I recently received a letter from a pen pal of mine discussing some of the things that prison is and isn’t. We’d been discussing some of the many myths that abound, and I’d been doing my best in our first three or four letters to dispel some of those myths that my new pen pal had with regard to prison culture and customs because I’m obviously aware of the pervasive stereotypes and how prisons/prisoners are potrayed in shows like “Lock Up” and others. But it was in my pen pal’s last letter where something was asserted that struck a chord with me like nothing had prior to that point. To paraphrase, essentially this person said they didn’t believe “real friendships” were even possible in a prison setting.
I gathered the notion that my pen pal (by the way, I have discussed my sentiments with this person already) was making the drastic mistake many people make by categorizing inmates as so unscrupulous and deceitful that those of us who are not deemed to be in that category must remain paranoid to the point of insulation and isolation from forming close bonds with our peers. Although I understand the rationale of this position, it’s simply not true.
When I came to prison over eleven years ago, it didn’t take long before I found myself routinely walking to chow with the same individuals, eating meals with them, lifting weights with them, and hanging out with them while engaging in other leisure activities. This is a natural occurrence, as you can imagine, in a social environment of any kind. But these weren’t necessarily friendships in those instances; these were people I socialized with in order to get along with those in my immediate surroundings and adapt to my new living situation. Over the years, however, after spending a lot of time with some of these same individuals (and others), genuine friendships developed.
When my father died, I turned to my fiancee and family for comfort. But that was only after the almost immediate embrace I received from my cellmate who, upon my entrance of the cell after being told the news, asked me what was wrong. I told him in an almost inaudible voice that I’d lost my dad. He stood up from the stool he was sitting on, extended his arms, and hugged me. There we were, embracing, while I literally cried on this man’s shoulders. The irony did not set upon me in that intimate moment–the humanity did.
I have been fortunate to have met and befriended several genuine friends in prison who I can wholeheartedly confide in and trust with any information I give them. Likewise, they know they have that in me. The principles of a friendship don’t change simply because we are in prison. Self-disclosure, support, reliance, and mutuality make up friendships in here just as they do out there. People who have made mistakes by breaking the law and subsequently being sent to prison as a result do not suddenly become incapable of forming substantive bonds with other people in their circumstance merely because of where they are.
I don’t make this case under the pretense of believing I can convince anyone who reads this that prison is a jolly-go-lucky place where all of its occupants spend each day in harmony and friendly interaction–I know better! That would be ridiculous and foolhardy on my part. Certainly there are manipulative, cunning, deceitful people here who cannot be trusted with anything! But is this simply because they’re in prison, or is it more reflective of their character that–albeit likely had something to do with them coming to prison–would render them unlikely to form close bonds with people in general, despite where they are? Are these type of people not roaming the streets and in office buildings in every city in America?
Friendships are a human necessity. They enable us to get through the worst situations life throws at us. They provide a sense of security, comfort, and reason when we need them the most. Inmates are no different. Granted, we are not surrounded by common day Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings, but who is? The fact of the matter is, despite what we’ve done, we are human and therefore rely on the same type of close bonds with people as people do anywhere else in the world. The only difference is we do it behind bards.
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
To read more about Martin, CLICK HERE
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