Letter from a Prisoner

I’ve written before about a student activist from Oregon, Leslie Zukor, who has been running a service project for a few years now where she donates freethought books to prisoners. It a way to counteract the potentially harmful religious literature they’re usually exposed to behind bars.

Every now and then, the prisoners send Leslie a letter of appreciation.

Leslie just passed along this letter to me — it was sent to her last week. It shows how important it is for inmates to receive freethought literature.

If you think the project is worthy, she could always use the donations. She uses a lot of her own money (and you know how much money college students have…) to ship the books across the country.

This is a project worth supporting.

The actual letter is below (click it for a larger image) and the text of it is under that (with my own emphasis):

16 Sep 08

Dear Leslie,

I wanted to thank you for sending us the donated books from your Freethought Books Project. As I read them I’m passing them to friends of mine and they in turn will donate them to our library here. One of the many odd and ironic things that I’ve learned about prison is that the percentage of professed Christians here is much higher than I had ever known it to be on the streets. To my amusement there’s even a resurgence of Norse myths and God worship called [Ásatrú] that the more racially divisive whites are embracing. Most all of it circles back to my questioning what so many Christians are doing here in the first place. If the Christian tenets had been properly applied in their lives prior to their incarcerations then shouldn’t they not be here in the first place? It all seems so much more rote and dogmatic when seen in the light that a stay in prison casts.

The few of us here that trade similar books between ourselves are trying to recommend these and other titles to friends who might enjoy them. I thank you again for your infusion of sense into an environment that is, at best, utterly nonsensical. It is heartening to see an alternative point of view represented in such a place and the books you’ve sent will be read and re-read many times over, so once again — many thanks.

Sincerely,

[Name redacted]


  • SarahH

    That’s really, really awesome. Go, Leslie!

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Hmm… What are people like this – educated, articulate, and seemingly very rational – doing in a prison in the first place?

    potentially harmful religious literature

    Books don’t kill people, the people with books (who beat each other over the head with them) kill people. ;-)

  • Victor

    Linda:

    Educated, articulate, and rational people can break the law also.

  • Caerleigh

    Awesome. Now that I have the means to do something, I’m going to mail over $50 right now. I’m sure this is a project that most theists would scoff at and say we could do so much more with the money, but this really is important!

  • http://madmansparadise.blogspot.com Asylum Seeker

    I knew that “Osatru” looked strange, but sounded familiar when reading the original letter. Guess the fact that it is a misspelling (albeit, an understandable one) explains that little confusion.

    Also, I am also in the camp of wondering what such a well-read, intelligent, and sane individual did to wind up jail. Oh well, it isn’t important.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Thanks for posting! Will be sending my donation this weekend!

  • Cathy

    80.9% of people in US prisons are there for non-violent crimes. Giving prisioners books is all fine and good, but how about we address the prison industrial complex, the racial bias of drug prosecutions, or the school to prision pipeline.

  • http://www.woofkitty.co.uk SAMIZDAT

    “a resurgence of Norse myths and God worship called [Ásatrú] that the more racially divisive whites are embracing.”

    Can I just point out that only a minority of Asatruar are involved in racist activities? There are two distinct camps; those who belong to neo-nazi asatru organisations and, at best, deny membership to people of non-european lineage; and the more common hippy pagan liberalist asatruar.

    Asatru does not automatically equal racism. Thanks.

  • Lynx

    I tend to go back and forth between the thought that atheism cannot be defined as anything more than a lack of faith in god(s) and the conflicting thought that if we are to create more rationalists, we must be prepared to offer alternatives to the services provided by religious organization (community organization, life-marking ceremonies etc.).

    It’s in this latter spirit that I find intriguing the possibility of counseling to prisoners. Only a tiny proportion of prisoners are professed atheists, but I think that offering counseling through a prism of non-belief could be an important part of offering alternatives to religious backing (like the omnipresent evangelizing in prisons). I think that prisoners could benefit from knowing that you have only one life to live, so you better do it right. Knowing that murder is especially heinous because it destroys a person utterly, and that there is no “father” who will straighten it all out in the end, that humans have a PERSONAL responsibility to do things right, is important.

  • http://odgie.wordpress.com Odgie

    Most all of it circles back to my questioning what so many Christians are doing here in the first place. If the Christian tenets had been properly applied in their lives prior to their incarcerations then shouldn’t they not be here in the first place?</blockquote>

    Two words: jaihouse converts

  • Karen

    Two words: jaihouse converts

    I did several stints in the prison ministry at my church when I was religious. I’ll tell you that this letter-writer is correct – the majority of inmates proclaim themselves to be Christians.

    In my experience, they weren’t jailhouse converts so much as they were “backsliders” who had been Christians earlier in life, then fell in “with a bad crowd” and betrayed their religious teaching.

    I join the letter-writer in his mystification: If Christianity is worth its salt, why does it fail so often and so miserably to transform the lives of its followers? Christians are just as likely to commit crimes, get divorced, cheat on their taxes, be cruel and dismissive as the rest of the population. Their good deeds are well and good, but they’re matched by non-Christian religious people and by secular people.

    The myth of Christianity as a positive, transformative power in this world is busted. And the fantasy of its paying off in the “afterlife” is absurd.

  • http://odgie.wordpress.com Odgie

    In my experience, they weren’t jailhouse converts so much as they were “backsliders” who had been Christians earlier in life, then fell in “with a bad crowd” and betrayed their religious teaching.

    Many Americans describe themselves as adhering to a particular religious tradition because that is the tradition in which they were raised. Even people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter if they are visiting their parents will describe themselves as Christian. Doesn’t necessarily make it so.

    Your experience also should have taught you that convicts can and will lie about anything and everything.

  • llewelly

    What are people like this – educated, articulate, and seemingly very rational – doing in a prison in the first place?

    Smarts, education, rationality – these things do not make you less likely to break the law. Just less likely to end up in prison when you do.
    Beyond that … not everyone in prison is guilty, and as pointed out by others, 80.9% are in for non-violent crimes.

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