JEREMY BUSBY from TEXAS: While most media outlets refuse to print writings from prisoners, Prison Writers was built specifically to be a publishing outlet for those incarcerated … They made a journalist out of me. And that, my friends, is something of extreme significance. I came to prison with an eight grade education. I have a thriving writing career now. I owe it all to Prison Writers for believing in me.
JERRY METCALF from MICHIGAN: I vividly remember the day I received word from Prison Writers informing me that I was to be published for the first time. I was breathless. I joyfully waved the letter around in the air, informing everyone who’d listen that I had just published three essays…
That was one of my proudest moments. For once I felt as if my life possessed value, as if all those thousands of hours of study had finally paid off. That accomplishment encouraged me to study harder, and helped keep me on track whenever I considered doing something stupid, like kick someone’s ass over a simple insult.
Prison Writers reminds me that I am human: that goodness and love conquer things like violence and hate. Loen and her volunteers treat us convicts with kindness and respect. They encourage us to be better people, and because we respect them, we listen. They understand that the carrot produces better results than the stick.
Maybe everyone in prison doesn’t deserve a second chance, but the men and women who are willing to spend thousands of hours teaching themselves how to write are probably a better bet than most. Don’t give up on us. When we get out, we will prove to the world that rehabilitation through the written word really does work.
CHARLES NORMAN from FLORIDA: Loen Kelley is one of those guardian angels…. She published my essay on the website, along with my email address. I began getting feedback from readers all over the world, telling me how my words had affected them, how I was different from others in similar situations. A Chinese writer translated my articles and posted them to Chinese social media, one platform reaching over 200,000 readers a month. I never imagined so much interest.
Prison officials called me in. I was directed to an office filled with guards. Uh oh. I just knew I was going to lockup. The highest-ranking guard turned a computer monitor around for me to see my photo on the screen. It was the PrisonWriters.com website. They had read several of my articles that Loen Kelley had posted. They quizzed me about the website and my work. They let me go.
Next thing I knew, guards were approaching me, told me my photo and my Prison Writers story was on the Florida Department of Corrections Facebook page, with links to PrisonWriters.com. They sent my articles to 30,000 prison employees statewide. Young officers told me they had learned a lot from my articles. They addressed me as ”Mr. Norman,” even the warden.
A man was stabbed to death in my dorm. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent two detectives to interview all of us. When I went in, one detective said, ” Charlie Norman. I’ve been reading your articles on the Internet. You’re a good writer.” ”Thanks,” I said.
Loen Kelley has become one of my heroes. We’ve talked on the phone. I’ve heard her laugh. She’s the real deal. She gets it. She has untied the gags that have silenced so many of us, the voiceless, the outsiders, and given us back our freedom of speech.
If I were a rich man, I would write a big check to continue Loen’s mission. But I am not rich, except in words. I pray that my words will motivate you to do what I can’t, write a check for prisonwriters.com. Keep it alive.
LEONARD SCOVENS from FLORIDA: The writing is everything to me. Bread. Water. Light. Life. Without it, I’m just a body corroding in this concrete box. But it isn’t enough to write for writing’s sake. I don’t breathe to die. I breathe to live. I write because I have something to say and a desire to be heard.
JASON BALES from OKLAHOMA: I have no radio or TV. I get no magazines or newspapers. Unless you count the ones that tell you that you are going to some place of damnation unless you send them money. And for me money no longer even exists.
When you are locked down 24 hours a day single celled in a perpetual state of mental agony and dispair, kindness is hard to come by. And every moment of it is regarded as a gift from the universe.
I was living a pointless existence when a pinpoint of light appeared. And as I reached out to it from my world — rife with agony and despair — I found hope and hope found me.
If you want to know how much you mean to me, you gave me hope. You gave me life. Without you I have no voice. You are my voice.
TRACY LEE KENDALL from TEXAS: Loen, I want to thank you for being there for me and for being the immense friend to me that you are. Your presence in my life as a friend and mentor has been a continual source of enrichment and development. You’ve also been an extraordinary example of selfless service and sacrifice because, aside from your efforts themselves, you have to accept a burden just to make a place in a demanding personal and professional life just to reach out to help people in the first place. Then, the fact that you love doing it is the true star on the Christmas tree.
Hopefully, you realize how much you have contributed to my life and how much has arisen in it that came by no other way. Insight I’ve gained from you over the years has helped me get my priorities in focus to live more effectively, and you’ve given me a lot of inspiration to push further toward my dreams.
As far as helping me with my writing, you’ve helped me improve and also have more focus out of a zillion different directions I can shelter into easily. I’m still a long way from excellence, but I doubt I could hire anyone as capable as you if I could actually pay salaries. So personally, and professionally, you’re irreplaceable on friendship and utilitarian levels.
CHRIS DANKOVICH from MICHIGAN: My name is Chris Dankovich. For those of you unfamiliar with my writing on Prison Writers, I was incarcerated as an adult at 15 years old for murder back in 2005. Back in 2015 Loen read a short piece I had done for another organization and asked if I would submit something for this burgeoning and original idea she had: to create a place to showcase perspectives on the criminal justice system from those actually directly involved with it and affected by it.
I’ve written regularly over the past five years for PrisonWriters. It has helped me feel valued and develop confidence in writing as a skill set available for me to use on release. Through PrisonWriters, I’ve had people contact me to tell me that my writing has changed their lives, helped them understand themselves and others better, and have made valued friends (and two romantic relationships at different times).
People who’ve read my articles have contacted me from everywhere: Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, England, the Philippines, and China to speak about the differences in criminal justice and the facts about America’s concepts of it. In the United States, I alone have received letters from people in New York, New Jersey, Texas, California, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan ranging from people saying that my writing on PrisonWriters has changed their minds about an issue of criminal justice, enlightened them on juvenile reform issues, and helped humanize those on the inside. A college in Texas made various authors on PrisonWriters, including mine, a mandatory part of one of its classes. Perhaps the most personally meaningful one to me was a woman who communicated that it helped her with grieving over her fiance, who had died years after his incarceration as a juvenile in an adult prison.
PrisonWriters has not only become a necessary part of the national criminal justice discussion in recent years… it has, quite frankly, changed the lives of those inside and outside of prison.
WAYNE SNITZKY from OHIO: PrisonWriters has given us a venue to tell our stories, shed light on the truth. It’s the only way we are going to be able to clean things up. And personally, knowing my words are out there, being read, might just be my only chance at leaving a legacy other than the crime I committed. Prison Writers allows me to exist outside my 6′ X 10′ cell.
It’s one of the things that keeps me going.
DOROTHY MARAGLINO from CALIFORNIA: We live in a world where everyone is trying to silence our voice. Prison Writers takes a single voice and combines it with the voices of others living in our world and sends it out into your world. That action amplifies the effects of a single voice lost in the noise.
We live in a world that must be experienced to be believed. Without writers taking pencil and pen to describe the events, the heartache, the realities, the blessings, and the miracles that happen within these walls, non-prisoners would not understand what it is like. Prison Writers showcases our stories so that a person does not have to come to prison to experience what we experience or learn the harsh life lessons that we learn.
Prison Writers is your window into the hidden world we live in and it’s a safe place for prisoners to give our experiences. This cultural exchange can be invaluable for those interested in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, humanity, or just idle curiosity. These words from those cut off from the world can move, inspire, motivate, warn, and even heal those who read them.