Prisonist.org: Edited by Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Executive Director of Family ReEntry, serving the CT Criminal Justice Community & Co-Founder of Progressive Prison Ministries, the First Ministry in the U.S. Created to Support Individuals, Families & Organizations with White-Collar and Other Nonviolent Incarceration Issues.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

In Prison For The Holidays: Real Letters


Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut
In Prison for the Holidays:
Real Letters 
 
Lee Gutierrez is serving eight years hard time in the NYS prison
system for a single DWI - an
accident in which someone got hurt badly.
We had one week with him before he reported to impart

some spiritual principals of survival & success in prison.

Lee's first letter, The Night Before Prison
is one of  our most requested blog posts.
________________
November 29, 2013: Dear Rev J & Lynn - 
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!  It was so nice to hear from you and sharing a little of your life with me.  It sounds like the clan at your home yesterday were blessed to spend time together.  You were very generous of heart to welcome so many with open arms. 

As for my correspondence to you, please feel free to publish it on your site.  If you think my words will help, I am living testimony that your guidance and experience is so valuable to a soul such as mine who is entering a dark and unknown time through the penal system. 

You and your wife Lynn reinforce my strength that that we don't have to do it alone.  God is always with me and a long as I show how grateful I am for each small miracle that I experience HE will see me through this. "This too shall pass." 

Lynn's prayer for me is inspiring, makes me want to share it with some of the souls here who have befriended me.  In my next AA meeting I will pass it around to whoever would like to read it. 

In orientation the newcomers go to F-cell block, it is the pre-introduction into Gen Pop "general population." The COs have little respect for us with each interaction they make it clear that we are less than who we are and are the bottom of the barrel. I don't take it personally because they assume you are a career convict and there is no hope for you. I am mixed in with drug dealers, murderers and rapists so I understand their attitude, but this attitude is very counter productive if their real purpose is to rehabilitate and introduce inmates back into society.  

On a good note several COs in my block noticed that I didn't fit in, so they actually took the time to read my record. Realizing that I am here because of a single DWI due to my ALCOHOLISM, they changed their attitude towards me.  They call me out of my cell to talk to me and find out who I really am, they sensed the true remorse of my actions. I have been at ease ever since. 

I did see my first act of violence to an inmate from the COs.  Two says after I was placed in F-Block the cell next to me houses a young man who was very upset - He was unable to call his family the night before, and had been put in "keep lock" for the day not sure why.  He became very frustrated and started to ask for the CO. Getting no response he began to yell for the CO who responded by yelling obscenities to him to shut up.  The inmate continued causing the guard to head head to his cell and told the other CO to open the cell.  I couldn't see but it seemed that the CO was pushing & punching him into submission.  He couldn't gain control so he started throwing him about in his cell.  Once he realized that he couldn't handle him he called for a "Code 26," moments later a platoon of 13 COs swarmed in to subdue him.  It was very sad for me and the others. I won't go into details but as he was carried off I could see the damage to him.  Very sad. 

I really believe in God and the brief but intense lessons you gave me.  I have been spreading the word to many of the frustrated souls here about managing their spiritual pain and help them understand that they shouldn't be upset by things they can't control.  I really think it is helping. Thank you for you words of encouragement and prayers.  God bless you.  Have a peaceful day. 

Lee
PS. Again if you feel my words can help other please publish them.  If you have specific topics you like me to describe to you about my journey please let me know. 
__________________

November 22, 2013: Dear Lee, 

I received your letter this afternoon - thank you for for vivid and of course disturbing images of your first days in the prison system.  My wife Lynn is praying for you and your family right now as I begin this letter to you - I will pray for you later during my spiritual time.  I will not post or share your letters with anyone unless you give me explicit permission - it is entirely up to you.  I can tell you that your first letter to me, the one that you sent the evening before you left, is among the most read posts on my blog.  It is powerful but honestly nowhere nowhere near as powerful a the letter I received today. No pressure or persuasion is intended - I only have your interests first and how it fits in with your spiritual development and path to freedom through mind, body and spirit.  Helping others, of course, is the highest order and greatest path to freedom. 

I was saddened to hear about the deplorable conditions and feel for you - but of course you know that I am not surprised.  I say this because I want to continually remind you that you are not alone.  You are part of a great community now - we are bound by our brokenness and our suffering - and only through it will we be able to communicate and reach across vast voids to understand what each other is going through.  Deplorable conditions, inhumanity, needless pain - and in the midst of it a flower always - always - grows through the rocks.  Always.  If you look for it you find it in the smallest of places inside of you - and in the unlikeliest of places in other men too.  Kindness, compassion, caring.  It's there just waiting to be found - to be revealed.  It requires patience and trust - but it is always there. It is how we found each other only one week before you had to report to prison - and how you could trust a stranger enough to learn skills to survive your early ordeals. It's God. And there is more to come.  More journey - more sadness and more joy in unlikely places.  Just be quiet and watch for it. 

By now you've learned that there are levels to your learning - that the process is so much more complex than you ever could have dreamed of.  That you are developing new instincts and intuitions, relying on almost a sixth sense about things.  This will all change again and again.  You are in a process not a place.  A process.  Stay fluid and keep alert to changes around you and in you.  Keep learning and observing.  The things you think you understand one day can be different the next (like the stock market). Just know that it keeps changing & so do you.  Just keep your humanity and cherish it.  Prize it above all else and you will be fine.  Respect all things & everything - especially yourself.

Our ministry is going wonderfully.  It is growing in the 'hood in Bridgeport and in the white collar sectors too.  We have new churches signing on, new articles written about us - a new one coming out this week on Forbes.  We have our first innocent spouse test case before a Federal Judge in New Haven - she's the estranged wife in a very large financial crimes case.  If we are successful, it will be the first time in history that a Federal Judge will modify a temporary asset freeze to give a non-defendant innocent spouse access to her own assets in a financial crimes case.  It could be a banner case in recognizing the rights of innocent spouses & children. 

We are having 15 people here for Thanksgiving next week - old friends & new friends.  Some recovering alcoholics, a woman & her children whose husband/father is in prison, a friend of mine & his wife & 3 month old son - they are Episcopal Priests, a Christian couple, my wife Lynn's former husband David, and their daughter (my step-daughter) Skylar who is home from school.  Basically a mish mosh of people brought together in a new form (or old form) of family and community out of love & caring. It should be wonderful.  We will sit around our table and I will think of you - I promise. 
I spent one Thanksgiving in prison, and Lee - it was my most memorable Thanksgiving.  Probably not my most pleasant one - but my most memorable one.  The one I was most present for, I was most awake for.  I needed that Thanksgiving in the prison dining hall to teach me how to be thankful - and I was thankful for every bit of it. 

I am thankful for you.  You are a touchstone for me.  Keep writing, praying. Mind, body & spirit everyday. Your friend, 

Jeff 
________________
November 22, 2013: Dear Lee, 

I hope you don't mind, Jeff shared your letter with me.  It prompted me to pray for you and I want to write a prayer for you to share with you:

Heavenly Father, 

We come to you today asking for your special mercy and care for your beloved child Lee.  Please dear Lord, help Lee feel your incredible love for him during these difficult days, this love that will strengthen and sustain him.  Father, we ask that Lee reach for you, yearn for you and anchor his soul in YOU.  We ask that Lee entrust all concerns to you dear Heavenly Father, in prayer; and pray sincere prayers of gratitude to you very, very often; because we know dear Lord that GRATITUDE makes miracles possible. We thank you dear Lord for this day you have created, for the air we breathe, for the love we feel in our hearts, for friends, for letters. We are so very grateful for every blessing you bestow upon us.  AMEN. 

Peace to you Lee.  Lynn
_________________

November 20, 2013: Hey Jeff - 
Happy Thanksgiving!  Hope you and your family are doing well. Looks like I am in my final destination for the next 6-9 months.  I have been classified as "maximum" candidate; and was sent here.

Coxsackie is a "super" max facility, where "offenders" are in their perspective cell about 18 hours out of each day.  This will continue until the "program committee" designates what programs I will be participating in.  Having already been taken through orientation, I am deposited in F1-Block until further notice.  

I have to admit that I was very insecure when I was first incarcerated in the Nassau County Correctional.  Never having done prison time before I didn't know what to expect. The 3 days in "quarantine' was a very grim start - the 72 hour hold is for introduction into the system, taking several medical examinations to see how I am physically as well as mentally.  The hold is a dark, dank cell block that has very little ambient light from the sun.  Confusing you as to know whether it is day time or night. There is no clock provided, adding to the confusion of time.  Giving the appearance that time is standing still - seconds seem like minutes, minutes expand to hours and days never end.  The dungeon of cells in a single row seems to go on forever.  The cells themselves are hauntingly gray, unkempt layers of dull colors that are chipping away.  Showing years of neglect in a lifetime of misery. 

The personal facilities dressing each cell are tarnished and corroded, forcing one to stand hovering over the toilet.  Drab and colorless meals are pushed through the cell door, a liquid I call "bug juice" is poured in plastic cups from a metal bucket. Now I know why they say the expression, "don't shit where you eat."

I will send you more correspondence of my journey as time goes on.  Your counseling and experience has made the 1st leg of the journey most bearable and for that I am grateful.  

Please write back with news of the outside world!  Again, Happy Thanksgiving. 

Your friend, Lee
_______________
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project 
Christ Church Greenwich
254 East Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, Connecticut, USA 06830

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA  06604
 


(0) +1203.769.1096 
(m) +1203.339.5887
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu 
progressiveprisonproject.org

3 comments:

  1. Its really very informative blog people will love this blog.

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  2. Jeff and Lynn.This is wonderful as a real eye opener to the general public. Your love and concern is admirable and so helpful to those in need. I will pass this on to my friend and hope that they will reach out to you both. Thank you for sending this to me.

    XO Susan

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  3. Dear Jeff, Lynn and Lee,

    This exchange of letters is extremely powerful & touching - it gives me a glimpse into the human side of our justice system, and shows me the multiple dimensions associated with tragic mistakes. I hope these letters help enlighten others as they have me.

    I will pray for Lee, that he finds serenity through his suffering, and that his experiences may teach us all to soften the hardness in our hearts.

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