Missing Issues


My boss (she’s the managing editor) has been receiving letters from a man complaining about his subscription to our publication. He’s missing a few issues. The letters appear to be written on a typewriter, on creamy stationery, signed by a man old enough to have learned cursive when they still gave out grades in penmanship. It’s a lovely signature. The address doesn’t give much away, all cryptic letters and a P.O. box in a city (technically a “home rule municipality”) that has a tilde in its name.

We’re editorial, not subscriptions and customer service, so we don’t usually deal with missing issues. Nonetheless, he contacts my boss after Ms. ___ does not, in his opinion, adequately resolve the problem of the missing issues. Of course my boss will package the books (we typically refer to it as a “book,” not a “magazine”) in a manila envelope, affix a computer-printed address label, and put the package in the outgoing mail stack. When she receives another letter indicating another missing issue, she goes through the procedure again and before you can say “I’m missing the July 2013 issue,” it’s in the mail.

It turns out the letter writer, who has three names, is an inmate at a state correctional facility. He doesn’t hide this fact in the letters, the politeness of which are noteworthy. He’s complimentary, pleasant, and exceptionally eager to receive our publication.

Apparently in the past, there have been issues with our publication and various correctional facilities. Fights have broken out, issues have gone missing. Someone had a Big Idea to provide a free subscription to every correctional facility in the state, but apparently that was too difficult. (I would never object to such a thing and would send my apologies in advance to every poor public defender who would have to represent a client who spent the afternoon reading something in the book that would provide a perfect defense to whatever crime he was accused of but because he stopped reading before finding out that the perfect defense is not available in his present situation would be sorely disappointed when told “no” by his lawyer.) (In my day, and probably days before and since, clients liked to sit in jail, “read the statutes,” and formulate glorious legal theories that would not work.)

I like to know about people and how they work, so what I do is google this guy, who is without question the most enthusiastic subscriber to our publication. The details slowly trickle in: He is eligible for parole in a year that starts with “21.” His mandatory release date is after the year 2300. He is serving approximately 25 sentences ranging from three to 96 years. They’re all based on a single criminal case.

Holy shit, I think. This guy isn’t even eligible for parole for over 100 years. He’s killed people, right? I think of a murder case I was going to work on with the big boss right before I quit my PD job. I’d read the entire case file at my dining room table, eating pumpkin bread and being horrified by the details, yard work and radios and petty theft and quick blows to the back of the head. That guy, if he was found guilty (of course he was, they always were in that horrible red suburban county, but I can’t remember his name to look him up on the Illinois Department of Corrections website like I do with past clients whose names I remember, Facebook for felons), is eligible for parole before 2100. Jerry Sandusky is eligible for parole before 2100.

I can’t help but imagine what happened. What were the facts? Was it a late-night gas station robbery gone bad? A woman hiking with her dog, her ponytail found in the mountains years later? Did he hurt children?

It turns out he set up a computer in a hotel room and printed a bunch of fake payroll checks and sent his guys out to cash them at local grocery stores. He violated the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, a little conspiracy, a little computer crime, a whole lot of theft and forgery. That’s not good, but it’s not coaxing eager children with wide smiles into your rape van or anything.

He’s also looking for a pen pal, on a website, right under a woman with an arm strategically placed over an exposed boob who is looking for sexy photos and marriage. His picture is cropped closely enough that unless you’re looking for it, you can’t tell he’s wearing prison clothes. Likes camping, dogs.

Aside from an appellate opinion affirming his conviction and some mugshots, there’s not much else. He’s just a guy, in a prison, reading stuff.

In any event, it’s nice to know your work is appreciated.