Guest Blogger

I Found Freedom in Prison (No, I Don't Mean Jesus)

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 17, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: los angeles, prison, prisoner correspondence project

Editors' note: Steve Mason is a 26-year-old California state inmate, librarian, and gay liberation activist who will be released in early 2015. When he is not engaged in pink politics he can be found reading Stephen King books, drawing, listening to punk & ska or playing dungeons and dragons.

Thumbnail image for steve_mason.jpgMy name is Steve and I am an openly queer inmate in the prison state of California. I wasn't always open and honest about who I am. At the time of my arrest I had barely come out of the closet only to shut myself back in upon receiving my sentence.

My journey starts in the Los Angeles County jail. I wouldn't wish even my worst enemies to spend five minutes there. I didn't really speak to anyone there because I was in severe culture shock. I was in a dorm setting like that of a boot camp barracks. Three bunks down from me was a white man who I knew was gay. We would talk and play cards from time to time. He knew I was gay even though I didn't say I was (sometimes you don't have to).

One day he got a letter from his lover and another white man (races group together, racism thrives) saw the letter and shouted, "Fag!" I sat there, frozen in fear as five other white guys dragged him into the showers and beat the hell out of him. I'll never forget the look he gave me as they beat him. "Help me!" his eyes screamed, but I was too much of a coward to lift my fists let alone scream stop. He was taken away after he was beaten and placed with the K-11's (the gay unit).

I knew from that moment that being gay threatened my safety. For the sake of my personal safety, I placed myself so deep into the closet I smelled like mothballs.

After I was sentenced, I was sent to the ironically named Pleasant Valley State Prison. I dodged questions about my sexuality and each and every time I lied, wanting to scream "Yes, I'm gay!" And I would have except that the things I witnessed kept me afraid. Gays are treated like shit in prison. We are seen as property, to be bought and sold. I once witnessed a nineteen-year-old sold to be a "punk" for a case of ramen noodles and I've heard horror stories about punks being used as drug and weapon holders as well as prostitutes. Three guesses where the contraband was held.

I would cry myself to sleep, much like I did as a closeted teen living in a violently homophobic home. After two years of living in a straight jacket I couldn't take it any more. It was mentally and emotionally killing me to live like that. In March of 2008, I blurted out that I was gay to my cellie. I waited for what felt like an eternity for him to respond. His answer was: "And? So what?" He explained to me that his niece is gay and he spent a good deal of time protecting her from her family. He told me for my well-being, I should keep my sexuality to myself, but he gave me the space to relax and drop the act while in our cell. For his own protection though, he said he would deny knowing about my sexuality if anyone else found out.

Six months later the news was flooded with stories about Proposition 8. I didn't think much of it at the time, but when it passed I felt a grave injustice had been done. My eyes were glued to my television for any news on Prop 8. I saw protests, marches, and outrage. Prior to this I didn't really care about bigger picture issues like this. I was never an active member of the gay community (never had the chance) and sadly only cared about my personal struggles as a gay man. But after seeing the outrage at these protests on my television I desperately wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to scream, "Fuck you!" to the straight world and become an activist.

But before I could do any of that, I had to do one of the hardest, scariest things in my life: I had to come out in prison. I knew the risks, but I didn't care anymore. I would take the beatings, the slurs, and the abandonment of my so-called friends. I wanted so desperately to be a part of something bigger than myself. Next I cut my long hair so people would not conflate my sexuality with my gender expression, pierced my right ear and kicked the god-damned door of my closet, no turning back!

Once I was out, I tried reaching out to what I thought were like-minded queers. I wrote to Equality California, Marriage Equality, GLAAD, and the ACLU requesting addresses for groups I could write to for moral support and for information on how I could help. The responses I got from them were about the same. They offered no help, no referrals, and basically wanted nothing to do with me. It was like they said, "Thanks for playing, Steve, but you don't fit into our image of what a gay person is. We all act straight and want to be just like them."

This broke my heart. It made me feel like my struggle meant nothing to anyone on the outside. But one day, fate saw it fit for me to acquire a 'zine called Out of the Closets and Into the Libraries written by a person named Conrad (a Bilerico blogger). I absorbed every word of the small booklet on queer and trans history. The information inside sparked a thirst for knowledge about our rich queer history. I wrote to Conrad and we have been pen pals ever since.

Through Conrad I contacted La-Gai and the Prisoner Correspondence Project based in Montreal. They hooked me up with numerous queer resources and newsletters that include everything from history, health, and politics. I've taken the information and shared it with other queer and trans folks at this prison and now they call me "the queer librarian!"

Being in prison has, in a sense, given me freedom. I know that if I can be open here, I can do it anywhere, unafraid. In weakness, I found strength and in fear, I have found courage. For those of you in prison, whether that prison be the closet, an actual prison or both, stay strong and know that you are not alone.


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Thank you for writing this. It's an invaluable window in an aspect of queer life that I don't feel gets discussed with any depth of frequency in the gay "community." I wish I could say I was surprised that the organizations you initially reached out to were unresponsive, but I'm not. You must have an awfully strong heart and mind to persevere anyway, especially in an environment that is hardly supportive of queer lives, or I imagine, of agitators in general.

Keep up with the good work you're doing in there, and don't worry, we won't have solved everything by 2015. There will be plenty left to do and people who will value your experience and the work you've done.

I wish I could say I was surprised that the organizations you initially reached out to were unresponsive, but I'm not.

I'm not surprised either. The author reached out to groups that focus on marriage equality and gays in the media. Those groups have nothing to do with prisoners and wouldn't know what to do with his needs/complaints. It's not their mission and not what they're trained to work with. He might as well have reached out to Planned Parenthood and then complained that they weren't helpful.

Most of the general email addresses go directly to an intern for a quick answer. If the mail is pertinent to the org's mission, the staffer will find an answer for the questions, send along additional resources, etc. But when you get a message from someone who wants help with prison resources and you've got dozens of other emails that day, would you spend all day trying to find out how to help or would you politely write back, say that it's outside of what you know, and suggest other places the correspondent can find assistance?

I happen to know that at least one of those orgs sent back a personal email from a higher level staffer that was full of sympathy but told him that they had no idea how to help. That's not hateful. It's not "basically wanted nothing to do with me" and describing the intent as:

"Thanks for playing, Steve, but you don't fit into our image of what a gay person is. We all act straight and want to be just like them."

Seems more like the ruminations of someone with a lot of time on their hands to hold a grudge and feel slighted by interns answering a shit-ton of emails daily who don't know how to help in that situation. Insinuating that all the people who wrote Steve have this position in a basic no-brainer "You contacted the wrong group" situation seems rather shallow and petty to me when it looks like when Steve contacted groups about gay prisoners he was welcomed with open arms, given proper resources, etc. Why? They knew how to help.

But blaming a group focused on gay representation on TV for not knowing how to help a gay prisoner is ridiculous. It's hyperbole and, quite frankly, seems more like rebellion and surliness for anyone perceived to be in "authority."

I'm sorry, Bill, did you read this article?

He didn't ask for support and resources from GLAAD and Marriage Equality. Quite honestly, I would be concerned about what they may have sent him if he had. He wrote to them because they are the most visible and funded gay political organizations. He just asked for the address of a group who could help him. And offered his help in the marriage fight. And they failed him.

Go ahead and google "gay prisoner support". How long did it take you to find something? How many months could they have saved him by taking 30 seconds to copy down an address? They didn't fail him because it's "outside of what they know". They failed him because of a deeply classed understanding of what makes a valid political constituent.

But you know, at least they were sympathetic.

I did read the article. Here's what Steve says in his own words about writing to the orgs.

Once I was out, I tried reaching out to what I thought were like-minded queers. I wrote to Equality California, Marriage Equality, GLAAD, and the ACLU requesting addresses for groups I could write to for moral support and for information on how I could help.

He wrote asking for support and resources.

Go ahead and google "gay prisoner support". How long did it take you to find something? How many months could they have saved him by taking 30 seconds to copy down an address?

I also think it's pertinent to point out that if Steve was able to use the internet to find GLAAD, the ACLU, Ryan Conrad, etc - it's not too hard to Google "gay prisoner support" on his own either.

Prisoners don't have Internet access.

That's why they write to the most visible gay organizations and to addresses that they find in zines.

That's why someone in one of those organizations taking thirty seconds to pass on a referral can make a world of difference.

They do. I correspond with two prisoners pretty regularly via email.

bill, i appreciate that you correspond with two folks who are inside prison walls. however, simply because these two folks have email does NOT mean all prisoners have access to email. in fact, most prisoners do not.

I think it’s important, when you’re searching for this kind of new information, to distinguish between access to email and access to the Internet:

http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2008/08/federal-prisoners-to-get-limited-email.html
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/680947/can_prison_inmates_use_the_internet.html

Even then, notions of “access” need to be complicated. Five cents a minute is pretty pricey when you only make a few dollars a day. And just because something is prison policy does not mean that it’s reflected in the lived realities of prison life.

If your friends inside do have Internet access, that’s great, I believe all prisoners should. But I think the larger point of this article is to try to push us beyond using limited points of reference on which to build our worldview and to challenge us to consider those outside it.

We have the option of taking his challenge and criticisms seriously, and consider what it mean to incorporate queer prisoners into a movement (imagine if GLAAD had a network of gay prisoners to respond to prison rape scenes, or if a host of ex-cons were to become anti-bullying advocates upon their release) and what it would require in terms of accessibility. Or we can circle the wagons, defend our friends in these organizations, and try to discredit a well-written and clearly thought-through piece.

I think it’s important to, when you’re searching for this kind of new information, to distinguish between access to email and access to the Internet.

Even then, notions of “access” need to be complicated. Five cents a minute is pretty pricey when you only make a few dollars a day. And just because something is prison policy does not mean that it’s reflected in the lived realities of prison life.

If your friends inside do have Internet access, that’s great, I believe all prisoners should. But I think the larger point of this article is to try to push us beyond using limited points of reference on which to build our worldview and to challenge us to consider those outside it.

We have the option of taking his challenge and criticisms seriously, and consider what it mean to incorporate queer prisoners into a movement (imagine if GLAAD had a network of gay prisoners to respond to prison rape scenes, or if a host of ex-cons were to become anti-bullying advocates upon their release) and what it require in terms of accessibility. Or we can circle the wagons, defend our friends in these organizations, and try to discredit a well-written and clearly thought through piece.

But what Steve writes is: "I wrote to Equality California, Marriage Equality, GLAAD, and the ACLU requesting addresses for groups I could write to for moral support and for information on how I could help. The responses I got from them were about the same. They offered no help, no referrals, and basically wanted nothing to do with me." His point is exactly that they did NOT "suggest other places the correspondent can find assistance?" And what are the benefits for Steve for not noting that a "higher level staffer that was full of sympathy[...]told him that they had no idea how to help."

I find it curious that he's being painted here as some kind of scheming liar or at least as someone with a "grudge," and below, in others' comments, as someone who wanted to be a "spokesperson" - which is a blatant lie; he was merely asking for resources. What, exactly, does a man who is out as queer in jail, probably the worst kind of category to be in, have to gain by lying about all this?

Which organization was this? And why, given the numbers of queers in jail and that we are still targeted in parks and bars, does any queer organization feel free to claim that it has "no idea how to help"? Frankly, that statement there is quite damning in itself.

Why did the ACLU, Marriage Equality, Equality California and GLAAD *not* even have a list of resources for queer prisoners? I think that's the bigger question here. I mean, seriously, the ACLU, of all places, couldn't even send him a list of resources? And does Equality only mean marriage and its attendant benefits? Do queers not end up in jail?

For anyone interested, Regina Kunzel's book, "Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality," provides a fascinating history of how the LGBTQ community has, since the 1970s onwards, gradually turned its back on queer prisoners. What's really fascinating is that queer prison correspondence projects once proliferated as Gay Liberationists took it up on themselves to establish solidarity with their brethren in jail. Today, apparently, even the ACLU can't be bothered to have even the *names* of prisoner support programs?

Lastly, and here I'm referencing comments below, not the one above - perhaps our time is better spent considering the immense brutality of what Steve describes about prison conditions rather than whether or not his crime is good enough for us to reclaim him as one of us. It's the prison conditions we're talking about here, not an attempt to reconvict him. And, by the way, this is an issue that ranges across the board, as is evident from this extremely bold statement and position taken by Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center:

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=31423

I've been around prison work and immigrants rights work a lot - trust me when I tell you that it's a huge, huge deal and indicative of the widespread nature of a larger, systemic problem when a relatively mainstream group (and, I should add, an extremely important and helpful one) takes such a strong position with the government.

Chew on all that, folks, and let's remember what the real problems are. The orgs named will survive. Our people inside are, meanwhile, being deprived of their basic rights and humanity.

Why did the ACLU, Marriage Equality, Equality California and GLAAD *not* even have a list of resources for queer prisoners? I think that's the bigger question here.

Why doesn't the ACLU have a list of everywhere you can buy an American flag?

Why doesn't Marriage Equality have a comprehensive list of divorce lawyers in America?

Why doesn't Equality California have a list of every zip code in the state?

Why doesn't GLAAD have a giant list of every actor and actress?

Because they can't do everything. Sure, those things are tangentially related to their organizations but who would hold them accountable for not having a list ready for something that's not related to their group's mission? It's just silly and faulty reasoning, Yasmin.

When he wrote to the correct groups working on his issues, he got the answers he was seeking. If I wrote to Planned Parenthood and asked them to provide me with a list of recourses on how to find out more about the American Blue Beetle, would I be shocked when they told me they had no idea? Should I castigate them? Or would it be smarter to realize my own part in the silliness and move on to ask the person who can help me instead of sitting and stewing with a "someone-done-me-wrong" attitude?

Is prison horrendous for queer (and non-queer) inmates? Of course. No one is questioning that. I'm questioning the logic behind besmirching groups that had nothing to do with his situation in an attempt to paint them as cold hearted when the mistake was simply his.

As for his charges, quite frankly, it's none of our business. He's been found guilty by a jury of his peers. That's good enough for me; I don't need to judge him any further based on his crime. Everyone else should give up that line of reasoning too. It has no pertinent use in his post and therefore isn't relative for us to know.

He's a queer prisoner reaching out to queer organizations - it made perfect sense for him to ask them for resources and support, so your Planned Parenthood example doesn't work. And, frankly, the others are non sequiturs. I'm really curious - why are you so bent on castigating him for seeking support? Why is it wrong for him to express that they did not support him? What's the big deal here, exactly?

Why is it not part of the ACLU's mission to have resources for queer prisoners? or, for that matter, for GLAAD or Marriage Equality or any other group to say, hey, this is one of us who has an issue - and I suspect it can't be the first time they've been asked - let's take a few minutes to look or at least refer him to someone. He wasn't even asking for legal help. They're hardly underpaid, underfunded organisations - quite the opposite. Rather than say, "they're not obliged to help him," why not at least say, "it's unfortunate they w/could not help him, glad he found other resources"?

Most people are aware that finding online resources from jail is scatty at best - I remember being in communication with someone in jail, just trying to get a phone conversation going, and there were so many factors that disrupted our communication. But be that as it may, I'm curious - what's this impulse to keep blaming Steve for writing what he did and then constantly coming back with attempts to destroy his credibility? ("it's not too hard to Google "gay prisoner support" on his own either").

I'm also struck by the note of personal animus here, in your phrasing: "Or would it be smarter to realize my own part in the silliness and move on to ask the person who can help me instead of sitting and stewing with a "someone-done-me-wrong" attitude?" That disrespects his entire post, the bulk of which is to let readers know what it's like to be queer in prison - a topic that's surely important for us all to know about. What's with all the personal attacks? "Silliness?" And he did move on, as you might put it - but he also saw fit to point out that the gay orgs did not help.

Why protect these orgs so much while castigating the queer prisoner? They have a lot more power and resources than he does and rather than focusing on him or even them individually, doesn't it say something about the system and the way gay orgs work in general that a man should get NO help from any of these orgs., including the ACLU, which SHOULD have these resources (and by resources, I'm talking about a simple list, not money, whihc he was not asking for)? What's with the Steve-bashing? Let's just take him out of the picture for now and consider the larger issues here.

As for his charges, quite frankly, it's none of our business. He's been found guilty by a jury of his peers. That's good enough for me; I don't need to judge him any further based on his crime. Everyone else should give up that line of reasoning too. It has no pertinent use in his post and therefore isn't relative for us to know.

Ordinarily I would agree with you that it isn't any of our business why he is in prison. However, it is relevant in this case because it is a matter of character and the veracity of his claims. Mason's article is written to evoke sympathy for a purpose. It is perfectly logical to hold the claims of convicted criminals as suspect and requiring further substantiation. He forfeited the "right" to being given a benefit of doubt when he committed his crime. Is he in jail for murder? Child molestation? Rape? I haven't a clue but I can tell you that such is indeed important to know if he expects anything from me with this article, and I venture to guess quite a number of other folks would agree. Look, I do not know what Mason's crime was and ultimately it makes no difference in my life whether he tells me or not. Yet the claims of a murderer, child molester, rapist, etc. have a far higher threshold to meet to get my attention, let alone action, than your average Joe.

So, is your line of reasoning that you're less likely to take seriously the abuse of queer prisoners in jail if the details come to you via a "murderer, child molester, rapist, etc." than an "average Joe?" Why? Is it okay to rape or beat up a
"murderer, child molester, rapist"? Or are you actually saying that such "criminals" are somehow incapable of telling the truth about their conditions? I'm putting aside the inflammatory nature of your comment, and simply trying to pursue it to its logical end, as it were.

The point of the critique of the Prison Industrial Complex is that there are no "average Joes." I don't know anything about you, but I'll assume you consider yourself an "average Joe." Trust me: no such thing, if you ever find yourself, even by a simple slip (like gay porn? go to gay bars on the "shady" side of town? have sex with someone of the same sex?) on the wrong side of the law - which is surprisingly easy to do.

And I'll agree with Bil here - what Steve did has been judged already; who are you or I to demand more/endless punishment? "He forfeited the "right" to being given a benefit of doubt when he committed his crime." Um, yeah, no. Not at all. If you are to extend the logic of the PIC, he gets punished for his crime, period. You don't get to decide that he is now to be suspected for everything else. And, frankly, I don't see this kind of logic with white collar crime - can we even begin to address how the PIC is classed and gendered and sexualised?

Is it not enough that he has been sentenced (putting aside, for now, the problems with the basic structure of the PIC)? What's with all this salacious probing into exactly what he might have done while ignoring the conditions he's exposing? And, by the way, if you want more proof about conditions in prisons for queers, which is the point of Steve's post, there's plenty of reading material out there, including Regina Kunzel's book Criminal Intimacy, the recent book Queer (In)Justice by Mogul, Ritchie and Whitlock, AND a host of links right there, in the post above.

And a shameless plug here: the forthcoming anthology, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, edited by Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, in which I have an essay, also addresses this issue.

What more do you need for "veracity" if not the words of someone who's actually experiencing all of this right now, as we write?

Is it unreasonable to think that the ACLU which has a prison rights project and a gay rights project might just keep a resource list around for gay people in prison?

The San Francisco Zen Center has a prison pen-pal project and there are gay men who write to gay (and straight) prisoners through them.

Somehow, I think the ACLU would come to mind before the SF Zen Center with most gay prisoners.

GLAAD and Marriage Equality have narrow missions. The ACLU does not.

EQCA deals with LGBT rights. Should gay rights stop at the prison door?

I cannot believe that this is the first request from a gay prisoner for any of those organizations. After the first couple letters, perhaps having a volunteer or intern look up resources that could be provided or provide info on what orgs might be able to respond with the info is the least they could do.

Yours is the Comment of the Week, Yasmin. It's up tonight at 7pm.

abolish prisons | May 18, 2011 4:17 PM

Bill,
Pandering to GLAAD in hopes that they will continue to nominate/ award your little "webpage"? I know that you are dependent on the exploited labor power of all those that give you content here (while you keep all profits) but could you at least attempt to hide the grovelling in something that at least resembles intellect?

To the rest of you law-and-order LGBT people, do you really think the state would not, give then chance, do the same to you? This thread reads like a gay Nancy Grace episode than anything i would want to be a part of.

I'm going straight.


If you're going to make charges like that, why not use your real name? Ah, because that would require you to step up instead of hiding behind a keyboard.

Should I ask how much you pay the writers for your anthology on queers in prison? Oh, that's right. You didn't pay all of them. You just 'exploited' them.

Good Lord. Are you really dumb enough to think that by hiding behind a fake name I wouldn't know who you are when you've left an IP address behind?

abolish prisons | May 18, 2011 5:07 PM

Oh bill-
I am clearly not hiding, i know my IP address shows up and would gladly say anything i would say on the internet to you, or anyone else in person.

And i'm glad you asked me how much i am paying contributors to Captive Genders. Each contributor gets 2 free copies and any money made from sales goes into a fund to buy wholesale books for currently incarcerated folks (so they can have them for free). This was part of the accountability process my co-editor Nat and i designed at the start. Yup, that's correct, 7 years of labor and I wont see a dime.

So, now that you know what I do and dont make money from, your turn? I know contributors are not paid,hosting for a site like this I know is not much, and the design (from the looks of it) must be free, so where does all the advertisement revenue go?

Two free copies of a book isn't compensation. Can they take those books to a grocery store to get food? The fact that you chose not to be compensated for your work, Eric, doesn't mean that no one else should be compensated.

You didn't compensate your writers and then you lash out at anyone else who doesn't under a different screen name since you don't want your name and your history attached to your comments. I disagree with Bil's position on this thread (let's be honest, the only reason there aren't prominent LGBT orgs that deal with prison issues is because, if they did, they wouldn't be able to get the donations to remain prominent LGBT orgs), but saying that he or I are getting rich off this site is simply ridiculous.

a. huffington | May 19, 2011 2:37 PM

Bill and Alex,

I am still waiting to hear how you all compensate your writers and your finical information for the page, as mine was requested and I happily answered. (or is this just a one way street? I would think the heads of a web page like this would make good?)

Actually, free books is "compensation", c-m-c, remember?

Also, I never said you two were getting rich off this web page or at least not until you sell it, that's how start-ups work (hold out for AOL). But you are getting more rich then those that labor under you, the writers.

To this end, I'm excited to hear your new system for paying writers, or at least redistributing the wealth beyond the two of you, and working to reverse the trend.


KindaFreakedOut | May 17, 2011 6:04 PM

Obviously we're happy for you that you've been able to find the inner strength to come out and even try to help others. Obviously the treatment of LGBTQ inmates has not gotten enough focus and no one deserves to be raped, beaten, enslaved or otherwise treated poorly just because they're in prison.

But okay... this article doesn't say why you're in prison. I looked you up on California's website and it says you've been there since December 2006. What did you do to get sent away for over 8 years when you were just 21? And do you think that might have anything to do with the major groups' reaction to contact from you, rather than their wanting to "act straight" or fit an "image"?

Most people do want to fit an image of being law abiding citizens, except of course for noble "crimes" of civil disobedience. That has nothing to do with acting straight. And even people who may want to help those being raped in prison may not want to hang out with and work alongside prisoners if they were actually put in prison for a good reason.

If you want to make a case that you were unfairly imprisoned, if you were innocent or if you were sent off just for having some drugs or doing sex work, well that's one thing; if you want to make a case that you've changed and you're no longer dangerous, that's another. To just not say anything about it yet expect unconditional support from organizations and from the readers of this site is asking a lot.

Frankly, your eyes in this photo freak me out a little. Your smile does not reach your eyes. And the way you talk is pretty self-aggrandizing while blaming others for being wary of you and avoiding accountability for whatever you did that got you sent away to prison for nearly 8 years. Did you have victims? Do you empathize with them? Have you tried to make amends? I hope you stay safe and that you learn to understand yourself and others better, and if there is responsibility that you need to accept, I hope you accept it.

Under California law, offenders between the ages of 12 and 24 are considered juvenile offenders; yet Mason is incarcerated at an adult facility, the Pleasant Valley State Prison. This implies that he committed and was convicted of a crime severe enough to warrant being sentenced as an adult.

No.

If you commit a crime as a juvenile, you can be kept in the juvenile justice system until you're 25. If you commit a crime when you're 21, aka an adult, you're tried and sentenced as an adult.

Educate yourself before you start slandering people.

I agree with KindaFreakedOut and Desiree... I found it a little fishy that he doesn't actually tell us why he went to prison. Something tells me it wasn't just because he had a few too many unpaid parking tickets.

While the reason for his being convicted and imprisoned is his business, I think readers deserve to know if he feels that those GLBT groups acted unfairly in writing him off like that. I mean, a convicted criminal isn't exactly someone most advocacy groups want as a spokesman to begin with, let alone someone who was convicted of something serious.

your comment is full of unhelpful questions that are not relevant to this article: when the author is specifically writing about the experience of being queer in prison, all you want to know is "what he did."

this is problematic for a number of reasons. first, reducing someone to their prison status ignores the reality that the u.s. "justice" system is rife with racism; classism; disparate sentencing based on racism, et al; power dynamics and straight-up police brutality between law enforcement and communities of color and queer and trans communities; evidence doctoring, changing, planting; and that inside prisons and jails, the conditions are so dehumanizing and deplorable (sexual violence, mental wellness concerns, and addictions go unaddressed and in fact often are intensified or perpetuated by corrections officers).

we have no idea what systemic factors went into mason's sentencing. and nowhere in here does he make excuses for being in prison. so, to get all "but what did you doooooooo?" distracts from the deplorable jail conditions mason is trying to talk about. your comment exemplifies the way we dehumanize and stigmatize people with prison/jail histories and how those of us without prison/jail histories seem to view these folks' lives as open season: "clearly, in black and white, society says you've done something 'wrong,' so that means you have no more rights and i can ask you whatever i want."

finally, as a person that has not been in prison and is not (yet) impacted by having a prison or jail history and/or status in terms of finding housing or jobs, etc., i think it's important to consider that mason still retains the right to privacy and confidentiality. he is also a human, not a prison term. perhaps if you rather wrote him a letter instead of posting a public omment and engaged him in some genuine conversation, he might, at his comfort level, tell you about why he's in prison. and not because he HAS to, but as friends and acquintances share information -- because it's a part of his life. not his whole life.

I think it's great that you were able to get help you need. I think it is very important to have first hand accounts of prison life. I hope you continue to have an opportunity to be heard from.

HCarr90366 | May 18, 2011 6:48 AM

Wonderful story. I am so glad you discovered your true freedom lies within yourself. My boyfriend returned home 2 weeks ago after serving an 80-day sentence for a parole violation. The actual criminal act and parole violation occurred before we even met, and when we started dating he told me and started making plans to turn himself in so that would not be hanging over our heads and he could put the past in the past. We spoke by phone daily and wrote frequently. Some asked who he was always on the phone with and who he wrote such long letters and he told them it was his boyfriend. I feared for his safety, but he was never attacked nor abused. I am proud of my boyfriend, love him dearly, and together we are working to make certain he never sees in the inside of a jail again. As I told him, there is a reason the windshield is so much larger than the rearview mirror on a vehicle. Where you are going is so much more important than where you have been. Good luck with your new-found freedom and life.

John Gagon | May 18, 2011 9:48 AM

This is one of the most touching stories I ever read. I grew up in a violently homophobic fundamentalist (1800s) mormon home (the poor Deseret welfare bum kind, not the rich Mitt Romney kind) and my husband recently spent two months in jail and is losing his teeth because of it. He has been out a mere 2 and 1/2 months. We've both got new jobs and decided to leave the state of VA for MD. So it hit close to home.

Very few have the courage or heart to put up with both the homophobes and the weaker elements of the gay community. You will find however a few strong spirits out there and most of them will have your darker background instead of the cushy preppy-coming out experience (which they deride as mere baggage). In a sense, I felt more at ease with the sappy homophobes at church than I did with the snooty attitudes and brush offs I had with that element. That's not to say we don't all experience some pain. But it's also not true that these experiences are the same kind or intensity. We need to hold up people like you and so I'm very pleased to be reading you.

John Gagon | May 18, 2011 9:56 AM

I sometimes think it's easier to deal with homophobes at times, when they're not being physical that is, than the weak support. I know where the homophobes stand and that allows me to address it. The weak LGBT support is undermining from inside, it's subtle, it's not clear because it sends a mixed message and has a false front and it's much harder to deal with.

In short, I prefer the enemy I know to the enemy I don't know as they say....realizing here the term enemy may be too harsh if these are just human faults to be worked with but appropriate when considering the effects of their actions and the resulting lack of responsibility. I seriously want to call them on it if I witness it again.

sarahallison48 | May 18, 2011 12:16 PM

Some of you have missed the point. It does not matter what he did. Why do you want to know? To judge him worthy of being gay? His story is more about his personal struggle with being gay in an institution that uses and abuses LGBT people to death. I, for one, am glad that he wrote his story of being in prison.
Of course, what his incarceration is due to may have played a role in those denials, but as well I agree with Bil here. Yes, his ruminations is all he has, there in prison I would imagine, that what he has time for. He finally contacted the right people, for LGBT people in prison, for him good. For all of us good.
Nothing bad will come of this, only good. when he gets out of prison, (hopefully alive), he will just be another strong ally in our fight.
We all come from different places, whether it is a broken home, parents kicked you out, bullied all through school, it does not matter, we are all one and should be one in the fight for our rights.
JMHO

I see in Wikipedia that Pleasant Valley is where Sirhan Sirhan and the Menendez brothers are currently jailed.

Since you work in the prison library, why not consult with the prison librarian about resources which can be obtained for the library, for you and others who may be interested?

I think it does matter what he did. The same way you must learn about the motivations of people to put them in the right advocacy role or path, you must know what this man did. For all you know he is a pathological liar who uses information he gains for the purpose of blackmailing LGBT folks into murderinging puppies.

Equality California does work for the equal protection of LGBT people in California prisons. Vetoed in sept 2010, EQCA's LGBT Prisoner Safety Bill. Whether they also have the resources to also do references is another issue. I have sat on the board of an all volunteer LGBT community center that has recieved similar requests for legal resources. Frankly we don't have any resources....and as all amateurs we really don't even know where a prisoner would find free legal advice. Merely giving them a web address for the ACLU seems almost cruel.

"For all you know he is a pathological liar who uses information he gains for the purpose of blackmailing LGBT folks into murderinging puppies."

And EQCA board members are out of jail and can't take the time to google to find prisoner support resources? And may I remind you that he did not ask for legal resources? Where in the post did he even say that? He was calling your orgs to offer his help with your cause, of gay marriage!

This is a joke, right? Oh, wait, no - it's not. Because somehow this has become a post about: does Steve Mason have access to a computer or not? Does he really know how to ask for such access? How many times can we possibly make mysterious allusions to his "grudge" and his "stewing" before people actually forget about the point of the post? Does Steve Mason have a smile that reaches his eyes or not? Does Steve Mason kill puppies? Is Steve Mason, who wrote an open blog post about the PIC - as an openly gay man IN PRISON and simply happened to mention that not one of the major gay orgs he wrote to could be bothered to spend thirty seconds helping him - trying to blackmail said orgs? To kill puppies? Horrors, what devious machinations is this Steve Mason up to?

Oh, look, there - gay men and women are being raped and beaten in a system that thinks it's okay to rape and beat them. A gay man in prison writes about the horrors of being incarcerated in such a system and then, oh, look, here - the audience he writes for turns around, insists that they don't care about the raping and beating of their own and simply wants to know: are you good enough for us to know? Because, really, you're the wrong kind of queer! We want nothing to do with you. You must be a rapist! A pedophile! A murderer! And so you deserve everything coming to you! Go away before those nice straight people take away our rights because of you!

Seriously: I've seen some stuff here on TBP, but this one takes the cake. First, there's the distraction by insisting that there is proof of an email from a non-profit that somehow disproves a gay male prisoner writing about conditions in the PIC (still, I remind you, the bulk of the post) because he dared to criticise gay orgs; as if that were even the major point of the post.

Then there's a vicious cohort insisting that he has no rights because, you know, he's in prison, and then the extrapolation from that he must be the worst kind of prisoner who therefore deserves no rights to his humanity. Which automatically makes him ineligible for any kinds of rights and must mean he can never speak the truth.

This is a fine and murky and revealing thread. But not, sadly, surprising.

I know we don't always get on Yasmin (usually more in our execution rather than our politics I'm starting to think), I've got to say how much I loved this particular comment. Gold stars all around.
[/sounds-like-ass-kissing-but-isn't-intended-as-such]

Yasmin, I also have really appreciated all your comments on this thread and am delurking to say so. I am disheartened by all the stereotypes and assumptions being made about Steve just because he is incarcerated. The utter disrespect for a fellow human being and the sense of entitlement associated with demands for personal information about him by commenters is truly disgusting.

I would have hoped readers of this site would be better informed about the serious problems with the judicial system, sentencing guidelines, and prisons in the United States. I believe it would have been valuable to have a conversation here about some of these issues and the particular struggle faced by LGBTQI individuals who are incarcerated. It seems as though fear, ignorance, and defensiveness have taken precedence instead.

A community that demands that those who have harmed the LGBT community be honest about their sexual orientation, but doesn't demand that a person who has harmed his community by breaking a law admit which law he broke? Strange

Yea, it couldn't be because they're two vastly different issues. One is relevant, especially to not living a lie...the other has nothing to do with the content of this post.
But hey, let's make random comparisons for fun. I've always been found of comparing the Pope to the Sith Lord. At least they're similar.

Keeping a resource list that isn't current is worse than not having a list at all. I'm glad the SF Zen Center keeps their list up to date. They must have a volunteer who does this for them. Instead of lambasting various organizations for not keeping a list, why not make and keep a list for them?

All the links in Steve's post go to anti prison organizations. Did he provide the links in his post, or is there some one else's agenda going on here?

The anti prison organizations are, by default, the only ones who keep lists and resources. They are in fact keeping the lists. So it seems counter-productive to then criticise them for maintaining lists when no one else will. What are they expected to do? Provide lists of resources for church groups that will indoctrinate prisoners about why prison is so great for their soul? The feds already do that:

www.dartmouthlawjournal.org/articles/Cooper.pdf

greg,

steve and i spent just over six months working on this piece, sending drafts and edits back and forth by mail from maine where i live to california where steve is locked up. i acted as his editor as there was no way for him to submit this story except through a bilerico projector.

steve decided what links were given and where in the article they appeared after i encouraged him to do so. the encouragement was based on trying to make his entry read more like a blog entry and less like an essay.

although I am sure my own politics have had some influence on steve (we've been corresponding for over a year now), his politics are all his own. the only people/organizations that ever gave him the time of day are prison abolition groups (critical resistance) and radical queer and trans groups that oppose the prison industrial complex (la gai-queer insurrection, ultraviolet, against equality, and the prisoner correspondence project, etc).

Or are you actually saying that such "criminals" are somehow incapable of telling the truth about their conditions?
With the exception of a very few I would say that everyone is capable of being honest, many choose not to at various brief points in their lives or for long stretches. Such a criminal as a murderer, rapist, child molester, etc. has a clear record of... let's say being especially challenged with morality.
what Steve did has been judged already; who are you or I to demand more/endless punishment? "He forfeited the "right" to being given a benefit of doubt when he committed his crime." Um, yeah, no. Not at all. If you are to extend the logic of the PIC, he gets punished for his crime, period. You don't get to decide that he is now to be suspected for everything else.
Actually, I do. You are not the spokesperson for my life and how I decide to place trust in others just as I am not for you. Mason is paying his debt to society as judged in a court of law. Great. Yet trust and character judgments are not determined by law but instead by each individual. Trust has to be earned and is up to Mason to do. Btw, he owes me nothing nor do I expect anything from him. He chose to write this post and solicit public sympathy and comment. I'm freely giving him the latter but remain unconvinced that he is deserving of the former. Perhaps he is but that's for him to elaborate on because the fact that we are both gay and have had "interesting" times in our pasts isn't enough.
What's with all this salacious probing into exactly what he might have done while ignoring the conditions he's exposing? And, by the way, if you want more proof about conditions in prisons for queers, which is the point of Steve's post, there's plenty of reading material out there, including Regina Kunzel's book Criminal Intimacy, the recent book Queer (In)Justice by Mogul, Ritchie and Whitlock, AND a host of links right there, in the post above.
Great. In the absence of anything demonstrating otherwise, these other resources should be utilized. I see nothing to dissuade me from questioning the veracity of Mason's claims.

just so folks know, i will be printing out this article with comments for steve this weekend and sending it along to him so he can see and respond. unfortunately bil is wrong, and steve does not have internet access (which is true for most prisoners).

also, are people really hijacking this story to talk about/defend gay inc.? steve and i spent the last six months working on this piece together and his brief comment about gay inc. is more important to some of you than all the other aspects he details about dealing with the brutal realities of life in prison for queer and trans people? ugggg, depressing....

John Gagon | May 19, 2011 2:00 AM

People who have never been abused or been to prison make a lot of assumptions. First of all, in most prisons, you need a friendly guard to let you use
"facilities" and if you are gay, that's not easy. If you're butt ugly and gay, you will probably never get to use a computer. It's hard but true.

Secondly, the U.S. is the prison capital in the world and prisons do not reform criminals, they make them. This age old process is based more on mere tradition and not on any objective truth in terms of effectiveness, understand of humane ethics or even finance.

Finally, no one here has any ground to stand on when judging him unless they've been in prison. If you haven't, you might as well be posting nursery rhymes and knock knock jokes here. You won't be heeded by me. Aside from that, it's possible to make some arguments in general but none of them personal about character. It's futile and disruptive to the main points of this article. Regardless of where one ends up for whatever one does, equality is a relativism, not something that is dismissed merely because of an unusual context. If two murderers are tried for the exact same crime but one of them is gay and gets a harsher sentence, then the problem has not changed, nor has the main argument.

Jake Hawk | May 19, 2011 2:59 AM

I've regularly been visiting bilerico.com from South Africa, getting updated on what queer folks struggles are like in the US.

I must say that the most heartbreaking and mean-spirited comments I've ever seen is just above my post. About a fellow queer brother sharing his story about the disgusting and inhumane treatment queer people have to face when sent to prison.

My immediate response after reading Steve's story was talkfully even in our limited resources country we don't have heartless big liberal gay organisations like the ACLU, Marriage Equality, GLAAD etc. Because these multi-million dollar gay organisations seems to selectively support the LGBTQI community only when it is in their interest.

Now before I get bashed like Steve for voicing my limited frustrations with liberal gay organisations, I'll be the first to admit that in South Africa we do have similar organisations all funded by Europe or PEPFAR or USAID, which then shouldn't be a surprise that they operate exactly the same. Ignoring the larger LGBTQI community for the liberal gay agenda thats mostly run by white, middle class gay men who fails LBTQI people, people of colour and ultimately wants nothing to do with queer people in jail.

As I started reading the comments all attacking, questioning Steve's integrity and sincerity and putting the blame at his feet. I couldn't help but instantly feel disconnected from my greater queer family in the civilised, western and 1st world countries. No compassion, but a humanly curiosty for what Steve's sins was that he landed up where he did. Did he deserve it? Are we more rigtheous and good?

No matter what he did, we have to remember that it could have been any of us. No matter how saintly you suspect you are. The police would gladly arrest, charge and jail us "freaks" if they had the permission, the will is certainly present if you look at how many queer folk end up in prison throughout your stonewall history and throughout our Apartheid history.

I am deeply saddened actually that Conrad will be giving Steve a printout of these comments, partly because today I am deeply ashamed to be queer. In his desperate hours he reached out to all of us. For support and for understanding. These comments provide little, because in the few positive comments on here, it is the negative one's that stick when you are reading them in a dark, cold, prison cell.

Ultimately, the point of my comments are that we all can learn a lesson from this, because it seems that the courage Steve had to overcome his fears and face his demons are eluding some of the commenters here, we seem to be gripped by our own internalised homophobia that demands we discard and disown one of our own to protect ourselves in a violently hetero-normative world in which queer folk don't make big mistakes and where anything not living up to the heterosexual ideal of being gay is out of line.

Steve: It's an OUTRAGE that the liberal gay agenda has failed you. It's an INEXCUSABLE that prisons are places of fear and violence. We DEMAND an end to hetero-supremacy.

You are part of our family, you are my BROTHER.

I am deeply saddened actually that Conrad will be giving Steve a printout of these comments, partly because today I am deeply ashamed to be queer.

Why? Is being gay now akin to convertin to Christianity? Should GSA meetings be classified as just a gayer version of come to Jesus revivals? Being gay doesn't make one any better or worse than not being gay. In and of itself it doesn't give you any more insight into the cosmos or humanity than not being gay does. If you want to be ashamed of being anything than be ashamed of being human because it is just about human nature for right or wrong that gives us great pause in dealing with those of shady backgrounds. As for Gay, Inc. well we don't need postings like this to be ashamed of it. Gay, Inc. does well enough on its own to show clearly to the world just how pathetic it really is.

Thanks for the post, Steven. We don't often hear from people in prison.

sarahallison48 | May 19, 2011 11:05 AM

You know what the most amazing thing is? We spend so much time, money, and effort to help people understand equality, without being judged first.
Who gives any of you the right to judge this man, why can you not take it on face value?
Sure, there is some BS out there, we all know that, however, when one person writes about prison life and being gay in prison, it sends you all up into arms.
Dont judge him, he already has been judged, I am sure tat is enough. When he gets out of prison, he will have served his debt to society, and with a lot of misery, who are you people that judge but do not want to be judged yourself?
SAR

You cannot be serious. We make judgments about people all the time. In some cases it's done poorly in others it is for self-defense due to wisdom only experience brings. It is naive in the extreme to think that one can go through life without exercising some caution in dealing with others. It's also dishonest to make such a claim. If our history has shown us anything it is that besides some acts of greatness and kindness, we humans are our own worst enemies and no predator preys upon humanity better than our fellow man. The burden rests upon Mason to alleviate the concerns in others raised by his own misdeeds.

What concerns? Is Steve Mason even asking to come live with you? I really do want a direct answer: what are your concerns about Mason? Much more importantly: tell us what YOU read as the intent of his post: there has been enough distraction here already. Yes, this is a quiz. What is Mason's thesis? Locate the exact sentences where you see him asking you to let him babysit your puppies or housesit for you or take your nephew for a walk or feed your grandma or whatever insane scenario you've conjured up.

What is this post about?

Actually, nah, forget it. There has been enough distraction here already, from allusions to mysterious emails and vicious personal attacks on Mason to a questioning of his life that is not even germane to this post. Enough already. Besides, I think by now the discussion here has exposed enough about at least a segment of "the community."

If I weren't an atheist, I would be writing: May God never let you see the inside of a prison cell. But as an atheist, I'll just say this: your clinging to your false consciousness/ identity as the "good gays" will not save you. And yet, despite your patently obvious viciousness and nastiness, I still hope you never see the inside of a prison cell.

sarahallison48 | May 19, 2011 11:46 AM

Yasmin,
You said it better than I did.
Thanks,
Sarah

What concerns? Is Steve Mason even asking to come live with you? I really do want a direct answer: what are your concerns about Mason?

The concerns that most folks would have: is he telling me the truth or is he lying to me? Is there any reason why I should believe him or are there reasons why I should exercise greater caution in taking the man at his word than I would normally do with most others? I do not know Steve Mason. I never even knew he existed before this posting of his. Tell me, why should I believe his claims over those made by anyone else - particularly those who might contradict him? I assure you that I would know just as much about them as I do about him. What is it that makes Mason more believable? His good looks? His sexual orientation? His smile? What, exactly?

Much more importantly: tell us what YOU read as the intent of his post: there has been enough distraction here already.

I would hope his intention is for the better conditions for LGBT prisoners, but I have no window in which to peer into the man's heart. Perhaps my hope is in error and he is doing for self-aggrandizement? Maybe he is a pathological liar, as someone else said, and gets his kicks making up stories? For the life of me I cannot see how but maybe there's a way to make a fast buck out all of this? Beats me for I do not know the man. Therefore I am left solely with what I can tell of the man and his intent by his own behavior, which includes his past. Tell me, why do we even bother having guards at prisons and locked doors? Surely Mason and the others at Pleasant Valley State Prison can be trusted to abide by their sentence without them. Sorry, but your finding all of this to be so irrelevant in this particular case for some reason is simply astounding. Perhaps you know Mason personally and therefore have reason to place trust in him. Most of the people who will read this post are not so fortunate and so must rely upon their own wits and decide for themselves.

If I weren't an atheist, I would be writing: May God never let you see the inside of a prison cell.

How do you know that I haven't or that someone close to me hasn't? You know me about as much as I know Mason. Look, I'm not wishing the man ill or taking some perverse pleasure in tormenting, although I should point out that since I am a stranger to you just like Mason is to me I could be lying about that for all you know. What I am saying though is that I didn't seek him out: Mason voluntarily entered the public arena with this post seeking to elicit sympathy and support. His background is something I believe to be VERY relevant in this and I'll bet I'm not alone. You disagree. That's your perogative.

This reminds me of something my darling friend E. said to me yesterday, as we were talking about this thread, in fact: "We make the mistake of assuming that logic will win out every time and that, somehow, we can defeat illogical reasoning with logic. We could not be more wrong."

Dear John,
OK, I’ll take the bait:
Have you ever been in prison?
Do you know someone who’s been in prison?
Have you ever been stopped by the cops?
What was it for?
Have you ever done drugs?
Why didn’t you disclose this in your first comment?
How am I supposed to determine your credibility as a commenter if I don’t know this about you?
Do you have something to hide?
Do you have a hidden agenda?
Why should I believe you?
Are you just commenting for the sympathy?
I don’t know you.
Are you a pathological liar?
Are you a rapist?
I don’t know you.
What? It’s my right to make a judgment.
Don’t you think that by commenting on a public blog you’re opening yourself up to this kind of scrutiny?
No. Because that would be ridiculous.

omgz! i was totally going to do this, but then i was like, no no no, don't go there conrad! but i'm glad you did josh! ;)

I wouldn't have minded, R. Conrad, and would have given you about the same response as I gave to Josh. :)

Except, Josh, I haven't asked you to believe me about anything. I'm not soliciting public sympathy for action based on anecdotal stories, all from a place like state prison which immediately raises at least yellow flags to most folks. Instead I commented on a post which seemed to invite public response. I found the 'logic' used by some here to be as incredibly dangerous and naive all because the young man is gay. This is akin to the 'logic' used by some Christians who instantly believe it when a prisoner claims to be "saved" and quickly put more trust in them just because they are now one of "them". Some of these "saved" prisoners may be, while others definitely are not. In keeping with this theme, James 2:2 comes to mind: "Faith without works is dead". More to the point in this case, Mason hasn't done any "work" but has only expressed his "faith". Good for him. Nice start. Yet this alone is not a basis to believe him or trust his story. That takes time and has to be earned. Being so unwilling to even say why he is incarcerated isn't a good way to go about doing it.

As for the rest, well you are free to believe that I'm an axe-murderer if you like given that I am a complete stranger to you just as you are to me. I trust that at some point in your life you learned not to place full trust in complete strangers until you get to know them better.

Oh,wait, I just got it. You've been reading and responding to a completely different post:

http://www.christian-resources-today.com/Christian-Websites-8.html

Duh.

Seriously, dude. Read.

Oh, wait, I just got it. You've been reading and responding to a completely different post:

http://www.christian-resources-today.com/Christian-Websites-8.html

Duh. (slaps own forehead)

Seriously, dude. Read.

Not at all, Ms. Joanna Two-Two. ;)

Read the title of Mason's post and what the 'logic' used by some here struck me as being akin to. I wasn't opening a debate on biblical theological interpretation by critiquing sola fide.

Besides, as a very lapsed Catholic myself I'd hardly steer you towards a stridently Protestant website like that anyways.

It's been interesting but I believe this

Oops, sorry! I forgot to complete my thought in the last sentence. I meant to say: It's been interesting but I believe this thread has run its course. We can re-open this another time if the need arises but for now I bid this thread "adieu".

I couldn't agree more with your friend E., though for different reasons of course. :)

sarahallison48 | May 19, 2011 11:09 PM

You say we have put our trust into this person, Sorry, No..
He had a story to tell, can you not read a story without analyzing every word for some insidious plan?
It is a slice of his life, albeit in prison, I as starting to make that list as well and post it.

Can you not take something just at face value?

I find it difficult that you feel a need to judge this person simply because he is in prison. Is he worthy of being gay to you?
I hate being judged by people that do not know me or even those that do,You might think that I wonder if you have judged me, but I do not care. All I really hope is that I never meet you, just because apparently life is cynical to you and everyone needs to be judged for you to feel safe.
Thanks and with love,
Sarah Allison Robinson

Two things.

1. Thank you for telling your story. I would like to hear more about your experiences in prison, what you see, what day to day life is like.

Also, I'd love to hear from you as to what kind of resources would be helpful. How can people on the outside be effective advocates for those in prison.

2. As to gay.inc not responding- in my first job in gay.inc they had a policy of not responding to prisoner mail. Evidently, previously a young staffer had responded to prisoner mail in an innocuous way and had the prisoner essentially start sending very sexually explicit information. the staffer had stupidly given his name. he started getting phone calls at work. So they instituted a blanket- no responses to prison mail as a safety issue.

I really appreciate your piece, and would love to hear more from you. Conrad- thanks for making this happen.