Dear Child

by Michael Russell

I open this letter and greet you with honor and respect. I’m addressing you as child because I want you to know and understand that you’re not yet an adult even if you feel that you are. Your childhood and teenaged years are a special time, and you should enjoy it and not waste it doing things that are counterproductive. See I was you once.

By the time I was thirteen years old I was sexually active, a drug-dealer, a car thief and out on my own. I swore I knew it all and I had an answer for everything. So less than two months after turning seventeen years old it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I was tried as an adult for the murder of two men and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole.

More than twenty-one years later I’m still in prison. I’m now thirty-eight years old. I have four adult children and four grandchildren that I don’t get to see very often. Four children and grandchildren that I didn’t and can’t help raise. I lost not only my youth when I came to prison, but I also lost my family too. Someone else raised my children.

My mother, grandfather and my stepfather all died within 90 days of each other back in 1997 and I couldn’t be there. I’m the oldest of five siblings, and I couldn’t be there for them either. In prison I’ve not only experienced the insufferable loss of family, but I’ve also had to endure some inhumane treatment. In prison you are constantly stripped nude while being told to bend over and spread your butt cheeks and cough as an officer looks to see if you’re hiding illegal contraband up your rectum.

Correctional officers treat you like you’re an animal. Even if your crime happened 30 years ago and you’ve changed your life, they’ll still treat you as if you recently committed a dangerous crime. Few of them will show you respect and treat you with fairness. You’re placed in a tiny cage, not much bigger than a walk-in closet with a toilet and a complete stranger. You’re only allowed to move in with someone who’s of your same ethnicity. Racial riots are rampant in prison, particularly on the maximum security yards. It’s usually over something very silly and petty, but people lose their lives while participating in these riots. Officer shoot you and inmates stab you with prison made knives.

Prison is filled with negativity. It’s everywhere. Your contact with the outside world is extremely limited. Visits become few and far in between if you get any at all. You may be sent to a prison that is 8 or more than 10 hours away from your family. Your family may not be able to afford to send you packages, money for canteen, or pay for a phone bill for your collect calls. So what can you do? It’s nothing you can do but become bitter because you feel someone owes you something, when no one does. You made a bad choice and so it’s silly to expect to be rewarded for your poor choices. You expect everyone to put their life on hold for you? That’s not going to happen.

You have to listen before it’s too late and you find yourself in someone’s prison. There is so much more to life than a gang, the homies and the hood I’ve come to realize. Don’t waste your life and end up spending the rest of your life in a prison cell before you’ve ever had a chance to live. There’s no peace or comfort in prison. Filthy showers, nasty food and silly prison inmate created politics is all that awaits you here dear child. Thousands of hours spent in a tiny cell with a stranger who could care less about you or your family. Letters from family and friends mean a lot, but as days and weeks turn into months and years, the letters begin to slowly stop. If you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, the obstacles that are placed in your path will ultimately drive a wedge between you until they up and walk away. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means that the challenges of maintaining a relationship with a prisoner is too great to overcome.

Prison (inmate created) politics are a set of rules that were put in place many years ago, by a group of sick people who didn’t have any morals or principles. These rules are based on racism and one group of oppressed people oppressing another group of oppressed people. The strong preying on the weak. Silly as these rules are, if one doesn’t follow them they could get you hurt or even killed. Something as simple as what (which) shower to use or not use. What tables to sit at or not sit at. Who you can live in the cell with is all dictated by silly inmate made rules called “politics”. It’s not a way in which a civilized person would want their life to be governed. Prison is inhumane, degrading and a place that crushes dreams. Don’t sacrifice your freedom for any reason. There’s nothing of real significance to be gained by being a criminal. If you don’t get yourself under control, California has a cell for you with your name and prison number above the door.