Little known fact: We regularly receive submissions from inmates. Oddly—and interestingly—they are never about prison life. We have not yet published any of these submissions, which often bear the marks of a struggle to communicate without adequate tools, physical and educational (sometimes they are handwritten; sometimes the sentences are either difficult to parse—i.e., confusing—or use a very limited lexicon). However, we have great hopes for future submissions from one particular prison. Here’s the story.
Our department received a letter from an inmate. It somehow ended up in our office, though the inmate was requesting not copies of our magazine (which sometimes happens) but rather textbooks on grammar, manuals giving guidance and tips on how to write both expository prose as well as poetry and fiction. The inmates, he wrote, want to learn. We headed to the department lounge, where professors and students alike stock the shelves with all kinds of no-longer-needed books for others to pick through and peruse. There were lots of books on writing. We packaged them up and shipped them off. A few weeks later, we received the following (abridged) letter:
I want to thank you for your kind act. For you see, our library is shared by 2,400 inmates, of whom, all will have access to your books. This is a great thing you have done for us. You answered a request from an obscure prison. . . . You cared enough for your fellow man to assist his love for the craft of writing. . . . If we could we would exclaim our gratitude loudly and proudly. But of course we are prevented from such outbursts. Nonetheless, please know we hold you in the highest regard. You did something very nice today. And for that, I say well done.
With creative sincerity,
[name of prisoner] and 2,399 other thirsty souls