On Friday, I got a letter from a prisoner. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten one, because I haven’t written any crime articles in my short stint of being a reporter and I haven’t been a listed-in-the-paper editor in a while.
I was excited by it. Typically, they go on and on about various miscarriages of justice that happened either before or after their convictions. Sometimes, they’re right. Sometimes, prison is exactly where they need to be.
I was fully expecting a few pages from a sex offender swearing he had no idea how those images got on his computer and that the real perverts are the judges and the members of the Bilderberg Group who conspired to keep him in prison to stop him from revealing the truth.
Instead, I got a letter written on a computer. He formatted the return address in a way that made it look like he had a corner office instead of a tiny cell. I figured this was going to be a doozy and excitedly announced that I had a letter.
It was a doozy, all right. It was about the stories I wrote to catch up with the communities in our coverage area that were struck by tornadoes on my first week in Richmond.
The article “captured my attention because of the compelling subject and later, because of your compassionate voice,” the prisoner wrote.
“Because of your article, two of us at [the prison] … sent our contributions to help in the recovery,” he wrote.
The clerk of the county court, who was handling the recovery fund, sent letters of recognition and appreciation to the inmates. He sent me a copy.
“Such praise for a more-or-less natural response to a tragedy was both unexpected and highly motivating,” he wrote. “And it all comes back to your article.”
He went on to say that he aspires to become a better writer and hopes to at least be published in our paper one day.
“In the meantime,” he wrote. “several of us at [the prison] are continuing to look for ways to help those caught up in misfortune beyond their control.”
To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
I shared the letter with an editor and our criminal justice reporter, hoping that a story about convicted felons scraping what little cash they get in prison to aid in storm recovery would be worthwhile.
But first, I needed know what he did.
In the early 2000s, he beat a man to death with a hammer and robbed him. He has an active sentence of 74 years in prison for first-degree murder and other charges. I vaguely remember the case.
Being a murderer doesn’t mean all you are is a monster. Being in prison doesn’t mean you ceased to be a human being. Knowing that you will spend your last days within those walls doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens to lives outside those walls.
I plan on writing him back.