Before her arrest, my sister and I weren’t the closest. We’ve gone years without speaking. Our love for each other was and still is doubtless, but we lead separate lives in separate spaces and this alone created a wedge in our bond.
Now, I find myself unsure of what to say when writing my sister. Should I catch her up on the latest mainstream happenings? Should I gush about how quickly our sisters’ children are growing? I started composing my letters in the form of apologies, cautious not to offend, but uncertain of why I should feel guilty. Every word an eggshell. Every sentence a potential landmine.
I have been working towards writing more freely, more honestly, more courageously, despite the distance. I have chosen to communicate with love. A process that is no easier than it is necessary. With every sent letter, I am very aware of the painful possibility of not receiving a response.
I have felt rejected various times by loved ones who have personally experienced the despotism of the Prison Industrial Complex. I immediately feel small and unimportant. Why are they rejecting me? What am I doing to repel them? And a few other self-centered, yet very human thoughts that do not readily consider their experiences.
I fight to maintain connectivity with the folks from my neighborhood of origin in spite of our circumstantial differences. The social access I’ve acquired through my private university education has seemingly shut me out of many spaces I used to navigate. In social spaces I generally speak in a new language, one void of double negatives and Philly slang and people whose dinner comes from the Chinese carryout down the street.
However, my return home cannot compare to those who have been incarcerated. People aren’t guarded around me. They greet me with support and accolades. The love is evident. Whereas, with my father, sister and others who have relatable experiences, the community bombards them with questions laced with shoddily masked judgment.
My father and sister’s refusal to respond to me fails to deter me from sending letters to my sister, or love to the both of them. I don’t understand what they are experiencing and thus cannot condemn them for choosing to contact whomever they want, as this is one of their few freedoms left. So instead of feeling slighted, I choose to honor their choices. By doing so, I am hopefully reaffirming their humanity.
Let us REhumanize our loved ones who are drastically dehumanized by the PIC, loved ones bearing labels such as convict, felon, and criminal. We must re-evaluate our community practices for returning community members. We should aim to create a more inclusive and forgiving space for them. For people who are already experiencing social isolation, we must unfailingly be a home for them. When people are included, when they are welcome to engage in human connectivity, they feel valued.
My perspective may be unfavorable amongst those wronged or those who misguidedly identify previously and currently incarcerated persons as criminals.
Yet, this only influences me to improve the ways in which I offer understanding even more. I refuse to abandon my loved ones, even if it appears that they have given up on relating to me.
As community members, instead of shutting them out, I propose we dedicate one day a week to writing a loved one in prison and another to visiting them. Inquire about their passion so we can aid them in finding employment upon release. Invite them to discuss our interests. Forgive them for their absence. Never stop sending them love. And should they return, greet them with open arms and open hearts. Connect.