Friday, 10 September 2021

Gull i Bull

I remember once being told the word "Gullible" wasn't in a dictionary; damn right I looked it up! That pretty much says all you need to know about me 😂😂 Over the years I have tried to be more sceptical but it just seems to be a part of who I am; I trust, until that trust is broken. This is a good thing in one way, obviously not so good in another, hence why even after almost 30 years I'm still working my fat ass off to pay back the debt my ex left me with. A debt I never got to see a penny of. Anyway, this isn't about him, it's about someone else.

Back in April 2003 my best friend had a 3 year old running around and a 9 month old already crawling; her 11 year old had just discovered she could give her Mum a bit of attitude and walk away because she already had her hands filled with the kids. My bestie was also on the verge of breaking up with the father of the younger 2. The time we'd once been able to share together had been drastically cut down to once-or-twice a week; always on a Saturday though. That never stopped. She had a lot going on; the guy I was seeing had died just 2 years earlier (April 7th to be exact) and as it was coming up to that anniversary I found myself a little lonely and had lost my way in life a bit. 

I had other friends but they weren't people I hung out with on a regular basis. The internet wasn't what it is right now; there was no facebook or whatsapp where you could message your friends and family anywhere in the world for free. Text messaging still cost money and you had to take out a pretty decent phone contract to get messages included, and the idea of sharing photos with people was unheard of unless you had a top-of-the-range phone and could afford the high charges of sharing them. Of course, there was email but that always seemed like a chore, and meant you had to have enough to say to make it worthwhile sending one. I also didn't want to burden my friends with all the crap going through my head. That's when a random thought hit me. I should get a penpal. Back in the mid-to-late 1990's a friend of mine had been sent to prison; he deserved to be there, he'd done wrong and I am a real advocate that if you commit the crime you most definitely should do the time. It wasn't anything too major, he got 12 months and during those 12 months he would write to me - occasionally phone but that wasn't as easy back then as it is now. He'd ask me what was going on, how mutual friends were doing; I'd waffle about work, moan about people who had pissed me off. I loved it. Whilst watching TV I could sit and jot down a few bits-and-pieces. I guess I sent a letter every couple of weeks. He said to me once that the letters had really brightened up his day and he would often let his cellmate read them as the guy didn't really have any friends or family. When he got out he asked if I'd still send the odd letter every now-and-then to his cell mate. I had no issues with it, after all my friend had vouched for him, and right up until he was released a couple of years later I'd pop a letter in the post to him every month. I never shared anything really personal but it was nice to have someone to get all my crap off my chest to; he would do the same. Once out I never heard from him again and that worked for me. 

So, there I was, this one spring evening remembering about him, when I thought to myself "I know, I'll get a penpal". At the time there were a lot of things on the news about soldiers fighting overseas who didn't have anyone really back home and some companies had been set up to provide them with someone who'd pop a letter out to them occasionally just so they didn't feel left out among their peers and also to help boost their moral. "Perfect" I thought to myself. I managed to find details of several different companies who offered the service and put my name down for them. The questionnaires I filled in were quite detailed but I answered the questions honestly; don't see the point in not doing so for you're sure to get caught out if you do. What I didn't know at the time was that they weren't just dealing with soldiers overseas.

Only one company bothered to get back to me. The lady in charge of my details told me they were overrun with people wanting to write to the military so she was unable to put me in contact with anyone serving but she asked how I would feel about writing to someone in prison. I know I'd done it before but one had been someone I was close to, the other someone my friend was willing to vouch for. As trusting as I am I was also a little wary; you hear such awful stories about people getting caught up in stuff because of such a thing. She then assured me she would only put me in contact with people overseas; if I had any issues I was to reach out to her so she could put a stop to it. That's how I found myself one day with the names, numbers and addresses of 3 different men in 3 different prisons dotted about the USA. 2 of them were Native American, 1 was African American. I was informed of the crimes all 3 had committed, how long their sentences were for and giving access to their history. She was upfront about everything. Being a white woman I wasn't really sure what I would have in common with any of them but I fired off 3 letters, popped them in the post box and waited. 

The one in Colorado never bothered to reply. The first guy who did was the African American; he was in Michigan. He only had another 2 years left to serve, and actually got released just 9 months after he first wrote. I never talked about why he was in there, and never once shared anything personal about myself. Other than my address (which, looking back was not such a good thing; what if they had been really awful people; they knew where I lived. I don't even let some friends I have known for years know where I live) all he knew was that I worked as a florist. I would talk about friends but never gave away any details and I certainly never shared photographs of myself, or anyone else with him. The other guy also contacted me. He was 4 years into a 10 year sentence for armed robbery. Born and raised on a reservation in Arizona he was very open in the things he would share with me, especially about life as a Native person. Myself, I've always had a thirst for knowledge about the Native People, their way of life and how they were almost eradicated so I felt him and I had a connection. Not that kind; oh my goodness no, although I did once let my Mum and brother believe their was. My Mum had opened a letter I'd written him which had been returned. In it was a Christmas card I had made that was for him from one of the women he had on the outside at the time; oh, yeah, over time I got to know some of his outside friends too. This one, also called Sarah, had emailed me to ask if I could make a card for her to give to him. She'd left it too late for me to mail it to her, for her to then send on to him, so asked me to write in it for her, which I did. It got returned and my family thought that it was from me. Had they bothered to actually pay any attention they would have seen I'd altered my handwriting completely to make it as close to hers as I possibly could. They didn't bother with that, put 2+2 together and came up with 934854574895. The next thing I knew I had my Mum, brother and brothers other half, turn up at the shop I was working in 2hours from home to ask me about it all. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. For one thing they could have waited until I was home before asking, and 2 they should never have opened mail addressed to me in the first place, so when they asked me if there was something going on and I was "one-of-those women" (you know the ones who write to prisoners, fall in love with them and end up believing they can marry them and live happily ever after) I played along, letting them believe that I might have been having feelings for him. That could not honestly have been further from the truth, but that's what happens when you read someone else's personal stuff and make an assumption - I think even now they probably still believe it. When I told him, he would then put stuff in my letters at times in case Mum opened any more that would play along with the notion if she ever did. Or at least I thought he was playing along! I still do, just in a different way. 

We wrote right up until a few weeks before he got released, sometime in 2009, when we had a big fallout about something completely inconsequential. I think it was really that he didn't want to stay in contact as a free man, and I respected that. I don't mind admitting that for a little while I did feel quite lost without having him around. I would write to him about whatever crap I was dealing with in life. I was happy to tell him personal things about myself. In all honesty he was a lot cheaper than therapy. I could talk about whatever was getting me down, hurting or upsetting me, post the letter off and by the time he received it a week-or-2 later whatever I'd been dealing with was dealt with. Had I gone to see someone they would have interjected as I was talking; friends would have stopped me halfway to give advice. That never happened with him because of how everything worked. For me it was great; I think it was for him too, although towards the last few years of us writing he would get jealous of me hanging out with other people, or talking to other guys. I found this a little odd, however, I assumed he was worried they would stop me writing so often. 

He never once asked me for anything. He would often hint he had no money for stamps; I'd just reply "ok, well, write when you can". I'd learned my lesson the hard way when it came to trusting men with money. I certainly wasn't going to make that mistake with someone I didn't actually know in real life - as such. 

A few years ago I was thinking about him at work one day, wondering how he was getting on with life; things have changed since those first days, now we have the internet, and I've learned I'm quite good at finding people on it 😂😂 Thanks to my brother's initial research in getting us names, I was able to track down a family member and now we have a whole family we're in contact with that we never even knew existed. I also found the address of another cousin who actually thought they had their details secure. Finding my old penpal was something I thought I might be able to do, just to see how he was getting on. I really hoped to find his living his best life. What I found was him back in prison. This made me sad in one way, for I truly believed he would make something of himself on the outside, whilst being good in another way as I was at a point in life where I was beginning to struggle with the death of my best friend. I remembered how talking to him had helped me deal with a whole host of shit, so I dropped him a letter. Oddly enough, as my letter was crossing the Atlantic to him, he had written me and his was on it's way to me - we'd done that a few times at different times; answering each other's questions before they had been asked. I am happy to admit I definitely felt a connection to him but in a more spiritual way. 

For a few weeks we wrote again but this time his letters were different. He was no longer the same person he had been. Everything about him and his persona was a bit "off" so I knocked it on the head, said I wasn't able to write any more.  I never heard from him for over a year then got a letter out-of-the-blue. He apologised for how he had been and seemed a lot more upbeat than he had been. Never one to give up on someone unless I absolutely have to, I figured I could use the someone to talk to. I was going through all the shit, and lies to do with several of my oldest friends at the time, people I had loved and trusted who had let me down in a really big way. I needed someone to vent all that too and he was there. However, as the years have moved on, and we've gone from writing to now emailing - I genuinely do not like the whole email side of things - he has reverted back to that different person. He will now give snippets of info without telling me anything. Whereas at one time if I asked him something he would always answer, now he doesn't. If I didn't email him at least 4 times a week he would get shitty with me. It was as though he was a completely different person. He then started to tell me he wished I could love him in the way he loved me, which I found really odd, or he would say "I know you will never feel about me how I do about you" almost trying to guilt trap me. He's right too; I will never feel that way about him. I found it harder and harder to talk to him and then he asked me to look someone up for him. The second he did that a few alarm bells went off in my head. I never looked the person up, told him I had but couldn't find anything. I don't know why he wanted to know. In all those years, other than asking me to send photos of Kin Kartrashian that he could put on his wall, that was the first time he'd ever asked me for something and I didn't like the way he asked. Something in the back of my mind said "this isn't right". 

I continued to email though, and then the company who run the email system got taken over, and people from outside the US were no longer able to pay for the electronic stamps you need to send an email - way cheaper than actual postage stamps and I only I get to use them so it wasn't as though I was buying them and he was able to use them. I had to revert back to snail mail, but until he received a letter from me he didn't know what was going on and he would email me constantly asking where I was. Some of his emails were really quite aggressive in their tone. Then I got a phone call at work one day. He'd asked me to fill in a form for him to be able to call me. I told him I'd done it, but I hadn't. I didn't want him to be able to. I just said it must have got lost in the post or the prison had rejected it so when he was able to call me it really did piss me off a bit. They should not have allowed his call to come through to me. I did accept a call from him once; I found it uncomfortable and awkward which is weird because I loved this guy as a friend. We'd been through a lot together over the years. Both of us had lost our best friends in the same year as well so we had many things we were able to talk about and share, that I know really helped me to deal with it. 

Eventually I was able to get some stamps with the help of a friend who lives stateside. He paid for them and I used paypal to reimburse him. I wish now I'd not bothered for I have felt that I was being constantly hassled to look up things for him, to email him photos; he started asking for 'naughty' photo's from me; like I was ever going to do that. It would take a special kind of idiot to send those kind of pics to a prisoner who could then share them with everyone. I've never even let the guys I've lived with have those kind of photo's. I may be gullible in a lot of things, not what it comes to that kind of thing though. I found this really odd though as he'd never done such a thing before, and that's pretty much how it's been for this year. A load of crap about how he wishes I love him while asking me to send him photo's. It was as if it wasn't him I was talking to. Then about 6 weeks ago he asked me to look someone up for him. He told me that a friend of his (as far as I was aware his only friend was dead!!) had written him some time before Christmas but because he'd been moved about so much he'd not received the letter until the beginning of August (this in itself I believe is bullshit). He needed to get in touch with this friend desperately however couldn't because he didn't have his address. This was the moment I'd been gullible in the sense that I believed the guy I'd written to for all those years was different to all the others you hear the horror stories about. Maybe I was lucky first-time-around because then he had a release date; maybe I was just there to help him and be a friend to him. Now though, he won't get out for at least another 20 years; he's changed, I've change. He was free for a few years too so goodness knows who he was mingling with during those times. I stopped writing so much, telling him I didn't have enough stamps so had to ration them. He then told me another friend of his had got a pre-paid credit card, he could let me have the details if I told him what I needed and I could use that to buy the stamps. I know such things exist so it didn't even register with me to begin with that this could be a lie. Now I don't believe a word of it. 

I never got any details from him; after asking me for the 3rd time what I would need to be able to buy my stamps with this pre-paid card his "friend" had got him I realised there was something a little 'off'. I thought about him asking me to track down this other "friend" who had written him, but who writes a letter to someone and doesn't include their address? The more I thought about it, the more I smelled bullshit, the more gullible I realised I was in danger of becoming. I never asked for the "friend's" name as I had/have no intention of looking him, or anyone else up. I have realised that the pre-paid card is more likely to belong to someone who doesn't know a prisoner somewhere has their details; such things can be done and are obtainable. I have contacted the company who run the email system and asked them to remove all my details from their records; I have some stamps left on the account but I'm not going to use them. I've lost count though of the amount of times I've asked the company to remove my details; I've emailed them, used their "contact us" link, even tweeted them and heard nothing back from them. As they are american based I have no idea how to get them to remove my details or who I would need to report them too. I am going to send them a letter. The only thing I knew I could actively do was to delete the email address I was using that was connected to the account, although they still have my home address registered on there. They are a financial organisation so I'm guessing that will stay secure; I hope it will. Because I have deleted the email account I am hoping when they constantly keep getting their emails bounced back they will realise the account is inactive and close it down. That was my biggest mistake. Allowing a digital footprint of my connection to him to exist, and it does concern me slightly that my connection could go against me from being allowed to visit the US in the future; I know they can be funny about some things. All my emails are probably stored on the companies system though so they'd be welcome to read all of them to see that my only interest in the US is visiting family and their amazing national parks. I was writing to him regularly the last couple of times I was out there; just not in the digital world though. 

Basically I have had to ghost him. I'm not going to be played by anyone, least of all someone I had once considered a friend. He's calling me several times a week; I ignore the calls, although for the most part they seem to cut off after only a couple of rings so I think they have issues with the system their end. They shouldn't even allow him to call as I have never given them permission to. I know you have to press a number to accept a call; I wonder if I pressed the number required to not accept they would then stop him from calling me? I might give that a go when he rings next. This has been going on for almost 2 months now; he's made no attempt to write a snail mail letter to me so I don't think he is really interested in talking to me as such; I think he just wants to use me in the digital age to get information. He's shit out on that one; I wasn't going to do it before when he asked. I'm certainly not going to do it now. 

If you have come across this because you're thinking of writing to a prisoner in the digital age, please take note that whilst you may think you can trust them, at some point they will prove to you that you cannot. I had a thing flash up on facebook a while back about a woman who was brazenly open about writing to a guy on the inside and a guard from a prison shared some titbits he'd seen going on. This opened my eyes even more to how easy it would be to get sucked in if you were a gullible type person. Just a google search this morning about how safe it is to write to these guys and this came up as the very first post...   

"14 yrs Law Enforcement w/ 7 of those years in Corrections.

Writing an inmate isn't dangerous as long as you keep in mind that you are writing an inmate. They literally have all day to write the perfect letter. They tell you everything you want to hear. They will consult other inmates on what to say and how to phrase things; some have asked guards to proofread the letter. Sometimes other inmates will write the letter for them.

Also, keep in mind that you aren't the only one writing them. I've seen some inmates get 5-8 letters a night and yes, it's very public who gets letters. It's kind of a status symbol.

I'm not going to say that every one of them is a scan artist, but many are. The guy with 5-8 letters, guess what? All those girls are also sending him money also. Remember, you won't be "the only one."

Whilst I am grateful to the lady who first put us in touch for in the beginning I learned a lot of things from him about his ancestral history, I also wish she had just given me the military personnel I had requested in the first place. If you are thinking about writing to a prisoner make sure you prepare yourself; don't let yourself get sucked in. You are worth more than that, and please don't believe it won't happen to you, because somewhere along the line, at some point, it will. 

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