Dear Society: PLEADING FOR A SECOND CHANCE by Jacob Turner

A JSTOR Access in Prison Second Chance letter about our role in upholding social structures, and optimism from a "man looking for a true second chance."

Dear Society: PLEADING FOR A SECOND CHANCE by Jacob Turner

Author's Bio: I am currently a Field Minister incarcerated in the Texas Department of Corrections. I graduated college in 2021 with a B.S. in Theological Studies from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I now serve in multiple capacities but my primary role consists of helping with day-to-day operations at the college here, especially as a Professor's Assistant.

I would like to pursue a Masters of Arts in Humanities if time and resources permit me to do so.

Dear Society,

I wish we had met on better terms. I think we could have enjoyed a much more fruitful situation than our current arrangement. It's not your fault—I mean, we could look at the minutiae and connect the invisible dots and make a convincing argument that you do in fact deserve much of the blame: after all, your power and influence has no equal. You topple civilizations and dethrone the worthiest of conquerors. How much more then, do you hold the ability to push a naive child like myself in whatever direction you wish. But again, I won't spend all my time in this letter levying blame upon you mainly out of fear that I will further your cause, rearming you for another onslaught. Besides, my hang-up rests not so much in what you've done, but in your obsequious failure, as you have allowed your—our supposed representatives to consistently fool you. And before you tell them they are under attack by some recalcitrant rabblerouser, and word spreads to the donkeys, know that I speak of animals from both sides of the rising river separating the two.

Perhaps I am wrong about you, though. Maybe you didn't mean to treat me this way. So, I'll politely and respectfully offer some suggestions that perhaps you'll consider. See, I'm not as misanthropic and cynical as you thought. First, we would all be better served if you would stop generalizing: we are individuals from unique backgrounds and upbringings with unique experiences. Simply because the majority of our bodies are comprised of water hardly justifies treating us like swimming pools in need of a chlorine cleansing. Then again, maybe I'm the hypocrite here as I pick up the very weapon of Generalization with which I've been so maimed. I realize you can't approach this behemoth in an individualized manner, but surely you can do better than lumping everyone into the same category; surely this "gentrification" of the criminal justice system is not the answer to the racial and socio-economic disparity in American prisons. I know that may come off as un-woke or calloused but I can assure you that if that's your interpretation then you need new hermeneutical parameters. Your utilitarianism is hardly the healing salve we so desperately need. The disparity rests not so much in race or class or even background but in your thinking.

Furthermore, claiming to give people a second chance isn't the same thing as doing so.

Removing the box from job applications is insufficient: you have to take a chance on some of us. Yes, that means there is risk involved. No one really likes vulnerability in the moment but if you'll look back on your life, maybe you'll find that your vulnerability served a purpose and yielded growth. At the risk of sounding redundant, no risk, no reward. True enough, some of us are what you might call the dregs of society. But I'm not asking you to let me come crash on your couch. All I'm asking for is a decent shake at life when I get out of this steel cage: a second chance—not a handout, an opportunity. Let me prove myself.

Third, and perhaps most integral to my argument, the way it stands now, no amount of education will get me into your prestigious club. I may be able to look the part, talk the talk, and walk the walk, but the minute you see the fire burning in my past, my membership is canceled— I'm persona non grata. The price I supposedly paid you all those years suddenly incurs more fees—and I spent all my money trying to grease your already slimy hands. But I guess that's what I deserve for actually thinking you would deal with me as an equal.

"Well," you say, "maybe you can take one of those trades and enter the workforce from that angle." Translation: "We don't want you taking any of the good jobs. Your collar will never be white. Besides, you look better in blue or black anyway, so we're doing you a favor—white dirties much too easily."

Now before you condemn me for pointing out all your flaws without offering any solutions, let me finish. There was a time when I respected you and looked up to you—you could even say that I loved you in a strange and distant sort of way. I want to rekindle that admiration for you, but I need your help in doing so, my friend. Before Socrates drank the hemlock he countered his accusers by pointing out their culpability in alleging that he had led the youth astray—if he had corrupted anyone, and they sat by doing nothing, then blood was on their hands as well. You too must accept some of the responsibility for my misgivings and missteps. But unlike those Athenian rogues, you have a chance to redeem yourself. Teach me how to be one of you; show me how I can contribute: I want to learn your ways! Send an emissary back down to this cave to enlighten me. I have forgotten what the light looks like, but maybe with your help my eyes can be readjusted. Educate me, not in such a way as to keep me in a place of subordination, but to truly each me the knowledge you possess—the knowledge that sets free and empowers; the type of knowledge that pays dividends, that thaws the icy confines of ignorance. I have heard of its fame. I have even had small glimpses of its power in your life. And maybe, as you teach me, I will be able to teach you something also. Well, I hope to hear back from you soon. No matter your decision in this matter right now, I will continue to move forward in anticipation of your change of heart and the second chance I know you yearn to give me.


A man looking for a true second chance

Editor's Note:

The two selections from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary submissions ran in succession for impact. Two programs, same prompt, and two very different interpretations. Yesterday's submission addressed ethics directly (with citations!), and this one more obliquely, with evidence of his humanities education woven throughout. Jacob's the only person who penned a letter, and the novelty immediately drew my interest, followed by his adroit humor.

I chose Jacob's essay for its creativity in leveraging a letter format to speak to us directly, and holding the reader's attention with his "aw shucks" tone - while lambasting these structures we are all responsible for creating and upholding.