When you hear the word bar there are different images that come to mind. As a frontwoman in a band, I rewind to pre COVID when we would frequent many. Upscale, large, or even a hole in the wall, laughter, singing, dancing, and tears could always be found. Now there’s another bar we forget to mention. Women like my mother, who lived through the great depression frequented THIS type of place, it was her favorite; The BEAUTY bar: (A.K.A.) the beauty PARLOR. Hairs were being “did” everywhere, nails, toes, and everything ah-hem… in between. I’d say daily, these two places are some of the most important and talked about establishments in many people’s lives. Two places where many folks “feel” good.
But there are some bars that are not on everyone’s mind when they awake. In fact, for many of us, it’s rarely thought about until something goes wrong. That’s is why I’m writing this article; to shed some light and understanding on something I discovered the last time I was at the washing bowl of my local salon. A very kind, compassionate, and patient soul rinsing out my bleach shared her understanding of a bar, or who may be behind them.
People found many ways to bide the time during the COVID. Some complained, some pivoted to find a new way to make income, some became numb and others looked for comfort through online movies and entertainment.
My friend Alexandra found a Netflix docuseries called “When They See Us,” (https://bit.ly/3ihNtUR) about 5 boys who were falsely accused of raping a woman in Central Park. She said it was hard to watch minors and friends being vetted against each other. There was no adult present and it was obvious these kids were innocent but that someone needed to take the fall. She stated the interrogation scene was the hardest thing for her to stomach. It pulled at her heart and she was moved to wanting to help and volunteer in some way.
She met a woman on a plane who did volunteering in women’s prisons who turned her onto a website, www.writeaprisoner.com which is a modern take on the old-school pen pal program we could find in the back of the newspaper growing up. Not for convicts, but for other people halfway around the world, you could sign up to exchange good old-fashioned snail mail. I remember having a pen pal for a while but I was a kid. The conversations didn’t go too much deeper than what kind of ice cream I ate the previous week to what cartoon I’d be watching the next. Write a prisoner has proven to be something that is life-changing. One would think it could help someone connect with the outside world but not necessarily change the life of the person who initiated the contact.
That’s what happened here. Alexandra visited the site at the beginning of COVID-19, so a good six months ago. And she says, she’s met the friend of a lifetime. Now I’m the daughter of a parole officer 30 plus years and he is a veteran in the correctional system. Many of my relatives serve on our police force too. So you can imagine, that statement took me a little bit by surprise. I do my best to excrete rainbows and unicorns but it’s not by default. I have to work at it. After all, that’s why I have this column. It’s a weekly kick in my own arse to be a better person. I share my experiences here with you all; raw, real, and in your face. I was shocked when she began to tell me how this man she’s never met has changed her life.
I wanted to ask questions. I found my brain wandering to things it shouldn’t because I pride myself on being better than that. Although I thought it. Maybe even you are thinking about it too? What did he do? What was his nationality? Ethnicity? It’s human nature to inquire and even more to prejudge. But is it primal? Is that something that is ingrained in our DNA or something that we are taught?
I never asked it of my guest because her adoration and appreciation for her pen pal was apparent from the first time she “didn’t,” mention his name.
She was protective of him and didn’t give out any information that I didn’t ask. I believed her when she said, “this is someone I consider a very dear friend.” And you might ask how is that possible when she’s never met the man? You have to listen to her for yourself which I invite you to do on the Relm Network, on Vince Russo’s brand. You can listen here for free https://spoti.fi/2GkjSwV or on any podcast platform, you enjoy pods. Should you choose to subscribe monthly, www.RussosBrand.com, you can watch for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Both Vince and the Los Angeles Tribune have been very good to me, so I show my support. Just look for Goldy’s Closet EPS #82. Here is an Instagram preview: https://bit.ly/2GfwchW
Alexandra takes us back to the first time she mailed her friend a letter from a website that’s more than just writing a prisoner. It’s communication; it’s support for finding housing and employment when they get out. The website encourages you to be smart, what to watch for, red flags, and schools you on NOT to look for love. Alexandra reminds us that some people are in prison for serious crimes. Not to discourage anyone from trying this, but to be very real and transparent and in proceeding to be cautious. And that’s what I loved most about this interview, it was REAL. She feels like she got very lucky and blessed to have made a wonderful friendship out of this experience.
You can really go through and handpick someone you think you’d connect with. If you try and don’t feel it, there’s no obligation to continue with them. Just try the next person. She really walked me through her process of sending a short little letter on some scratch paper that months later, now exceeds 10 pages per communication. You can email, call, send physical letters, or even visit your pen pal should you choose a person in your area. If you choose the physical letters, I suggest you use a PO Box or if some prisons don’t allow that, the website will print out your letter for you and send it on your behalf. It’s whatever you are comfortable with doing.
His case is still open. She doesn’t think he will actually be in prison forever. Although at the begging of their friendship Alexandra actually made a comment about him “being in prison for life.” She told me she said it very nonchalantly and didn’t realize how insensitive she was being until the inmate wrote her a letter back verbatim, illustrating what she wrote, accompanied by “ouch.” Alexandra explains, “You truly don’t think, that’s somebody’s life”.
That somebody who just a few days after his 18 birthday, wrong place, wrong time, hanging with the wrong people, and guilty by association in a non-violent crime has managed to finished college while being incarcerated for over 10 years now. She says he constantly surprises her by being a motivated, determined, and a very selfless person. They may have great behavior; been working while in prison, and completed education, but they still will have that criminal record. Studies show they will have a better chance of making something of themselves when they get out if while on the inside they were talking to someone on the outside, developing a friendship, and a solid platonic relationship. It can help them tremendously not to become a repeat offender. “These people, they need help. If you don’t have a skill you’re screwed. It’s always good to have a trade you’ve learned. Prisoners are way better off having solid and good help on the outside” says Tom The Conservative, a parole officer of over 30 years, A LCDC-I (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) added, “Everyone just wants to be heard. It’s the most therapeutic experience someone can have. Not being judged, being able to speak freely and openly, and being vulnerable is highly effective. Skills and a trade are good things, but the act of listening is the most powerful gift anyone can give.
This relationship is platonic for Alexandra and has filled a void she didn’t expect. It has impacted her life in ways she can’t even explain. She said she heard people talking about this “www.writeaprisoner.com“, but didn’t really take it to heart for what it could do for a person. It changes your perspective on a lot of things and gives you such a different outlook. People are more than just what you see on the outside. It really brings a whole new meaning to “don’t judge a book by its cover”. It’s a connection that you just can’t duplicate. It’s not the same as the folks you see every day. She said you really learn not to take people for granted. It brings a friendship to a whole new level.
At the end of the day, I’m always trying to learn to have more compassion for people who have made different decisions and choices than I have. We don’t know what circumstances that dictated them. We don’t know what support they had or in most cases, didn’t.
If you take home anything from this article, leave it learning to not jump on the judgment train. I find myself being a passenger on that subway many nights. What if the person behind the bars or even wrongly accused were you? Or a family member? How would you feel then?
You can still be smart, intelligent, and compassionate. If you listen to the podcast and make it through to the end, you will hear that I passed judgment or even wanted to talk to my guest off camera but I decided to leave it in so that you can see even someone trying her best, has days that are clouded. You don’t have to be ignorant about life’s choices. Keep in mind I am the daughter of a parole officer and many members of my family are in law enforcement. I’ve known what time it was before I knew what time was. My father states, “If you’re a person who can read between the lines, you are a strong person, observant, and a good judge of character, I think there are a lot of people in the prisons who could use somebody.” He then goes to reference Maya Moore, a professional basketball player for the MN Lynx, who married Jonathan Irons after helping overturn his prison sentence.
My father reminded me, “they don’t call them CONS for nothing”. But even though his clients were some very dangerous people he told me, “Goldy, many didn’t belong in prison”. And we talked about some people who actually were innocent, or statistics, or had sentences that didn’t fit the crime. I watched my dad deal with his clients my whole life treating them with dignity and respect. My father was one of the best his business had ever seen. He enriched my life with memories most kids don’t get to have. Some were good, some were bad. My father taught me compassion and that these people are still human beings. I saw many success stories knowing my dad did a great job aiding in their rehabilitation. I invite you all to try some of the same…
In Goldy’s Corner.