The Letter Sessions: Dealing with loss from inside a cell

prison letter
Written By Rdap Dan

Welcome to The Letter Sessions with Federal Prison Consultant, Dan Wise, and life coach, Jenny Good.


During Dan’s time in federal prison, he wrote a letter every day. He often wrote to his significant other, Shelly, but he committed to documenting his journey in writing, even if he wrote to himself. The Letter Sessions are weekly installments during which we share one of Dan’s letters and an interview where Jenny asks Dan questions to gain deeper insights about his thoughts and feelings during confinement. The Letter Sessions are raw, vulnerable glimpses into what one man’s federal prison journey was like, and how life continues to unfold after his release. If you’re curious about what happens inside the mind of a federal inmate, this is for you. Grab your drink, pull up a comfortable chair and join us on Fridays for The Letter Sessions.

That was then…

Hi Shelly,

I am writing you this as I am not sure if I will be able to send it out to you. This process of us being able to talk is taking forever. If we could email each other it would be way better. That way I could tell you how much and often I am thinking and dreaming of you. Your mom has been great. She sends me pictures and cards from the animals all the time. Oliver is the star of my cube. That pink piggy nosed little dog is freaking cute.

Kiki girl is doing well. Lisa said her bf Brad has attached himself at the hip to her. Brings her everywhere, makes all her food, and gives her the medicine daily. He sleeps with her at night. So for now I know she is in the best hands she can be. She gets tons of affection.

Man, I wish we could talk already. I want to hear from you yourself about how it is there. I am sure you are doing good with all things considering. I am in school now for GED. I took science, social studies, and language pretests last week. I needed a 410 and got an average of 660 or 680. I forget. I take the pre math test tomorrow, Wednesday 10/29/14. If I pass it, I take my GED test on 11/5 or 6 next week. Be great to pass that and be done.

Other than that, I work out a lot!!!!!! From 7:30 am until 10:00 am. I take either yoga, spin, or a circuit class, then run from 8:45-9:45. Class is from 12:00-1:30pm. Come back, shower, and read. After dinner I walk the track about 15 times with a few laps ran instead of walked. I skip breakfast and lunch. For breakfast I make a small cup of honey oat clusters-granola with peanut butter and mix in water like an oatmeal. For lunch I eat 1 tuna pouch with hot peppers, olives, and MAYO :). For dinner I eat whatever they have here. I eat ¾ of my tray. Nothing past 6pm. Sunday is my cheat day. I have cookies soaked in MILK :). My weight was around 220 when I came. I am down to 195-ish now. Trying to get under 190. From there, who knows. My arm is healing well, I think. I just started doing pull ups and push ups with it. It’s weak as shit, lol. Beard is gone. I took pictures last Sunday. Once we can talk I’ll send it to you. You should do the same. I miss you so much. I can’t wait until we are under the covers with all the animals. In our new home in NC :). I had a great dream I saw you in here. You had a snow hat on and then took it off. You had the prettiest smile of all the girls in the land. 🙂


This is now…

Jenny: It’s obvious you were really missing your pets at that time. Tell me a little about your pets, what arrangements you had made for them and what that was like.

Dan: When I went into prison, we had Einstein, Oliver, Kiki the dog, Kiki girl, Kiki man (which is the cat), Shiloh, Rambo (which was the other little cat) and 2 ferrets. Shelly took some of them to her mom’s house prior to Shelly going to prison. She drove them from Florida to Washington. That was like a week-long trip with Shelly, cats, dogs and ferrets, to get them to her mom’s house. Kiki girl, the little dog, had a lot of health problems. She was so ill that she needed her food to be blended in a food processor to avoid coughing episodes. She needed special care and she was getting old, so we found a friend to care for her. Shiloh went to another friend’s house, where there were other cats to play with. Our animals slept with us in bed and were part of our family, so it was hard. Kiki died a couple of weeks before my release. Shelly was able to see all of our pets before they passed away, after she was released from prison.

Jenny: How was it communicated to you that one of your pets had passed on?

Dan: I think it was in a letter that Shelly told me about Kiki passing. I was in the halfway house when Rambo ran away.

Jenny: How did you cope with hearing such sad news while you were incarcerated or in the halfway house?

Dan: It was definitely hard. I dealt with it well, as far as not blowing up. I felt like my not being able to be there was one of the consequences for doing something that resulted in my going to federal prison. I was angry at myself for allowing myself to be put in that position.

Jenny: Unfortunately, some of our readers may face getting difficult news while incarcerated. Do you have any advice for them?

Dan: Yes. Talk to other inmates in there with you… people you really trust, and let them know what’s going on with you. Otherwise, people might joke with you or act in ways they wouldn’t if they knew you were going through something. Keeping it bottled inside you and not telling anyone can easily lead to you getting violent or otherwise getting yourself in trouble. Also, try not to focus on how unfair you think a situation is. Keep it in perspective by reminding yourself that your choices put you in prison so you have to deal with the consequences. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality. Document the bad feelings you experience in relationship to that. Having that to read later will probably help you avoid ever returning to federal prison again. I know it has helped me.

Jenny: Writing to Shelly was important to you, and I know you two had been together for some time before you were both put into federal prison. Was there a concern about the relationship not surviving the ordeal of both of you going to prison?

Dan: Yeah, there was that concern. As we were going through all the things leading up to us entering federal prison, we were doing that together but also going our separate ways mentally. We initially thought I would serve a lot more time that Shelly would serve. We didn’t know how it was going to end. We tried to act like everything was okay. We didn’t really talk about the fears of the relationship ending when we went to prison, but the worry was there.

Jenny: How important do you think these letters were to Shelly and you staying together?

Dan: The letters were important. I’d say at least 90% if not more of the reason we stayed together were the letters.

Jenny: What inspired you to take the GED classes.

Dan. You don’t have a choice; the prison makes you take your GED. I probably would not have done it if I wasn’t made to do it by the prison. The timeline for GED testing varies. You take a ore-test first and then you take the actual test.

Jenny: Are the classes 1-on-1 or in a traditional style classroom?

Dan: The teacher was another inmate, in a traditional style classroom. The actual testing was carried out by an administrator. You use the same type of books you would in a regular classroom.

Jenny: What are your educational goals now?

Dan: I have a few educational goals. I want to do life coaching and I’m interested in degrees in chemical dependency or psychology… anything that can help me serve our clients.

Jenny: If you could give the former you, when you were a federal prison inmate, advice, what would you say?

Dan: I actually think I was in a better state of mind while incarcerated than I am now. Reading the Tony Robbins book and the Bible while I was in prison really helped me live every day, the way I should live. The me now gets distracted sometimes, and I could probably take a few tips from the incarcerated me.

Jenny: If someone does not have a significant other to write letters to, what should they do?

Dan: Write. Just write the letters every day. There were times I even wrote to myself. If you’re single, you can write to your family or yourself. The point is to create written logs to remind you, when you are free, of what you went through. Humans have a tendency to sort of blot out how bad something was, when they’re no longer in that situation. Having those letters to look back on keeps your perspective in reality. I truly believe the letters help people to not return to prison.

Dan Wise Federal Prison Consultant



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