Emma!!! Aren’t you afraid of …(insert everything you’ve seen in movies about crime and criminals and prisons and inmates and all your fears about ex-cons and felons and anything remotely related to them)?
No. Well, sometimes. But I have had a lot of time to think of every possible issue along those lines and have long hard soul-searching conversations with myself, and long hard conversations with him about all of these topics.
It’s not that I haven’t thought about these things. It’s that I’ve replaced vague fears and assumptions with reality and a sober assessment of the actual risk involved. And I’ve also learned that on the whole, people who have no actual experience with prison have no idea what it is like (and I know that because that was me 2 years ago). The best way to deal with vague terror is to ground it in reality. And the reality that I’ve found is that the causes and conditions for crime are complex, often have a huge economic component, and that our way of addressing the situation is ineffective if not immoral. The people in prison are paying for this with their lives. It’s easy to let your fear override any interest in finding out what is actually true. I think that’s the biggest factor in why we still have prisons and really long sentences even though nobody who has actually studied it thinks it works at all.
I get that maybe you are still afraid for me. Here is my request:
- Meet Jabari and have some connection with him before projecting your fears based on news stories, statistics, and fictional characters.
- Remember that my primary need right now is celebration and acknowledgement of a really huge thing in my life: meeting someone I’m deeply in love with and am committing to spend my life with. So please realize your fears are about your own needs, not mine, and that I have a limited capacity to be with you around those needs right now because the emotional toll of my life partner being in prison is really high for me. I really just need people to be supportive.
I also want you to think long and hard about how much of your fear is the result of racism, pure and simple. We have a nation where few middle-class white Americans can name anyone they know personally who has been in prison. Very few black Americans of any class couldn’t name someone. (source) The only reason this is so shocking is that you are middle-class and white and I’m middle-class and white, and I’m doing something middle-class white people just don’t do. So many people have said to me, “Well it’s such an unusual thing that you’re doing.” And I can see the shock on their faces. But really, it’s not. People in prison get married all the time. It’s only unusual because of my class. And in America, you generally don’t know that many people who aren’t just like you, demographically speaking. And I get it, I was the same way. It’s why I started volunteering in prison in the first place. I felt the bubble I lived in, only it had become claustrophobic instead of comforting. I needed to find reality, and I did. People in prison are real people, they aren’t scary monsters, the system we have is completely unfair, and we have to stop ignoring it just because we can.