letter from a grateful incarcerated student

Dear Professor Kathy,

What an amazing journey we shared together! From the very beginning of this course to its end, working with you has been nothing short of a delight. My heart thanks you for being its conduit to the outside world, unchaining my voice and mind that feel trapped by barbed-wire fences and concrete walls. Having the wise, caring, and understanding ear of someone who is only the stroke of a pen, fold of a paper, and lick of an envelope away, has rescued my soul from the dark murky waters of this prison lagoon.

The strongest aspects of my writing are my descriptions, dialogue, and willingness to soak the paper in my heart’s blood. I love writing what I feel and describing emotions in various ways, so my reader can share them with me. My biggest weakness is craft. I struggle with the use of punctuation with the sentence (colon verses semicolon, dash marks, etc); however, I feel like I have made great progress in this area.

My arch nemesis in writing is structure; for the life of me, I cannot sit down and simply outline what I want to write in the format given to me. It will take hours. I have to write first, allowing my thoughts to flow naturally, then reconstruct the paragraphs once I get it all out.

As a writer, I learned literature lives on eternally, thus, write honestly, understanding what is written may impact someone’s life in the future. As a reader and a thinker, I am more critical of the text I read, questioning myself, who wrote this; why; in what space and time was it written; what are they trying to get me to believe?

I believe I deserve an A for this course. I followed the course instructions and syllabus; I did not “half-assed” complete any assignment; I gave my full attention during discussions and offered input; I even completed this very assignment twice with no complaints. Be that as it may, to really understand why I deserve an A, you’d have to live in a small prison cell with a complete stranger, smelling his feet, musk, and breath that could raise the dead, wrestling internally how to tell him or if you should even risk it, because it could be taken as disrespect, which must be avenged in blood, according to the convict code. You’d have to look in the eyes of a correctional officer every day and see the jealousy, envy, and hatred for you burning in his soul staring back, because you are “going to college” and to him, that means you think you are better than him or you must actually BE better than him. You’d have to swallow your pride and dignity, and walk away from this guard who tries to provoke you to assault him by spewing such venom in your face – “you’ll never be anything in life but a nigger” – and come back to your cell one day from taking an exam only to find your textbooks and notes scattered all over the floor. To experience why I deserve an A, you’d have to walk the tiers in this maximum security prison as a Black man, at the complete mercy of mostly racist white guards who, along with half of your so-called Black brothers (inmates), seem to have a personal vendetta with your success. They will risk harm to themselves intentionally seeking to provoke you to violence, just to see you fail at your goal. You’d have to dodge these kamikaze warplanes, knowing one wrong move could be the death of your dream, and possibly, the end of your life. This course for you would have to mean life or death, because that is exactly what it is for me. Even if I survive to be released, I then have to live in abject fear of revocation for non-criminal offenses for fifteen years; a traffic stop, jaywalking, or any police contact whatsoever.

Enrolling in college while in prison is a huge gamble for me: heads up high-stakes poker against a system who has two aces up its sleeve; society is dealing me cards from the bottom of a deck stacked against me; white and Black America is holding a gun to each side of my head, forcing me to play. The system bets my life; I raise my son’s life and push all in!

2 comments on “letter from a grateful incarcerated student
  1. Kathy, Thank you for posting this. The Inmate writing gave a good description of the daily struggle to survive, the obstacles and the power imbalance in the system. Very well done!

  2. Gwen Jackson says:

    Wow – so powerful. I’m impressed with this man’s tenacity, patience, honesty and strength.

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