Hello, my name is Shirley Birdsong and my husband is in a federal institution  and has been for 23+ years. I have been doing the last three + years with him.  I stumbled upon your site and am sharing it with all the members of  Invisible Bars. We are a support group for wives, mothers, daughters,  siblings, sisters, and significant others who have loved ones who are  incarcerated. Just wanted to say thanks for having your site.

Shirley Birdsong

Letters will be organized by

  1. Issue the article appeared in

  2. date

VOL 002


Just finished your issue , and I read with interest . I was from 1985 - 90 a Canadian penitentiary inmate and edited a prison newspaper (The Terminator). Although you guys deal with different issues, I feel I can make the relation. I just wanted to say that I hope you guys can keep up with online mag and wish you all the best . My support goes out to all the locked down brothers and sisters.


Web Master

I am a student doing a fictional diary writing for class and I am writing from the point of view of one who is in prison and has seasonal affective disorder. I am looking for any information on feelings of the prisoners on being in prison. ie how they feel, how they get through feeling enclosed in a space, what they do to get away from these feelings they have. if you can offer me any help, it would greatly be appreciated.



Web Master

Thank you for getting Contexts art show in touch with Steven King
Ainsworth. He has recently sent us three pieces of art that are
wonderful ,and will definitely go into our show.

Contexts/Books Through Bars



I was on the net and I saw your art work and I can only say that you do very good work . I would like to know if you sell any of your art and if so what are your prices and how do you go about getting it . I would just like to leave on this note just because you are locked down do not mean that you have to stay down and Louis you have proved that keep up the good work I'm very proud of you . 

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart.....

Acquillia Hawthorne

VOL 001 Edition 02

LAND OF THE FREE - Comic Strip

First Comment (3/18/99):
    Outsiders would not know how to react to this cartoon.....they would not realize the significance of what is going on.

Second Comment (3/20/99):
    Sorry, I should've introduced myself. I am the dad of two young men in prison, one serving 65 years for murder and the other son is on death row awaiting execution for a crime that was never committed except in the eyes of the principle prosecutor.
    The reason I understand what the cartoon was saying is due to the fact that my son Tom who is serving 65 years in Walla Walla has written a book on his experiences in prison when he was first incarcerated at the age of 18 up to     now (31 years old). Once inside, any morals, principles, or values are     better forgotten and one must then abide by the laws of the prison inmates. Being "soft" inside the walls and you'll have every predator after you, therefore, if you are called a punk and you do not retaliate even if it means being beaten up, you will be in for a very hard time in prison. People on the outside would never understand this as they never give a thought to those inside......lock them away and forget them. There are a lot of decent human beings that have made big mistakes in their lives inside our prison walls and there are a lot of habituals as well. Our system is suppose to reform the prisoners, but instead is killing their souls and destroying most of them from becoming an asset to their communities on return to the world. Now I'll get off my soap box.

Third Comment (3/21/99):
    My son on death row is in Ohio and his name is Kenny Richey. We are at present on Federal State Appeal and from what I understand, he has been granted and Evidentiary Hearing. When is the big question mark. Kenny is presently the only British National on Death Row and he has quite a lot of support from Britain. There have been several Television Documentaries on him over there. Unfortunately, his case is relatively unknown over here.  My son Tom's book was to be published over in Britain, but they started to initiate a law that prisoners could not profit from their crime, so the publisher backed off from printing it.

Letters, questions, compliments, and insults to the dreg

Hi Michael,

1). Do you really read all these letters AND respond?

2). How do I know that you're who you say you are (in prison) and not some nut?

3). You're in prison, and you have Internet access??


Mark Jennings


Dear Mark,

As strange and unlikely as it probably seems in this new cyber-world of indifference and quaint form-letters - yes, I truly do read and respond to ALI, these letters. I would have sent you this response via snail mail, had I had your home address, and then you would have seen by the envelope that the letter indeed is from one who has had the misfortune of having penned the note from inside a prison cell.

How do you know that I am who you (I) say you(I) are(am)? Well, sir there are no assurances that I can give you that would offer irrefutable proof, unless, of course you would like me to put you on my visiting list, and then you could come and talk to me face-to-face. I am who I say I am, and am not ashamed to admit that I am just some nut who sits in his prison cell, writing this column. we=re all "nuts" in one way or another.

Indeed I "have Internet access...", but only through the help of deeply devoted friends in the free world. Prisoners in Colorado are NOT allowed computers (perhaps I should post our "allowable property items" - it would certainly shock you!).

Mr. Jennings, I would enjoy receiving a detailed letter from you voicing your questions and concerns, and will respond in detail if you would care to write me here at the prison. I hope this has piqued your curiosity...


Michael Tenneson

VOL 001 Edition 01

Who Am I?  by Michael Tenneson (2/7/99)

    Well, sir, you certainly said a mouthful.  My lover was just released after serving seven years in prison.  I was deeply in love with the young man that went in, but, I don't care for this just released person.  Of course I still love him, but, he is rude, he yells, and once I seriously thought that he was going to become violent. (he went in at 17)  I agree that most cons come from disadvantaged backgrounds and in this case there was some severe beatings inflicted upon him as a child from relatives)  But, can we simply be monsters because of a shitty background, or can one find hope and pull himself out of the muddy murk of loser-hood. I don't mean to be offensive at all.  I have been in this guys corner for seven years.  I visited, supported him, I made it my mission in life to show this man that he is valuable and worth while.  I fear that the more love I show him, the more he detests me because he truly believe he is worthless.  I was not prepared for his cave man like behavior.
    Yes, I took it into consideration that he has been in a very violent environment, but,
damn it, that's all behind him now and I am not the enemy.  I don't think we will make it, because my self respect has suffered a severe blow because of his actions and my making justifications for them. This is my first time visiting your site and I find it very interesting indeed. Perhaps if you have the time you could give me your thoughts on this subject.

Michael's Answer:

    Well, you too have said a mouthful. When I began this column I didn't expect to receive such an open, compassionate and human request for help, and I hope that I am able to offer you the kind of thoughtful response that you deserve. To stay more focused I'll respond to your letter in the order of your comments, and then sum up my thoughts at the end. Most of what I say will have to be in general terms, because I don't know any details about the concerns that you mentioned. If you want to write more in depth on this, or any other subject I promise to respond and help you if I can.
    I can't help but to "assume" certain things for now, because again, the details aren't in your letter, for example: How old are you (I assume early to mid-twenties; but only base that on assuming that you and your boyfriend are the same age); What state do you live in, and what state did he do his time in? What can you tell me about his background, and yours? I don't mean to be nosey but to truly tell you what I think on this subject it would help immensely if I were more informed of your particular facts of what has happened; your perceptions of what has happened, and your feelings of what has happened to him, to you, between you and your feelings of a future both with him, and without him. Pretty heavy shit, huh? Confusing? Scary? Painful? I'll be the Devil's advocate and share some of the lessons and insights I've learned that seem to echo some of what you expressed in your letter.
    First of all, I perceive you (just trying to interpret the few hints that are in this paragraph you sent me... ) as a young woman in her twenties, who is pretty well read, and communicates her thoughts well (you said a great deal in a couple hundred words, and I read even more between the lines... ). You are probably from a pretty decent family; one where common courtesies, honor, integrity, and manners are practiced and encouraged. You've probably not been exposed to a serious level of violence in your life...it shocks you, scares you and is hard for you to understand. I don't want to sound like some cheap psychotherapist so I'll drop the analysis and talk from my heart. Please don't take the following offensively, Cary, but I have to say that you seem to be a very loving, caring, idealistic and perhaps somewhat naive person - and I think you have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to keep a memory alive ... a fantasy. The person you fell in love with (at 17 ... was it love... or was it lust?) has obviously changed, as have you ... but rather than changing together, and in ways that enhance your attraction for each other, you now repel each other. 'Re no longer represents the things that are most important for you in a relationship.
    You cannot beat yourself up for him not changing, Carey! Not after spending seven years in his corner, loyally visiting him, supporting him ... you sound like an angel! It's not your fault if the guy comes out and acts like a caveman, and it sounds like he is playing the old "have sympathy for me" card and it sounds like you have been a willing participant in the game, up until now... If this strikes a note in you, and you feel yourself getting mad right now ... don't discount what I've suggested without taking a good long, honest look at the possibility. I'm picking up a lot of self-pity in the things you've told me about him in general ... all of which goes back to that lack of self-respect thing. If he believes he is worthless, it is up to him to change that by doing whatever is necessary to feel worthy of life, love, peace and happiness - I had a horrible past, and spent almost 30 years as a fucked up emotional mess that spent his time finding new ways to put myself and everyone else down. It took this terrible situation to snap me out of it ... what a tragedy. But, sometimes that's what it takes ... and the sad part is that most of us who make it into the criminal justice system never learn ... as I'm sure you've probably surmised, prison is not about helping a person get their life together. So, what are your options???
    Well, essentially you only have three basic options:

  1. Accept him just as he is and make yourself a slave to meeting his needs and disregarding your own needs...(a very sick and unfulfilling option).
  2. You can (and should... ) tell him exactly how you feel, what you think, what you want, and what you need and if you are not both on the same page then you both need to decide where you are going to draw the line of compromise with each other, and decide just how far you're willing to go, in overlooking each others shortcomings. Love is not rude...nor is it violence ... nor is it resenting someone who is trying to love another - Love is also not playing a guilt-trip ... life's a bitch and some of us have been through a bad series of trips; that is a fact - but it is not an excuse! There is a difference. If you "love" the guy enough to put up with all the other shit...then, you have your second option....
  3. You need to carefully evaluate yourself, Carey, and ask yourself what you want out of life; dream ... be generous in your picture of what you want then do what you have to do to make it a reality! If you want a prince charming .... then you have to find one - you can't "make" one; If your needs are not being met in your lifestyle/relationship/means of employment/etc. you have to take charge of YOU and make some serious changes. You cannot force another person to change to your wishes - but you can change yourself.

    I wish I had more information about you because so much of what I am offering here is merely subjective speculation - I could be, and probably am, a long way off from where you're at ... as I struggle to glean more from your letter, I feel like I am on a big ship on a stormy ocean...I hear a distant cry for help ... I know someone has fallen overboard...but I can't see them ... can't throw them a lifesaver because I can't even see where they are ... so all I can do is send out this note and hope it will somehow help you...
    You asked, "But, can we simply be monsters because of a shitty background, or can one find hope and pull (them)self out of the muddy murk of loser-hood." Well ... yes, no, and maybe! If I could bottle the cure for "loser-hood syndrome" I think our world would become Utopia overnight; that question is far beyond my capacity to answer for you conclusively. I will say that one can find hope, in fact one can actually create hope, by "simply" doing the necessary steps to achieve a goal (i.e. a dope addict can "hope" for a drug-free, happy life ... all day - but unless they take the essential steps to make it happen, it will only be a "hope"). I have learned that there were three distinct phases that I have had to go through in order to make every significant change that I have made in my life:

  1. I had to first realize that "something was wrong" and that I had to change it...
  2. I had to figure out what steps would be necessary to change "it".
  3. I had to walk the walk and DO whatever had to be done to make the desired change a reality.

    Each of those three steps has it's inherent difficulties, but if you can begin to look at your hopes, dreams, goals in that basic light it may make it easier to visualize a way to make them a reality. Or, maybe I'm full of shit (you must consider that as an option too...).
    Perhaps the best thing I can do now is shut up and listen ... if you feel like sharing your thoughts, feelings, don't be shy. I am not a shrink and would not recommend that you make any serious decision based solely on any of my comments or advice - search your heart, mind ... listen to your spirit. Whatever you really feel you need to do to be happy and at peace with yourself. If ya' need someone to be real with you and bounce some ideas off of (without being belittled) I’ll be here for awhile..

Talk to me...


Dear Michael,                                June 25, 1999

    I am responding to the letter from Cary and your response to her. Her letter discussed the turmoil in her relationship with a man recently released from prison after being incarcerated for 7 years.
    For Cary and for future reference, there are several online support groups for women who have a male loved one in prison. Some groups include mothers, sisters, daughters, friends along with
wives/partners--others are exclusively for wives/partners.
    SIS, or Sisters In Struggle, has been going strong for about 2 years. To contact this group, one can go thru onelist.com or email Sis_Struggle@yahoo.com. There is also Invisible Bars which is also found via onelist.com.
    This information may be useful to you and your readers when confront
with similar situations.
    I would be glad to put together a list of known online groups at your request.



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