Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pelican Bay State Prison

In 1989, Pelican Bay State Prison was cut out of a dense forest near Crescent City, CA. The highlight of the new super-max prison was the Security Housing Unit (SHU), the X-shaped building at front, where 1,300 prisoners are kept in long-term solitary confinement, under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation.

Image from :

This is where the CDCR keeps Bryan .  Although I didn’t think I would ever visit Bryan, I filled out the visiting form, just in case.  My first visit was September 2010.  After a background check and other processes taking about 4-6-weeks, I was approved.  For each visit, I must call on a Monday and leave a message requesting a reservation for a visiting booth that coming weekend.  His section is allowed a two hour visit on Saturday and a two hour visit on Sunday.

After driving the 15 minutes from Crescent City, I enter the gate at the bottom of the picture (near that blue tower in the lower left) and drive clockwise to the parking lot (at the top of the picture).  I enter the Visiting Processing Area at 10:00am (the top, center building), fill out my form and give the VR staff my ID. The CDCR Visiting Room staff is friendly in a professional way, I never feel bad about visiting a prisoner.

There are strict rules about what to wear, but it really comes down to no under wire bras and no blue jeans or blue shirts as they resemble the prisoners’ uniforms at most CDCR facilities.  We then remove any metal items like jewelry, take off our shoes and pass through a very sensitive metal detector…. Exactly like the airport.
My information is entered into the computer and Bryan’s Section is called and told to prepare him for visit.  At 10:45 I get on a small bus with about 20 other visitors for the ride to the front of the SHU (the black shadowed area where the  X-intersects.)

Once in the SHU visiting area, I give the processing staff my paperwork and am assigned a booth where Bryan is waiting.  Only once did I arrive first and see him brought into his side of the booth in shackles, which were removed and the door closed.  I wasn’t too bothered by this…chains are the price one pays for a visit.

A box of hand and leg restraints at Colorado State Penitentiary. When moved out of their cells, inmates are restrained by hand and leg cuffs.

What I don’t see and Bryan has never mentioned is that he must undergo a complete strip search, probably into and out of visit. Here is an image and description of a Pelican Bay SHU strip search, also from the  webpage:

An inmate in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison removes all his clothing, spreads his toes and buttocks and is handcuffed without coming into physical contact with prison guards before a visit to the prison dentist.

After our visits, I leave the booth and Bryan is returned to his isolated cell, without even a window in the door.

Imagine being locked up in a windowless concrete cell the size of a small bathroom for 23 hours a day, without any face-to-face contact with another human being. You never see sunlight or a blade of grass. Whenever you leave your cell you’re handcuffed and shackled, hands-to-waist, ankle-to-ankle. Imagine being locked in these conditions for years. This is what it’s like to be in the Pelican Bay SHU.

This has been Bryan’s reality for 16 years.  

A Pelican Bay Prison Guard carries a rifle in the control room of the ultra-maximum Security Housing Unit, known as the SHU, whenever a guard enters one of the groups of 10 cells.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I have a new friend! Bryan's 5-5-10 letter telling me all about himself....

I am printing all of Bryan's letters to me in the order that I received them....

Having received my letter, entertainment packet and “bio”, Brian is responding with his first real letter.  As far commenting on the difficulties of life in he SHU, he only mentions the SHU mail delivery being slow and not being able to have pictures taken.  In this letter Bryan is focusing on introducing himself and commenting on all the things that I sent to him. Note his list and respond style, common when prisoners write letters.

This letter was seven pages of very, very, tiny writing, about the size of this 12 font lettering – single spaced!  I can see that he protected me from the torture that is his life, but to reveal it at this point would have horrified me and frightened me away. I guess we all self monitor what we share with new friends.

Written Wed. 5-5-10

Mrs. Julie,

Hello friend! It’s 4:58 and I can hear them pushing the chow carts in this direction and my stomach is growling but I am smiling from ear to ear as I just finished reading your really nice letter.  Thank you so much for taking the time to write a complete stranger and I really hope that you know that your willingness to open up the door and invite me in as a friend is not lost on me.  With that said, allow me to get ready for whatever it is that they’re pushing this way and then I’ll jump into your letter.

Wow…that was brutal.  :-)  Processed turkey.  It looked like a piece of white sponge but I got it down and I appreciate the little guys sacrifice.
Glad to hear that you received my postcard.  I was just trying to return the smile.  Eight days to reach you is no surprise.  What do you know about the SHU?  (Security Housing Unit)  All of our mail here goes through I.G.I (Institutional Gang Investigators), incoming and outgoing.  And whether it’s a simple post card or a 10 page letter, it’s going to land there for a while.  To receive your 4-29 letter in six days is frankly stunning.  The norm is 12 to 20 days.  So please keep this in mind during our future correspondence.  I’m a faithful pen pal who will ALWAYS write back, so when you feel that little internal clock going off that says I should’ve written by now, just know that it’s the mail situation here.  It’s been as bad as 30 to 45 days in the past.  That one had all of our loved ones up in arms.
You….First of all, congratulations on your one full year of sobriety.  I’ll speak more on this later in this letter but New Years was my tenth year and for those of us who recognize the importance of this in our lives, that was a big one for both of us.  That first one is tuff but I promise you that it gets easier as you not only grow stronger but you also grow prouder of your sobriety.  Especially the more times that you say no.  I wish you nothing but STRENGTH.
I enjoyed reading your short bio that you had posted.  As is normal with all people, we share some things in common and are polar opposites in others.  One thing that we have in common is openness.  You really put yourself out there…this is me, let the world see.  I can’t say that I’m “that” open but those who I share my life with are free to know me on every level.  I still live with a tremendous amount of guilt, I suffer from self-doubt and worry what others will think of me and my past…BUT…who doesn’t?  I look it all in the eye and don’t allow it to cripple me or socially stunt me to the point to where I shrink away from allowing others to really know me.  So feel free to ask anything that you’re interested in learning about me and don’t worry about stepping over any lines.
A little about me, mirrored with your summary:  You have to be careful in prison as to the level of trust that you can give other men but it is in my nature to give others the benefit of the doubt.  I like to assume the best in people as well.  We’re all flawed and I find it ridiculous to look down one’s nose at others…though we’re all guilty of it at times.
My work ethic is go-go-go, “bored” is not even in my vocabulary. :-)  Who has time for that!  I’m not even remotely materialistic, if I see the same generosity, I’ll give he shirt off of my back.  But like you, I still like to have nice things.  Here, that’s just the little things that make day-to-day a little more comfortable but when I’m free I’ll hold myself to a certain standard.  I love to give, too, if I were rich, it probably wouldn’t last very long. :-)  On the flip-side, I’m terrible about receiving and asking is like pulling teeth.  Not sure why…pride, maybe a bit of ego but I’m getting better at it.
Country boy to my bones but I’m at home in any environment.  I grew up in small town East Texas, great parents and grandparents, Methodist on one side Baptist on the other.  I spent every waking hour in the woods as a kid until I discovered girls and then unfortunately drugs.  But my bond to nature is deep.  Working hard is natural to me as well.  My dear ol’ ma works as hard as any man that I’ve ever know and my Pops works just as hard as she does.  I couldn’t possibly be any other way!  I truly admire this about you.
Not a father and have to come to terms with the fact that I never will be.  My father is hands down the most honorable, loving, tuff ol’ guy that I’ll ever know.  I was blessed beyond words and to never have what we have, with my own son or daughter, is a knife straight to the heart.  But on the other hand what if I would’ve been a teen father and never raised my child because I was locked up?  That would’ve been far worse.  I wouldn’t wish that on any child or parent.  It sounds like you must have done a great job with both in college.
Never been married and never would in prison.  But I’ll definitely be looking when I get out! :-)  I think I’ll be a good husband, even if I’m an old fogey then.
I’m no goody two shoes but I’m dead set against drugs and that whole scene.  When I’m free and settled I’d like to find the right cause to help as well.  It would mean a lot to me to actually be a positive force in whatever circle I found myself.
Politically informed but highly disgusted.  Very close to losing my faith in the system, Julie.  Are we a democracy or a corporate state pretending to be a democracy?  Believe me, when I’m free, you’ll find me in the street with a sign marching.  I’m pro-choice too, you can’t legislate a woman’s body.  I also believe in equal pay.  But I’m dead set against quotas and affirmative action.  The fed up young white male who’s done apologizing!   
OK, back to your letter.  Hope that begins to paint a little picture of myself for you.  I appreciate your sharing all of this with me.  As far as a positive attitude goes, I truly believe that we have to take ownership of our lives.  Don’t want to sound too much like Dr. Phil but we have to own where we find ourselves in life.  It’s a lot easier to find balance and happiness once you get rid of all the baggage that we all impose on ourselves.  I can honestly say that I’m happy 90% of the time.  And when I do get down on myself or po’ed at some external force, it’s brief.
As a Catholic I hope you are not too put off by this but I lost my faith in my early 20s which rocked my world as I’m sure you can imagine.  But in the end it gave me a true love of LIFE.  I stopped looking for heaven and started looking around me for the first time.  And I realized how beautiful the world is, right here, right now.  And I began to value every minute of every day in a really different way.  Once I viewed life as finites and almost fleeting in comparison to the life of our universe, it just made me appreciate it so much more.
Well Mrs. Julie it’s already 9:16 now.  I’m a slow writer huh! :-)  I’m on old fart status.  37, eating diner at 5:00, bed time at 9:00 and I get up at 4:15.  If I’m super old by the time they allow me to parole I’ll transition nicely into some senior care facility, hopefully co-ed!  With that I must brush my teeth and call it a night.  I’ll finish this up for you tomorrow.
Guten Tag, Mrs. Julie!  Its 11:12 and absolutely gorgeous outside, about 55 degrees and sunny.  I’ve had a good morning.  Got up early and knocked out my vocabulary studies during my workout and abs, cleaned up and waited for breakfast (2 boiled eggs, 2 pieces of bread, fruit and a milk).  We’re feeling the budget crisis here.  Anyway I was first out to the “yard” and I can look up through the mesh and see the sky.  It was already a nice pale blue and I could tell that it was going to be super nice out today.  I’m the only white in my section in this building but I have a good friend that I talk to each Thurs. morning through a thick steel door that’s welded shut which separates his “yard” from mine.  So we talked for a while.  This may sound crazy but we both started writing this year and one of our projects is together so we stand there at that door (my ear on my side, his on his side) and take notes and read what we’ve written.  Not very efficient and terrible on my neck but we manage. :-)
I think it’s seriously cool of you as a person to have volunteered in the military hospital.  The older I get, the more anti-war I become but I accept that there’s a time and place when men and women have to make an armed stand.  But my personal feelings on the war aside, I watch the roll call each Fri. on PBS of the fallen young men and women and I feel that.  Not all, but most are so young and the skeptic in me can’t help but to wonder what Afghanistan will look like in 10 or 20 years and whether the current policies will have asked for this level of sacrifice in vain or not.  Let us hope not.
Was “A Gift of Time” your concept?  So you’re basically a Jill of all trades.  Have you been in business for long?  With two daughters in college I’m assuming that you’re definitely making a good go of it.  Scholarships or not, that can’t be easy on the purse strings.  Professional mom, I like that.  :-)  There’s great pride in hard work.
So you do karaoke.  Does this mean that you’re a big music lover?  You mention the choir as well.  I love music and I listen closely to the lyrics.  M favorite is classic rock but I love country, jazz, folk, Irish… pretty much everything but rap and real bubble gummy pop.  I have to admit that for the first time I’m listening to some of what the kids like these days and just shake my head.  Now I know how Pops must have felt when my sister and I would torture him in the car with early Madonna and Wham! :-)  I’m more Bob Segar / Johnny Cash now.
This leads me to why I wrote.  I’ve been in the SHU for 15 years (solitary confinement) and as you can imagine, one either comes to know his/her self or breaks.  I have my ups and downs just like everyone else but I “freed” my mind years ago.  So I actively reach out to the “world” and try to stay engaged through my writing.  I write 7 people in Germany, a couple in the U.K. and Spain and of course my family in Texas.  In my early years here I had “disengaged” and just disappeared behind these walls.  That’s the worst thing a young guy can do in prison.  So with so many friends out there I feel alive (even here).  I have a future to strive for that I couldn’t see when I was 22-23-24.  I’ll never let myself crawl back into that hole.
So being so far away from home, I have only had two visits in 15 years.  I just can’t ask my family to spend $1000 on airfare and hotel cost for two hours.  I let them know that I’m just as happy with their letters as I would be with a visit because I in no way want them feeling bad about not coming out.  And I mean that Julie.  Therefore when I briefly had the chance to speak to this friend of mine about you I jumped at the chance to meet someone right here.  Seattle is still a nice journey but it’s not Texas or Europe.  I’m sure you can understand my motivation here.
In my letter, I had explained to Bryan that the woman I drove down with and planned on driving down with again,( making it possible for me to visit him)…we had a horrible falling out and I informed him that I would never take a road trip with her again.  Therefore, I was only able to be a pen pal, not a  visitor.  I described the situation in detail, which he is responding to here.
As for your trip down here… I was mortified when I read that paragraph.  I’m asking you straight-out to please not let that reflect on me.  I don’t know the gal and if I had the chance to pull her up and check her for putting you in that spot believe me I would.  I don’t even have that chance with my friend.  That’s a conversation that we would have to have face to face so as not to put his business out there for others to hear and that’s not possible here either or I would definitely have this talk with him.  So let me apologize to you for such an unpleasant experience.  I mean that from the heart.  Not cool at all
So don’t worry yourself for one second about not turning that form in or coming down here with her.  I totally understand and support your decision Julie.  I would be honored to stay in touch with you and see what kind of friendship grows out of our correspondence.  Visit or no visit, it’s easy to see that you’re good people. :-)
Your packet of fun things.  Vielen Dank!  The art history stuff is right up my alley.  We’re not allowed any art supplies here, not even paper but I always have 2 or 3 pen drawings going at all times.  My Granny oil painted and put me through lessons when I was 7,8,9 and I’ve always drawn.  Do you do any kind of artwork?  Franz Marc I am familiar with, thank you for the fantastic print!!  I must admit that my taste tends to lean more towards realism or naturalism.  Are you familiar with Caspar David Friedrick?  I write a really good young friend in Bayern Germany and she introduced me to his work.  Check him out.  I hope you’ll keep the art history stuff as a regular part of our correspondence and if you send future prints please don’t write on the back because they’re perfect little future canvases for my work. Is that cool?  If you’d like to check out some of my old work look at (this site is now closed-Julie).  I haven’t sent anything there in years but they have a few of my old pieces.
Wow, this is getting CRAZY long.  Just bear with me a moment longer! :-)  The pictures are fantastic.  Do people tell you that you look familiar?? You do.  :-)  Maybe it’s the Susan Sarandon similarity.  I just saw her the other night on that genealogy show.  I have a single picture of myself from when I was 18 or 19 in CYA and clueless.  You’re welcome to see it if you can send it back (it’s my only one).  They don’t allow taking photos here, not eve to just mail directly home to our loved ones so I haven’t taken one since pre 1995.
FORTUITOUS. The way we met was a fortuitous bounce of fate.  :-)  I like the word of the day.  Do you know any languages?  I’m fully fluent in Spanish and about 80% of the way there on my German.  Spanish is a cake walk, the German was BRUTAL.
Have a cup of freeze dried Folgers, luke warm, sitting on the coaster. (I sent a cardboard coaster from a restaurant)  Yeah, that was crazy. I sat here looking at it trying to figure out how you could’ve possibly put that in this envelope by accident.  At least until I got to this part of your letter.  A little surprised that I got it because they don’t give us any thick cardboard or even paper that exceeds a certain thickness.  What you did Franz Marc’s “Blue Horse” on is about the limit.  Anything thicker would probably get stopped.  By the way, wasn’t Marc’s death (the manner/timing) almost Shakespearean?
Well Mrs. Julie, my new friend, that brings me to the end of this insanely long letter.  Please don’t feel obligated to respond to all of this.  My motto is to just simply let it flow.  Whatever is on your mind, whenever you sit down to type.  And I’ll reign in the length now that I’ve given you a little bio.  You take care out there and let us all keep our fingers crossed that the oil spill in the Gulf isn’t quite the disaster that this is looking like it may be.  Bis bald (until soon).
With Utmost Respect,

Curling league for 5 years & being from “Minnesota”… Hmmm…..Minnesota, Manitoba.  That sounds like “probable cause” to check your green card.  You better stay out of Arizona! :-)
P.S.  As an ex military wife you have knowledge (first hand) in an area of a fictitious story that I’m writing in which a soldier receives bad news form home.  I’m basin it on email but I have no first hand knowledge of how the process works.  Rule number one in writing fiction, get your facts straight.  Would you be open to answering some of my questions in this area in future letters?  It no, it’s no biggy.  I have a friend who’s brother is in the Marine Corps who will eventually help me but he’s young and terrible about writing.
Last but not least, I can’t believe I almost forgot to ask, but are you a big reader?  I know with work and the normal flow of life that a lot of people flat out don’t have the time.  I love to read, it’s my great escape.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Images of Bryan's 4-21-10 postcard and 5-5-10 letter

So I took the time to learn how to post images.... :-)

Here is the postcard I referred to in a previous post...note the Pelican Bay State Prison Stamp, which indicates it has been inspected for gang codes, topics, etc. and approved for mailing.   Every surface of every letter, postcard, picture or other items has this PBSP stamp.  Also note the time/date stamp.

I explained in an earlier post that I am transcribing Bryan's letters because they are difficult to read as they don't scan well due to his small writing on both sides of the paper.  Here is a sample of his writing.

Our visits this past weekend...

I’m writing this from Crescent City, CA.  I arrived Friday and pitched my tent in the Shoreline RV Park and Campground.  I announce this so if you come to town you can wander over to my big blue tent and say “hi”.  I am at an RV park in the center of town with about 200 RVs and 3 tents.  My neighbors are already looking out for me – I feel very safe. 

When my friends expressed concern that I was making my name and location available on the internet, I told them that being an advocate/activist requires one to be recognizable and available. I am primarily here for Bryan but I’m also here for families coming into town to visit their loved ones who are on participating in this hunger strike.   Because we are all in this horrible situation together, it is important that we provide companionship and support for each other.

Anyway, I got a good night’s sleep Friday and saw Bryan Saturday morning for the two hour no-contact visit (in a booth, glass between us, using phones, conversation taped, camera in the corner watching/recording).  He looked well and is totally committed to the upcoming hunger strike.  We got a two hour visit Sunday morning again and that’s it until next weekend. 

Our Sunday visit was much more peaceful.  The logistics of what will be happening and the big picture issues of the strike and conditions in the SHU were discussed on Saturday.  On Sunday, Bryan and I spent a lot of time talking about the physical dangers of being on a hunger strike and the specific ways his body would begin to degrade as the weeks went along. He doesn’t have access to any of this information, so I shared what I learned at  “How to Go on a Hunger Strike Safely” from WikiHow and  “Starvation” from Wikipedia.  As the strike progresses, I will be documenting Bryan’s physical and psychological condition. 

Bryan is aware that I am posting his letters and we hope that by reading them you will learn about him and life in the Pelican Bay SHU.  In his early letters, he softened the truth about the harsh conditions of the SHU and focused on telling me about himself.  As we got to know one another and became friends, his letters became more honest and graphic in depicting the horrors of life in the SHU.

I will be keyboarding his letters into this blog as quickly as possible over the next few days….I tried to scan his letters, but he writes so small and on both sides of the paper so they don’t reproduce well.  On every surface of every letter, envelope and item is stamped in big red letters:  (this is a little smaller than the actual size)


to indicate that it has been review and approved. (and scanned for future review?).  The postcards do scan well… I’ll put them up as soon as I figure out how to post them.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I am my brother's keeper

Having received Bryan’s 3-27-10 introduction letter, I sent a postcard letting him know that I got his letter and planned on writing to him as soon as I looked up the CDCR rules for mail at Pelican Bay.

He sent this postcard back I(Dated 4-21-10)

Just a quick thank you for the nice Mt. Rainier post card and the heads up that all is well.  :-)  Sending you the mailing rules from here totally slipped my mind.  It's fairly straight glitter, lipstick, perfume, paper-clips, stickers, rubber bands, guns, knives, explosives or terrorist manifestos.  Oh, and no newdy flicks. ;-)  I say most of that with a wink and a smile but in all seriousness it's not my style to ask anyone for anything, so just hearing from you will be great.  And I won't hold it against you that you're almost Canadian.  I promise. Aye.  All my best, Bryan

Hahahaha… his humorous style already had me chuckling so I sent along my “introduction letter”. 

For the most part, I can’t put my letters into this blog because they were all handwritten.  But it doesn’t matter because the prison style of correspondence requires a lot of repeating and listing.  Letters take time to be screened and often cross in the mail so Brian always lists what was said in my letter, then responds to each item.  Also, he is very careful to list every little item I send, whether it’s a picture, puzzle or other.  I learned that he did this so I would know that those were the items the mail room and/or the Institutional Gang Investigators let through.  If he didn’t mention something, I knew it was removed.  Nothing has ever been removed yet, a testament to my ability to read and follow the mail rules. :-)

Given this list and respond style, you will learn a lot about me just reading Bryan’s letters.  But I do have this  tidbit to give you an idea of who I am.  As a way of introducing myself to Bryan, I also included a profile I had previously written about myself:

Julie Tackett:

I assume the best of people and am rarely disappointed. I bring my best self to any situation and am rarely bored (or boring). Although I am not materialistic, I appreciate fine things. I enjoy sharing what I have with others and graciously accepting their gifts of time and self.

I defy description, but in the past you may have labeled me....

Farm Girl I grew up in Minnesota on a farm which means time spent baling hay, milking cows, butchering chickens(!) and the like... hard work is second nature to me. Thankfully, I escaped to the big city and love urban life.

All-American Over-Achiever In school, I was an athlete, musician, thespian - I joined everything...but, hey, it got me off the farm!

Catholic School Mom a variation of soccer mom, minivan included. With both daughters in college, I'll have to get a zippier car. (August 2009 update - I just bought a new Jetta! Got some cash for that clunker minivan...)

Military Spouse If you have served, I understand that commitment and sacrifice... I appreciate those who serve and those who love them.

Goody Two Shoes I volunteer all the time....coaching kids, making sandwiches for the homeless, helping friends out.... I spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a Red Cross Volunteer providing companionship and support to families attending to their severely wounded warriors. Seriously, I love making a difference by just giving my time

Liberal Politically informed and active, I volunteered for the John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and then Obama campaigns. I believe we are all accountable to each other and that government, with proper oversight, can serve the common good. I now go by "progressive" LOL.

Uppity woman I am a pro-choice, feminist Catholic and serve as a cantor (song leader) for our parish. As nice as I am, I'm not afraid to speak my mind when it's important. Although I'm not judgmental, my friends usually know where I stand. God forbid you pick on the underdog in my presence.
In addition to my introduction letter and the above profile, I sent him one of my “entertainment packets”.  These packets usually include crossword puzzles, a “word of the day”, a wikipedia article on an artist along with 8 ½” x 11” color prints of that artist’s work and other such items.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bryan's first letter to me - March 27, 2010

Friendships begin in the most unusual ways.  I would have never have believed that offering to help someone drive on a road-trip to visit her man at Pelican Bay State Prison would result in my being involved in a hunger strike.   After our first trip in Feb. 2010, I suggested that her man give my PO Box address to someone who might enjoy a pen pal and/or visitor.  It was that simple.  Here is the first letter I received from Bryan in March of 2010.

Note: As an artist, Bryan loves to use emoticons, creative “smiley faces”, etc. that personalize and provide shades of humor to his letters, which cannot be recreated in this transcription, but I’ll do my best. :-)

Sat. 3-27-10

Dear Julie,

Let me start this letter off first by sending you my utmost respect and hopes that this introduction finds you in the best of health and spirits.  It’s never easy to write out of the blue but I’ll do my best to give you a general idea of who I am.

As you know, we share a mutual friend who mentioned that you may want to visit and obviously that is where I got your name and address.  If you were not expecting this letter…wow, I’ll feel like a real donkey’s butt.  :-)   But I’m going to trust that that is not the case and forge on ahead.

My name is John B. Ellis, my family and close friends all know and call me by my middle name Bryan.  I hope that I spelled your name right.  I wasn’t sure if it was July or Julie.

I’ll be 37 next month.  I’m 5’ 11”, 170.5 with brown eyes and a dark brown mustache.  I love my parents beyond words but unfortunately they passed me down the balding gene. :-)  But hey, I consider myself more Sean Connery in my appearance and bearing than George Castanza!  And despite all of these years in prison and slammed here in Pelican Bay I still feel 20 at heart and always try to keep a positive attitude and a smile on my face.  I honestly believe that life is too short to pass it by in a state of feeling sorry for myself or “being mad at the world”, no matter what our conditions.

This year will be my 20th year in prison.  I was a worthless teenage drug addict hooked by 15 – 16.  Myself and a couple of friends were doing robberies at gunpoint and an innocent person was killed.  I take full responsibility for it and I’ll go to my grave with that on my heart. My youth and immaturity, the drugs…. I’ll make no excuses and I get out of bed every morning not being that guy.  I don’t have anything to with drugs and even 19 years later I still carry a lot of shame that I ever went down that road.

I realize that that’s pretty “heavy” information to share in an opening letter but I believe honesty and openness are best in introducing myself from prison.  If you choose to write back and especially if you were kind enough to visit me in the future I don’t want something that big to be sitting there unsaid like a third wheel between us.  If you ever have any questions about it or about life here please feel comfortable in asking.

On a lighter note…. Not sure how much you know about life here in the SHU but I keep myself very busy.  I read a lot.  I taught myself Spanish and German.  I have a lot of friends and family that I write to regularly.  I do a lot of drawing (you can see some of my work on note: this site is now closed).  I also recently bought a handful of books on learning how to write your first novel.  So you can see that I’m kind of all over the place as far as my interests go.

I don’t have any family on the West Coast.  All of my family and the majority of my friends live in Texas.  That’s where I was born and raised.  It would be nice to get to know you and establish more friendships in the general area.  Not that Seattle is right up the street but it’s certainly closer than East Texas.  :-)

I really hope that you choose to write back and let me know what your thoughts are on all of this.  I’m including two visiting forms first in case you mess up one while filling it out.  You just put it in with you return letter to me and when the mail room searches the letter they will automatically remove it and send it over to visiting for approval or denial.

I know that this is short but until I hear from you and know that you’re open to hearing from me again I’ll go ahead and close.  I wish you and those you care about nothing but the best Julie.  You take care out there and know that we are well and strong here.

With Utmost Respect,