In my 20-plus months in prison for this ‘legalization’ offense (to quote DEA head Karen Tandy), I’ve received about 3,000 letters from supporters, 95% of whom I have never met, and responded to about 1,250 of them.
When I was at Sea-Tac in Seattle last year awaiting my sentencing, I received 1,500 letters, and responded, remarkably, to about 700 in six months. Because prisoners at federal detention centers do not get to go outside in a yard, I would use up to five hours a day on writing letters, about four letters a day, but sometimes up to seven letters written in response, or as few as three. Plus I had three hours or more of Corrlinks (prison “email”), and I wrote 15 chapters of my autobiography at Sea-Tac .
I was at Sea-Tac from May 20th to October 18th, 2010. The volume of letters peaked when I received, in one day, 45 letters on my 21st day in solitary confinement (June 25th). In the 21 days in solitary, I received over 400 letters! Catching up was very hard to do!
From October 19th to November 18th I was in transit at the South Nevada Detention Center in Pahrump, Nevada and the Oklahoma City Transfer Hub of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); I received 20 letters and was able to respond to seven letters.
I was at D Ray James Immigrant federal prison from November 18th to April 4th, and received 800 or so letters in that time. I was able to respond to about 400 while there. At DRJ, I had no Corrlinks email, so I spent about four hours a day writing three to four letters a day. I was able to go into the yard for recreation and I had a job at the library pretty well every day for six hours (morning, afternoon, evening) doing legal work for other non-American and illegal immigrant prisoners. I also did a weekly newsletter largely about the ineptitude of the private prison management who ran DRJ. From January to March, 10 issues came out as a blog on CannabisCulture.com and FreeMarc.ca, and a copy of the most recent two or three editions went out to each correspondent I wrote that week.
From April 4th to April 19th, I was back at the Oklahoma City transfer hub on my way to Mississippi. I’ve been at Yazoo City medium-security prison now for nearly seven months (April 20th to present), have received about 600 letters, and responded to only about 160. I know, that’s a drop! And when I don’t write back, I get fewer replies, of course. If I write back, I almost always get a letter in return. My excuse is that I have a music regimen of bass guitar practice that takes up three hours a day, a job four nights a week in the music room, recreation for two hours daily outside, and three hours of email daily – so I have, I admit, only written about two letters a day, but at least they are long, detailed letters of significance!
I hope each of my correspondents that receive a letter from me know it’s personalized, detailed and completely original and unique to that person’s questions, comments and life story. I have received letters from Australia, Norway, Iceland, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Indonesia, Peru, the Philippines, Finland, Russia, Costa Rica, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Norway, but most come from the United States, then Canada. The only negative or hateful letter I have received is from Sara Glatt in Amsterdam, a woman I once gave $4,000 (in 2004) to help her get her ibogaine hospice off the ground again after she was raided by police. That brings to mind the phrase ‘no good deed shall go unpunished’. She’s been ungrateful and vindictive ever since! She wrote me here at Yazoo to say I “deserve to rot in jail”. Whew! Glad it’s just one nasty letter out of 3,000.
I try to answer the serious letters that come to me here, but it’s simply not possible to keep up. Each letter I write takes me about 90 to 120 minutes, is usually four to eight pages long. I simply can’t write a note that says “thank you for your letter”; I try to make it worth their while to get a serious bit of correspondence in return. Besides, if I’m going to write a letter, it’s going to be a keeper.
Sometimes people understand if I only write them infrequently. Len Preslesnik of Holland, Michigan, writes me every day! Len has written me every day for 16 months now! (Len has sent me about 400 of the 3,000 letters.) Not only does he write me a letter, or postcard (always of his hometown Holland, Michigan), every day, but he also includes photocopies of newspaper articles, Larson cartoons, editorials, cartoons, or magazine articles in every letter! Additionally, he decorates each envelope with anti-government slogans highlighted by a brilliantly selected graphic. I have sent home to Jodie 25 or 30 of the best “Len” envelopes so far. I only write Len once every two or three months. He’s fine with that. He sees my blogs and Jodie’s weekly YouTube show, so he’s up to date on what’s going on with me. I read all his letters, clippings, and share them with my cellie (cellmate) Wally. I have to ask Len in my next letter to find out where Ted Rall’s cartoons are showing up and maybe he can photocopy me some of Rall’s latest political stuff. Len used to include Ted’s cartoons in the envelopes I got last year at Sea-Tac, but not so much this past year.
Vivian McPeak of the Seattle Hempfest has organized their volunteers into a prison correspondence unit. Once a month they are going to write a prisoner in the US and try to offer encouragement and greetings. It’s a praiseworthy effort and I was the first beneficiary of their prisoner-letter-writing-bee. I received 14 letters in one envelope, including one from Vivian himself. Vivian is a great activist; the Seattle Hempfest is such a staggeringly large and monumental endeavor, and it has all been done by volunteers for 20 years now. Vivian has been involved in all 20 of these annual events. I know Jodie always feels so welcome when she speaks there on our behalf, and is treated so well by Vivian, Sharon Whitsun and all the Hempfest volunteers.
Sharon wrote me a letter among the 14 I just received, but she also writes me a wonderful, heavily illustrated-with-photographs letter every few months or so. Each one delightfully recounts her most recent adventures as the physical display co-ordinator of Hempfest, or going on zombie walks with her son, or visiting her folks in California, or going to the Playboy mansion in LA at a Marijuana Policy Project wingding. Sharon is a cancer survivor, pulling off a miracle in 2009 and 2010, when it looked like she might succumb to the dreaded killer disease. It’s truly an honour to receive these loving and detailed letters that take me into her life and reality. Her letters and photos are so good I believe I’m there experiencing her life just a bit. The last letter showed in photographs how Hempfest is constructed over a seven-day period, an amazing mechanical and logistical undertaking!
Another remarkable person is Steve D’Angelo of the Harborside Medical Center in San Jose. Steve is on TV these days in a reality show about his state-of-the-art medical marijuana center called WEED WARS, which I hope hasn’t gotten him into trouble with the DEA, although I worry, because a TV show is risky that way. Over the most recent 12 months now, I’ve received probably no fewer than 100 letters from patrons of his dispensary. My understanding is that Steve gives a small discount if you write a letter to me from Harborside; that’s the return address, “2106 Ringwood Ave, San Jose 95131” on virtually every letter I have ever received from San Jose, California! I think Harborside has a giant FREE MARC poster. It’s a terrific gesture of support from Steve D’Angelo to have his clients write me.
Some letters have some built in drama! Earlier this week I received an 18-page letter written over a period of time from grandmother Jessica Thomas of Kansas City, Missouri. On the third page there was a splash of blood on it! While in the midst of writing the letter on her kitchen table, Jessica took her grandchildren outside for a walk and when she returned, a pistol-wielding intruder had kicked in her front door and aimed to take her and the grandkids hostage and rob the place! The assailant cracked the pistol over her head, blood gushing out, broke her arm in a struggle, and Jessica gave several kicks in a fight to the attacker’s groin, whereupon (howling in distress) the attacker fled, empty handed. Her ordeal got covered in the news. In fact, if you Google “Granny Sore Balls”, you can read all about it! What’s really remarkable (aside from the blood on page three, the letter was under her during the struggle!) is that Jessica felt it was the most blessed thing, as neighbours, friends and so many people came by to help and be supportive over the following months. She even held up a sign for a photographer saying “I Forgive You” to the intruder. Her extensive letter was written in five parts over six months.
Many letters I have received, and others I have written in response, have been the springboard for blog essays of mine. I have one correspondent from Ottawa, Canada, who has written me every three weeks or so since 2004 when I was incarcerated at Saskatoon Correctional on a three-month sentence for passing one joint. He includes $100 with every letter (since I’ve been in jail, he sends the money to Jodie to help out), and he offers me brilliant and extraordinary information and perspectives that I have often used in my essays and blogs over the last seven years. He has access to an incredible wealth of material, documents, books, quite stupendous, and he is a brilliant thinker who inspires me with every incredible letter – and I don’t know his name or identity, he always signs off as “A Fan”. For over seven years he has supplied me with inside information, hope, inspiration, and by now, over $6,000 in donations. He reads everything I write, so he’s reading this. Thank you, dear friend; as you know, you’ve inspired me greatly.
I am never short of great reading material. Competing for my time is my daily bass guitar practice, my music studies and Monday night studio rehearsals, three hours of email a day (at $3 an hour!), reading my letters of support, and two to three hours writing letters. I receive roughly 30 magazine subscriptions, some weekly, monthly or bi-monthly, for a total of 50 magazines a month! I read each one thoroughly. I receive MacLeans, Time, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Newsweek, Bloomberg Business Week, Islands, Caribbean Life & Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, Backwoods Home, Wired, Discover, Guitar Player, Guitar World, Bass Player, Premiere Guitar, National Geographic, Guitar Aficionado, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Mad, Rolling Stone, Harpers, UTNE Reader. I get the NY Times daily and I read it thoroughly, although it arrives about four to ten days after it’s issued. I read two books weekly, and I get all 52 different titles of the new DC Comics series monthly, and one or two graphic novels each week!
All the books, comics and magazines I receive get circulated to the other inmates in my unit (120 guys in here) after I have read them. This is important because few inmates get magazines, none get comic books, and few new books ever enter the prison. All the books in the prison library are older ex-library books donated from local church sales and that sort of thing. I try to read any magazine within 48 hours after I receive it.
Supporters have sent me guitar song books, magazine subscriptions, books (they must be from a publisher or online bookshop like Amazon), and I am grateful for all I have received (and circulated to other inmates), but I must especially thank my dear and unceasingly supportive friend Dana Larsen for many magazine subscriptions, all my comics, and most of the books I have! My wonderful wife Jodie has sent me numerous subscriptions and dozens of books also. Thank you to everyone who writes to me and sends support. It makes surviving this ordeal possible.
If you want to write a letter to Marc, read the brief guidelines HERE at FreeMarc.ca and send letters or books to this address:
MARC EMERY #40252-086
FCI YAZOO CITY – MEDIUM E-1
P.O. BOX 5888
YAZOO CITY, MS