Today Helium deleted an article of mine that has been on there since around 2009, with the explanation that is it a knowledge article written in the first person. I'm actually quite pleased, because Helium wont let contributors delete their own work. Given the subject matter of the article, I do wonder if there is some other conservative bias at work, but it doesn't matter. I'm going to post it below, see what you think.
How to make the world a better place using just $100
Though I'm sure many people will be writing from a prospective or hypothetical viewpoint on this topic, this year I have already spent a little over the equivalent of $100 and if just one cent of that goes towards making the world a better place then it will all have been worth the time and effort I have given to it. However, I doubt that I will ever personally see a return on my investment. That's OK with me, just as long as someone somewhere does.
This year I decided that instead of just sending Christmas cards to people I know, both here in the UK and overseas, I would reach out to some people I don't personally know as well. It is an extension of something I took part in last year, a Christmas card circle organised by a lady in Germany, that collects and distributes the names and addresses of American inmates, mostly on Death Row, for those with compassion to send cards to. You can submit and accept as many names as you feel able to deal with. Last year I offered to send 10 postcards to assorted inmates; after writing my name and address (most Department of Corrections don't accept mail without a return address on it somewhere, although you can use a post office box) along with their details on the cards, there really wasn't room for more than a couple of sentences on the cards, so I just put that someone was thinking of them across the miles and that I hoped their holiday season was peaceful.
To my surprise, I received 6 replies. As I already have incarcerated penpals, I had to think hard about the consequences of taking on any more. I made the decision to look up their crimes, which ruled out a couple of them from my own boundaries of people I will correspond with. After some deep thought, I ended up with just one name, who over the past year has turned into a real character and I have no regrets at all about continuing to write to him. It turned out that just before I sent the card, he had been moved off Death Row, and in the past year has managed to make it into the Honour Dorm at his prison. I don't know if I have had any influence in that, directly or indirectly in his behaviour, but we have come to be friends and I know from experience that mail call and dependable correspondence is a useful tool in encouraging an offender to make better decisions.
So this year, I reached out on my own. I offered to send Christmas cards, and also Yule cards to those who do not observe Christmas, to the incarcerated loved ones of several women that I talk to regularly on a web forum. This takes a certain amount of trust on the part of the ladies; to give out the details of their loved ones means that in Texas at least I would be able to look up their crimes as well, and also as a woman myself, there is a worry that a new female writing to a loved one may trigger some romantic interest on the part of the inmate. I understand those worries, because my husband is also incarcerated and I too am wary about giving out his full name and number. But I put the offer out there, and received a good response, amassing some 20 names. To this I added the names of some of the inmates my husband has mentioned over the past year as guys he works with or gets along with, and of course my existing penpals.
I bought cards, none too religious in sentiment or picture, and wrote a few words of encouragement in each. I signed them from both myself and my husband, so there would be no room for misinterpretation of my intentions. The postage came to around the equivalent of $50, so with the cost of the cards on top and the extra small gifts for my penpals, I have spent approximately $100 on making other people's holiday season just a little more personal and brighter.
But it could go deeper than that. Just as dropping a stone into a pool creates ripples, so does the act of giving and passing on a kind thought. If just one of those cards find an inmate on a day when they are feeling forgotten by society, their friends and family at a time of year when traditionally people get together, that card may be enough to keep them from sinking into a depression, giving in to feelings of hopelessness, or attempting to end it all. If one of those cards touches the heart of an otherwise cold man, and is enough to stop him lashing out at a guard for just one day, then perhaps that guard can return to their family at the end of their shift and enjoy Christmas without doing so from a hospital bed. If one of those cards renews enough hope in an inmate to try one more time to contact their own family, or build or mend bridges that appeared to be long gone, then perhaps next Christmas that family will be closer and stronger than before.
The ripples don't end there of course; in a very small but no less important way, those cards have kept people in employment. The artists, manufacturers, paper mill workers, shop assistants, postal workers and mail room staff at the prisons all depend on people buying and sending those cards throughout the year, but in the current economic climate, good sales figures this Christmas may be the make or break point.
So those little cards, this year I hope, will help show the world that someone cares enough to make it a better place.