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Open Letter from an Inmate

I would like to share with you this letter written by my Pen-pal, Gilbert V. who is incarcerated. I have connected with Gilbert through Circle of Love Inside, an organization established by Sri Mata Amritananandamayi Devi, or Amma, who is affectionately know as the hugging saint. Writing to inmates is an important facet of Amma’s outreach and humanitarian activities. Amma is a worldwide humanitarian and the recipient of numerous awards including the Gandhi-King Award for non-violence in 2002, presented to her by Jane Goodall, in recognition of her lifelong work in furthering the principles of non-violence.

Circle of Love Inside

Collage Card by KartiArt

Open Letter from an Inmate

My name is Gilbert V. I’m twenty-seven years old and I’m incarcerated at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. I have been an inmate for seven years, the last two of which I’ve spent in a cell that is 6” by 4” for twenty-three hours a day. I now spend twenty-two hours of the six days a week in a cell. I was born in prison and from an early age have been on a path that has led me to where I am today.

Most inmates wonder if those who are not in prison, or who do not have family members who are incarcerated, think of us as fully human. Do we have souls? Should we be locked up and forgotten? We have justifiably been labeled “criminals” by society because we have broken laws and committed crimes. And yet, because we are also human beings, do you believe we can be worth more than our worst crimes? Can we be rehabilitated or should we simple be punished? Do we have the capacity to love, to forgive, and to contribute our gifts to society at some point in time? Can we dare hope society will allow us the chance to be recognized as more than our worst actions, more than the mistakes we have made?

Are we different from all of you on the “outside?” How am I like you, you may wonder? I am a father. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a friend. I am a human being, who like all human beings, has made terrible mistakes in life. My mistakes have had devastating effects on others. I recognize I must pay for my crimes. I understand I have hurt my family and the families of others. I have come to feel true remorse for my crimes. And, I am learning each day to take responsibility for my actions. This is my story.

I will be honest. I was not always conscious of those around me and did not care how my actions affected others. But, since I’ve been incarcerated, I have grown. I have hope I will continue to grow into the person I want to be. I see the world from a different perspective. The realization of how my actions have been selfish, reckless, and wrong, has struck me like a freight train. I have come to the point where I want to change. I can finally admit I need help. I understand that I want to accept help. In fact, I know that I need help to change. Like you, I have dreams and goals. I want to share my life’s experiences with the youth from my community in hopes that I can help young people avoid the mistakes I have made–the mistakes that have led me to this place.

I will share more about myself soon. I welcome your comments.

A prose poem by Gilbert V.

I Know

You act careless and tough, when in reality you just want to be loved. I know because I’ve been there. You blame everything and everyone because nothing is fair. You hold it all in and just follow the herd. But, in reality, you just want to be heard. I know, because I’ve done that too. They call you cool, happy, and strong, but it’s not true. No one knows how you’ve really felt. How can they if you’ve never asked for help? Yes, I’ve been there too. No, you’re right—I am not you. But I know because I’ve been in the same prison full of hurt and fear because no one will listen. I used to think the same way until I received a letter from far away. The letter was filled with love and compassion. It held no judgment for any past action. Many months have passed and I’ve made a friend who I feel is heaven sent. Friendship has saved me from stormy weather. I now have hope that one day I will break free from my cage. So there’s hope for us. I know because I’m there.

– Gilbert Vasquez

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Circle of Love Inside – Writing to Prisoners

Collage Card by KartiArt

In May 2015, I began writing to an inmate through the organization Circle of Love Inside, founded by Mata Amritanandamayi, a renowned humanitarian affectionately known as Amma (Mother), or The Hugging Saint. I had heard of the program from a friend who had been writing to inmates for five years and enthusiastically endorsed it. I was looking for way to serve, and I had been concerned with the problems associated with mass incarceration in the United States for some time. Yet, I had no idea how powerful this simple form of service could be.

What is Circle of Love Inside?

Circle of Love Inside is an outreach program designed to connect volunteers with incarcerated individuals throughout the United States. Inmates request a pen-pal with whom they can establish a supportive and uplifting relationship through the simple, yet profound, act of letter writing. It is not a dating service and the boundaries are clear–the purpose is to support and to inspire. Its purpose is not to proselytize or promote a specific spiritual teaching, and inmates of all (or no) religions participate. Yet, we are encouraged to share our stories and of course, spirituality can be an important part of the letter writing conversation.

Snail-mail can be fun

Today, when writing letters is a lost art and email and texting have become the vehicle for staying in touch, being a pen-pal can become a priceless opportunity.  It came as a surprise to me that both writing and receiving snail-mail could be so rewarding. It had been years since I’d written a letter–but it brought back the excitement of waiting for a hand written letter in an envelop. Most importantly, getting to know an inmate as a human being has been an enriching and profound experience for me and for others I know. It can be a journey where both volunteers and inmates are able to bring spiritual gifts to a unique relationship with individuals who we would never have met otherwise. In many cases, prisoners do not have outside family or support. So, it’s gratifying to know that receiving our letters from the “outside” can make an enormous difference in their lives.

What have I learned?

So, what have I learned by being a prisoner’s pen-pal? I have gotten to know a human being who has been labeled by society as a “criminal.” But to me, he is a person of value with so much potential to grow. This young man, who is only 27 yrs. old, lives in a cell the size of a parking space without human contact. This is the form of torture prevalent in our prison system called “solitary confinement.” It is known for causing mental and physical harm that is irreversible.

“The United Nations agrees. Back in 2011 it issued a report claiming that long-term solitary isolation is a form of torture — a cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment prohibited by international law. The report made special reference to the United States’ use of supermax prisons as a violation. ” George Dvorsky

  • I have learned inmates should not be defined by their crimes and flaws–like the rest of us, they are humans embarked on one of the most challenging paths of existence–the human journey.
  • I have learned our playing field in society is uneven and that makes a difference in what choices we will make.
  • I have learned society needs to address the gap between the rich and the poor and stop ignoring the social issues that guarantee crime.  Some of us have been born into poverty, or become mentally ill, or have been victims of severe neglect and abuse.

Yet, I believe in redemption and in rehabilitation. I believe in healing. I believe we have a moral responsibility to treat lives as sacred. It is time we, as citizens of a country with more incarcerated individuals than any other country in the world, recognize the dark “shadow” of our society. We have to stop ignoring the the social inequality that often leads to despair and eventually to crime.

“The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.” sentencingproject.org

Our prisons are filled with bright and talented individuals who are capable of being rehabilitated. My pen-pal writes poetry, draws, paints, reads books, meditates and prays. My eyes are now wide open to the struggles of those whose daily existence is so harsh I could not bear it for one day.

Pope Francis, on his recent visit to the United States, called for reform when he said,

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom,” Francis said, “I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed.” Pope Francis 

The Man in Front of Me

I stare at the man in front of me.

He parts his lips and asks, Why have you become my enemy?

That was never my intention, I respond.

But you’ve hurt me, your daughter, your brothers, sisters, and your mom.

I stare at the man in front of me with nothing to say.

He parts his lips again, Do you expect it to all just go away?

I cast my eyes away from the man, wanting to hide.

Look me in the eyes, or are you that full of pride?

I finally turn and begin to walk away.

I love you, I hear him say.

I slowly turn to find tears rolling down the man’s face.

I love you, but you can’t seem to to find your place.

I look at he man in the mirror and say,

I’m lost but will find my place one day.

By Gilbert

Collage Card by KartiArt

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Filed under Topics I Love, Writing to Prisoners