Wrote a Letter to an Inmate Today
CHELSEA E. MANNING 89289
1300 N WAREHOUSE RD
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KS 66027-2304
August 12, 2016
I am writing to tell you that my family and I are thinking of you. We have heard that you are going through a rough time, and I wanted to take the opportunity to express our gratefulness to you for being you.
We live in Santa Barbara California, it is nice here most of the time. We have a good beach and the weather stays about the same most of the year. Good days it gets up to eighty degrees bad days its gets in the low sixties, so very mild. We spend as much time with friends as possible. We have pancake breakfasts regularly with upwards of thirty people swinging by. Our motto is “You are never late, when you are always welcome.” We would enjoy having you over when you are free.
That happens Sundays, we aren’t religious but we still like to make a community on Sundays. Usually people start coming through the gate about 9am and stay most of the day. Sometime in the afternoon we either switch to ribs on the grill or we walk to get tacos. We made a map for friends visiting from out of town with all the best Taco Shops on it. We included eighteen even though there are quite a few more. We took the map to a blueprint reproduction place in town and had fifty copies printed. When we drew it we left off all the names and street names. So it’s just a bunch of lines and then a bunch of little black dots. So people can fill in the notes that are important to them. It seems like most of the people we have handed it to like the scavenger hunt part. They enjoy trying to name them all from memory.
I usually end up getting carnitas or al’ pastor tacos, with Verde salsa. Tacos are very important in our family. One of our primary food groups. We have our favorite ones, usually the closest one becomes the favorite for a couple weeks and then we move to another one. Regardless it seems when people ask if we want dinner we end up picking tacos more often then not.
My apologizes if this all seems rambling, I have been cautioned on writing you about anything that would seem too inflammatory, so I figured I would stick with tacos and beaches until I know what is appropriate to communicate to you. Also, I figured maybe I could distract you from your day to day life. How is your day to day life? Are there any books you would like to read? Is there a particular type of book you enjoy? Classic literature or contemporary stuff? Do you even like to read? Perhaps I am being presumptuous.
I didn’t read books until I was eighteen when I was painting a house in my home town. The tapes I had for my Walkman had gotten really boring as I listened to them over and over, stuff like Nirvana and Sound Garden and a bunch of grunge from the early nineties. On my way to the house I was painting I drove by the Library, I can’t remember if someone mentioned that they had books on tape or if I came to it myself but I stopped in and the librarian signed me up for a library card and checked me out this book on tape. It was a book by John D. MacDonald called Pale Gray for Guilt. A murder mystery in Florida. It was great, I listened straight through and then went back for more.
When I found that they didn’t have any more of his books on tape I started checking out the regular books in paper form. Which led me to read his entire catalog of eighty eight books. They are still some of my favorite. I started eating books, always had one on me, it was like I had been awakened to the idea of books, to the idea of traveling far away in my mind while staying where ever I was. I still read a lot but lately I have been trying to write my own stuff. It’s hard to read books that seem unimaginative, kinda that moment you think you can do better and so you try. Some days are better than others. Some days I end up writing letters instead of writing my fiction. Which is how you are getting this letter.
I also want to write you this: Never give up. My grandmother was a great woman, her name was Vonda May Hawkins. She had curly red hair like Lucile Ball and she was the authority of my family, but she was also the most loving person I knew as a child. She lead our family with love and sternness and she taught me to read. That’s a longer story for another time but she would never give up. Her life was not always easy, it wasn’t even always rewarding. She fought cancer for a long time back when the treatments were hard and messy. It wasn’t a battle, a battle implies you had a chance or even a weapon to use against the enemy, hers was a fight but a fight against an opponent with unlimited time and unlimited resources. Cancer can find a thousand ways to end you even if it only needs one. But what she couldn’t do was give up. More then not give up she would ask this question of us. Is this what is going to take you out? Like any given situation, was a school test or a bully or paperwork to get a drivers license really going to take you out? Was it really so hard to get through life that we would let any one action or confrontation take us out. No. It took years of incremental attack to bring her down. Any single struggle we were going through paled in comparison to the constant discomfort she endured. What kind of force would it take to bring a giant like my grandmother down. I can’t even imagine the power that could rival the strength and dignity of my grandmother.
It got her in the late summer of 1986, I was nearby, we all were. But when she went out it was not because she had given up, it was because cancer is patient and waited her out. You are important, and you are valuable and you must not give up. You must believe the way that my family does that even when it feels like you are losing, that being present and continuing on is the only choice. My grandmother didn’t raise someone who could give up, I know it may be dark where you are, I know you may be facing insurmountable odds, I imagine all of these things because I do not really know. You know and it will become important to all of us to know what you are going through. Your story is not over and I hope that it continues, I hope to tell my grandchildren about how you survived the hardest adventure ever. I hope you make it over for pancakes and I hope you get the chance to write back. I would like that very much.
Find a smile and hold onto it.
311 W. Anapamu St.
Santa Barbara CA 93101
p.s. My grandmother would have liked you very much, I am certain.