In this anthology incarcerated me in the Prison Literacy Project at S.C.I. Graterford contribute pieces about regretful decisions made or painful experiences in their youth, fearlessly exposing their vulnerability. The men chose many methods for sharing their messages; some wrote letters to their young selves or family members, telling of their struggles growing up in difficult circumstances. They reached out from behind the prison walls to caution young offenders while they still have time to change their lives, but they speak to us all. They remind us all about choices, consequences, and caring for others.
About the Editors
Jayne Thompson, a creative writing and English instructor at Widener University, began running a workshop for the Prison Literacy Project at S.C.I. Graterford in February of 2011. She is a Youth Aid Panelist for the Center for Resolutions, and through this group hears the cases of juvenile offenders in Chester, PA. In addition, she runs a writing center in Chester for high school students. She believes that reading and writing create avenues to freedom.
Emily DeFreitas is a member of Widener University’s Presidential Service Corps, a group of high-achieving students who dedicate 300 hours per year to socially responsible leadership projects. She is a junior creative writing and English major who is currently at work on her first novel. She is originally from central New Jersey, and writes both poetry and fiction. This is her first time co-editing a book, and she has greatly enjoyed the experience.
These tales, burnished in the caldron of the penitentiary system, are the stories of human beings reliving the sins of their past. Their voices cry out from the precipice of gnarly lives, stripping away the masks men use to hide the guilt and shame of earlier traumas.
—William DiMascio, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society
Letters to My Younger Self is an incredible document. It offers first-person answers –exceptional for their deep authenticity−to the question of why young people commit very violent crimes. But even more profoundly, it offers probing reflections on the promises and failures of love, on the multifaceted meanings of responsibility, on the capacity for individual growth and transformation, and on the extraordinary reach as well as the inevitable limitations of memory. Before I had even read a third of the book, I was thinking of a dozen friends to whom I will send a copy.
—Mary Fainsod Katzenstein, Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies
Heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time, this powerful volume will make you think differently about our nation’s prisons, the people whose lives are spent there, and the failures of our social-welfare state. The beautifully and powerfully written letters−prepared for an English class at Graterford Prison in suburban Philadelphia−detail the writers’ lost hopes, lost opportunities, frustra- tion, wisdom, abuse, self-loathing, remorse, regret, love, friendship, and sometimes even optimism. The letters reveal better than any academic study I have ever seen, how we got to where we are now and how the people who have committed in some cases extreme violence think about their past, our nation, and the ways out of our violent world. You will not forget these letters. It is not an exaggera- tion to say that they can change our world.
—Alfred L. Brophy, Judge John J. Parker Distinguished Professor of Law, University of North Carolina
Letters to My Younger Self is a missive from the grave. Here convicts vividly describe their brutal upbringings and the decisions they made that effectively ended their lives. While the deck was always stacked against them, the second section of the book is titled “Decisions” to emphasize the fact that they could have made other choices. To those of you facing similar decisions today, I say: Read it! This book may be the only second chance you’ll get.
—David W.M. Sorensen, Ph.D., Lecturer in Criminology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark