Photo by Markus Winkler via Unplash

Fifteen-minute phone calls and video visits have become the norm since the COVID-19 pandemic. But receiving mail in prison is still the highlight of the incarcerated person’s day, next to in-person visits. When we hear the guards’ keys jangle as they walk the tier during mail call, we pray that the guard will stop by our cell and call our name. 

This small act of writing a letter means that someone loves you or, at least, someone is thinking about you. Communication, verbal or written, is about the expression of thoughts as well as the give-and-take of ideas. 

Those of us who are incarcerated find empathy through communication, but society as a whole has found itself using communication for the cancel culture concept of opinion bullying. Any slip of the tongue or opposing opinion can get you ostracized. I don’t know who is behind this phenomenon, but I do know extremes breed extremes.

We, the incarcerated, know about extremes and the damage on one’s psyche when one is declared an “outcast.”

Harm is sure to follow. This kind of, “You hate me, I hate you” mentality foments more harm as exemplified by former president Donald Trump’s “America Uncanceled” speeches.

This mentality is also what led some Americans to storm the U.S. Capitol building.

Communication helps us learn each other’s stories, helps us to cross barriers and form bonds. This may be the only way to break our collective, selective and selfish bubbles.

Communication is how we should build solidarity. That begins with having tough and honest discussions.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Marcus "Wali" Henderson

Marcus "Wali" Henderson is an editorial associate for the Prison Journalism Project and the editor-in-chief of San Quentin News. Marcus has said he never thought he would find more to his life than just doing time. The day he arrived at San Quentin State Prison, his old cellmate asked him to help cover a baseball game in which the prisoners were playing a team from outside. When the cellmate told Marcus to interview these people, his mouth dried up, and he realized he hadn't talked with anybody besides prisoners and guards for more than 15 years. That was his introduction as a reporter.