For Those Behind The Walls, Letters Are Our Lifelines

There is currently a proposal to dramatically restrict inmates in the Santa Clara County jail system from receiving letters. Steeda McGruder, founder of Sisters That Been There, writes about the profound power of receiving letters while incarcerated, and shares correspondence from women currently behind the walls who write about the "life-saving" value of letters.

As I sat in my jail cell in November of 2010, I read closely an article entitled “The Power of a Letter” from Women’s Day magazine. Although I knew the impact of a letter at that time, I was quite impressed to see that others on the outside had remembered the powerful art. I had thought it was something that only existed to people affected by the institution. Receiving mail is an experience in itself, but to open a letter addressed to you is a gift that no longer gets the recognition it deserves. Letter writing is the life line to the incarcerated women I work with. For any human in lock up of any sort, it’s the only way one feels a sense of freedom while incarcerated. That is why any proposal to limit inmates from receiving mail is tremendously harmful – to the inmates, their loved ones, and our collective community.

In the writings you will read here, you will see the true power of the letter. It is life altering, life-saving, therapeutic, a source of mental health support, and much more. These writings were some of the letters I received from incarcerated women who have heard about Sisters That Been There. Some are letters from women we have written to give them encouragement as they get ready to live a new life on the outside. Most of these letters were received by us before news came out that the jail was considering restricting mail.

To restrict any amount of writing – which would occur if people were limited to using just postcards -- is to say how much one can think and say. If you ask me, that sounds like punishment. I can speak personally on how powerful letters are for those on the inside, and as you will read, they continue to be a source of inspiration for the women inside. As you read these writings, you will see letters are what keeps them focused on leading a successful life on outside, and for others it is the important reminder that there are people out here ready to support them. – Steeda McGruder, Founder of Sisters That Been There

I Have Your Letter Taped to My Wall, Thank You – (5.11.13)
I woke up my 5 this morning here and found some mail had been slid under my door. Naturally I knew this was some sort of mistake, because I had only been here a short few days. When I open the card from all the girls at S.T.B.T and read, "Welcome home and we are praying for you" all the days I have spent holding my emotions in and being visibly strong through this entire ordeal came to an instant surface. I cried so hard for the best part of two hours. I am moved by your support and believe you are a gift from God as he knows my heart and who I am. Please thank all the girls for me and I can't wait to meet all of you. I am so excited at what lies ahead.

I have your letters taped to the wall here in my cell. I reminisce constantly about meeting all of you. I cry every time I read the words in my card "welcome home.” It's been a long, rough road, but I did it. Thank for making me feel loved, not alone, and home. I love you all.

You Made Me Feel Less Alone – (10.2.12)
"For my sisters, the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they dont have any.” Alice Walker

I like that. Man, you don’t even know just how your letter has made me feel not alone, like someone really does care about me. All I can say is thank you. I’ve been so depressed I don’t know where I went wrong. I never felt so lonely, I never cared how I hurt my family until now, until this moment. I feel so alone. Well, my sisters, I just needed to vent and you were that one. I was the first one to see the article in the Mercury News paper about Sisters That Been There. Love it. I love you, keep up the positivity.

Need a Letter or Picture As I Start a New Life -- (2.25.13)
I'll be 33 years old this year. I’m currently doing a 3 year sentence at Elmwood. I’ve been in and out of jail since 2002. I put myself in program, so I can start my life on the right path. I don’t have support from my family and I don’t blame them. But time is so hard without a picture and a letter time to time. I’d like to receive a list of services your support group offers. I look forward to hearing from you.

thank you for your time.

Please Help, Thinking of Giving Up -- (5.20.13)
I have a long history of drug use and my trauma goes back to the age of 4. I am learning how to change the behaviors that get me locked up. I just feel like giving up sometimes. I have 6 months clean and I need all the help I can get. Please help me. I’m 50 years old and I have lost everything. I’m thinking maybe I should just give up.

Your Letter Means A lot as I Fight for a Sober and Successful Life
I received your beautiful card and picture last night. Thank you so very much. I know you wonderful women know how good it feels to get some love from the outside world. I greatly appreciate all your love and support. It really means alot to me and it encourages me to fight for a successful, sober life. Thanks again, much love and respect.

Please Send Photos, I’ll Be Here for a While
Hi, my friends and I were talking about the new mail rule for inmates starting June 1st of this year. We will only be able to have postcards sent to us. Some of us don't have any family willing to send us pictures, and our friends brought you up. Is it possible you could please go on our facebook pages and print out some pictures and send them to us? I am 28 years old with two daughters. I will be here for a while and no one writes me. Please help!

Letter Just in Time -- (12.23.12)

First and foremost I would like to thank you for taking the time to write me. You couldn’t have written this letter at any better time. I will be getting out May of 2013. I would like to be a part of your support group. I would love to be of service with everyone in the sisters group. Please send me more info. Also, can you send me a picture of me and my boyfriend? Thank you and can’t wait to here from you soon.

A Letter Is Always Timeless For Those Doing Time
There are only a few ways of staying connected to the outside world when you are behind the wall –phones, visits, tv, newspaper, mail and often time lyrics to music. Most people never experience calls, or get visits, so the way we stay connected to the real world is mail at 10pm at night in the women’s side of Elmwood. And for those that don’t get mail, the power is in your cell mates sharing some inspiration. We share photos to uplift our spirits, and read from the folded pages to our podettes. To limit this would be limiting the basic livelihood of inmates period. If us who have been there don’t speak up, no one would ever know the power of a letter – stamped, signed, sealed and delivered to you in a place that feels so far from the real world, but yet is so close when put in the hands of a confined soul! A letter will always be timeless to those doing time!

About Steeda McGruder

Steeda McGruder is the founder and director of Sisters That Been There, a peer lead support and re-entry program in Santa Clara County.

This article is part of the category: Law & Justice 
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When will these restrictions take place

They have Rights Too. They are people Too! Do the right thing and let me have the needs and services available to them so they can get the skills and training now so when they are free they can live a productive life giving back to society.

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