Letter from an Oklahoma Prison
Oklahoma continues to be ranked as the state with the HIGHEST female incarceration rates in the U.S.
--Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women
Angel grabbed the yellow legal and her blue pen off the desk in her cell and went to her bed to settle in. She’d been thinking about writing this letter for a while and knew it would be long, full of confession. But, it needed to be written. Had needed to be written for too long, so gripping her pen like a vise, she wrote: Hi Honey. Then she stared at the two words at the top of the page.
“No. That’s too informal,” she said aloud to herself. She shook her head. Writing a letter to her daughter was turning out to be harder than she thought.
Angel needed to prove herself to her daughter. She wanted to show her daughter that she was a better person now, that she was educated, that she could write. She wanted her daughter in her life now. So, she ripped off that first page and started over.
My Dearest Ashlee,
I’m sorry it’s been so long since we talked. I was ashamed. No, I was embarrassed. My life as your mother was not very responsible. I took our relationship for granted. I took you for granted. I was selfish. This letter is my first step to fix that.
Prison has been, well, hard on me. After a couple years here, I started to realize my crimes against you. I began counseling through NA—Narcotics Anonymous. But, of course you know that. I told your aunt, who wrote to tell me of your scholarship. Way to go, Girl. I’m proud of you. Anyways, I even took some college courses. This letter is a result of two writing courses. Oh, and sister, you should have seen my professor. He was a gorgeous. I worked specially hard to impress him. And it paid off cause look at how good I write. I even know the difference between past tense and passive voice. I did good in school. I know you must work as hard for your grades. I guess like mother like daughter, huh?
After my sentencing of ten years with the possibility of parole, I was mortified. I kept asking myself, “Why me? There’s way worse people out there.” I pitied myself. I hated myself. Again, I was too selfish. I thought only of me and protecting my friends. Not of you. This is my worst offense. I deserved to be caught. I needed to be caught. I was a bad person, no, a bad mother. I know that now.
I know your good memories, few as they are, are run over with the bad ones, specially your last one of me. I know how awful it must’ve been for me to be arrested only feet from the car, feet from you. I know you must’ve been embarrassed cause it happened at your middle school. I can’t believe they did that to me, to us. Let me explain, Ash.
I was a bad person. As I’m sure you know. . .now. . .they pinched me for possession of meth, intent to distribute (They tacked this on to give me a longer sentence. I never shared my drugs.), and dangerous substance in the presence of a minor. This last charge was multiplied cause it happened at your school. So I guess that makes it a dangerous substance in the presence of minors. The son of a bitch who cuffed me wasn’t much better back then. But I guess that didn’t matter. They’d already marked me as an easy target. Call me weak? Showed them, huh? Anyways, in most cases, these charges could’ve been deferred, but I had three strikes already—two minor drug-related, one prostitution. I know you know this last one is true. You had too many “Uncles” not to know. They’d been watching me cause I was friends with some bad people. I was supposed to be an easy mark. They thought that I’d fold and tell them who the real drug dealers were. They used you to try tricking me into ratting ‘em out. But I didn’t. I held my ground. I thought I was protecting my friends. Your momma’s no rat.
So why am I writing now? It’s taken me five years to begin dealing with my crimes. Now, I’m working to fix them. Soon you turn 18, adulthood. I’ve missed so much by my choices. I don’t want to miss more. I want you to visit. I know you tried several times before, but I couldn’t face you, wouldn’t. Now, I can. Oh, and baby girl, bring me some lipstick. You remember how much I love lipstick? Red and pink, k? Oh, and I’d sure love some chocolate if you can. Hey, remember when you were seven and I took you for ice cream? You were so excited and kept running back and forth at the counter shouting, “Look Momma, lime sherbet.” I still love how you pronounced it shur-bert. Or you’d scream, “Oh, strawberry, I want strawberry!” So I bought you a triple dip of lime, strawberry, and chocolate just to make it perfect. Chocolate was your fav as I remember, like your momma. That was a good day. In the future, I hope to have more memories like this.
After your visit, perhaps we can continue to build a new relationship. Maybe we can write regular, too. Then I can continue to improve my writing skills I learned in those college classes. And maybe you could get to know me better. In the next year, I’ll be up for parole. I was hoping that we could continue to meet. What do you think? You should receive this on or about your birthday. Perhaps it will be a better gift than I’ve ever given you. I love you.
Your Devoted Mother,
After reading the letter again and again and rewriting it a few times, Angel stuffed it in the envelope, posted it, and handed it to the proper guard. Then, she waited.
Two weeks later, she heard the post guard yell, “Angel White.”
Running over to her, she stepped up and said, “Here, Ma’am.” The guard held the envelope out to her. Her daughter’s name scribbled in the left-hand corner excited her heartbeat. She took it and walked to her cell. She sat on her bed, panting, sweating. Angel held the envelope flat in her hands, weighing it.
“Heavy,” she said. “That could only mean a long letter.”
Angel’s heart beat even faster, and she wiped a bit of sweat from her brow. Then she stared at the envelope for a second before spreading the already opened top. The prison guards always read the inmates’ letters. She hated that. But she only had about a year of that left. As she pulled the letter out, a pink post-it fluttered to the ground unnoticed. She unfolded the letter. It started with “My Dearest Ashlee.” Her heart sank.
Angel turned the pages only to see her own words glaring back at her. She crushed her eyes shut trying to will the words to change to those of her daughter’s. Any words written by Ashlee would do. Her heart slumped with her shoulders and ached with the choked sobs in her throat.
The broken mother opened her eyes to see the pink post-it note lying on the floor at her feet; her daughter’s handwriting meeting her eyes in two simple sentences:
You don’t know anything.
Don’t contact me again.
No name signed. No greeting. Just eight direct words.
Angel picked up the note and smelled it, taking in deep breaths of her daughter’s words. She carefully placed it and her own letter back in the envelope. Then she buried it under her pillow and laid her head atop her most precious possession.
“She wrote back,” Angel whispered. “She wrote back.”
Rayshell Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at Seminole State College in Seminole, OK., where she teaches Fiction Writing, American Lit, Native American Lit, Introduction to Lit, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference, Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, and Sips Open Mic Night. Her publications include Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.