Jail mail to my old department at Rolling Stone | Why you should write to an inmate | Other jail content

Inmates used to send mail to the circulation department of Rolling Stone magazine in the late 2000s, when I worked there. On a floor with hundreds of cubicles, only one desk had an inbox tray filled with letters from people in jail. I worked right next to that cube and would occasionally stop by and open some. I feel guilty saying this now and maybe a bit guiltier for this post, but, I scanned one letter and a decade later it was totally worth it. Please note that I’m posting this out of fascination and the hopes that this will convince you to write someone in prison (more on this below), or simply read letters that are collecting dust. Let this spark only joy.

Here’s the verbatim transcript:

I want to pull this apart and examine it from every angle. Instead, please post your favorite quotes in the comments. And, umm, one more thing. I Googled Charles Hardig, the results were pretty nasty. I thought about deep diving into a type analysis but that is a rabbit hole I’d prefer not to breach. Any private requests to remove or obstruct his name will be honored. Note I only have this scan, not the actual letter.

My letters to an inmate

I’ve been emailing with an inmate recently — he’s locked up for seven years. We’re about three degrees separated: he’s the sibling of a person my friend married. To level set another way, we never spoke or hung out without our mutual connections. For several years I just about him but finally inquired how I could get in touch with him. Email, sort of.

The mindset I’m in while just drafting the email is intoxicating. It’s like a mutated form of writer’s block. What can I say that’s worth his ? He doesn’t live in a 24/7 connected world with a phone in his pocket. He’s issued designated, surveillanced hours where he can use a PG-13 version of the internet. And my words will almost surely be a part of his web session. My first email was an attempt at summarizing about eight years of my life. If you’re a writer and need a good exercise, I suggest trying this. If you don’t know an inmate but still wanna give it a go, there are many services where you can just write random inmates. This is a touchy topic as some of these prison-for-profit corporations are pure evil.

In his case, emails are sent via a site called JPay. They require you to set up an account. Pretty simple process. Sending and an email costs around $0.20 and you can include an additional $0.20 so the inmate can reply for free. Here’s JPay’s page on all this. Here’s the header of their email composition page, not intimidating at all:

<Writer’s note> the rest of this post is a curated blend of jail-related content I’ve consumed recently. Jail is not an interest of mine but it’s important to highlight positive energy happening with this population. If you would go 0/5 in this Jeopardy category and drool at the word check out 13th by Ava Duvernay.

A TED article about new year’s resolutions and prison pen pals

Julia Fawal posted (Dec. 2017) the TED article 9 creative New Year’s resolutions, it’s very unique. Of note: . Novel, right? Here’s the excerpt:

Michael Cohen welcomes your jail mail:

COPS TV show producers would hustle people into signing releases

Jack Healy from the NY Times wrote a story on the podcast Running from Cops. It’s a result of 18 months of research and more than 100 interviews, and examines how “Cops” portrays low-income people and minorities. A good listen.

“It makes it all worse, and it completely breaks any trust of law enforcement,” the podcast’s host, Dan Taberski, said in an interview.

Governor’s Island rocks in general but Escaping Time is a reason to go

I love Governor’s Island and have always held it as a required NYC summer day trip. Go there and ride a bike around, check out some art, lounge in a hammock. This past summer I visited the Escaping Time art exhibit.

Escaping Time: Art from U.S. Prisons displays and sells artwork created by currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. While visitors view the various paintings, ceramics and sculptures, they will be able to see the humanity and creativity that exists behind prison walls.

Thank you for reading.

About me: I’m a screenwriter who needs an outlet for writer’s block, hence I occasionally write things other than screenplays. This should go without saying but, I’m not currently managed or repped. Read more about my projects here.

Find me on Twitter where my average post gets 0.1 likes.

-Joe Espo

PS- two more I just thought of:

Side hustlin' screenwriter, my cold query coming to inboxes near you! Content strategist by day. Eng/Esp.