When people know the real stories of real people, they will recognize that our incarceration mania is a real problem – Piper Kerman, author of “Orange Is The New Black”
Mission of Adopt an Inmate:
• To remind the world and those caught in the grip of the justice system that both accused and adjudicated are human.
• To provide relief, comfort, and hope to those facing judgement, and to help those sentenced emerge from prison whole, knowing they are part of a larger family that loves and cares for them.
• Ultimately, Adopt an Inmate would seek to change prison itself from an arbitrary system of cruelty and punishment to one which internally recognizes the humanity of its charges and treats them accordingly such that recidivism is rare, rather than a feature of our current system’s design.
On Friday July 12, 2013, my family’s world was shattered when my brother was arrested and taken to jail for a crime he did not commit. Like many other families, we were thrown into a very unfamiliar world.
Our family was full of questions that urgently needed answers. What happens next? How can we talk to him? How often can he call us? He’s in a different state, how do we find an attorney for him? How much will an attorney charge? Where is his car, and how do we get it moved to his home? How long will he be in there? Can we afford bail? How do we keep his bills paid? Can we see the PCA (probable cause affidavit)? How does commissary work? Can we send him books?
Even the simplest of tasks seemed designed to be unnecessarily challenging. Each answer only led to another question, and we wasted an enormous amount of time, energy and money searching for real solutions – discovering the hard way that this is not a friendly system. It was a very unwelcome and expensive education – and the experience left us battered.
In the end my brother was swallowed up by a system we could not save him from. His is not one of the worst stories, relatively speaking … but it was certainly our worst story, as a family. We are taking our cue from him though – he has been extraordinarily strong – and together we will turn it into our best story.
But this is not just our story – there are many. It was my brother’s idea to start a non-profit that would help inmates who have little to no support from the outside. After seeing their stories, he saw first-hand how so many were systematically prevented from participating in their own defense.
September of 2013, my son and I went out to Austin to move my brother out of his home once we realized we did not have the ability to get him released before trial. This was after a very long day of packing, just doing our best to stay positive. ->
We began delivering messages from inmates who had no access to the phones. Many of our phone calls would begin with my brother rattling off a phone number with a message to deliver. As we started making connections, we began writing letters to other inmates. When inmates we knew in county were moved to state prisons, we began collecting names in those facilities, and writing to them. Then we started writing to inmates whose stories we had seen in the news. Nearly every letter we get from an inmate begins with an expression of gratefulness that someone cares for them.
In that way, our story led us to other stories. What we’ve learned is that as troubling as the statistics are, those are just numbers, and it’s easy to look away from that. But it’s not so easy to look away from a real person’s story.
My brother was fortunate in that he had support. But many inmates either have no family, are indigent, or their family simply does not have the needed resources to be advocates for them. There are many forgotten people in prison who desperately need to know someone cares.
Likewise, people on the outside need to know that people on the inside are human. The audio below is part of a phone conversation with my brother, Rick, from prison, after he stayed up all night reading Bryan Stevenson’s book, “Just Mercy.” This is what an inmate sounds like:
Adopt an Inmate is a direct path to a real person’s story, and a simple way to provide comfort and relief that benefits both the adoptee and the adopter, as well as the community.
Please send us your stories: