Why Do I Care About Convicts?

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Why do I care about convicts?
Why do I care about
our injustice system?
“There but for the grace of
God go I.” Being a recovering
addict and having community
with similar others,
I know so many people
who today are therapists, community leaders,
librarians, responsible parents, etc., but could
have, given just a slightly different circumstance,
been convicts.
I also recognize my want and need to be
“known.” I love living in a community where
I will go to a restaurant and be recognized by
someone. I love knowing that I can knock on
a friend’s door and it will be opened. I love
having this paper, and WEFT, and my artwork.
I love having a partner who values me.
These are avenues where I can be heard –
where I can be “known.”
Convicts are not known. They are forgotten
as though they are not human beings; not
part of our community. Locking them up,
hiding them away, forgetting that they exist is
wrong. I offer these letters from Michael
Youngren, an inmate with whom I correspond,
so that the reader can know, just for a
moment, one of the two million people who
are imprisoned in the United States right
I have sympathy with victims. I have sympathy
with convicts. One does not negate the
JUNE 26, 2003
Dear Sandra,
…stepping out the door into a light cool
rain. Yes, rain. Happens all the time, but I can
never be out in it because, other than a chow
line or a call pass, they cancel yard when it
Sure I’ve had to walk in the rain to a meal
or on a health care pass. But this morning’s
rain was different. All my focus was drawn to
it. I could feel each cool, wet drop hit my
exposed head and arms. A few drops on the
back of my neck. I slowed my steps to the bare
minimum. I felt the air just a bit cooler on my
flesh where drops had hit.
My mind raced over the myriad of things I
could be doing other than letting something
as simple as rain break my heart. Other things
if I were a free man that is. That hurt has settled
in my heart and I’ve carried it all day.
OCTOBER 29, 2003
You wrote of how very few inmates show
their excitement/anxiousness upon and
before their entering the visit. I sat and spoke
to Jay. I told him that you were right… That
when they call me for a visit I’m tremendously
excited. I’m all “hurry up get ready” and
anxious. I’m ecstatic! I want to be sure I’m
clean and neat and shaved etc.
The entire walk from here to there my
head is spinning with wonder and excitement…
trying to think of things I wanted to
share or hear your opinion on. Wondering
what you’re wearing. Full of anticipation for
your smile, for your hug. Yet I walk through
the door with none of these emotions upon
my face or in my step.
Jay and I came to the conclusion – after
lengthy discussion – that it’s because we are
so accustomed to keeping our emotions hidden
in here. If you show joy, happiness, pride,
or appreciation for something, then there is
always the chance that one or more of the
miserable wolves in here will seek to destroy
it, or degrade it. They are miserable and
empty and do their best to recruit as many
into their realm of sorrow as possible. If you
show distaste or anger then there are those
who will do their best to antagonize the situation
into some form of confrontation for the
sheer entertainment value of it!
We struggle… even practice the “stone
face” in our youth – youth on the streets and
figuratively our youth in prison.We master it
for survival.
NOVEMBER 1, 2003
I found a leaf on the yard that must have
blown in from the
grouping of trees just
beyond the fences. It
wasn’t completely dried
out but was not fresh
either. It had just the
faintest trace of green at
its center. The rest of it
was brown, gold, and
orange/red. It was beautiful.
It tore my heart
apart and filled it with
hope all at once. Found
me sitting in the park
with Katie just two
years ago…
We were sitting in Rem Park at about 1:00
in the morning. It was dark and quiet and
altogether a perfect night. Leaves were falling
off of the trees where we walked and as we
made love in a cluster of them, I had whispered
in her ear “It’s just me, you, and the
Autumn Moon, Katie, the sweetest threesome
I’ve ever had.” And we giggled like little kids.
I couldn’t help but wonder despite my
efforts not to – what my life would be like
today had I made just one different choice.
The very same leaf inspired me to hope for
some autumn in my future. Some wrestling
in a pile of leaves with laughter. Some midday
walk along a path with leaves crunching
beneath my steps. Another threesome with
me,my love, and the moon.
NOVEMBER 29, 2003
I guess I just need to write… need to communicate
beyond these walls and fences…
gain the comfort in knowing that whatever
part of me I leave upon these pages will leave
this place. Keep putting pieces of my soul in
the mail and catch up to it someday with my
body. Put it all somewhere safe, in trusted
…I can sometimes feel an indescribable
insanity at the edges of my mind… the end of
a thread. I don’t know exactly what would
happen if I tugged at it. I just know that it
holds many things in place. Sometimes I
wonder… imagine that if I pulled it and
allowed all to scatter, then I wouldn’t have to
think or feel or rationalize or organize, etc. I
could just stay lost for awhile in the piles of
thoughts scattered about in incoherent heaps.
DECEMBER 11, 2003
I sat to finish the letter to my Mother. I
had a clear thought as to where I was going…
but as soon as the first sentence hit the paper
from where I’d left off, my head just went
somewhere dark and far away. My heart and
my soul followed my head and it has taken
me weeks to resurface.
I wonder if being so close to the holidays
plays a role. I wonder if I just turned a stone
that I hadn’t looked under before. I can’t pin
it down and to be honest I’m scared to try
because I fear venturing back to the place I
was when I got lost.
I want to describe my pain. I want to
express my sorrow. I
want to vent my rage. I
want to cradle my fears.
I want to take you to
where I sat for these last
few weeks since our
visit… since that letter,
but I cannot. There
aren’t words, but could
you have laid a hand
upon my heart you
would have known.
DECEMBER 24, 2003
Christmas isn’t really a
big deal to me these days – but you are. You
are more to me than all the holidays combined.
I hope you are happy, healthy, and in
good spirits now and ever. You are a greater
part of me each day Sandra.
DECEMBER 26, 2003
…Yet for the last few weeks I’ve sat in one
of the darkest depressions I’ve seen in many
years. I’ve lost 10 lbs., I haven’t written a letter,
I haven’t spent much time with Jay. Hell I
haven’t even masturbated in almost a month.
Going to work has just been “get it done” &
get back to the cell.
I’m so sorry I’ve cut you out of this time
but you are a great deal in my heart and in my
life, Sandra. I know, KNOW, that you are a
true friend and love me. I KNOW that you
would’ve done anything to remove me from
where I sat. But I have a special box in my
soul where all of my time, experience, joy,
love, etc., with you is kept. The darkness was
long before you and has greatly faded because
of you sitting with me in it. Somehow I feel
like this was something I had to ride out by
myself. I feel so much better. I found so many
little pieces of Michael. I was a boy, Sandra. I
ran, I laughed, I loved. I was naive. I was
innocent. I had excited and nervous curiosity.
I wasn’t always bitter, cruel and calculated.
So much of what I’ve lived has been so dark
that I often lose those pictures of when I was
just a plain simple boy, blonde hair falling
into my eyes, finding a smile for every new
discovery. Pedaling my bike to explore a little
further beyond my boundaries each time.
Listening to my Grandfather’s tales of woe
from his childhood.Helping the old lady next
door sweep her porch and pick cucumbers
from the patch in her back yard. Sneaking
kisses with puppy loves.
I was clean and pure and no different than
any other boy. I forget that, with all the dirt
on my skin in years to come. But today I
know – and all the dirt will never come off,
Sandra, but it doesn’t matter because all of it,
good and bad, is why I can be who I am
today… is why I will become the man I will.
You have seen my soul and can love me
anyway – so there must be something worth
loving. I will not forget anymore.
Are you sure you want the letter – the one
to Mom? I don’t want to analyze it. I don’t
want to hash it out. I wrote it down. I let it go.
I sent it, it’s gone! Though I’m not going to
send it to her, I’d send it to you because I trust
you. I’d send it to you because there is no
other place on earth I’d be comfortable with
it going to.
I’m not saying we never talk of it – I’m just
saying we let it be gone for awhile. Let me
thicken back up a bit. Because truth be told,
Sandra, I’m as thin as it gets and my emotions
are pretty flimsy where that’s concerned.
JANUARY 10, 2004
I keep looking for what I want. It’s like
something I can sense but can’t see enveloping
me. My deepest thoughts seem trapped
inside this unseen shell or pressure that surrounds
me. Inside I am oblivious to what I
have and can only see to what I want. Need
doesn’t even reside here. This place will never
be filled within me. This place will never
know contentment.
I’d once thought that I had grown so great
that I could no longer fit into this place.
I’d once thought that I had shrunk so
small that this place could swallow me whole.
I’d once thought that I had condensed this
place so neatly that even “want” couldn’t live
here. But “want” does live here and I live in
“want” and when I am here there is plenty of
space for neither of us to be cramped.
Infinitely I am bound to “want,” to fill this
space even though I know that hollow can’t
be held and hollow can’t be filled. How can
nothing weigh so much?!
With Love,
Families of those in the “correctional system”
– or those who may want to be in contact
with inmate can find useful information at
To find information on a specific Illinois
inmate or facitlity you can visit the Illinois
Department of Correction web page at

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