THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2008

It’s OK To Be Forgotten From Federal Prison

During mail call my first month at Taft Camp, I felt important. My loved ones mailed torrents of cards, letters, books and magazines. The correctional officer distributing mail hollered “Paperny” again and again. Some days, I enlisted other inmates to help carry everything to my cubicle. Additionally, two letters were waiting for me before I ever set foot on the compound.

Let’s fast forward seven months. My mail call experience has changed. I now consider myself lucky if that same correctional officer hollers my name twice a week. What happened? Have I been fogotten? Am I not missed? I’ve come to learn the answer to those questions are the same for almost every inmate.

My conviction and subsequent sentence dealt a significant blow to everyone who cares for me. Neither my family or friends had ever known anyone in a federal prison. Certainly, they had never written to anyone in a prison. Initially, they feared for my safety, my well being, my future. With most other forms of communication in abeyance, everyone was forced to write fervently to remind me that I was missed and loved. Their support gave me strength, while easing my transition to prison.

In time, the shock of my incarceration wore off. I made it a point to tell everyone that I was well and not struggling. I repeated constantly that life must move on. I promised that my time in prison would not be a waste. and assured everyone that I would return wiser and more mature.

Over time, as my assurances sunk in, the amount of mail I received dropped considerably. Fortunately I found other activities to help advance me through prison. For too many men, mail call is the highlight of their day. Many fall hard and fast if they do not receive word from someone in the community. My prison experience has taught me that mail call can get a new inmate through the first month or two of prison. However, be aware that the amount of mail with slowly decrease. Like me, I encourage anyone who anticipates a stay in prison to embrace other activities to get through the day.

Justin Paperny

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