My “PEN” Pal, Ana: Reflections on Freedom
Sister Donna was in her late eighties, intentionally untying herself from her many duties, when she approached me that day. Since I knew Spanish, would I write to Ana, a Cuban woman on death row in Florida?
“Of course,” I said, never thinking about how that might work.
I have a history of pen pals starting as a Campfire Girl. For a quarter, I bought the address of Sandra Chaddock from England. Since then, I added a Mexican gardener, Honduran refugees headed to Canada, a British gentleman who returned my passport that I had dropped on our ship enroute to Tangier. . . oh, and the woman who received my order by mistake, sent it to me, and became my California connection. But, an inmate on death row?
When I first wrote Ana, I continually deleted scenes describing my 40-acre forest life. It felt strange speaking of my trips, even to the grocery store. From my freedom to choose toothpaste to my evening walks with friends, my life highlighted her lack of freedom. As the letters continued, I also began to doubt our system of justice.
The most recent letter arrived a few days after the 4th of July, with all of its swimming, hot dogs, watermelon, and family time. By now, I knew that two of Ana’s sons had been murdered, her daughter doesn’t stay in touch, and her recent shift to a different institution left her without the minister that used to visit. What I don’t know is how anyone can stand to lose their personal freedoms of choice and movement.
Today, with respect and privacy, I’m translating some of her words to give you a glimpse into a personal story, a face trapped in the justice system. Reflect on your daily freedoms of choice.
Buenos Dias, amiga, Jan!
“I’m writing so that you know that you are on my mind and in my prayers. I hope you and your family are well. The hurricane is here, raining a lot, so that nobody can leave their rooms. I am worried for you, as I imagine it is raining there where you live. For the earth, it is good, but not for the people. Please, take care of yourself.
It is a very difficult time here and one of the reasons is because I cannot go to the library, where I need to go to help with appealing my post-conviction. I have only 45 days to present the Federal Appeal. If I lose this one, it will be very difficult to arrive at the United States Supreme Court. Please pray for me and my appeal.
There are some women here who have COVID, but we are getting vaccinations. I got sick, but now have my shots. It is so very difficult. The supplies are low at the Canteen. Each day is stressful, trying to get in line. We have to buy our necessities and the food is often very bad. I’m out of shampoo and soap. Sometimes the women share until money or items are again available. Let me explain.
They reduced the articles. Before, we could buy up to 10 items. Now, a box of soup (3 packets) counted toward that. Now, we aren’t able to lend soup to other women. One might not be able to eat and we go hungry. There are days when the food is regular and one can make the effort to eat. Other days, we do not have our necessities and those in charge tell us it is a privilege to have the Commissary. We have to buy our feminine products, our shoes, stamps, and paper. That’s why I’m sending this email. I’m out of envelopes.
Please pray for us, both the women and the officials. This is a nightmare, but we do what we can every day. I thank you with all of my heart for your donations, prayers, and support. Knowing you are there is a comfort. Your moral support helps me, and I don’t have words to express what that means.
I hope the rain is going to the crops and that you are fine. Write soon.
Your sister in faith,
We’re in our fourth year as “Pen pals.” Ana’s tenacity, search for a better day, dauntless quest to prove her innocence, and deep faith never waiver. She is always filled with grace, direct comments and a faith in God that I cannot comprehend nor duplicate. I think of her when I catch myself complaining. Time is better spent in gratitude.
Perhaps it is the juxta-position of our lives that puts freedom and justice into glaring comparison. Taking an intentional moment to reflect on our freedoms enriches life. Questioning justice pushes and pulls us forward to action.
I asked Sister what I could do for Ana and those seeking freedom and justice.
She quietly answered, “Pray for justice. Seek wisdom. Act out of your freedoms to bring change.”