Hand holding an envelope • Photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons

Mail call is the best time of day for us on the inside — when the guards pass out our mail! For some, this time of day is the best because of the letters we receive that keep us connected to our community on the outside. For others who do not receive mail, it’s just another reminder of loneliness. Nonetheless, mail calls are something we all look forward to.

I’ll be doing a “mail call” segment every few months where I’ll interview folks here about life on the inside, using questions sent in from you, our readers. Please keep the questions coming! Remember, the only stupid questions are the ones that don’t get asked. For our inaugural edition, we’ll focus on a common question we get: What do you miss most about home?

“Cosas que extraño de mi cantón… things I miss most from da pad! Smelling the huevos (eggs), frijoles (beans), chorizo (Mexican sausage), and tortillas is a reminder that a 4 a.m. wake up call brings with it a hot day in the fields. Mi jefita (mom) yelling at me to get my baby sis combed and ready for school before I contribute my few hours to the buckets of strawberries. Pennies in the bank, thinking today will be different, hoping to see my mom smile before she goes to bed after a graveyard shift cleaning toilets.

Mi tia (auntie) telling me to ‘remember that Spanish only on your cartoon shows. Don’t let school bullies make fun of the Mexican accent, be proud to speak two languages.’ Tia Mari teaches me that ‘We put food on peoples tables and to remember this is our home. Be respectful and friendly to people because it all comes back.’ It has finally made sense being caged away from all these memories. Waking up at 4 a.m., hearing keys, and taking my dog out to a cold brisk morning. That deep breath is for all the ‘cosas que extraño de mi cantón.’”

Jarrod Messer, 12 years served. Earliest release date: 2045.

“What I miss most about home is the holidays. Nothing beats a quick fork or spoon full of a family member’s food before everything is done — knowing if you get caught, someone’s liable to whack you upside the head… it’s all love, though. Even the worst is what I miss the most in those moments like when the family starts the first part of the process to cleaning chitlins. Man them chitlins stank, boy! But honestly, I miss it more than I ever thought. My aunt Sandy making a pie or cheesecake for somebody different every year of their choice. Every family member bringing their own homemade dish for the occasional holiday like a potluck. Now once everything’s said and done, spending that time with family —dancing, talking smack, cracking jokes, and watching TV is the highlight of it all. Most people might say being home for the holidays is common, but think about it. Everyone in the world was born into a family, and if not, that’s all they’ve ever wanted. I mean one could argue a million other things people miss about home, and have a point. However, at the end of the day, take a look around on any given day whether you’re in a restaurant, mall, car, or at home — it’s right in front of you. Even for us incarcerated individuals, we don’t have to look too far ourselves because somewhere in that cell there’s a picture. So all in all being home with family for the holidays is what I miss most.

Marshawn Turpin, 14 years served. Earliest release date: 2055.

“I really miss being around my mom and my family. The feeling of waking up and seeing all of them together in the living room. My sister in the kitchen cooking. My dad watching the news. My mom talking on the phone. My younger siblings all getting ready for school. My older brothers getting ready for work. That scene is the most memorable to me because it’s all about family. I also really miss the fact that we had the free range to do whatever we wanted. Make our own schedule. Have no curfews. Stay up as late as we want. Be around people and interact with them on a normal level. Go wherever and whenever I want. Have a real job and attend college. The reality of not dealing with these authority figures. Making our own decisions and having our own independence in society. Most of all, being around beautiful women!”

Francisco Sao, 16 years served. Earliest release date: 2052.

“What do I miss most about being home? When first asked this question, my mind immediately went to things such as food, a real bed, and freedom to go where I want, when I want. These things are all nice, but my mind flashes back to the first day I held my wife in my arms and I had this feeling of wholeness. My mind, body, and soul felt complete like I had found my home. So it brings me to this cliché saying: that home is where the heart is. But isn’t this true — being around the people you share unconditional love with is what brings joy? To the things you eat, to even making the bed you sleep in comfortable. How many people you know that toss and turn all night in a nice bed? But when you lay down with a smile on your face and love in your heart you sleep well. As far as going where I want when I want, without creating memories its just another place — so it’s important to be in the moment and enjoy the little things with the ones you love. It’s funny, I was asked this when my wife and our family were gathered together to celebrate my sister Nana’s birthday on May 8th. I got to sing her ‘Happy Birthday’ with the people I love and in that moment I was home. See, it’s all the little things. That’s what Bubba Pry misses the most about home.”

— Robert “Bubba” Pry, 8 years served. Earliest release date: 2087

“Honestly, there are so many things I miss about home that I don’t even know where to begin. I could absolutely start with the feeling of missing my son and my wife more than anything. I never realized how many simple moments I took for granted until that quality time spent with them was taken away. I miss working at a job that I actually enjoy and I definitely miss making more than ¢0.42 cents an hour! But if I actually dug a little deeper, I would probably tell you how much I miss being able to put my bare feet on my shower floor or eat a meal with silverware that isn’t made from plastic. I miss being able to embrace my loved ones for more than 5 seconds at a time in a prison visit room. And dammit, I miss real, soft TOILET PAPER!! #WhereIsTheCharmin”

— Melvin Washington, 19 years and 10 months served. Release date: June 5th, 2023

When I first asked myself this question, I thought to myself: “No sweat.” But after I sat down and started to write, my mind went blank, and I was afraid. I was afraid because after nearly 14 years behind bars, I’m not sure if I even remember home. Of course I can recall certain memories I THINK I remember, but for the first time in my life, I may have forgotten what my home FEELS like — what it really means to be free. And that has me terrified. Has the system finally won and broken me? I pray to God not. But lost time is lost time, right?

While I search for what I miss about home, allow me to share what I hope home is. A place where my wife knows how much she means to me, how much she fills my heart, and that I choose her everyday. A world where my children understand that I never meant to leave them. A time before I broke my father’s heart. A sunset I can share with my mom. A home where I can hug my brother and tell him it’s okay… I love you always. I guess home to me can no longer be a memory, because things can never be the same. All I know is that home is hope… and love. And at the end of the day, that’s what we all share on the fence line — the hope and love that keeps us alive.

Felix Sitthivong is a journalist, organizer, member of Empowerment Avenue, and advisor for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG). Through APICAG, Sitthivong has organized immigration, social justice and youth outreach forums and has designed Asian American studies courses, an intersectional feminism 101 class and an anti-domestic violence program. You can reach him with questions for “On the Fence Line” via Securus (WA #354579) or write to him at Felix Sitthivong #354579, 191 Constantine Way, Aberdeen, WA 98520.

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