Tag Archives: Prison Visiting Service

Crime and Punishment

Jack is again deputizing for Wendy while she battles to meet her writing deadline –

The small Quaker group that meets monthly here at the bookstore believes in community service as a fundamental part of our daily lives. We try to do that in various ways from pet rescue to refugee resettlement and more. However, three members of the group have for years now been regularly visiting with inmates at our local Federal prison in nearby Lee County.

The three who carry out the visitations do so as part of ‘Prison Visitation and Support’ (PVS), a long established national organization based out of Philadelphia.

We (for I am one of them) who do the monthly visits meet with two inmates each and for 45 minutes per inmate, trying whenever possible to go on the same day. Once we start visiting with a particular inmate we carry on visiting him for as long as he is held in that prison, which can mean for quite a long time.

All the foregoing is simply to give context for what follows –

There is one guy who I’ve been visiting for three years now, who I will call ‘Brian’ to preserve his anonymity. He epitomizes something all three of our team agrees is what makes life bearable for our ‘visitees’ – hope. No matter that he has a whole life sentence with no parole he has continued to rely on fairly tenuous attempts to have his case re-opened or sent to appeal and our monthly visits have always ended with his latest news on that front.

So far, so normal – until last Saturday.

When Brian arrived another of our team, who’s inmate had refused a visit (it happens occasionally) was able to join our conversation which turned out to be very different from usual. He had been suffering from some throat discomfort and had been taken to a local hospital for an examination and biopsy. Naturally he had been very worried, but the results were waiting for him when he got back to the prison and he was told they were clear – not cancer. At times during the conversation he was close to tears of relief as he explained his feelings and for once there was no running commentary on his attempts to appeal his sentence. On our way back to our lives of normality in the car the three of us were discussing the visit and how Brian’s experience might affect his attitude to prison (he had commented on how caring both prison staff and hospital staff had been).

But then –

Yesterday a guy who also visits the prison regularly (not part of PVS) dropped into the bookstore with a message Brian had asked him to pass on. The hospital had redone the biopsy and it had turned out positive for cancer after all – and at an advanced stage. Brian is being transferred to a different prison today to be close to a cancer center with a very good reputation and, knowing he wouldn’t be visiting any more with me, wanted to say how much he’d appreciated our conversations.

There will be some folk (in fact I know some) who will say that he deserves no sympathy – that he was found guilty by a jury of his peers of terrible crimes and is justly suffering the appropriate punishment. They might even say that the possible death sentence this 52-year-old is facing is simply a further judgement from ‘on high’.

But I had grown to like Brian and I was stunned when I heard the news. I was also very moved that, in the midst of his traumatic situation, he made sure that I was made aware how he valued our friendship.

As a Quaker I will be holding my friend Brian ‘in the light’!

PVS is always in need of volunteers – their website is http://www.prisonervisitation.org/


Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized


postcards 1You lovely, sweet, kind people: thank you for the postcards!

Jack and four other Quakers here in SW VA visit the federal prison once a month, seeing a few prisoners each. They use postcards a week ahead to let the prisoners know they’re coming, as required by federal regulations. And the prisoners use the postcards as windows, since their cells don’t have any.

So when I asked about two weeks ago, if you have some lying around, could you send us a couple of postcards from your area so they wouldn’t get the same ones over and over from us, you sent more than 400 post cards!

Thank you; thank you; thank you. This is so sweet.

The cards came (with such thoughtful notes about the book, our bookstore, and Jack’s willingness to visit prisoners) from Mary in Columbus; Sandra in Charlottesville; Janet in Crystal Falls, Michigan; Terry in San Francisco; Lynn in Rossland, BC (Canada); Barbara in Pawtucket, RI; from Wilmington, DE; from Gina, who not only sent cards but stamps for them; from my friends Beth of Blacksburg and Liz of Glen Antrim, Ireland, who spend half their professional life running through airports; and from the people we worked with at Hylton Arts Center this past January, doing a Burns Supper; five or six other places before that, but we threw the envelopes away before realizing we needed to write thank you notes! (I’m sorry; we are stupid; feel free to leave a comment here if you sent us cards so we can thank you properly.)postcards 2

The Quaker visitors have more than 400 postcards now, from Alaska and Montreal and Lourdes and Florida and the Midwest, boasting dogs and wildflowers and birds and moose and such pretty, pretty mountains.

“The guys are going to love these,” Jack said as we piled them on the floor to take a picture. (Please note that clump of cards is about an inch deep.) I think there was a tear in his voice. It’s wonderful to be affirmed in one’s calling; it’s lovely to have great photos to send the prisoners.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! from Jack, Elizabeth, Sue-Ella, anonymous, and Jim (the prison visitors) and Wendy (who LOVED seeing them get such support and affirmation).

PS: From the sublime to the ridiculous, if you feel inclined, scroll down a couple of blog posts to the 100,000 visits contest and leave your funniest bookstore pick-up line. Contest closes when our FB page hits 1,000 likes or the blog reaches 100,000 hits, whichever happens first. It looks like they will take place pretty close together, so Jack and I have a friendly bet on. We’re not telling you who is betting on which. ;]

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized