My Non-Judgmental Pen Pal? by Stephen Newman

I’d like to share excerpts from a letter I received today
“I’m sweet and open-minded. I’ve got a HUGE heart and I try VERY HARD not to be judgmental. I try to only treat people the way I would like for them to treat me. I have done this before but the pen pal writing me was real creepy and in there for molesting little kids. Anyway, I look forward to your reply.”
I have noticed so many times over the years that the people who go out of their way to tell me how non-judgmental they are, usually are, in fact, the most judgmental of all. It reminds me of the guy who, before telling a racist joke, looks around and says, “I’m not racist, but…”

Over the years I’ve received thousands of letters from hundreds of pen pals. Of the ten people who told me in their first letter how non-judgmental they were, how they don’t care about what I did, how they only care about the person I am now, 8 of the 10 suddenly became much more judgmental once they Googled me.

Unfortunately, that’s not how being non-judgmental works. It doesn’t mean you won’t judge someone if you like them and agree with them, but if they do something you don’t approve of, then it’s ok to judge them. It’s not a selective thing. You’re either judgmental, or you’re not. And for whatever reason, perhaps it’s shame or guilt, the most judgmental people have a need to profess their non-judgmentality, if that’s even a word. (I bet it’s not.)

I never ask pen pals for money. Some have sent me money and I’ve returned it. And to a few pen pals, I’ve actually sent them money and gifts (this goes back to my “Pathological Altruism” diagnosis by Dr. Margalis Fjelstad, in a book on Caretaker Recovery as it relates to having a loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder).

I got off-topic there, sorry. Here’s my point: Three of my penpals wrote, in their very first letter to me, “I will never send you money so please don’t ask. I’m here for friendship only.” Within a month, all three of them had attempted to send me money, which I promptly returned.

Somehow, writing in a letter the things we won’t do, the things we aren’t, are subconsciously the things we DO want to do, or the things we WILL do. It’s like we, as humans, feel that by writing it, it makes it somehow less true. If we can convince others that we’re non-judgmental, perhaps we can convince ourself. If we write in a letter that we won’t stupidly send money to an inmate, maybe this time, we actually won’t.

If a woman wrote to tell me that she will never cheat on her husband, the odds are she secretly thinks about cheating on him. Probably a lot. Somehow, by telling me she won’t do it, it eases her guilt.

The second most memorable letter I’ve ever received (the #1 most memorable was from Tessa — if you’re reading this, Tess, you know who you are and I miss you, you sexy agoraphobe!) was from a woman who proudly announced in her first letter that she was writing inmates as a “self-imposed penance” to make up for her history of drunk driving without ever being caught, and for the times she cheated on her husband with strangers from the bar. She felt that writing inmates somehow absolved her of this sin, because now she was bringing someone else happiness — someone who might have done terrible things and who has been shunned by society. I almost bought her argument — it was quite compelling — until I wrote her back and received this reply: “Please rip up my letter and address and do not EVER write me again. I thought you were in for burglary or something. When I looked you up, I saw what you were in for. I would have never written someone like you, had I known what you were in prison for.”

So much for that penance. Probably best just not to drink and drive in the future, and not to sleep with that gross married guy who reeks of cologne and claims he doesn’t need to use a condom because he had his tubes tied 11 years ago. (Spoiler alert, ladies: he’s lying!)

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843


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