Letters from inmates always an adventure

April 27, 2013

Some of you may be aware that I have a particular passion for writing about the justice system.

Back in the fall, the Hood County News began a partnership with the Texas Center for Community Journalism in which we have provided justice-related articles to the state’s 550 or so community papers.

This has made me the darling of the Texas prison system.

Opening their letters brings mixed feelings – and not because I think all prison inmates are innocent. I don’t.

I think some of them probably are, but that, as they say, is a whole nuther story.

The mixed feelings come because I know that some of these people truly need to feel that someone cares enough to at least want justice, even if justice is, say, a 25-year sentence instead of a 99-year one.

So it makes me feel a little guilty to admit that I sometimes find humor in letters that, to the inmates, are no laughing matter.

One such letter arrived this week from Gatesville. After the one-sentence opening paragraph in which the inmate said she received my name from “one of your fervent admirers,” she wrote this:

“My problems began with Fidel Castro.”

Man, a line like that will stop you in your tracks. I’m not sure how a reporter in little ol’ Granbury, Texas, can solve a problem that started with the leader of Cuba.

“I imagine a lot of problems started with Fidel Castro,” one co-worker piped up.

Last week when the mail arrived, I was handed two letters at the same time. I scratched my head, since the name and prison unit address in the upper left-hand corners of the envelopes showed that they were from the same inmate.

Why in the world would an inmate send me two letters at the same time? I wondered.

The first letter said that I was being given exclusive interview rights to a group of inmates who had created a website through which to communicate with me.

Intriguing, since prison inmates don’t have access to the Internet.

Then I opened the second letter. It asked me to disregard the first. Seems the website was going to be created by someone on the outside, who had proven to be unreliable.

Imagine that.

This inmate, I happen to know, has had a history of driving while intoxicated and fleeing the scene of accidents. I do not particularly desire “an exclusive interview.”

Sometimes, where inmates are concerned, I am the one who pursues an interview.

On Thursday, a letter came in the mail from an inmate in Tennessee Colony. He was replying to an email I had sent him through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Here is an excerpt from his letter:

“…I almost decided not to talk to you for a number of reasons. The main one being your (sic) with the media. I hate you people with a passion. You guys are in the most deceptive self-serving profession there is (right beside attorneys). It goes in the order of child molesters, rapists, attorneys, media.”

I could make a joke about how attorneys are higher on his contempt scale than reporters, but the lawyers in town might not appreciate it.

Of all the fervent admirers I supposedly have in prison units scattered across Texas, and I’m going to meet with this guy.

Don’t ask me why, but it’s just one of the reasons why I love this “self-serving profession.”

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