, only fans, in there in the summer. This really promotes family participation!!!!

The guys who make it on the outside are the ones with a support group whether it's family or friends or just those of us who continue to stay in contact with them and let them know they aren't forgotten.

Anonymous said...

. I heard an interesting story from a family member whose love one is on the Crain Unit. It seems the Asst. Warden came into the dorms back in late December and told the inmates that she own the day room, dorms and could take the television away from them and close the day room completely because SHE paid for them and she owned them. She told them she pays for the uniforms they wear also while yelling out them and using profanity to them. Now if the inmates had did this they would have been thrown in the hole and forgotten about. So I guess the state takes money out of her pay check every month to cover the costs of uniform, recreation and utility bills. Now as a tax payer whose does pay property taxes and actually pays for these costs I take offense to all of this. I like many family members and friends were charged $100 this year for medical and the medical on this unit is still substandard. Those televisions and recreational day rooms are paid for from the commissary money we the actual tax payers send our love ones. As far as I know this Warden does not even pay property taxes because she lives in Free State housing. The state of Texas and the tax payers owns that unit and everything associated with the costs to house those inmates and the tuff on crime mess we buy into every year because of the property taxes we pay. See this is a problem when you have a system of unchecked power and the people in charge are confused enough to think that they actually owns state property and this leads to the corruption and misuse of the same properties that are all too common in TDCJ and especially this unit. So I hope the state starts to deduct monies from her pay check now since she owns the actually prison and all of its property. It is funny how the people in prison are punished if they violate the people running the prisons human rights but the people running the prisons have free reign to abuse and violate the human rights of the inmates.

Anonymous said...

Like many people who have stated on here that TDCJ official written policies say they want to keep the families and friends in the offenders life to help rehabilitate this is far from the truth. The truth, while down in Austin and Huntsville this may be the higher ups intent, but down on the unit level these policies are largely ignored. I have written and visited many inmates over 20 years and it is the same old sad song. Mail can be held and read for no reason at all but when a friend inquires as to why there is always an excuse and the people in charge will tell you that it is because they can do it. The old red flags come up. Most of the Safe Prison personnel instead of during their jobs, they are more concern with gossip and tormenting the offender just because they can. Visitation on the Terrace unit is disgraceful. I cannot tell you how many times I witness a strip search with the door either half open of wide open, only to see my friends emerge red faced humiliated. Now there is an officer who after the visit ends with a strip search she will call the dorm and have the dorm officer strip search the offenders again just to further degrade them and humiliate them. When asked what they did for a third strip search less than 100 yards from the last one, the answer is I do not have to tell you. The visitation is ruin before it begins with the degrading treatment the offenders receive before they even get in the visitation room, non-contact visitation room that is. Most of the men’s units will allow for contact visits with friends if the offender has behave themselves but not on the Crain Unit or any female unit for that matter. That is because the people in charge enjoys the power to deprive the women on these units; however, they stand by and let them be sexually exploited and given sexual transmitted disease by male and female employees who think these women prisons are their person brothel’s. It is the friends for the most part that will take care and help these women get started again but the employees do everything to discourage and make this visits as difficult as they can. I saw a Hispanic guard literally yank, rip or snatch ever how you want to describe an ID card from an offenders hand in front of everyone during visitation. Everyone was shocked as she walked away. I wonder what would have happen if it would have been the other way around. The inmate would have been severely punished while the officer is given a pass for this assault. I have watched in the past officers yell out and try to provoke both inmates and their family members during visitation and they do it because they can. The excuse for contact visitation is there is not enough room but they found enough room with the federal authorities took over the prison system in Texas. Texas is the only state in this country where telephone minutes are rationed out each month and that is the first thing taken from an inmate who may not like their ID card being snatched from their hands. The people running these prisons are not even smart enough to cash in on this money making scheme they concocted. TDCJ leadership may be genuine with their efforts but the dictators running the women prisons and the Crain unit could care less if the family and friends are kept together as a unit. They think they are in the customer service called the revolving door, when an inmate leaves the stand at the gate and say thank you, hope you enjoyed your stay and come on back folks.

Anonymous said...

FYI: At my husband's unit, the waiting time to even get into the visiting room can last over an hour. One cannot sit outside at the picnic tables (apparently reserved only for correctional officers on break and those that smoke in a non smoking facility property). It's a real joy to drive for an hour and sit in your car for an hour. I refuse to believe a larger area can't be made for visiting. Yes, the noise level in the room is deafening and yes, the kids have to sit at the table for two hours. Shame!

Anonymous said...

Most of the men’s units will allow for contact visits with friends if the offender has behave themselves but not on the Crain Unit or any female unit for that matter. That is because the people in charge enjoys the power to deprive the women on these units; however, they stand by and let them be sexually exploited and given sexual transmitted disease by male and female employees who think these women prisons are their person brothel’s. It is the friends for the most part that will take care and help these women get started again but the employees do everything to discourage and make this visits as difficult as they can. I saw a Hispanic guard literally yank, rip or snatch ever how you want to describe an ID card from an offenders hand in front of everyone during visitation. Everyone was shocked as she walked away. I wonder what would have happen if it would have been the other way around. The inmate would have been severely punished while the officer is given a pass for this assault. I have watched in the past officers yell out and try to provoke both inmates and their family members during visitation and they do it because they can. The excuse for contact visitation is there is not enough room but they found enough room with the federal authorities took over the prison system in Texas. Texas is the only state in this country where telephone minutes are rationed out each month and that is the first thing taken from an inmate who may not like their ID card being snatched from their hands. The people running these prisons are not even smart enough to cash in on this money making scheme they concocted. TDCJ leadership may be genuine with their efforts but the dictators running the women prisons and the Crain unit could care less if the family and friends are kept together as a unit. They think they are in the customer service called the revolving door, when an inmate leaves the stand at the gate and say thank you, hope you enjoyed your stay and come on back folks.

Anonymous said...

Like many people who have stated on here that TDCJ official written policies say they want to keep the families and friends in the offenders life to help rehabilitate this is far from the truth. The truth, while down in Austin and Huntsville this may be the higher ups intent, but down on the unit level these policies are largely ignored. I have written and visited many inmates over 20 years and it is the same old sad song. Mail can be held and read for no reason at all but when a friend inquires as to why there is always an excuse and the people in charge will tell you that it is because they can do it. The old red flags come up. Most of the Safe Prison personnel instead of during their jobs, they are more concern with gossip and tormenting the offender just because they can. Visitation on the Terrace unit is disgraceful. I cannot tell you how many times I witness a strip search with the door either half open of wide open, only to see my friends emerge red faced humiliated. Now there is an officer who after the visit ends with a strip search she will call the dorm and have the dorm officer strip search the offenders again just to further degrade them and humiliate them. When asked what they did for a third strip search less than 100 yards from the last one, the answer is I do not have to tell you. The visitation is ruin before it begins with the degrading treatment the offenders receive before they even get in the visitation room, non-contact visitation room that is.

Kim Ledbetter said...

I am one of those spouses who do not get calls because my husband is in TDCJ and I live in Canada. We get one 5-minute phone call every 3 months and only if the warden approves it. There is no guarantee. My husband has been in TDC for 17 months and I have spoken to him twice during that time. Because I live 3,000 miles away visits are impossible so all we have is Jpay and snail mail. My husband has written to me every day for the last 17 months and I have written him. He says that mail is the part of his day that he looks most forward to but there are times that we both wish we could talk to each other. My children have not spoken to him since August 2010 and that is just wrong. Families need that connection and for TDC to say that they support the family connection and is, at best inaccurate, and at worst a bold-faced lie. If an inmate's connection to their family were of any importance to TDC, all inmates with family living outside the USA and death row inmates would be given the same rights as every other inmate and that is to call those that they love and keep their connection. When the calls are paid for by the family what difference does it make to TDC where that family lives?

Crain Watcher said...

Kim, it is all about the power they have and no one in TDCJ will ever admitt to this but they enjoy depriving the people they have enslaved in their torture chambers. Nothing makes those TDCJ employees happier than to say no or humilate a woman by doing a public stripe search where it can be heard and seen by many. The story about the inmate with no tooth brush for over 4 days at the Crain Unit in AD SEG is true but they are lying because they are there. Many women have told me they were handcuffed to a shower head and locked in that shower for up to four hours there while guards stood outside and laughed at them. They will take the telephone away from the inmates right off the bat no matter where they live and to deny an inmate a pre-paid call to Canada or anywhere else for that matter is criminal at best. Once again it is about power to deprive. I would love to hear the excuse on that one and the tax payes wonder why the state is so broke and ripped our schools budgets apart. Non-Contact visits only discourages visits and TDCJ enjoys that one. I cannot tell you how many times I have been disrespected on visitation day because an employee had to be there. Just quit and go home if you feel that way. TDCJ keeping the family and friends together is a bad joke. If it was not for the friends who visit and help them alot of them would have no visits or help at all. Friends that visit are treated just as bad as the family members because I watched a grandmother get chewed out one time because on her frist visit she did not know where to go and could not move fast enough for a hateful guard. TDCJ is in a business and they want those customers (slaves) to return again.