I’ve tried to email. I haven’t heard from them
for weeks. They just don’t give a f and #k
about me! They could care less if I died.
I’m not writing them if they won’t write me.
If I’m dead to them, they’re dead to me.
F and #k ’em!!
The above was a real statement of someone I spoke with about his parents. His parents, mind you?! Over the course of 15 years, I’ve heard countless prisoners vent this same frustration and pain of being forgotten by their loved ones. I am no stranger to it, either.
I’ve also been forgotten by many friends and family, those I was really close to. But where some family falls short, others have stepped up. And being forgotten leaves real scars on prisoners’ hearts and minds. Scars run deeper depending on the closeness of the loved one. Imagine a soldier bandaged from head to toe after being battered by shrapnel on the battlefield. Fix that image in your mind–the bloody gauze, the sticky torn flesh, the smell of blood, and the contorted spirit of a soldier who stared death in the eye.
I’ve seen men weep, go into rage, flip out on staff, scream over the phones, and walk around with soul-less looks in their eyes. They slip in and out of depression, one day smiling, the next day subdued by an absence of love. They suffer real psychological trauma. In fact, men I know who I perceive as emotionally healthy struggle to maintain their mental equilibrium. Many times I just listen to them, and others, I try to plant a seed of hope that in time family will remember and pleasantly surprise them.
I advised the prisoner who made the above statement that to give his parents time they’ll come around. He’s said he’s got nothing to live for. He won’t be released until his late 60’s. So his sense of being forgotten is uniquely tethered to his reality of dying in prison. Guys balk at me when I counsel him. One told him that if life’s so bad, just jump off the tier head first. Yet they have family support and don’t have a virtual life sentence.
Not having much, the guy occasionally offers me a food item or two to throw in on a meal spread. Days ago, I whipped up a really hearty meal for us. He brags to others about my cooking.
Prisoners frequently measure their status according to their level of family and friend support. Some prisoners’ loved ones make sure they have new shoes, big commissary bags to pick up on store day, and whatever financial support they need. Bur when those who lack such support eye others’ blessings, it only magnifies their own lack of support. They see what ideal love and support looks like and then charge their loved ones with neglect and financial embarrassment among their prison peers.
It’s like the kid who goes to school with holes in his shoes and sees other kids wearing the latest Jordan shoes. While the Haves pick up laundry bags of commissary items, the Have-nots pick up a small brown paper bag of indigent items and usually trade some of them to the Haves for a food item or two. Some of the Haves go as far as insensitively flaunting their support around the Have-nots. To the Have-not prisoners, this devalues their modest blessings even more.
Less-supported prisoners have family (when they can afford) send $10 to their books every two weeks so they can make the bimonthly commissary. If the prisoner has $10 or less in their Spendable account, DOC will not make its mandatory 25% – 95% deductions for Cost of Incarceration, cable fees, child support, Legal Financial Obligations (LFO’s), prison debts for legal copies, etc. Good thing recent Washington legislation passed that significantly lightened prisoners’ LFO burdens.
While watching a state clemency hearing for commutation of a prisoner’s sentence, one organization showed up to speak on the prisoner’s behalf as a character witness. My ears perked up when the lady explained the service that her organization provided to prisoners. The name of the organization was “Adopt a Prisoner.”
Adopt a Prisoner basically had a database of volunteers scattered around Washington State who would provide emotional support to prisoners who lacked adequate support from their family and friends. The volunteers would be scanned to match to a particular prisoner’s bio profile, needs, and personality. Once the match was made, the volunteer would become a pen pal to his or her prisoner match. And if the volunteer felt comfortable, he or she could extend interaction to phone calls, care packages, and even financial support.
I wrote this blog to provide insight into forgotten prisoners, that they suffer real wounds and scars. Prison is a cruel and cold place. Prisoners are disrespected and mistreated by correctional staff and fellow prisoners, and subjected to unwarranted inequities while incarcerated. Many times they are clinging to their sanity by a thread.
On one occasion, I was training a fellow prisoner for a computer-related job position. He was so doped up on depression meds that his hands would literally shake as he typed. As I explained data entry steps to him, his attention would fade in and out. I was very concerned for him. It took me a long time to train him. A little over a month later, another inmate found him hanging in the warehouse. The prisoner hung himself.
For some, prison is hell. And that hell only intensifies when prisoners lack adequate support from loved ones. While I don’t know what was the prisoner’s real impetus for suicide, I know that outside support may have had an abating effect on his compulsion to end his life.
For anyone whose heart moves him or her to reach out to a prisoner, I encourage you to do so. Whether it’s to say you’re not alone, to lift his or her spirits, or to provide pure and simple friendship, your interaction will have a huge impact. Go and search prisoner pen pal sites and befriend the friendless. You never know what friendship reward(s) may be in store for “you”–and the prisoner.
Jacob J. Gamet
Categories: Jacob J. Gamet