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. :-)
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 www.celticreign.com)( 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,