Friday, January 7, 2011

The Unanswerable Letter

I'm a lousy correspondent. Just ask any of the people waiting for me to reply to their letters. One of the envelopes sitting on the pile has been these for months and much as I want to reply, it twinges my conscience.

It is from a fellow prisoner. I bumped into him many years ago when he was serving a 6 year sentence. Now he has received a Life sentence with a tariff (minimum term) of 25 years. He wants my advice on how to "do" his sentence.

I began to write my reply and then it hit me. My man is in his thirties. He will be about 60 on release, if all goes well. What could I possibly say that could fill that void of time with meaning? What?


  1. They say that 60 is the new 40, and it ain't nothing but a number anyway.

    There is lots of things your friend can do, start with things he enjoys like maybe reading, writing, painting, drawing ( are there any other crafts available?) music, cookery, sport are some examples.

    He could even write his own blog in time maybe?

    Of course as you and many other (ex) prisoners know Ben things like meditation are really good for you, for anyone.

    I know it is hard, but everyone always has to make the best out of whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

    And don't forget to say a prayer for him, and let him know that you are doing so if it is something you feel an inclination towards, it will help you too. Praying for people is so therapeutic I find.

    I have seen some wonderful art and craft pieces that have been produced by inmates. One of my favorites was a huge Bob Marley tapestry type picture made out of match sticks, I loved it so much and my friend did say he was going to give it to me ... hmmmm what happened I wonder; I might have to chase him up about that lol!

    Art is a fantastic and creative way to spend time and it can also be cathartic, if those inner disturbances can be reached and exorcised through things like art, craft, writing etc and you get that inner peace, your friend could develop into a very strong and wise man, maybe a bit like you ... I'm not saying you're perfect you know, everyone has faults; everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

    Giving yourself time to get to know yourself and then applying yourself in whatever capacity you can to the world for the good of all to the best of your ability is the noblest thing anyone can do.

    Good luck to both of you x

  2. Like you have done, apply yourself to self knowledge, improve the mind, take a peaceful path through the minefield that is our prison system. Sophie is right, age is but a number.

  3. Reply to him Ben, even if you can't think of anything profound to say. Just let him know you are 'there' for him, so to speak. That is all we can do sometimes, but it can make a huge difference.

  4. Sophie J: "They say that 60 is the new 40", was it you who wrote that on my blog on my 60th birthday? In any event, I remember the comment and when one of my friends asked what it was like to be 60, I gave that reply because it tickled my sense of humour.

    Ben: You could always rely on the stock answer "Do your bird!".

  5. Sometimes its best to say nothing at all!

  6. Nah I disagree Flo, not in this case, it might be easier for Ben to say nothing, but thoughts of his friend would linger, so even if its a few lines (like Jules said) it would be better than nothing.

    Communication with one another goes a long way.

  7. I agree with Jules. "Sorry you're here, stay in touch" is inadequate but if you don't reply he's likely to feel rejected.

  8. What Jules says is more reassuring; when I say its best to say nothing, it is because I know how broken promises can destroy a person. I spent 3 years (2003-2006)waiting for someone who promised to help me without realising that the same person was out to destroy me, that he had lied to me and obviously forgotten about what he had promised me and it was hell. I don't know about ben, he receives hundreds of letters, but I would not know what to say if I was in his position. Its worse if one is vulnerable like I was; hanging on to the mystery of an unfulfilled promise. I would rather know that there is nothing ben can do for me, than have an illusion!

  9. I don't understand why it should be so difficult to say a few encouraging words to someone in need.

  10. Hey Ben, have you been following the prison strikes in Georgia USA? The largest and longest prison strikes since records began in the US apparently, and all entirely peaceful. The prisoners have made a list of uncontroversial and sensible demands too, any chance of hearing your views about it?

  11. My advice is to suck it up, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. Sounds kind of cliche though.

  12. Jailhouse lawyer has it right, just *do your bird*. For some people, going to jail means their whole world had caved in, for others, it's Yippee, no cooking, no shopping and free gym. He will have to decide, work or education etc, and then just get on with it.