What kind of holiday greeting is appropriate to send to someone in prison? What if you also knew that this person was raped behind bars while doing time for a crime?
That's the dilemma I faced when Just Detention International, a local health and human rights organization that fights for the end of sexual abuse behind bars asked me to pen a holiday card to a rape survivor. At a time when we are being exhorted to spend on everything from Black Friday to Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, it is refreshing to have a request that is not for money but rather less than a minute of my time to send a bit of well-deserved hope. To send some words to comfort and inspire one of the loneliest and least discussed segments of our society. A way for me to touch the life of one of the hundreds inmates who are living in fear and isolation after enduring horrific trauma while in the government’s custody.
I thought about Alvin. He was just 18 years old when he was raped for the first time, while in a county jail. The second time was by a cellmate at a state prison. Last year he was the recipient of a JDI card and here is what it meant to him.
“As I read the cards telling me how I was not forgotten, my eyes got blurry, full of tears. I always thought nobody goes through what I go through. The holiday cards saved my life.”
Beat that, Hallmark.
My words flowed smoothly after that. I simply went to the website and typed:
I am thinking of you this holiday season. Stay strong.
The form will only accept 140 characters. Volunteers will hand write my greeting and send it directly to a prisoner with just my first name as signature. That's it. I may have just saved another life and it felt great.
Perhaps the Dalai Lama put it best-as he usually does-when he said, "The more we work for the happiness of others, the more our own happiness increases.--That is an obvious fact." Today, it became obvious to me.
Please join me in this incredible campaign. You can write one letter a day (or more). There are even suggested greetings that will pop up if you can't think of anything to say. In the words of another survivor, "this costs nothing but can mean everything."
Anyone wishing to participate in the campaign can do so by visiting JDI’s website and submitting their greeting on line. JDI staff and volunteers will send these messages – each one a beacon of hope –to prisoners, who so often feel forgotten and alone during the holidays.