Growing up, Tea Ingram and her peers started to write letters to their friends who were incarcerated to update them on current events. This became a passion of hers, and she started “Just Write,” a program for people to write letters to the incarcerated members of their community to help them know their worth and that they are loved.
“We want them to remember what it’s like to be free, and to be connected, and to be cared for because that’s the history of our communities. We connect, we care for each other. So I do want to remember that they have a community waiting for them.”
Tea created “Just Write” in Bronx, New York, to reach out to incarcerated members of the community. The video opens with her writing a sign in her studio overlooking the New York skyline and streets.
Tea Ingram: I grew up in public housing. And I saw at a very young age that a lot of my friends that I was hanging out with were being incarcerated. They were going away for really long lengths of time. And a bunch of us just decided that by the time they got home, they would have forgotten everybody and everything. So we started writing to them and updated them on the community and what was happening while they were gone. And that’s really how “Just Write” got started.
The group sends letters and birthday cards for support and encouragement. Tea is shuffling through letters from inmates and reads some lines from one.
Tea reading a letter: Hello, coach Tea and friends. I actually thought it was the nicest thing ever to open up these community cards. Even though I don’t know y’all or any of these individuals, I felt like I knew them. I felt like I was a part of a family. I wish I knew y’all — like really knew y’all. I wish I knew what y’all looked like. I wouldn’t mind being on your monthly list to write back — I get bored in here sometimes. Much love.
Tea sets up a writing station for the group.
We are living in these communities together where an alleged crime was committed, right? Your family member did something. I mean, you have to be in that same community every day. People see you, people know you, people attach you to that situation. So it makes you want to forget the situation, which ultimately makes you want to forget the person.
Shame and stigma is what keeps us from writing our loved ones. It’s what keeps us from going to see our loved ones. I literally want to show you that you can sit down and spend some time writing and it will make a difference for folks who are incarcerated. We get a lot of responses back. We have people telling us, “I haven’t got a birthday card in years;” or, “I haven’t gotten a mother’s day card in years, so thank you guys so much.”
The amount of gratitude that comes out of these letters, it’s powerful — but it also makes me sad sometimes because it means that they’re not used to that love, that understanding, and that compassion. I just want folks to feel seen. I just hope that they feel as though, “Okay, somebody out there remembers me;” or, “Somebody out there is expecting my return.”
Tea and others are writing letters.
So “Just Write” is designed to be sort of a festival of love and memories and words and creativity. And then when we’re in this space together, we’re sharing about our loved ones — not about what happened or why they’re not here, but just who they are, their challenge, their skills. What we remember about them. What we can’t wait to do with them when they return, because they’re coming home. We want them to remember what it’s like to be free and to be connected and to be cared for because that’s the history of our communities. We connect, we care for each other. So I do want to remember that they have a community waiting for them.