Stolen: A Letter from a Prisoner Serving Life without Parole

prison life, life without parole, regret, sin, evil, humanity

Spoon Jackson does not define himself as a murderer, but by what he has done in the days since. How do you see him?

Prison takes people away from our society, presumably to “protect” those of you not in a physical prison. The effect is we are kidnapped from one another, leaving no path of return. No oasis in the desert of punishment to water our souls and hearts to reconnect and redeem ourselves. We were stolen away and encouraged to continue to sink and destroy what humanity we have left. Everything the body, mind and souls yearns for is discouraged and forbidden. We are afforded no light in darkness, unless we each create it ourselves. We are stolen away from dreams, hope, love, sex, peace and understanding. Stolen away from hugs and kisses, good food, family, parks and travel. We are on Mars with no air.

I know you are pondering, who cares about you who took a life? Think of the worst act or wrong you ever did or condoned, consciously or unconsciously. Is that all you are or ever will be? That one moment or few seconds in time. Does that define who you are forever? Over and over again.

I am not a broken record or repeating video or news reel that keeps committing murder. It happened once, in another life time, 35 years ago and I took responsibility then, broke down and rebuilt myself. Don’t keep pouncing or harping on the fact that I took a life. It happened 35 years ago to an unenlightened, ignorant youngster, not one moment ago. Find some real reason to hate me. You do not know me now. You don’t know how deep and broadly I have suffered. Come look me in the eyes, heart and soul, then tell me I’m a murderer. This life—my struggle—is not TV, a movie, or a computer game.

I am a human being not unlike yourself. You could be me and I could be you, with one foot in darkness and one foot in the light. Yes, I killed, I was a murderer, and that one sad fact took only moments, and at that moment I was a murderer. Yet, that does not define who and what I am forever. If it did, every second I would be taking a life, every day, eternally.

The tragic deed broke my heart, spirit, and soul, and sent me tumbling. There is no pleasure or honor in the loss of life. Thick fog is forever dwelling in my heart and soul. I was broken, and felt every emotion and state one feels who has done a grave wrong. I experienced deep painful remorse, guilt, shame and sadness. I had to let go. Otherwise, I would have killed myself, by committing suicide to get from under this LWOP death sentence.

This unjust sentence serves no purpose for my victim or for me. Yet, some force inside me told me that to kill myself would be wrong and grave, as well. I wanted to live and pay my debt to society, if there truly was such a thing. I wanted to live and serve others and also forgive myself and others. To be of service was the only way to honor the life I took, and heal what can be healed. Let me out of prison or don’t let me out: no one can take that realness, connection, and truth away. No one can take away the healing I created with Mother Earth and the universe.

Your heart and soul know that people change, grow and learn how to balance their walk in shadow and in light. As time rolls on we learn to keep both darkness and light peaceful. No one must forgive me or my deed. It was hard to forgive myself for what I did. Yet, I forgive you for however deep or shallow your wrong was. I forgive you for not forgiving me. What heals best in the universe is forgiveness and love. You cannot love one another by hating. Forgiveness is a healing force, that is often stolen from us by politics, economics, hate, and revenge. You don’t condone a killing by forgiving and allowing second chances. Forgiveness is expansive and inclusive.

What have I been doing for most of my 35 years in prison? I am a mentor and teaching artist. I am a native flute player, poet, writer, and actor. Look into my eyes, heart and soul this moment and ask me about me, and not about that broken moment. I cannot bring my victim back or make things whole or right by dying in prison. I cannot twist time like silly putty, no more than you can fix the hurt I caused. I am who and what I am now, this moment. Love me, forgive me or hate me, even hang me. Hang that part of me in you that you despise so much.

You want me to suffer and when I have for over 35 years, that is not enough. Would my death be enough for you? Does anyone truly know what he or she will do at any given moment? Nothing human is foreign to any one. Look with your realness. If I have forgiven myself, who are you to not forgive me?

I am truly sorry for what I did. I am trying not to rant here, but to engage in dialogue. There must be a path, a way to exchange ideas and growth across and beyond walls. We must be able to reconnect and together inspire others, particularly youth. We must inspire them not to be stolen away from one another, family and friends and society. There must be a way back home.


Spoon Jackson

April 24, 2013


Read more from Spoon Jackson in Poet Behind Bars on The Good Life.

Image credit: pedrosimoes7/Flickr

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About Spoon Jackson

Poet/writer/artist/teacher. In prison since 1977. I had two books published in 2010 “Longer Ago Poems by Spoon Jackson” and “By Heart Poetry, Prison, And Two Lives”, a double memoir by Judith Tannenbaum and me. I've been featured in films, plays, articles, books and music suites. I've found my niche in life despite being in prison for over 35 years. I have found that prisons are created internally and are truly found everywhere. I have also discovered that the secrets to break down prison walls are inside each person and I treasure sharing this realness with people. I keep my light glowing through expressing my inner thoughts, vibes and feelings in my poetry and prose writing. Write to me! Address on the blog: Spoon Jackson Realness Network.


  1. Spoon, you have made a great case for forgiveness. It asks that we reach into ourselves and heal the pain and set people free. There is someone I need to forgive, but I am not there yet. Reading your article means I will continue to make my way to forgiveness.

    Best to you Spoon,

  2. Christine says:

    Thinking here that most of us have said, “if I could turn back time.” But, you have learned, today is the gift. This insight is enlightenment many who live outside of walls have yet to comprehend. Here’s to a life well lived and a world without human cages. Keep writing, Spoon.

  3. Dear Spoon,
    Thank you for this wonderful piece. It’s a reminder for all of us to have compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. And, as you rightly said, these mistakes don’t define us. What they do is teach us. They teach us how to do and be better, and they also teach us that we don’t have complete control over events and outcomes. Most people assume that they have control over their lives. I believe this is an illusion. A multitude of unknown factors influence our worldview, thoughts, decisions, actions, and circumstances.
    Taking a life was one mistake you made in a long ago moment, likely brought about by a convergence of many factors. The repercussions of that action are still felt by you and others, no doubt. But, I don’t see you as a murderer; I see you as a learner and a teacher. Clearly, you have gained a lot of wisdom over the past 35 years, and you share it through your writing and activism.
    Only someone with an open heart can create the beautiful poetry and prose that you do.

  4. Dear Spoon,
    Truly my heart goes out to you. I’m 80 and one of the facts about life that I’ve come to realize is that life is incredibly unfair. And that it takes a lot of luck to get old. My wife and I live near Boston, but I’m now in Omaha and in a Barnes and Noble working on a book I hope to self-publish before the year is out, “The View From 80”
    Stay alive and looking forward with some hope,


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