Letter From Pelican Bay Prison

LifeRing offers an”e-mail pal” program for people who can’t or prefer not to be involved with our face-t0-face groups. Read about it on this page: E-Mail Pals. One of our members exchanges emails with a person looking for some help and offers support, information and, we hope, friendship. Many, many addicts are very isolated and sometimes they need to start making changes in a very safe and non-threatening way. Others literally can’t be involved with face-to-face help, because of handicaps or geographical limitations or other obstacles.

Recently, we’ve added to that program by starting a more old-fashioned service: pen pals for people who lack computer access. That includes prisoners. One of our volunteers (thanks, Tim!) sent along a letter he received from his inmate correspondent that is very much worth sharing. Arturo granted  permission for us to offer this. It gives insight into addiction, prisons and the human spirit.

Response from Arturo (typed from his hand-written response to my letter – no corrections have been made).  Dated 9/8/11.

Tim – Greetings to you!.

I do hope that this finds you doing well and in the best of heath and recovery on your end.  As for myself, I am doing great!  I received your letter as well as the LifeRing brochures.  Thank you for extending your hand.  I appreciate it and would like to begin a correspondence with you.

I intend to thoroughly read all of these brochures and I am sure that I will have questions regarding those.  In the meantime I just wanted to briefly introduce myself to you and “break the ice” between strangers.  I am an open book and always maintain honesty in my dealings with others.  So if you ever want to talk about what I share with you, or whatever, please feel free to do so.  I do not easily take offense!

So, with that said, here goes…  As you know, recovering alcoholics will always be so, but I have had the ironic fortune of not having had a drink, due to my incarceration, for the last 17 years.  I caught my case in 1994 at the age of 16, was tried as an adult, and have been serving a 19 to life sentence ever since.  Unfortunately the gang life was my entire life all of these years until 2010 when I made the decision to walk away from that lifestyle forever.  My new life is all about reform, parole and hopefully working with the youth one day.  But for this to happen I need to earn a date from the parole board and one of their requirements is that I make an effort in the areas of drug and alcohol treatment.  This is something that I wanted to do anyways because, really, who wants to get out after all these years just to backslide into alcohol and drugs?  I genuinely want to have an approach to alcoholism and that is why I reached out to AA.

AA assigned me to a correspondence sponsor, but right from the start we had problems reconciling my atheistic position with the approach of the program.  We still correspond and continue to break down the Big Book of AA though now only from a scholarly perspective.  And on the side we are enjoying a science vs. religion discussion (he is a minister).  I have learned enough to know that I could never actually be an AA member because I could not work all of the steps nor could I ever give over my “weakness” to a higher power (read:  supernatural deity) that I am convinced does not exist.  So this is my predicament and I am really hoping that LifeRing will turn out to be the alternative I am seeking.  I will go over the brochures this weekend and will talk to you about that in our next correspondence.

I guess I just really wanted to convey to you right from the start that I am serious about my continued recovery and will not “fall off” on you.  This life change of mine is real and, I have to tell you, feels so much truer to who I really am!  (I look like a typical gang member, but I’m really a nerd! ha ha.)  I walked away from the gang for a couple of different reasons, but the result has been very beneficial to my efforts.  I am currently housed in a part of the prison reserved for drop-outs who are making the transition back to a mainline setting – I have been in the hole (solitary) for the past 7 years here in Pelican Bay for being identified as a gang member of “status.”  In a few months I will be relocated to a prison in Delano, CA, to participate in a drop-out program on the mainline (general population).  And I am excited!  But now I will have greater access to life programs, education, and have more freedoms than I currently have.

I will also be able to once again receive contact visits and be able to hug my family.  We are a small circle consisting of my mother, two brothers (and their women/children) and my two great-aunts.  We are from San Jose, CA, but my great-aunts live in Oakland and San Francisco.  I can’t wait to visit with them all!

When you respond, I would like to hear a little about yourself that you are comfortable sharing.  Also, any thoughts or advice on how you think that I should best approach the Life Ring program would be highly appreciated.  Anyhow, I hope that now you may call me your friend.  Thank you for taking  the time and effort out of your life to reach out to me.  You have my sincerest gratitude!  Until next time, take great care of yourself.




  1. jd on October 31, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Hmmm… well I hate to be all cynical but Pelican Bay ain’t some dinky little county lockup. Those old boys in PB aren’t in there for *jaywalking*. Those are some hard, hard men in that place. And the guys in solitary are heavy duty, hardcore people.

    I believe that anyone *can* change, but there are people in this world who have gone far enough down a road that, in my experience, they don’t usually change. Not *really* change… just my personal experience.

    The guys in these gangs are connected man, and they can reach out of those bars and walls into the real world. I’d be careful, is all i’m saying. Maybe at least use a P.O. box for the correspondence, instead of giving out your home address…

    just my two cents, and i sincerely wish arturo well.

  2. Jimi Trimble on October 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I think it is good to be carefull when working with addicts. I hope he is being truthfull but alot of prioners do this as a scam. Not saying he is but still the proff comes in the action. If he is truthfull then he should do fine when he gets out. Please don’t take this the wrong way these are only my thoughts. I hope the best for him.

  3. Lars Bergstrom on September 25, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Hello Arturo
    I just checked with the Wikipedia (its like a Internet informationsystem)and I understand you live under some extreme conditions. I qoute “Psychological ImpactPrisoners, lawyers, and Prisoner advocates have argued that SHU confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, due to the severe conditions prisoners are forced to live in. Psychiatrists and psychologists have documented something they call “SHU syndrome,” which affects prisoners who spend more than a few months in isolation. The symptoms resemble those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including hallucinations, depression, anxiety, anger and suicide.”
    Considered that description I,m glad to hear from you here at Lifering. And your letter had a lot of hope for the future. Ill present myself.
    Im just a guy from sweden, 59 years old, been in sobriety for 23 year now. Found Lifering Secular Recovery a couple of years ago and sympatized with the idea that you can get sober from a social support and a understanding of addiction as a vulnerability to exposure from any drug that are potentially addictive. And that the only safe way to handle that vulnerability is to stay clean. There is also a freedom to think and construct your own “recovery” program. So I always keep a healthy contact with other recovering addicts. Just to share my life in some way, and that I will continue to remember that I cant use again due to a problem in my brain ” a vulnerability” as I see it. I got like a memory problem concerning, feelings, thoughts, fysiological reactions and behavior. So I still dream about taking a fix, and also have these longings for alkohol. It doesnt scare me any more, its like a reminder of how deep it has effected my, brain. It has hit my survival system badly. But as long as I dont take a it in my system Im ok, its like a memory of feelings. This usually happens once or twice a year, sometimes more seldom, it depends of the circumstances I live under. During my first year in recovery I had this urge all the time, so its a process to get it out of the system. For me it seems to be lifelong. I try to keep out of trouble, I dont mess with people just for the fun of it. Try to keep in shape fysically and mentally. I always try to keep an open mind, read a lot. I can recommend “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, it relly hit me. Beacuse I had some doubts about this God thing, I found my sobriety in NA and AA. My thoughts are with you and I hope all the best for you and your family.
    Lars B. in Stockholm

  4. Ed on September 22, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Caveat Emptor!