Thanksgiving Letter from Norfolk Jail — Lisa Hartz


It’s Thursday, jail day, only this Thursday is Thanksgiving, so I probably could have skipped it.

I cook every year for my entire side of the family, which is a lot of people. Fourteen this year. Two down from last. This is the first year my parents won’t be making the drive up from Florida. My dad is busy being slowly and cruelly suffocated by Philip Morris. So I had to go see my guys in the jail. These two things are connected in a way I don’t yet understand.

Today, we’re going to read this poem by Abigail Deutsch:

After the Disaster, New York City, 2001
One night, not long after the disaster,
As our train was passing Astor,
the car door opened with a shudder
and a girl came flying down the aisle,
hair that looked to be all feathers
and a half-moon smile
making open air of our small car.

The crowd ignored her or they muttered
“Hey, excuse me,” as they passed her
when the train had paused at Rector.
The specter crowed, “Excuse me,” swiftly
turned, and ran back up the corridor,
then stopped for me.
We dove under the river.

She took my head between her fingers,
squeezing till the birds began to stir.
And then from out my eyes and ears
a flock came forth — I couldn’t think or hear
or breathe or see within that feather-world
so silently I thanked her.
Such things were common after the disaster.

Then, I’m going to ask my dudes to write about someone they are thankful for having encountered. It might be a tiny moment of connection. It might have become a major relationship. Then, they’ll share. They are always so supportive of each other. And they always blow me away with their creativity.

Next, we’ll read Alberto Rios:

When Giving Is All We Have
One river gives
Its journey to the next

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it —

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give — Together, we made
Something greater from the difference.

Then, I’m going to ask them to write from the point of view of someone who is thankful for them.

I don’t know yet that this will draw tears from a young father. The one who took longer than any of them to trust me. Or that I will find myself hugging him and crying, too.  Or that I’ll be typing this the next day through a blur of tears.

The other day on NPR, I heard someone quote a Mormon bishop. He’d said: “Walk with me while I learn.” That’s what this jail thing is about. I’m learning so much as I walk.

It’s important of course to take a moment, and not just on Thanksgiving, to be thankful for what we have. Sure. We don’t do that enough.

It’s also important to be thankful for what we have given. To take a moment to appreciate that our gifts have meaning.

So be thankful today, and consider yourself thanked.

Also, don’t smoke.

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Letter from Norfolk Jail — Lisa Hartz

  1. My name is Elizabeth Simpson Earley, and I’ve been doing some church volunteer work at St. Bride’s correctional center in Chesapeake. A couple of the guys have expressed interest in writing. I heard about your project through Facebook. Just wondered if you had any tips I could pass along to them. I can’t devote the amount of time you do in terms of a class but I thought I could try to draw them out a bit in terms of writing about their lives.


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