San Diego To recap from last week: I wrote 108 state and federal prisoners who had posted personal ads on the World Wide Web (www.pennpals.com/, www.inmate.com/, and www.cyberspace-inmates .com/). What follows is the text of my letter.
I am a writer for the San Diego Reader, a 158,000-circulation weekly. Recently, I came across your personal ad on the World Wide Web.
The ad struck me as an imaginative way of reaching out to others. I'd like to know how it has worked for you. Have you gotten any responses? If so, what were they like?
Also, I'd like to learn about your present situation. How did you make your way into jail? Was it bad luck, bad timing, or a bad career choice?
I want to begin a dialogue with prisoners who have posted personal ads on the Web. I'm looking for prisoners who are from California, imprisoned in California, or who have committed crimes in California.
This is for a story, the shape of which is still unclear to me, a lot will depend on the responses I receive, but the piece will have something to do with the Web, personal ads, and prisoners.
I invite you to tell me about yourself. How did you find out about posting ads on the World Wide Web? Where were you when you wrote the copy of your ad? How long did it take to write? What was the main point you wanted to get across?
And in a more global way: what kind of person are you? Do you consider yourself a criminal? How old were you when you first realized you'd be in prison someday? What is your day-to-day life like now? Who are your friends in jail? What is the happiest part of your day?
I hope you'll include something about your life before prison. Where'd you live, what did you do, what was your daily grind like then? And, of course, please add anything else you'd like. My questions are meant to get things rolling.
Hopefully, we can have fun with this.
I figured I'd get responses. You're in prison; after eight hours of TV, two hours of lifting weights, four hours of talking crime with your colleagues, what else are you going to do? But I must own, I did not expect 131 responses. I didn't expect prisoners to call me at work. I didn't expect urgent deliveries of large manila packages or invitations to co-author books, screenplays, and novellas. In short, I didn't expect the avalanche of demands, needs, and requests that came to fill and then overflow my post office box.
Remember this personal ad from last week? "Hello, my name is Charles Parker and I am a 28-year-old lifestyle Dominant Master. I'm currently serving a sentence in the State of California. My charge is not of a violent nature and I am not some type of a psycho! I just like to live life to the extremes.
"...I offer what most other Dominants don't, and that is help and advice for free. I live this type of lifestyle because it is what I enjoy doing whereas most other Dominants are only in it for the money....
"I am also seeking correspondence with women that enjoy wearing latex and rubber clothing, I just can't seem to find you. So if you are into this type of clothing please get in touch with me. I will answer anyone who writes so I hope to hear from you soon."
--Charles Parker, San Quentin, California.
This is Mr. Parker's reply to my letter. "...Now, if you can convince me, in any way, that you intend to write something good about us, I may be willing to help you out.... Why are you so interested in how we got our ads? How [my ad] got there is for me to know at this time.... Yes, I have received many replies to my ad, but I cannot tell you the contents of those replies as they involve people's deepest, dearest desires. You see, I am a Lifestyle Dominant Master and have been for many years....
"Do you think my ad was some type of a game just to get people to write to me? If so, you were wrong! I have devoted my life to being a Lifestyle Dominant Master.... I have seen and done more things than you can imagine and I'm sure my previous income puts yours to shame! I would also like to know what you have to offer in return for a story.... Nothing is free nowadays, you should know that!"
Here's a missive from Mr. John Nelson, of Coalinga, California.
"Regarding my incarceration experience, and the preceding elements that substantiated my immurement imposition was relative to marijuana possession. I've served approximately eight years in the CDC system. It is my intentions upon my release to initiate a reintegration program that specifically addresses the alarming recidivism rate and institutionalizationism and the failed efforts of reintegrating back into society. My particular reintegration program will employ the mechanisms of neuroscience and brain entrainment technology, that specifically focus upon eradication of subconscious anomalies."
Here's a local guy. Meet Nero V. Peña, a long-term guest at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, located a few miles east of Brown Field on Otay Mesa.
"I am a good person.... I know I will never again commit another crime against another person or anyone's property. I value my honesty, my word, and I have respect. That is how I've been able to survive all these years in prison. Without these things in my life I am nothing. And without God I am nothing."
Mr. E. Simpson is another Donovan resident.
"About my present station in life; well I'd have to say it is a combination of all three of the guesses you offered...bad luck, bad timing, and bad career choice. The career choice was, obviously, a crime laden one. The bad timing came into place, when, during the course of this particular crime, the victim's family members turned up, and the bad luck came in when a latex glove I wore broke, leaving my prints (unbeknownst to me) at the scene."
And let me introduce Mark McKilibren, currently on hold at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.
"I received your letter.... I apologize for my slow response. I know it may be hard to believe, but even us prisoners have busy schedules. The reason I answer your letter is out of respect. I understand what you're doing. I do realize that you get paid for what you do. Your request is a big and private one. Usually, an inmate is paid for an interview. I've seen guys get paid 1500 dollars for an interview. I consider my time just as valuable! I've been down going on ten years now. This is my second term. I'm also doing 19 years with 26-to-life on top of that. Originally, I only had the 19-year sentence, but in 1994 I caught a third strike for possession of a hypodermic needle. I'm the 'first' prisoner to catch a third strike while in prison....
"I've been to most of these prisons. I've seen a lot in my years. I've been in the system since the age of 12, only being free on the streets for no longer than two years, and that's all together. The longest I ever stayed out was three months.
"I've placed several ads over the years. I'm very honest and forward, so I don't get a lot of replies, although I could, if I was to lie and paint a beautiful picture for the ladies, like most inmates do. A lot of the women that answer inmate ads have emotional problems; you have to wonder what type of lady answers a prisoner's ad. I don't write to all of them. Anyway, I feel my time is worth something!"
Another Tehachapi guest is David Valdez. "I have found that most penpals last about six months on the average. Since 1995, I have received over 900 letters from all over the world.... Most of the responses I have found are from lonely women, or married women who are not getting conversation from their husbands, or gay men.
"My day-to-day life now is very simple. I work in the prison chapel daily as the Chaplain's Clerk, live in a 9 x 15 cell with items such as a 13´´ color TV, radio, Walkman, typewriter, and a cell partner. I exercise daily, read books, write, and draw. I strive to make the best of each day, and I help many college students with their term papers on prisons. I find happiness daily when I feed the pigeons bread every morning.
"In jail, it is not wise to have many friends. The majority of inmates are gang members, manipulators, thieves, etc."
Mr. Greg Lopez of San Luis Obispo offers an enticing proposal. "I have a brother who is a pretty successful actor and has been employed by nbc for 25 years, the last nine years in management. A story, huh? You could both put a life move on me. My brother could tell you what it has been like for me the last 16 years. I was thirteen years old when I realized I'd be in prison... I have no friends at all in jail. I live day to day, getting by without no one, but I must say there are some nice-looking homosexuals. There is a lot of that going on in jail, more so today than ever..."
Another homeboy, an R.J. Donovan guest, is the happy, even manic, David Gonzalez.
"My whole prison experience has been a blessing. I've learned lots. Sometimes I feel guilty I have it so good. I feel horrible that taxpayers spend so much to keep me here. I'd like to be out and contributing to things out there and paying taxes so that some other lucky soul can benefit from their prison stay."
Let's jump over to Draper, Utah, and listen to Scott Thomas Reed.
"I'm a third-generation Californian, have served hard-prison time in California, but answering your questions could not be of any help to me. I already have had enough media attention in my case.
"Good luck to you in your endeavors."
D. McCoy from Vacaville, California, offers a can't-miss deal.
"I too, am a writer. I have a lot of pieces on prison life, my personal life, fictional short stories, two screenplays, and I am trying to publish a book, 100 Ways To Beat A Bullet! It's a survival guide for these dark and uncertain times. My little way of giving back to the public.
"Now, if you're really interested in doing something major with your time, energy, and talent, I'm looking to work with someone like yourself to sell some powerful, one-of-a-kind intellectual property. I have one book idea I can give you; the work is very simple, but its content will appeal to the masses as it has universal appeal. You and I can be very rich rather quickly."
And so it goes. I don't know. Who the hell am I to judge? A San Diego cop once told me that it took, on average, 16 felonies before someone was actually sent to prison. That has a ring of truth to it, but cops lie as easily as prisoners. Putting people in jail is a human activity and that means mistakes. There are people in jail who are innocent, people who got a bad deal, people like you and me except for one horrible moment. But on the other hand, knowing that, am I ever going to write back to any of these correspondents?
No way. Life is much too short.