Letter from Prison: August 25, 2003


“’I would like to know which is worse – to be raped a hundred times by Negro pirates, to have a buttock cut off, run the gauntlet among Bulgarians, be flogged and hanged in an auto-da-té, be dissected, row in the gallies, in short, to undergo all the miseries we have been through – or to stay here doing nothing.’ ’It’s a great question’, said Candide.” – Voltaire, Candide

And upon receipt of that passage, Our Hero paused, ruminating the question slowly in his mind. Boive-like, he contemplates the fence (the fence which enforces the idleness).

My first pen’s shocking demise came as a surprise...thinking of all that ink spread acrost paper, but this one’s, I think, will merit less ceremony. Likewise stamp book upon stamp book was whittled down until there was but one (like feathers to fletch my arrows)...they say the pen is mightier than the sword. Nobody said anything about bolt-cutters.

Thanks to all of you who have written me, and also to those of you who have contemplated it. I just finished reading “The COINTELPRO Papers”, a series of de-classified FBI documents obtained under the Freedom of Information act (with explanatory text) detailing the FBI’s secret war on America’s political dissidents and civil rights activists during the 1960’s and ‘70’s. The FBI functioned/functions as a sort of pro-establishment Mafia. Documented frame-ups, systematic disinformation, and contempt of the law (-can you have contempt for the law when you are the law?) Many activists are still in jail despite the revelation of FBI misconduct: perjury or obstruction of justice...(chill goes down my spine) that could be me...

There is a popular myth in this country that you cannot be tried twice for the same crime: also known as double jeopardy. This would have come in handy for the people I have met here who were acquitted at the state level but convicted at the federal level. For instance, my friend, California, (not his real name) was acquitted for illegal possession of a firearm, but convicted for cross-state possession of a firearm as a felon. Ironically, he only became a felon when convicted of cross-state possession of a firearm as a felon. This is the sort of paradox which would render whole logical systems obsolete, yet is swallowed whole and processed by our justice system without a whisper of indigestion. Or my other friend who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute...but with no co-defendants!

Or, as Jesus put it, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52) [emphasis added]

I keep playing soccer. Some of the wind has dropped from my sails regarding the whole “20 pages a day from the Electronics Textbook” thing. I’ve been finding less to feed my social paranoia lately, perhaps due to my increase in confidence which is undoubtably due to my decrease in social paranoia.

In reading Dante (“The Inferno”), I am mindful of the BOP’s ironic inversion of the ninth circle of Hell: that hottest circle, reserved for traitors. Here, the Judases and betrayers are given privileges in the form of sentence length reduction. All the people with two years for cocaine ratted out their friends, of course, nobody’s a nark in jail. A lot of people have a very strong dislike for narks here, if you can imagine that.

Sanitation is very important in prison. With sixteen people living in a space the size of a 2-car garage...odors are everybody’s business. It’s a different person’s duty each day to sweep and mop. To walk on someone’s newly-mopped floor is a sign of great disrespect. What constitutes “disrespect” is pretty clear-cut: for instance: moving other peoples’ stuff, cutting in line, asking strangers what they’re in for, and other such things. A person can easily avoid offering disrespect with just a little effort and knowledge, though what is considered “common sense” does not seem to me common or sensible. Respect, though, has always entailed mindfulness of other peoples’ seemingly arbitrary rules and restrictions within their personal sphere. Thus, what may be an obsession with sanitation is far more acceptable than, say, a preoccupation with purposeful soiling. People are generally respectful of each other though they demand it in return.

Inmates here at “the camp” are extremely prejudiced against inmates “behind the fence” (in maximum security). It is the general consensus here that people need to be imprisoned for crime, especially violent crimes, but that the penalties for non-violent crimes are far too harsh. As a minimum critique, I agree with them. I maintain the hope that one day we will find alternatives to prison and will be able to abolish them entirely.

On “the inside” (in maximum), prisoners are also prejudiced against child molesters. Pedophiles will get killed in maximum if they are found out. I am sure you all heard about the priest-molester guy that got killed. I wonder what crime is abominable to child-molesters...(He had a 7 year sentence, he would only have served 2 or so).

Everyone must maintain, for the sake of their own self-respect, that someone is worse than they. In fact, I can look at each and every person here and pick out the overweening vice which landed them in prison, myself included. That is the reason why people don’t have sympathy for prisoners. However, which among us is free of vice? It is not easy to judge once you have walked in their shoes.


Jeremy’s Fact of The Letter: Of all the federal prosecutions which are initiated, 98.2 percent result in conviction. What exactitude! Or not...

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About the Author

Hi. My name is Jeremiah John. I'm a sf/f writer and activist.

I just completed a dystopian science fiction novel. I run a website which I created that connects farms with churches, mosques, and synagogues to buy fresh vegetables directly and distribute them on a sliding scale to those in need.

In 2003, I spent six months in prison for civil disobedience while working to close the School of the Americas, converting to Christianity, as one does, while I was in the clink.