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November 9, 2010

Column 50

In #49, I said in the future I wanted to talk about problems with our mail and visits, so I will talk about the mail this time. Mail is the only way many of us have to maintain a relationship with our families, friends and loved ones, while in prison " I am not talking about just prisoners on death row. Mail is the main source of communication with the outside world for everyone in prison. The only exception is for those who are able to telephone someone who is able to afford the inflated telephone charges for prison calls.

In the last few years there have been increasing problems with our mail. Not just the incoming mail, which has always been slow to be processed and given to us. Lately there have been problems with the letters we are mailing out as well. There are many instances where letters mailed from here will sit in the prison for a week, or more, before it is finally sent to the post office. If you have a child, wife or loved one, who has a birthday coming up, you have to try and guess at bow long it will take for your birthday card to be put in the mail. I have heard of many cases where birthday cards, sent from here, have arrived weeks late even though they had been mailed in plenty of time.

As for the incoming mail, we are supposed to receive our letters within 7 working days, but it often takes weeks and sometimes months, for the prison to give us our mail.

The most disturbing thing with our mail is how often our mail seems to just disappear. I've had people write to me, who I hadn't heard from in ages. They say they had written before, but never heard back from me. In many cases, they never received a letter I had sent to them. If it was only a few times that this happened, I would consider it just bad luck, but it happens regularly. This isn't something that happens just to me either. I have heard many others complain about this happening.

There doesn't seem to be any real way to keep track of the mail and I have no idea what happens to the mail that disappears. I do know it is a criminal offense to tamper with the mail in any way. I don't know if that is true with prison mail, but I would assume once you put a postage stamp on a letter, it would be a crime to tamper with that letter in any way.

Over the last couple of decades mail has changed considerably. The postal service doesn't process many letters now, compared to 20 years ago. Most people use electronic mail these days. I have heard talk about the postal service discontinuing letter delivery altogether, one day. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but I wouldn't be surprised if eventually that did happen.

If mail does become obsolete then it would be logical to assume prisons would have to switch to some form of electronic mail. With technology being what it is these clays, I would think prisons would be doing all they could to switch to electronic mail as soon as possible. It would be faster and cheaper, as well as more secure. You canít smuggle anything into a prison via electronic mail. It would be much easier for the prison to monitor outgoing and incoming mail with electronic mail as well.

E-mail is a thing of the future prisons though. Prisons never make changes like that until they have no other options for the most part. In the present time our mail is always hit or miss. For those of you who write to someone in prison and you don't hear back from them, you should write a note to inquire if they stopped writing. There is a good chance they never got your letter, or you didn't get a letter they sent to you. 

I am out of here for this one. Feel free to write me via the website or by regular mail. I will always reply. All my best to you and thanks for taking the time to read this.

Best wishes.
Dean Carter

p.o. box C-97919
San Quentin Prison
San Quentin, California 94974