"The holiday cards saved my life."
Here at JDI, we are entering the New Year with an exciting sense of possibility and hope. For the past two weeks we've been hearing from prisoner rape survivors who received your messages through our 2010 holiday card campaign. Your words of encouragement and solidarity were sent directly to survivors who are still behind bars -- and who so often feel forgotten and alone.
One such survivor is Alvin. Alvin was just 18 years old when he was first raped by other inmates in a county jail. Last year, while serving time in a state prison for a nonviolent crime, he was raped again -- this time by his cellmate, who also brutally beat him. He wrote:
I received your letter on Christmas Eve, just as I was having horrible thoughts of cutting this earth trip short. The correctional officer said you got mail, and that snapped me back from the edge. As I read the paragraph, 'We received many messages from people who wanted to let you know that you are not forgotten,' my eyes got blurry, full of tears. So it was hard for me to see clearly. And now even as I write this letter there's a tear running down my cheek. I always thought nobody goes through what I go through...the holiday cards saved my life.
We also heard from Rafael, who was repeatedly sexually abused by corrections officers in a state prison. He wrote:
Here I was in my cell sitting on my bed on Christmas Eve, sad but hanging in there. My thoughts were on my mom who passed on in 2004, and thinking man, this is my 24th Christmas behind bars.
Then at about 4 pm the officer gave me some mail from JDI. I was surprised because I don't get much mail. Being incarcerated for so long, friends and family have forgotten me or passed on. When I read the holiday cards my heart skipped a beat and I started to cry. Yes, this 46-year old hard-core convict was crying. The kind words of encouragement, blessing, and letting me know that I'm not forgotten from total strangers from far away shattered my emotions.
Please let them all know that I love them all and will cherish their words in my heart. And yes, I will walk with my head up high and will share my story with no shame and will help others that find themselves in similar situations.
All of us at JDI are inspired by the compassion that so many of you shared with survivors this holiday season. While we know that there is still much work to be done, each day takes us one step closer to ensuring that our government protects the basic human rights of all people in its custody -- and to preventing any other person from enduring what Alvin and Rafael did, ever again.
Thank you for standing up for the safety and dignity of all people.