Issue 492 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I recently had a conversation with my daughter about the state of the world and how depressed I was about the apparent hopelessness of it all. She helped me remember that there have always been elements of good and bad and probably always will be. She told me to pick my battles and reminded me that there are things we can all do to create a better world.

I believe she is, as Howard Zinn writes in “The Optimism of Uncertainty” [October 2016], one of those “young people, in whom the future rests,” who has hope and chooses to continue “endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain.”

Barbie Reed Pownal, Maine

Sparrow’s campaign diary [“Embarrassed to Be an American,” October 2016] had me laughing. He shows a humility, honesty, and self-effacing humor that we desperately need. Like him, I’m embarrassed by what our country has come to. I’d love to talk with him about the U.S.’s supposed greatness.

We have the greatest wealth disparity in the world, and it widens every day.

We have the greatest gun violence of any developed nation, yet we continue to act as if having more guns will protect us.

We have the greatest incarceration rate on the globe and choose to spend more on prisons than on restorative-justice and crime-prevention programs.

We are one of the greatest contributors to the destruction of our planet through fossil fuels, and we consume the greatest amount of the earth’s resources per capita.

I fear how destructive it will be if we elect a proponent of American “greatness.”

Jim O’Neill Metairie, Louisiana

Why have you used eight precious pages for Sparrow’s fake presidential campaign? His silly comments quickly bored me. Two pages would have been enough; the six others could have been filled with more of Howard Zinn’s profound reflections.

Claudine Corbanese New York, New York

From the first time that I read a Sparrow piece years ago to this month’s entry, my reaction has been the same: I don’t get it. This is not interesting, humorous, entertaining, or enlightening; this is boring, childish, and poorly written. Is there some wealthy patron who pays the magazine to regularly publish Sparrow in the hope that one day we will see the light?

Also Hillary Clinton is not from a New York City suburb, as Sparrow claims. She was born in Chicago and lived in the greater Chicago area until she left for college.

John Bridges Quincy, Illinois
Sparrow responds:

When I am asked, “Why did you become a writer?” I always answer, “To generate hate mail.” (Isn’t it interesting that our language has the term “hate mail” but not its opposite, “love mail”?)

I would individually apologize to each reader who finds me juvenile, unfunny, and pointless, but that would be juvenile, unfunny, and pointless.

There is a misspelling on the cover of your October 2016 issue. The error is not attributable to The Sun’s editorial staff, nor to photographer Autumn Lee, but it grates on my sensibilities to see that Cha Cha’s Backyard Garden Cafe & Bar purports to include “DESERTS” on its menu.

Ellen Jamison Centreville, Virginia

I can relate to Stephanie Coontz’s anecdote about cultures where, when husbands find other sexual partners, their wives welcome it [“The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love,” September 2016]. Without emotional intimacy and good communication between partners, it is more difficult for a woman to experience sexual satisfaction. I appreciated everything about my partner except our frustrating sex life. Thus, when he had two affairs, I was relieved that it took some of the pressure off me.

Name Withheld

In response to the insights of Stephanie Coontz I want to offer the following: the Spanish word for wife is esposa. The word for handcuffs is esposas. Thankfully my Argentine husband and I can joke about this.

M.J. Vuinovich Lander, Wyoming

Claire Halliday’s essay “The Possible Universe” [September 2016] was infinitely more interesting than the pieces you typically run. Your decision to print it was gutsy and surprising. Halliday’s essay also makes a fine point: Why would any woman have an affair with a married man? Even if she convinces him to leave his wife and family, she’s getting a cheater.

I look forward to the flurry of protest mail you will receive.

John Mitchell Cedaredge, Colorado

I was disappointed in your selection of Claire Halliday’s “The Possible Universe.” Vulgarity is everywhere these days; why add to it? Please cancel my subscription.

Suzanne Steinhagen Lutsen, Minnesota

You printed Claire Halliday’s “The Possible Universe” with no trigger warning of its content. It caught me off guard and sent me into a tailspin of memories and anger.

It’s a free country, and you can choose to publish whatever you want, but a simple disclaimer would have let me know what was to follow. Instead I read the first paragraph and felt the bile rise in my throat. I closed my eyes and was back in the situations I have struggled to move on from my entire life.

Erotica has a place — a place I choose not to visit. You took away my choice. I would like my subscription cancelled.

Jennifer P. San Diego, California

I don’t know anyone in prison, but The Sun has made me feel like I do. After reading prisoners’ contributions to your magazine, I find I have more empathy for them.

Chris J. Pemberton, who spent more than two years in solitary confinement, became a real person to me when I read his letter [Correspondence, September 2016]. Everything longtime Readers Write contributor David Wood writes — whether about life inside prison or out in the free world — has made me think, cry, or laugh.

Then there was the time that The Sun had to reprint thousands of issues because a prisoner’s life would have been endangered if his Readers Write entry on gang violence had been published over his name [September 2007]. Most recently [September 2016] Ellen Collett’s essay “Undue Familiarity,” about the young felons in her prison writing class, didn’t end happily, but I still learned from it.

These prisoners have gone from being unknown criminals who I glibly think deserve what they get, to actual people who, although they have committed crimes, are human beings just the same.

The glimpses you provide into their lives sometimes make me uncomfortable, but I appreciate that The Sun forces me to sit with that discomfort over and over.

Name Withheld

I am a prisoner who has benefitted greatly from the teachers who have come into the maximum-security facility where I live. As I sat in their classes, I witnessed everything Ellen Collett writes of in “Undue Familiarity”: those manipulative tactics and vile behaviors that frustrated inmates exhibit. The teacher’s attention is held by the loudest inmates. She rarely observes the quieter ones who soak up her every word in their quest to recover their sanity. I’m certain there are a few inmates — perhaps ones she can’t even remember — who would tell Collett that her teaching saved their lives.

Dave Gordon New Boston, Texas

Back in 2000 and 2001, I was incarcerated at Morganton High Rise, the prison Ellen Collett writes about. I wish I could have met her then. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen.

I’m currently in another prison. While doing time, I’ve come across some of the smartest people I’ve ever met: good people who have become lost in the system. Yes, the men inside these walls are criminals who did wrong in society’s eyes, but we are human: someone’s brother, dad, friend, husband, or boyfriend. Instead of condemning us for the things we got caught doing, try volunteering at your local prison, donating a book, or simply corresponding with someone on the inside. You would be surprised at the difference you can make.

Eric Whisnant Maury, North Carolina

Ellen Collett’s essay was fascinating from start to finish, but also the most depressing, dispiriting, and disturbing thing I’ve read in a long time. The decrepit facility, the way our society creates young sociopaths, the attitudes of prison staff, even some of the writer’s own decisions along the way — all were troubling.

Bob Gotch Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Though well written, Ellen Collett’s “Undue Familiarity” was cynical and one-sided. Are those who are paying their debt to society to be viewed as criminals forever?

At the end of her essay Collett portrays these young inmates as incapable of feeling gratitude or compassion. I taught in a state correctional facility in New York City for fifteen years, and my experience was that, despite inhumane conditions, many of my students proved themselves to be resilient, decent, and capable of giving and receiving love.

Deneise Jennings-Houston Arverne, New York
Ellen Collett responds:

In response to Deneise Jennings-Houston, I want to clarify that those inmates were the finest and most disciplined students I’ve ever taught. They inspired and humbled me. After the experience I wrote about in “Undue Familiarity,” I turned down paid teaching jobs at universities in order to volunteer at that prison. I did this for years until the prison closed due to budget cuts.

I hoped to show it was not my students but their teacher whose failings were on display. I agree with everything Jennings-Houston says about our incarcerated students and share her sense of feeling blessed to spend time with them.

What Do You Think? Has something we published moved you? Fired you up? Did we miss the mark? We'd love to hear about it. Send Us A Letter