Found Poetry: Letters from my Prison Penpal

No one likes an empty mailbox; I learned this basic truth during my Peace Corps service when the poshta would steal all of our letters and packages.

When we returned home from Peace Corps, my wife had the idea of restarting her prison penpal project from years ago. She used to work with incarcerated youth and had found out about a prison penpal project. She used a different name, of course, and she, and her penpal, got a lot out of the experience. Plus both had a letter to look forward to every few weeks. Since my wife was going to try it again, I decided to give it a try as well. I like writing letters, and I liked the idea of putting something in someone’s empty mailbox.

So I searched for a prison penpal. I knew that I didn’t want to converse with a convicted sexual predator or murderer, so I searched through the ads for a long time. Eventually, I found someone who looked interesting, who looked like he needed a letter, and I sent one off. This was in September of 2009.

We’ve been writing letters to each other ever since.

After our first year of conversing, I took his letters and created a book of found poetry which gives some insight into his plight and the situation in America’s correctional institutions. This book has been on sale as an eBook for a year. Here’s the cover and a few poems from the book:

Once in a While

I was surprised and glad
to receive your card
today. I wasn’t sure
how that ad thing was going to turn out.

The reason I placed the ad
is because I have managed to,
run out of friends.

I’ve been locked up for twelve years
with twelve to go. Some
have just faded away,
and some have just passed away.
And now I find myself in need
of friendship,
or even just getting a letter at mail call
once in a while.


Problem for You

I’m originally from
Queens, New York. I believe
that I’m a pretty
interesting guy. I can
hold my own in conversations
pertaining to sports,
current events, politics, and pop culture.

Most of my non-fiction reading is political
or sports biographies.
My fiction reading
is mostly crime novels
(go figure).

In my opinion,
Pat Conroy is
the greatest living
American author.

I’ve never been married.
I’m gay, although I’m just beginning
to deal with it.

I hope that’s not a problem for you.


Tough Joint

I was glad
to get your letter today.
The thought
had crossed my mind
that maybe I wouldn’t receive
a second letter.

I am as good
as can be expected.
We were locked down
for over a month until last week. A
lockdown occurs after a serious incident
(i.e., a killing or inter-racial incident).
I’ve been here since April,
and we’ve been locked down
four times.

Tough joint.

There are a total of 78 poems in the book, and if you’re interested in reading more, Running in Place: A Year in the Life and Letters of a Prisoner is for sale as an eBook from Amazon for $0.99.

As well, if you’re interested in being part of the effort to reform some of the folks our society has stashed away in concrete prisons (who will be released one day and could use a little TLC), consider becoming a prison penpal yourself.

2 responses to “Found Poetry: Letters from my Prison Penpal

  1. Thank you for putting your heart into action. I am sorry that you chose to exclude some of the people in prison who also need positive human caring.

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