Back in February I posted a letter I wrote to the inmates of a South Dakota women’s prison who were reading Neither Wolf nor Dog. I wrote with a presumption and an intimacy that was perhaps unwarranted because it presumed to be able to speak to the minds and hearts of some people whose experience I could never hope to fully understand. Still, it seemed worthwhile to step forward and say what was on my mind.
When I shared the letter with all of you in a blog, the responses were predictably diverse, reflecting the internal ambivalence that I myself had felt when I had written the letter. I asked the woman who ran the book group to send me the responses of the inmates themselves, and promised that I would share them with you. I truly did not know what I was going to hear.
Well, here they are. Feel free to write your responses to the women themselves in the “comments” section. I am sure that Vonnie, the book club leader and facilitator, will make sure that they are seen.
This is a rare way to reach inside the walls to touch some women who are separated from friends and family and would surely appreciate knowing that they matter to the rest of us.
So, without further ado. . .
Comments from the women in the book club in regard to your previous letter.
I think Kent’s letter touched me. I think it is awesome that he took the time to write to us. I agree with him about getting wisdom from prison. I feel after four years here I have gotten very wise. I have been curious here and have absorbed everything I have seen, heard and learned. I cannot wait to read the other books he has written. He truly has moved me in a way that is indescribable. I was a nurse in a locked Alzheimer’s unit prior to prison, so I really enjoyed every part of the book. His letter is just everything God has put in my way. It is all a life less that has molded me into the strong-willed woman I am today.
I loved your letter. It gave me a new found hope that I am going to be okay, and that I am not worthless. I can make something out of my life, and share my experiences with others. I feel lighter at this moment than I have in a very long time. You truly are a gift and I thank you for taking the time to write us a letter.
Your letter spoke to me in a deep place. I have found a voice within me, for those around me that are too afraid to speak up for themselves. I have taken action to my convictions while still here in prison. I was always shy, afraid to be seen and heard so for me to be the spokeswomen for the underdogs in prison is totally out of my scheme of being, but here I am. While I stand in this position though I am at peace because I know the answer to the only question I ask is deciding if I wanted to lay my life on the line-“Is it the right thing to do?” I know you understand.
Reading this letter from you really hit home. Since I have been in prison, I lost my home, and everything we owned to a house fire. I lost my husband to a heart attack one year later. These things almost had me out for the count. But my children are thriving, my 18 year old daughter, who watched house burn to the ground buried her father, without her mother by her side, is going to college on a full-ride scholarship!. If she can come through the ashes like that, there is no reason I can’t take this experience and turn it into something constructive. So hearing about bad hands I am well aware of, learning to make the best of it, a learning experience. Being in book club is an amazing experience. That you for taking the time to write us such an amazing letter!
I thought it was interesting to tell us that being here was a gift. I always thought in my own recovery that to share my story with others before they get to a place like this may stop them. My road to this place I am in was paved with abuse- physical and mental and other violence: but I tried to cover it all with a big dose of drugs and alcohol. I did not want to feel anything. However, that is all I got to do and continued to do it! It is okay now. I look forward to life now. I didn’t before. Although I can’t wait to leave this place, I know there are many caring people out there.
The letter is really down to earth. I have decided years ago, when I first got locked up, that this time I am doing is a time for me to stop allowing myself to be a “victim.” I want to be a better “me” for myself and family. I have been through so much in my life, and it is crazy how I’ve survived. I always knew there is a “good” that comes out of a “bad.” For example… when I was 14 years old my older brother was just 16 years old and killed himself. I understood that his life was ended to solve my own, just two days before this life-altering event I too wanted to end my life. Thinking back now, I can see the wrong choices I have made, and that I believe you are an amazing person. This book didn’t surprise me. Or make me want to put blame on any one person for all these memories you have written about, but it has made me more proud of being native. As people, we learn from people whether you are Native, Asian, or Hispanic, it just doesn’t matter what your skin color is, only that you have open ears and a listening heart. Thank you for all you listening heart has endured.
How do I feel about your letter? Your letter is right about some things. I did take a long look at my life since coming here, and had made a few revelations. This place will never break me, nor will I let the people change who I am inside, what happened to me could happen to anyone. My judge did not see the person whom I believe I am, nor did he change me. I am still as strong if not stronger than I was before coming here. I’ve learned so much about myself, also for standing up to my abuser. I will never let another man dictate my life for me. There are a lot of people I hope to help change their lives by telling about my abuse. I am a survivor! I am moving forward with my life in the most positive way I know how- to better myself will be my gift!
Your letter has inspired me and also confirmed what my Pastor has told me and that is I have a story to tell. Also, that I can help people.
Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and hope.
I appreciate the letter. It was very kind and thoughtful to take the time to write an insightful, meaningful, piece of wisdom. I am a quiet observer. I came to prison at 17 in 1998. I have spent more time inside these walls than out, but I did my time (after I grew up) in hopes of a future outside of prison. I am an avid reader which has kept my mind healthy. I have been on a long journey and I am grateful to say it now has an end. I had life without parole but it was reduced by the Grace of Good, and the mercy of my sentencing Judge. I know your time among the Native people was not always an easy one, thought you treaded with respect. I used to be way involved in the Native ceremonies where I was accepted by the old ones, or elders. But every time someone new came, I felt like I had to prove myself again. Maybe I didn’t accept myself. I stepped away. I do my time in my room, keep to myself, but I get along with Natives more than others. I just wanted to say thank-you for your journey. Thank you for sharing yours and theirs.
Sincerely with much admired respect,
To all of you here on the outside, this is a glimpse into the goodness and reflective awareness of the folks on the inside. To those of you on the inside, thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight with us, and reminding us that the walls that divide us are nothing compared to the common humanity we all share.
4 thoughts on “Long Overdue posting of Inmate responses to my letter to them”
Thank you for sharing a glimpse of lives on the mend, lives of humans who are striving to do their best to make a decent life, having learned so much through the hard side of living.
May their lives only get better.
It is beautiful to see that the sharing of your book and letter brought the insights it did for these women who are living in such an extremely difficult environment. I am sure it was a wonderful experience for them to have this internal encounter through the contemplation that occurred through reading the book. How wonderful to read their words and realizations. Heartfelt
That makes me feel GREAT that all the women responded to your writing them in a positive way !! They sound like a great group of women, who just made a mistake in life and ended up there. How easy it can be sometimes, to make one wrong turn in life, and find yourself in something not intended.
Sounds like you brought some hope and joy into their world Mr. Nerburn !! I know they are probably feeling the same way I did when I read all of your wonderful books ! I’m so happy they enjoyed it !!
I first heard about Kent Nerburns’s books in a book club in a small church in a town with an important Native American history outside the city of Minneapolis Minnesota. Reading just one of Kent’s books opened up a whole new place of incredible interest and importance to me that included both my past and very possibly my future as well. I am Scandinavian and I have many close friends who are Native American. All of us, no matter what twists and turns or ups and downs we have had along our Life’s Journey, realize there are no coincidences for where we are today. If God can change a man’s life like He did for Saul who became the Apostle Paul, He can and will do the same for each of us. Kent’s books really help bring that fact to life for me and many of my friends. Thanks to everyone for sharing and thanks to Kent Nerburn for his ability to reach people behind high walls and in dark places.