In an effort to amplify the voices of inmates in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center in Evansville, IN, a correspondent for Where the River Frowns sent letters to twenty inmates in early 2018 that explained how they could submit narratives or other written work about the county jail and their experiences there.
The three letters from inmates in this zine were written in response to that invitation. The letters were first published online by Where the River Frowns and were later featured on Kite Line, a weekly radio show about the prison system in Indiana and beyond.
The letters cover a wide range of topics and inmate experiences—addiction, reentry fears, insufficient mental health resources, immigration-related complications, the failure of inmate grievance processes, and the lack of meaningful activities made available to inmates, among others.
The letters come a few months after the state of Indiana cited Vanderburgh County for six code violations in October 2017 related to overcrowding and understaffing. As of this writing, the county is yet to announce a plan to address the violations.
While the mainstream media blasts the sheriff’s talking points pushing for jail expansion and while various authorities strategize about how to further control black, brown, and poor white folks, perhaps letters like these can help to open different conversations—about a world where drug use is approached with harm reduction rather than criminalization, or one in which people regularly meet one another’s emotional and mental health needs instead of mental health crises landing people in the hands of police and in jail, or perhaps a world without incarceration altogether.
Additional submissions are welcome from people who have experienced the violence of policing or incarceration in the Evansville area. Submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current inmates are invited to write to Where the River Frowns, c/o Evansville Letters to Prisoners at PO Box 6263, Evansville, IN 47719. Evansville Letters to Prisoners also accepts donations of paperback books for the jail library and can be reached at email@example.com.
To write to current inmates address the envelope as follows:
Vanderburgh County Detention Center c/o [Inmate Name] 3500 N. Harlan Avenue Evansville, IN 47710