22 January, 2020

The Daily Mail

I finish writing my message and slide the card into its envelope. I remember how gross sealing envelopes used to be. Even minty envelope glue tastes like glue. Also, I hate thinking of the microscopic foreign bodies I'm licking off those sticky little strips. Not having to fuss with them is fine by me.

Except for stuff with lawyers' and courts' addresses on it (with which I haven't got much truck, since I exhausted my last procedural remedy in 2010), all mail has to be inspected by prison staff. Before weekday USPS pickups, someone opens and reads everything in that day's outbound post, making sure no one's calling down gang hits or writing sexually explicit messages. Then they tape the envelopes closed and send them on their way.

ERDCC doesn't do a bad job of getting everyone their mail. Magazines and papers stack up over the weekend and are therefore all that's delivered on Mondays. Otherwise, to the best of my knowledge, none of my mail's ever reached me later than a day after being delivered to the prison. I've heard horror stories of prison mail delivery in other states taking weeks.

There are too many rules governing the mail in Missouri prisons. After eighteen years' confinement to the system, I've internalized them all. Explaining them to friends and people I'm just getting to know — that can be tricky. To anyone unacquainted with this environment and its quirks, many of these rules will sound arbitrary, and possibly insane.

No hair or bodily fluids. That's one that might seem obvious. No paper that appears to have been at one time wet. That's another that isn't quite so obvious. I'm not permitted to receive anything done in magic marker or crayon. No one really understands that one. Stickers on the pages are forbidden. This confounds more people than I can count. Nor can I receive paintings, pop-up cards, photos with more than a couple of words written on the back, cards signed in pencil, photos in the same envelope as a letter, pages larger than 8½"×11", or more than five sheets printed off the Internet in one envelope. Figure out the reasons behind these rules and I'll pay you my entire month's pay — twenty bucks. Totally worth the trouble.

One item that I don't mind being prohibited is glitter. Glitter sucks. I'm actually happy to have someone checking to keep me safe from accidentally getting that evil stuff in my eye, which is where all glitter ultimately goes. (I'm convinced that glitter is just a failed DARPA project to weaponize birthday cards.) Overall, though, the rules are simply burdensome bullshit. If I were conspiracy-minded, I might think that they're intended to deter people from communicating with prisoners at all.

The card I've just addressed gets an ugly Purple Heart stamp. I'm a commemorative-stamp guy by nature, but the Purple Hearts are all the ERDCC canteen sells. Even a flag stamp would be preferable, but as long as it gets my card to its destination I can't complain.

The mailbox is a small white wall-mounted cabinet in the sallyport, the hallway that leads outside and to the caseworker offices. The sallyport also passes the housing unit's control module. Of course the guard working inside that dim terrarium today doesn't pay as much attention as he's probably supposed to. (What could he be reading for all these hours on that monitor? It's not like they can use Facebook on the state computers.) After walking downstairs to the front of the wing, I try to get his attention through the glass, idiotically waving my envelope over my head for what feels like fifteen minutes. I only get the door unlocked thanks to another guard who happens by with keys.

Had this been an actual emergency, the waving he just ignored would've been followed by screaming, fire, and general pandemonium. Inconvenience is a tiny price to pay to wish a friend well-wishes.

1 comment:

  1. I correspond with my niece who is locked in the Texas penal system. She's far from innocent, but that's another story for another time.
    I long ago learned the reason you cannot get mail on paper that appears to have ever been wet. An old friend I once had had been incarcerated in the notorious Attica prison during its now infamous riots. He passed along an old well known trick of mixing acid (LSD type) and smearing it on paper and mailing it to inmates. Well, inevitably someone just had to spill the beans to someone in some position of power as I seriously doubt anyone in power would have ever been smart enough to figure that one out all on their own. I have to assume crayons and markers can be used for similar purposes, but who really knows what little shittlespits may lurk in the minds of power wherever they may be. You have my permission to use shittlespits as you please. I made it up.


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.