Letter from an Inmate.

September 13, 2006

Dear Volunteer,

Have you read the scripture “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil”. You may feel like you're walking through the valley of the shadow of death when you visit prison. We the prisoners are in fact the inhabitants of the valley of death. There is a shadow in the valley because there is some light. You are in fact the light and the valley of the shadow of death. Without you the valley of the shadow of death would be nothing more than a black abyss.

Just you're walking through the prison gates gives us a ray of hope, joy, and peace. We prisoners, have basically, been abandoned by everyone. In most cases our friends, wives, and family, if they still speak with us, treat us as if we were dead men. What we say doesn't matter. We have suddenly become the dumbest individuals on the planet. And it seems, it would be easier for those who we love, to visit our gravesite rather than to have to put up with conversations on the telephone or letters from us.

From our perspective as prisoners, and my individual perspective as a prisoner, your walking through the gates and taking your valuable time to come see some broken down prisoners is truly amazing to us. It doesn't matter what you say. It doesn't matter what you do. Just your coming and taking the time to be with us gives us the hope we need to persevere. The act of caring which you do every time you enter a prison touches the lives of all the prisoners in a prison whether they see you in person or not. Your coming to prison tells us that someone cares.

I believe that loneliness comes not from being alone but rather from having no one who cares in one's life. You're coming to see us touches all of our hearts. Your caring causes us to care, and opens the door for us to continue to care for the rest of our lives.

Jane Davis came to visit me and the other prisoners in USP Atlanta for many years. She was a ray of light, hope, and love. We celebrated Shabbos together on Friday nights, and Passover meals during Passover. We didn't even have to be Jewish to attend. The little bit of grape juice and matzos we shared was the highlight of our week. Jane and I spoke at length over the years as she formulated the concept of HOPE-HOWSE. Just her being there week after week, dedicated to the mission of sharing loving concern for her fellow human beings, moved all of us prisoners to greater love in life.

I spent 19 years in prison for attempting to fly some marijuana into the country. During my stay in prison I was in two of the bloodiest prisons in America, USP Lewisburg and USA Atlanta. I could have left prison a bitter, angry, and very dangerous individual. Instead I left prison with a cheerful attitude looking at the whole experience as very beneficial to my spiritual growth. In fact, I look at the entire experience as if I was in a cloistered monastery for 19 years. I believe I was able to go through these hardships and come out the other end with a positive attitude because of the love of God which each of you brings to prison every time you visit. This love is greater than any of us as individuals, but it needs an individual to carry it into places where it doesn't normally reside. Your mission, just showing up, has a profound effect on all of us prisoners. I am sure it is difficult for you to realize the vast impact you have on us. I for one want to thank you for the vast impact you had on me.

a joyful monk,

Joseph Valverde

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