A personal blog, to be filled with examples craft stuff that I do, stuff that my husband and I experience on our journey to the cabin by the lake that we have promised ourselves, and whatever else catches my eye. Comments welcome.
Hare's Moon Yarns is now open! Click here for handspun gorgeous yarns from England.
It feels like weeks since I did any spinning, but it's actually only been 3 or 4, and for much of that time I have been busily knitting and writing. The Hares are coming along nicely, and I've also been working on a pair of socks for my mother-in-law. For those who haven't been here from the start, my MIL has diabetes and her feet swell up so that conventional mass-produced socks tend to constrict her ankles too much. So I hand knit her socks, with loose tops, which are more comfortable for her.
I decided to treat her to something other than the usual stocking stitch socks this time, and have been doing some simple lace instead:
They do feel a bit on the small side though, so they may end up as a donation to one of the other residents in my MIL's care home and I'll make her another pair. As she lives 4000 miles away, I can't ask her to try one on while I'm knitting it just to check the size!
I've just bought some more undyed fibre - some Cheviot, and some Lincoln - so more adventures in dying and spinning will follow soon :)
I have been working on developing a knitting pattern over the past few weeks, with a couple of prototypes made for the two girls I know expecting babies this summer. Below is the third hare, and the one I think is just about right; Medici.
He is knitted with some of my recently handspun Gotland yarn.
I now have a couple of people test-knitting the pattern for me and hopefully I'll have it available for sale in my Etsy shop soon.
There are a lot of inmates, not only in the USA but around the world, who have no one on the outside. When I say they have no one, I mean that their family and friends have moved on with their lives and rarely communicate (if at all) with the inmate. For inmates serving relatively long sentences, this often happens around the 5-7 year mark, and often also coincides with a change in behaviour of the inmate. They either throw themselves into the life of an inmate, which can open up situations of violence and illegal behaviour, or they can come to the conclusion that they want to make it but they will have to do it on their own.
I could never criticise anyone related to an inmate who chose to move on with their lives. Ultimately, the inmate is the one who is supposed to pay for their crime, not the entire family and extended friends network. And for those who chose to stick around, it does often feel like you are serving a sentence with them - not to the same extent of deprivation or punishment, but a sentence nonetheless.
I've been writing to inmates for the best part of 25 years, and over time I have found a number of ways to contact inmates. Before the widespread use of the internet, I used magazines, and some magazines would allow inmates to place small ads free of charge. I have also known of websites that would list inmates for free, thus providing the means for them or their friends and family to reach out without having to find extra money on top of the household bills and phone calls and stationary and postage etc
And then there are websites that charge for a "service" of giving inmates the opportunity to appeal for correspondence. I have often wondered why some offer this for free and others charge a fee.
I have seen the fee justified by some websites as covering "administration costs". But I have to question just how much of the fee really does go on administration, and how much becomes profit. And there is the rub: should free-world individuals profit by exploiting inmates when there is no real need to do so? Even under the premis of helping to reduce recidivism?
Take a well known website, Write A Prisoner. It's been around a while, and offers an advert for $40 per year to any inmate (unless they happen to be located in a state that does not permit inmates to solicit for correspondence via the internet or printed publications). It's not a sleek-looking site, in fact it looks like it was built about 15 years ago and hasn't had much effort put into keeping it in the current century. Currently there are just over 900 inmate adverts on the site. That's 900 x $40 as a baseline. That's $36000 a year just for placing the ads. But look a little closer and you find that there are charges to update information on each advert, charges for adding a photo or changing a photo, charges for adding extra words above the 250-word standard profile, charges for adding artwork etc etc
These adverts are submitted in electronic format. No one at the website has to sit there typing in the details from a pdf or a sheet of coffee-stained paper. There is the option to email the inmate the first time you contact them through the site; the site prints off the email, pops it into an envelope and sends it via traditional mail. Some of these are received and some are not. Still doesn't justify the $40 fee though, and we haven't even looked at the revenue share from the commercial adverts.
Write A Prisoner claims to fund some community projects from its revenue. There is a Scholarship for the children of inmates and children impacted by crime. The Scholarship is $250. There is no information on how many have been awarded since 2010. They also advertise "Welcome Home Kits" for inmates who are being released but not to a family home. Apparently 43 such kits have been distributed, although they could not be sent to inmates in every state as many do not even permit those picking up a released inmate to take some free-world clothes for the inmate to wear when leaving the prison.
There is a Book Donation scheme. Write a Prisoner says they have donated $
3,437.00 across 39 books-for-inmates schemes in the US. They do not say whether that is solely in cash, or if they count the value of the books as a like-for-like donation sum.
Why am I saying all of this? Do I have an axe to grind? Not really. I'm not against anyone making an honest buck from their own hard graft. I just have a thing about those who say they are doing something, but where there is no hard evidence for it happening. And then we come to the concept of writing to inmates in the first place.
Believe it or not, it is absolutely possible to write to an inmate without falling in love with them, or they with you. It is totally possible to correspond with an inmate less than once a day, by traditional mail, for many years, without them asking you to send them anything at all. But you only have to glance at the forums attached to these websites to wonder if they should be called "Date a Prisoner" instead. There is a conveyor belt of women (and some men, but few and far between) who "want to bring some sunshine into an inmate's life", who treat writing as some kind of game or therapy, get caught up in the "romance" of the situation, and then after approximately 2 years find that either he isn't what they had told themselves he was, or he has been released and had no intention of going home to them. Especially when they have never met the inmate face to face. Then the phrase "Hell hath no fury" really comes into play! I wonder how many penpal correspondences would become relationships if the websites did not post photographs of the inmates. If people wrote based only on what the advert says - because naturally no one enters into a correspondence with the intention of finding love.... do they?
For a website that wants to be taken seriously, it is basic Marketing 101 that brand is everything. Anyone dropping into these forums would be forgiven for running to the hills with the amount of hybristophiliacs gushing about their latest phone call or visit, or making plans on what they will do the second their penpal steps out of prison. Their understanding of the issues and difficulties faced by newly-released inmates is next to nothing, but still it will be wedding bells and babies and someone to pay the bills and live happily ever after with. People wonder where stereotypes come from: they come from real people, unfortuneately. They don't want the reality of the situation, because, you know, "haters gonna hate" and all that jazz.
So when looking for an inmate to correspond with - which by the way, I still do think is an extremely worthy cause and can be highly rewarding for both parties - I think it is worth asking yourself whether the ethics of the website parading these inmates like a beauty pageant is really what you want to subscribe to or be associated with. If you care about the concept of helping those who are unable to help themselves, perhaps one of the free services would be more appropriate. Like Lost Vault.
While TDCJ have improved their website recently, there is still a gap in the general information that many people seek when a loved one goes to prison in Texas, or for those who write to inmates in TDCJ units.
There is now a new forum that aims to provide as much information as possible on all aspects of TDCJ, uncluttered by too much chit-chat and references to what might be possible elsewhere but not relevant to TDCJ.
I was asked that a few days ago, by someone who knew I did it but hadn't seen this blog or knew what the content is. It made me consider my reasons not only for blogging here, but for a few other things that I spent time online doing. My overall motivation is to help people.
In my day job, my work is a mix of helping different sets of often contradictory user groups in achieving similar aims. Conflict resolution and compromise are big parts of my daily mind set. It is often the case that to help one user group actually disadvantages the others, so a balance has to be found and sometimes the balance helps no one particularly well.
For as long as there are prisons and inmates, there will be an ever moving conveyor belt of people who want to write to them. I say "write", but more frequently these days emails and phone calls are also included in that scenario, and for some, also visits. All of these freeworld people have to start somewhere.
There are several forums online related to inmates, and communications with those in prison. Some are big, some smaller, some focused on a specific group of inmates or type of correspondence. Each has their place and their uses, along with their egos and atmospheres. Think of them as pubs or bars along a small town high street. You can crawl from one to the next, slowly becoming intoxicated by the various flavours on offer. Some may have a doorman, or a dress code, and some may be the old style bear pits that regularly get raided every weekend. But these days you can also get your beer at the supermarket, and at small corner shops. And some people brew their own.
This blog is me brewing my own flavour of information for those who are in some way involved with an inmate. This blog is (hopefully) not a pretentious champagne or an overbearing red or a thick pint of stout. The concept is that by sharing some of the stuff that my husband and I go through on our journey, we might help others avoid future pitfalls or perhaps show that there is a different way of doing something.
With that in mind, I have discovered a small piece of helpful information that is now available on the TDCJ inmate locator pages. When you search for an inmate and get to their details, you will now also see whether they are eligible for visits. I think this is a really useful piece of information, though you should always call the unit before travelling to see an inmate because the TDCJ website is usually 24 hours behind real time.