My eleventh Christmas in prison

(Editors note: Donny Clark writes letters of thanks to everyone who has supported him during the year. Below is his holiday letter of appreciation)

All my Fifties have been spent in prison. Since November 8, 2000, I have begun my Sixties. It doesn't seem to me that I have spent this much time in prison. I believe, in part, that it's mostly because of people just like you. All of you that have supported me throughout these years in prison with your gifts, such as: books, magazines, photos, letters, visitation, and yes, your own money. Again, my deepest heartfelt thanks to all of you for your continued support.

This will be the first year that I haven't written the Christmas letter. For the last two years I've almost gone to the "hole" because of my Christmas letters. This year Candy and Angel Clark & Kathy and Bill Priesmeyer are doing them for me. Therefore I can't add any personal notes to them. I'm sure you will understand. In 1998 I was charged with having too many stamps in my possession. Since we're only allowed to have three books and I had 350 Christmas letters, you can understand why they charged me. More than three books of stamps are not allowed because some inmates use them for gambling. I purposely bought three books of stamps every week beginning in August and would immediately place them on the envelopes to avoid being charged with too many stamps. In spite of this I was still charged, yet on the testimony of other inmates the staff was convinced that it was an innocent gesture.

Naturally it took a lot of convincing to make these folks believe that I know so many people. But one must consider I was born and raised all my life in Bradenton. I went to grade school there and graduated from high school there. The only time I've been away from Manatee County for longer than three weeks was to go to prison. I must confess... this is no way to get out of town for awhile! But all is well that ends well. I was exonerated of all charges and truthfully do not foresee anymore problems of that nature.

There now appears to be a changing trend to the mindset of mandatory sentencing laws that is giving so many non-violent and first-time offenders extreme sentences like mine. At least it seems to be so, according to the news media and a few decisions handed down in the courts. These facts have given many of us here reason for New Hope.

I'm still working for the recreation department and even now hold a supervisory position. As you know, my job is maintaining the grass, particularly on the football and soccer fields. It's very challenging since we have been limited in the funds necessary to maintain the playing fields properly. Regretfully the funds for all the workers have also diminished.

Thankfully there is a new day tomorrow filled with hope for our future. Lets stay in touch as I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the happiest New Year possible. May God bless you all.

All My Love, Donnie

PS: For those who have asked what the current policy is on what can be sent into a federal prison... Paperback (only) Books- No boxes & only 5 per package Magazines- only 3 per package Subscriptions to Magazines or Newspapers Photographs-any amount, no Polaroid's Currency-cash, money orders, or checks with my name and register number NO STAMPS PLEASE

Build a community

What Donny Clark has done can be done by others. The images of faces around this page express far better than volumes of words that Donny has done his part. Those same faces from his childhood community show us that some communities are involved and concerned as individuals and groups in watching over Donny and the prison that confines him.

People, after all, are the most important. When it comes to showing real care and concern, prisoners like Donny Clark have learned that no prison administrator can be paid to give the necessary love, dedication and encouragement which comes willingly and freely from the prisoner's home communities.

So, prisoners, you must find, name and nourish your people. Likewise, the community outside must learn to value, accept and prepare itself for returning prisoners.

No doubt our children will bear much needless responsibility later as adults for our society's perverted drug war. So, parents, here are a few simple tips, plan now to do your part to develop an embracing community of loved ones, start with your children

Tips for being a better parent while behind bars

  • Establish and maintain a positive relationship with your children's caretaker. Even if your relationship with a spouse has ended, try to find ways to connect with respect for the sake of your children.
  • Establish a plan of how and how often you will stay in contact with your children and follow it.
  • Be prepared to apologize to family and friends in order to establish and maintain strong relationships with them and your children.
  • Take your time. Do not expect big changes from family members right away.
  • As much as possible find ways to support your children emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
  • Be realistic with your goals and expectations. Don't expect too much, too soon from them.
  • Be patient with your children's questions. They might not know how to say what they are thinking or feeling.
  • Talk with others who share your situation, trying to connect with their children behind bars.
  • If you are able, take some time to read about what you want to learn to be a better parent. Check out your unit library or ask the chaplain for books on parenting, family relationships, healthy living, volunteer services.