I’m 13 and I write holiday cards to people in prison
When I was 5, my mom asked me if I wanted to help her write holiday cards to people in prison who had been raped behind bars. She didn’t say it like that, of course, because I didn’t know what prison or rape was.
Instead, she told me that there were thousands of ladies and gentlemen who were spending Christmas alone, unable to leave their rooms as they pleased, and that other people had been really mean to them.
I can’t remember which I thought was worse – to be forced to stay in my room or to be mistreated. But either way, I agreed to help my mom.
I am 13 now, and I still write holiday cards to people in prison. It’s really fun to think of nice things to say to people you’ve never met. I always try to imagine what I would want to hear if I was forced to be away from my family and was being treated poorly. I would be terrified, sad and worried that nobody remembered that I existed.
I usually end up writing something simple, like “I care about you,” or “We will not forget you.” And then I make colorful little drawings of flowers or Christmas trees or smiley faces or fruit. I know that those silly drawings make people really happy; there isn’t much color in prison.
The holiday cards make some prisoners smile. Others cry because they didn’t think people on the outside cared about what was happening to them. I know this because Just Detention International, the organization that passes my cards along (and also where my mom works) has showed me many of the responses it gets from the cards it sends around. When I was a little kid, I thought that was so amazing to be able to make grownups smile and cry.
One man, Ricardo, wrote the organization in 2017: “I received the season’s greetings cards. You all really made my day. They were the only ones I received. I read them over and over until I fell asleep. And when I woke up I read them all over again. You all can never imagine how strong they made me feel.”
Another prisoner, Sarah, wrote in 2012: “This was my fifth consecutive Christmas in solitary confinement, but with the help of people who care, I was able to feel at ease. I made a little tree out of a magazine and set up my cards around it to remind me that I am not forgotten.”
The point of these cards is to make prisoners who have been sexually abused feel better. But it also feels really good to write them. So it’s a win-win. This year my whole school is writing cards. And my friends always help.
At first, some of my friends worried that they may be writing to prisoners who have done horrible things to someone else. But then we talk about that and we usually agree that the point of these cards isn’t why people are in prison; it’s that they have been abused while there. And that’s never OK.
Even for those of us not in prison, it’s been a pretty hard year. Everyone seems angry and afraid. But it’s not all bad. We can still choose to be kind and do something nice for someone else, someone we don’t even know – and we’ll feel better about ourselves as a result.
I write Christmas cards to prisoners. I hope you do something that makes you and another person feel good this holiday season.
Sofia Robinson is an eighth-grader at the Episcopal School of Los Angeles.