Breaking Into Prison

by Dish Staff

Maya Schenwar reflects on what she’s learned from exchanging letters with prisoners:

Prison is built on a logic of isolation and disconnection. Letters between pen pals are almost always exchanged for the opposite purpose and with the opposite effect: connection.

The act of pen-palling mirrors the mindset shift that will be necessary to rethink how our society “does justice” on a much larger scale. My conversations, correspondences, and relationships with prison-torn families have taught me that separation breeds more separation, that the coldness and isolation of prison breed the coldness and isolation of violence. And I think about how the one-on-one relationship, in which the prisoner emerges as a person (with thoughts, a personality, a history, hopes, dreams, nightmares), might serve as a model for the beginnings of a person-based, connection-based justice system.

Previous Dish on a reader with a pen pal in solitary confinement here.