CIVIL WRITES: Pen Pal Paradox


I lost a lot of money in the last year. Many of y’all can relate. Lay-offs, work shortages and budget slashes hemorrhaged savings accounts. 401Ks were cashed out. Bankruptcy filed. Peter got stuck up to pay Paul.  In true American fashion we too often found ourselves in the red––in debt. Yet there’s a polar difference between my money loss gripe and that of the economic victim: I’m not a victim. The aforementioned aren’t what I’d consider “losing” money. Instead simply surviving in a recession. The money I “lost” was actually at the hands of loved ones who treat jail like a revolving door.

These days my frustration, equally shared between them and myself, is peeking. I’m aware that the system is designed to entrap African-American men. More aware that most convicted African-Americans will be socially and professionally ostracized for the remainder of their lives. But I am aware. Friend and fam, why the fuck aren’t you? Or are you and simply choose to loiter in ignorance’s bliss?

You’re one of my closest relatives, one of my oldest friends; and you’re not only forcing me to witness you killing yourself (dreams, relationships etc) but you’re burdening me. Weakening me even because your cyclical self-deprecating behavior distracts my daily m.o: improve the world first, make a million dollars second. You’re interrupting history, playboy. Despite my benevolence, you’re not welcome on my to-do list. I could be paying an intern or that witch Sallie Mae instead of dropping a thousand on bail or $40 per week on your books.

I also don’t appreciate you giving your street affiliates my cell number. It’s challenging enough to remain a legit black man. I need another street homie like my arteries need a fried Twinkie. By the way I may hate your baby mamma. She’s either begging for shit or bitchin’ that you ain’t shit. I literally don’t have time for this.

My main issue is that it’s all unnecessary. I know your father was a terrible dad but it wasn’t like your mother wasn’t present. Yes, she could’ve done better but now I need you to. If you were stupid I’d accept this. But I know your mind. You’re far from dumb. Even when we both were teens doing dumb shit it was done pretty smart. Dirty urine to your parole officer, though, is dumb. Getting locked on the same charge you beat last year is dumb. Rotting in a penitentiary for a couple years then coming out without a committed plan or coppin’ work in the same area you have open cases is incest retarded.

I’m sure suburbia has a cloud of judgment hung over me right now (whatever). I wrestle with whether I’m enabling or riding true; whether I’m stupidly nursing their stupidity. But I know where my actions are rooted: majority love, minority guilt. See I don’t visit people in prison as a rule, so I overcompensate for my absence. Contributing to my guilt is the fact that many of my friends and fam look to me as a success (Ask me and I’ll tell you I haven’t done anything or just begun––depends on the day). Thus like the absence compensation I’ve birthed obligatory responsibility to loved ones who weren’t as fortunate to know what they wanted early in life. So whether guidance, an ear, a good time, cash, I give it if I have.

Albeit, though I stand for loyalty I march strong for progression. You can’t move forward in a cage, fam. You can’t progress on a hamster wheel, friend. Not only are y’all moving nowhere rapidly, the round and round is slowing me down. Ain’t nothing about this 360 that’s merry. So this is the last stop. I’ll have those sweat suits for you next week. 


Bonsu Thompson has accomplished more in his career than most journalists dream of. The Rolling Stone 2001 “Hot Interviewer” has penned for mags like Details, XXL, Penthouse, SLAM and KING as well as notable brands such as MTV, VH1, Rocawear and Translation.