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.
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.
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