Letters from Inmates Offer Hope to Youth

by Deni Camper, July 21, 2017

WEST FORK, Ark. - Arkansas has one of the fastest growing incarceration rates in the U.S., with between sixteen and eighteen thousand people currently being held behind bars. 

One group is using the words and experiences of some of these men to give hope to young people who are at risk of becoming the next generation of inmates. 

"I find myself looking back at my life and wondering, if it would've made any difference if someone with the experience of having been there would have told me what it's like." 

That line was taken from a letter written by an incarcerated man named Doc. His letter is one of twenty that have been written to at-risk youth and are featured in the 'Letters from the Inside' program. 

Morgan Holladay is the Executive Director of Compassion Works for All, a non-profit prison outreach organization. 

"There's a healthy mix of situations and scenarios that I think will hopefully speak to some of the different circumstances and traumas that children and youth are experiencing," Holladay says of the letters included in the program. 

The non-profit hosts workshops to train youth counselors and therapists to use 'Letters from the Inside' to remind young people there's still time to make positive changes. 

"I think we often find ourselves prescribing narratives to kids that...are actually full of so much opportunity," says Aron Shelton, the Director of Social Interaction and Entrepreneurship at the Teen Action Support Center. 

The program hopes to help young people but also give inmates a chance to make a difference. 

"The solutions that prisoners maybe have can be the most effective for the teens that could find themselves in that situation," Shelton says. 

Holladay believes inmates can have a meaningful impact by sharing their experiences. 

"Even if they have life sentences or even if they won't be getting out for a long time...people in prison still want to offer something to the world," Holladay says. 

Morgan Leyenberger