Getting Mail in Prison Means Everything
A letter from Christi Buchanan, who is serving four consecutive life sentences
This piece comes to you courtesy of Prison Writers, an organization that gives a voice to the incarcerated.
Prison Writers “offers uncensored, personal stories and thoughtful essays from incarcerated citizens across the country about what really goes on inside the secretive world of prison corrections.” Learn more and donate at prisonwriters.com.
By Christi Buchanan
I hate mail call. I dread it.
So many people get mail in prison every night, a lot of it. It is a constant reminder of how cut off I am. There are different forecasts for it too. At first, mail call was a time of hope and anticipation. Even though I didn’t get a lot of mail every night, I did get a card or letter every week. I looked forward to it. The forecast was sunny and 70 degrees.
I loved to write letters too. Writing was a vacation from reality, a connection to life and I cherished it. After a while though, the anticipation faded and the number of letters I received decreased. I was still hopeful, still felt connected through those cards and letters, but what was coming in was really slowing down. I even noticed that some of my letters went unanswered. I kept writing though, the forecast was still sunny.
Hope is a fragile thing and I couldn’t take care of it very well. As the years melted away, my connections to people in the real world became thin and fragile. More of my letters went unanswered and what used to be weekly mail call for me was now monthly. Hope and anticipation had been replaced by grief masquerading as disappointment.
I still put on a happy face and showed up for mail call. I would “ooh and ahh” over a friend’s pictures and laugh at something someone’s child drew. It was a social time. A time for connections, just not my own. I didn’t complain about my lack of mail in prison. Secretly, though, I wished somebody would analyze it to death with me, help me pick apart and figure out why no one wanted to connect with me anymore. Instead, I shoved it away and went on. The forecast was partly cloudy with a chance of light showers.
I didn’t realize my “disappointment” had morphed into dread until a friend came to get me one night for mail call and I had to drag myself out there. Every name called felt like I was rolling around in crushed glass. There seemed to be a monstrous spotlight shining on how the years had robbed me of my mail, how time had proven to be too strong an adversary for those I loved on the outside. Their lives continued in a forward motion while mine stood still, locked in place. I could rationalize this easily enough by seeing their busyness (forwardness) as valid and credible. That didn’t help with the sting of loneliness I felt when the last name had been called and I had no mail. Eventually, my letters turned into short, thinking-of-you notes and got farther apart. The forecast called for 100% chance of rain.
Nowadays, if someone comes to get me for mail call, I politely thank them with feigned indifference and go on about the very serious business of watching TV. Occasionally, I will make an appearance, but only when I’m expecting some sort of institutional mail or maybe a Sports Illustrated. The trick is I do it in a bubble of isolated despair, making no eye contact or small talk. I used to listen out for my name from my cell with one ear. Now, I keep my headphones on, more often than not, totally unaware that mail call is even happening.
There is a 95% chance of thunderstorms mixed with severe thunder and lightning and heavy downpours.
Christi Buchanan is serving four life terms in Virginia for helping her husband plan four murders. Her husband, Douglas Buchanan, was executed in 1998.
A NOTE FROM CHRISTI
My name is Christi, I’m 49 and I’m proud of it!
I moved to Virginia when I was a little kid and have been trapped here ever since. I’ve been a resident of the VADOC [Virginia Department of Corrections] since I was 21. And even though I go up for parole every year, my release is questionable.
Over the years I have spent my time working and going to school. I’ve earned several vocational certifications, including CAD (Computer Aided Drafting). Last May I graduated Suma Cum Laude from the community college Wyan Associates Degree.
I am currently working as a Braille transcriber and it is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. We turn textbooks into “Raised Dots” for blind students. I am certified by the library of Congress to do this. I love it! I’m working on my Braille proofreading certification now. If I’m not at work, I’m usually watching “Castle” or listening to music.
I love Jesus and the color green. I think Styx is the most underrated band of the 80’s. I believe laughter is vital and try to do it every day. And my sister is my hero.
WRITE TO CHRISTI
Christi Buchanan #1003054
Troy, VA 22974