A friend of mine awaits his release from a Texas prison.
Most of my other friends have no experiential or personal context for understanding him, his current circumstance or the life that led him to the Texas Department of Corrections.
"Richard" used drugs.
Richard ended up in prison.
But, that is only the beginning of his story.
He and I have been exchanging letters for a couple of years now. He appeared before the parole board recently. He hopes that they will decide in his favor and send him home.
Before landing in prison, he was a member of the small, urban church that I have attended for the past eleven years.
Since being in prison, he has applied himself to just about every opportunity presented to him.
A few days ago I received his latest letter.
Since there is no way to convey what his life has been like, I want to share the words he wrote, exactly as he wrote them. My intention is not to embarrass or exploit my friend. My purpose is to open a bit of a window into a world and a life about which most people have absolutely no understanding.
Here is what my friend wrote to me:
"I am Praying that my letters fine you and yours in God hand. And also would you tell Everyone at the Church Hi"for me. and to keep me in pary. I did see Parole on the. 8-17-05 I will let you all no, when I her back from them, hope I make it, I am so tide of here but. If not let it be not my will but, God' will, I ask Tom to let the church no, I have not got A. letter from hem and some time. Bonnie's sister had sade in her last letter to me. That our church had move. to Washing St. and I didnot" Hav the new address.
"I am hopeing that this letter get to you, I am doing better and better in school the more I go the more I get out of it. I have a good teacher. but I am doing what ever it take, to get out and stay out. and I no that mean to do what right. and also to let God live in me. see I now put everything In his hands. Larry. I hope to her back form you soon. If not. may God bless and keep you, Hope you can Reet this
"This is Just Some of my award."
Enclosed in my letter were three certificates my friend had been awarded for completing various training programs designed to help him learn to read and write.
My friend has many, many needs. In my view he needs to be in a place where he can receive treatment for his addiction, a better setting for basic adult education and practical training that will lead to productive employment.
Jesus once told his followers that when they visited folks in prison, they were in essence paying him a visit. I expect that if Jesus was here today, he would say the same.
Given the blessings of our democratic institutions, surely we have options besides the traditional, no-treatment, no-change prison system that has become an industry for rural America.
Taking people like Richard out of the community hurts all of us. Surely there must be a way to provide what he needs, seriously address his failures and at the same time avoid the incarceration that costs all of us far too much with too little return on our investment.
Richard will be home soon. I look forward to seeing him and hanging out again. I pray this time that he can "stay out" like he plans.
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