There is a place in the world where men still write letters to each other. I mean actual letters, usually handwritten, sometimes typed, but characters on paper, communicating things, which are then put into envelopes and mailed. These men write to each other with affection, tenderness, and brotherly love. They aren't -- well, most aren't -- gay. But they attach to the letters pictures of themselves, of favorite objects, and of hobbies and passions.
In the cafe of the Barnes and Nobles where I'm writing, a recently released prisoner is writing several letters to his buddies who are still inside the correctional facility where he served for a year. He's scribbling them in long-hand. He thinks before each sentence. I find this interesting and i ask to read one of them. Being streetwise, he's naturally suspicious of me. I pull the journalism card. Then I let him use my computer to Google me.
Then he lets me, so long as I agree not to disclose anything specific.
Apparently, his friend is about to get out of prison on parole, but his friend has a beef with one of the guards, and really wants to do something about it. My released-prisoner-letter-writer is counseling his friend to shut the hell up, deal with the beef in his head, wait out his parole, and then talk to a lawyer. This is the second time he's given this bit of advice. He tells me that it got him through his prison sentence -- the idea that bad things will happen, guards may abuse their power, and the worst thing in the world is to interfere with, or challenge authority. Take it, serve your time, act like a guest in their house, and deal with it when you get released.
Most prisoners, he says, particularly those who feel wronged by the system, or a system of some sort, are too prideful. Now, granted, displays of violence, he tells me, can be helpful in certain limited circumstances. Apparently, Hollywood get this right: if another prisoner is about to do something to you, you must, and he repeats, must, do something to him -- "bust him" -- first. If other prisoners know you won't tolerate abuse, or that you'll fight back, they'll leave you alone. But when it comes to people with uniforms, even if they're about to spray you with their pepper spray, you just take it. You take it, you tell your lawyer, and you get out of jail as fast as you can.
I guess I can apply that lesson to traffic stops.
In any event, that's the content of his letter to his friend. It's one of many letters he's writing today. He checks his watch. It's 5:09 pm. Too late to hit the post office while it's open.
The man who writes letters will go first thing in the morning.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- 10 things you need to know today: December 19, 2014
- Why torture doesn't work: A definitive guide
Subscribe to the Week