In addition to keeping offenders confined, the walls and the policies of prisons are designed to keep outsiders out as well. Why? Why are the voices of prisoners suppressed?
When prisoners speak out through the internet or other forms of media, it is common to hear these objections: “Those men are criminals and they deserve to be locked away in silence forever! How dare they speak about their crimes? How dare they complain? Do they want our sympathy? We won’t give it! Do they want to glorify their sins and keep on harming their victims even after we have banished them? Let them rot forever!”
We hear this and weep.
Let us then begin by stating in plain terms that we are men who accept our guilt. We know we have caused terrible harm. We live with that sense of heavy guilt every day. We are penitent. We are sorry. We have suffered anguish in our souls that has nothing to do with the nature of prison. We would go back in time and change what we did if we could. We are living examples of those who commit wrongful acts, suffer for them, and repent. We think of the pain of those we hurt daily.
All of us have unique stories. Most of us freely acknowledge our guilt and seek reconciliation. Some of us are not guilty of the crime for which we were convicted, but nevertheless are guilty. We hope to open your eyes to the injustices suffered on both sides of complex issues. We will talk frankly about the brokenness of a system which doesn’t meet the human needs of those who have been harmed and does further harm unnecessarily. Our objections to what we have witnessed and experienced are heartfelt, and we realize people may confuse these objections with efforts to escape our own accountability. Let us be clear: each of us deeply regrets the tragedies associated with our names. We know there must be a response to crime, but we will argue that this response should be aimed at healing the harm which has occurred, not causing further damage. Those who commit crime have a responsibility to meet the obligations they have incurred and we desperately want to meet those obligations.
We don’t want people to feel sorry for us. We are not complaining. We don’t want a free pass. We don’t want to do any further damage to anyone. We are men who have sojourned a long time in a desert land for our sins, and we want redemption. We want to bear witness to the things we have seen and experienced. We want people to see our fragile humanity. We want our suffering to have meaning. We want a chance to heal as much of the harm we caused as is possible. We want to reveal the great and unnecessary harm which is further being done to our society in the name of justice. We want a chance to be restored to the communities we love and long for.
We are living question marks. What is the point of all this? Are we still human? Is there any value in our lives? Is there any forgiveness, any redemption for those who have truly repented? If not, what does that say about us all?
We are human like you and we want to show that. We are your brothers and fathers and cousins and uncles and sons. We struggle to educate ourselves and find meaning and purpose in life. We need help in order to construct a positive future in community with all peaceful people. Why in the name of all human good and the future of our society would you refuse to help us in such an endeavor? Can the reader honestly believe there are 2.3 million people in the United States she must be protected from, that just can’t be allowed to return?
We are the prodigal sons. We have been told it doesn’t matter if we repent, that we shall not have a chance to give anything back, and there is no return no matter what. We come back to the gates anyway in the name of peace and hope and love. Where else will we go? For human beings, life means forever seeking a home and the love of family and community. No other home exists for us but the one from which we were exiled. We know some of you will kick us and spit on us no matter how true our words or how pure our hearts. We know you are not evil, only afraid and asleep. Wake up. Wake up. We are not monsters. Hear us knocking. We will come back to you again and again.
Where else could we go?