Letters from a prisoner

by d Saturday, Nov. 16, 2002 at 8:29 PM

The following letters are from Peter Schnell, one of the Santa Cruz 2. This is being posted with his approval, in hopes that you’ll read his letter and be inspired to write and support him. Writing to prisoners is one of the most gratifying activities I’m involved in because I feel that I’ve made a tangible improvement in someone’s life. If you all have responses to his letters, post them, I’ll send then to Peter.

The following letters are from Peter Schnell, one of the Santa Cruz 2. This is being posted with his approval, in hopes that you’ll read his letter and be inspired to write and support him. Writing to prisoners is one of the most gratifying activities I’m involved in because I feel that I’ve made a tangible improvement in someone’s life. If you all have responses to his letters, post them, I’ll send then to Peter.

Here’s a link to info on his case: http://spiritoffreedom.org.uk/prisoners/sc2.html

Letter #1 from Peter (there are other letter(s) that were sent out that John Doe didn’t receive.)

September 23, 2002

Well, I’m so excited to finally have a definite address to write to you at. I was really getting worried that I was never going to have a proper address to send a response to all your wonderful mail I’ve received thus far. Well, great, now I can give you the big THANK-YOU that you deserve and I’ll know that you’ll receive it even, excellent!

So, it sounds like your quite the nomad and don’t even sound too settled out there in [town, usa] but understand your purpose and what you could possibly give to the community there and even what you could possibly learn from or benefit from however short or long your stay might be out there. By-the-way, where exactly is [town, usa]? It certainly sounds familiar but I can’t quite recall why it even sounds familiar let alone where in California it is located.

You asked me how long until freedom, well, honestly it’s no large stride for me to tell you that this is freedom, right here, right now, sitting on my bunk in my cell, incarcerated in this institution. Freedom must first come from within until one may experience any physical wildness or freedom that I think you were referring to. I’ve actually come to the most solid connection with this inner freedom after reaching such a focused, centered position in my life during this incarceration, a position that is only growing and ever-growing even thanks to this solid discovery and connection I’ve come up with, with my inner-self and the inner-freedom within. Though let me stop getting philosophical for a minute to tell you my release date which is the information you were really looking for – weren’t you? :)

Well, my release date from the Bureau of Prisons is August 27, 2003 but if all goes well I should be back home in the Santa Cruz area in a half-way house by May 27, 2003 where I can do the last three months of my sentence in a place where the conditions are a lot less restrictive, so, we’ll see how the next few months play out and I’ll probably have a much better idea how much longer I’ll be here by the beginning of December.

Am I making friends? Well, you’ll probably get me to touch on that subject a lot more in letters to come throughout our correspondence because I’m asked that often and it’s a subject that’s on my mind often because of the fact that friendship has really adopted a new definition within these walls. To answer your question quite directly without getting into my thoughts on the subject. I generally keep to myself which seems to be the best strategy around here with all the hatred and anger amongst certain cliques and gangs around here. Although there might be a few different guys in my different classes that I’ve come to meet that I enjoy talking to and I get along really well with my cell-mate which is a big plus. There are two guys I really feel like I can relate to and really do enjoy their company but like I said before, for the most part I try to just keep to myself or maybe it just works out that way for various reasons. It’s really quite an experience to be around the mainstream day in – day out who’ve never heard of something as extreme as veganism or who’ve never met such an opposition to things like capitalism or objectifying women which are the three most popular debates I get myself into. Honestly where else would you get a chance to have such discussions on a regular basis other than maybe if you were living on a college campus but I still don’t think that example is of much comparison for various different reasons.

How’s the support, you asked? Oh, absolutely amazing. The mail I receive on a weekly basis is so overwhelming its incredibly hard to keep up with which is definitely not a complaint, quite the opposite actually. I’ve received some of the most wonderfully uplifting letters and have developed some incredible correspondences with supportive, like-minded individuals like yourself from as far away as Tokyo and as close by as New York City. It’s so true that situations of struggle have such potential to strengthen the tie that binds strength and love within any one community. Situations of struggle can also strengthen the love within any one relationship even. Thinking specifically about how my relationship with my family has only grown and absolutely strengthened since day-one of this saga of mine. Its strange how sometimes we even take some of the most important aspects of our life for granted like family or true, undisputed love let alone some of the smallest things in our life, also full of life, like sunset and sunrise which are also taken for granted often enough.

So, not only have I received such incredible support from my friends & family but also from the whole earth and animal liberation community in general which has all made such noticeable contributions to my inner-strength which is really what I have to help me carry on above all, when it comes down to it really.

So, you said something about getting together with “the native people” out there to organize some workshops on primitive living and how to develop some of the skills needed for such lifestyles. Well, that sounds super interesting, so, I hope you keep me updated with all that and good luck with it all, man!

Well, I appreciate the catalog you sent me and the offer you made me to pick some reading material from the list that you’d be willing to send me. Well, I’m all about opening my mind to new ideas, philosophies and ways of life but I’m only allowed so much stuff in accordance to the amount of space in my cell I’m allowed to use for personal items and I really have so much reading material I haven’t looked at yet, I probably shouldn’t ask for more or at least not at this point. Although if you do have a spare copy of that book Evasion that CrimethInc puts out I think that’d be a great read, considering the circumstances and I’ve always wanted to read that book and if you had a copy of your zine Disorderly Conduct to send with it that’d be a hell of a package to receive. And I’m pretty sure I saw both those items on the list you sent me. Thanks so much ahead of time!

Thanks for everything, John Doe, take care of yourself and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

This is our strength,


Letter #3 received (number 2 was 1/3 eaten by a mail machine)


John Doe,

Well, I feel honored that you felt so comfortable to get as personal with me as you did in your last letter. I really appreciated your honesty and apparent sincerity, it seems as if more often than not people in general are afraid to open up which leads to phoniness and insincerity. I love it when I’ll get an initial letter of support at mail call from someone looking to open up correspondence with me and their introduction seems so personal as a correspondence would be with a friend I’ve known for years.

I’m sorry about your loss, John Doe, my best wishes are with you and your family in hopes y’all are dealing with the loss of your sister. It did seem though as if you were dealing with it all surprisingly well and I admire you for that. You said she was 23 when she died and I wonder if she was an older or younger sister and how old you might be.

I must say I do share your frustrations that you expressed in your last letter about the current state of the progressive community and the state of the nation as a whole. As well I’m glad we’ve opened up such a forum to vent about our respective current situation in hopes for feed back from a like-minded individual as we are, so it seems. Your writing also opened me up to things I’ve never really thought about and I must say just overall I really found much inspiration in much of your writing throughout your last letter. Gosh, I wish we could just sit down and have a nice long conversation. I think we’d have a lot to share and learn from each other, I really admire your motivation and see a lot of the same type of motivation and will to fight in myself which is why I truly look forward to the day we can just sit down and share, my friend.

Yes, I received Evasion courtesy of CrimethInc but mostly due to your thoughtful donation and gesture, so, such a book could be as well received as it was. And I also received the package you had sent me containing Disorderly Conduct a very informative and well written zine I must add which I talked about in my last letter to you which I’m assuming you didn’t receive until after you sent your last letter I’m now responding to. Well, nevertheless, thanks again for the book and the zine, they were both well received, I really appreciated them.

I had never read Evasion before but I had been meaning to for quite some time now and figured this would be a great time to read a book like that to get me dreaming and provide a nice escape. But after reading it I must agree with you that the “CrimethInc games” and adventures and endeavors ventured into throughout the Evasion book can only be for the privileged. As I was reading about some of the certain scams and survival techniques it would dawn on me that these things would not be as successful as they were if the one who was taking such initiative was black or Hispanic or just, not white. I don’t think this realization takes away from the righteousness of such a lifestyle. I mean they’ll always be something to say about completely removing yourself from society, find alternative ways to survive whether your environment continues to be a civilized atmosphere in a city perhaps or if you’ve ventured into the wild in company of other like minded individuals. Even though most CrimethInc adventures seem to occur in the civilized world so maybe the latter does not apply. Although due to the romanticy of it all and how foreign such a lifestyle is to the general public that Evasion glorifies I’m not exactly sure how revolutionary it all is. I’m probably just as interested in traveling by alternative means as the next free spirited individual and as I reminisce on some of my hitch hiking trips and other such travels by way of freight train even I’m more than looking forward to the day that I can celebrate life in such a way again. Although I see it all as more rebellious and looking for a real quality in life and trying to get the most out of it all, I really don’t think it should be looked at as a form of revolution or as steps toward “smashing the state”. In a lot of ways all that is just making excuses for trying to live as free as possible and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Such a personal revolution is definitely righteous, there’s no doubt. We need numbers though, we need to organize communities, let the public understand that to uprise does not necessarily mean to riot or to take to the streets at all. It can just be to start questioning and beginning to take a neutral stance and be a conscious observer of all that goes on around you. It’s almost as if the general public is afraid to question the powers that be. Nature is no longer looked at as such, instead we see it as a resource or just merely an obstacle. Democracy whatever that was is now a plutocracy, truly and absolutely. Racism is more existent now then it’s ever been, it’s just behind closed doors, corruption is more existent now than it’s ever been just behind closed doors now as well. So many doors need to be opened we all have keys too and not just us the progressive minded of this country and even the world but the general public that we insist on alienating.

Well, I guess everyone has there place in the progressive community, some will organize, some will be more active than others, some are lawyers or doctors, some are in prison hoping to inspire those who are not in such writing and strength that helps them carry on. Then some are the hobos and travelers of the punk rock and/or the progressive community who’ve refused to take part in the system that exploits, slaughters and discriminates against all that we love.

Personally I’m not exactly sure where I fit in, I do know it’ll probably be close to some type of community organizing/activist than anything else. I love to write, so, I’m hoping to apply that somehow to the struggle overall. I plan to travel far and wide but as a way of enjoying life and trying to take in all it has to offer and all this world has to offer not as a way to remove myself from society – ya know?

I think it is important for us to get frustrated about all that we witness that may be news or something that may be news or something that’s always been occurring and it’s unfortunate continuation is what frustrates us. I think frustration should only spark new passion and rage, formulate new ideas and give you reason to push on and fight for a better world. What we can’t let frustration do is lead to discouragement because that’s not going to get us anywhere, personally I know that’s easier said than done but frustration is only a benefit to the struggle if it sparks new motivation instead of new discouragement. If I can make some lasting impact on this world in my attempts to let love and wildness rise, through whatever means necessary, I’ll die with a smile on my face, I know that’s what I need to do, just continue to organize and outreach.

My folks came up to visit me last Thursday and I must say that their support has been so overwhelming it’s melted my heart. We may not have had the best relations when I was growing up because of the direction I took and how different we’ve proven to be but I love them more than anyone or anything in this world and their visits no matter how short or long they are mean so much to me, more than they’ll probably know. Well, I ended up expressing such frustration that I talked of earlier and a kind of what you expressed in your letter which never gets anywhere positive because they’re to the point it seems where maybe they understand my frustration and possibly even stay open to what I have to say, maybe even agree with me at points but it doesn’t motivate them per-se but however it does worry them because they feel the more frustrated I get the more prone I am to end up back here, in prison, which is obviously not necessarily true. It’s just hard because of how different we are as people but get how close we are as people as well. I know they only want the best for me, I just wish they’d understand that the best for me and true happiness can only come through sincerity, I gotta be me but yet I’ll always be there for them no matter what. They really are such good people.

My father might be one of the kindest, gentlest, forgiving persons I’ve ever met and there’s really no limit to his patience, which is certainly a quality I wish I had. I really don’t have that much patience but I’m getting better at that. And my mother is also such a kind person and so very thoughtful, nurturing and so caring. So, with these wonderful qualities how could I have a problem with our differences, so, I hope the day will come soon that they’ll stop worrying about me so much because I’m not changing, this I know but we’ll always be family, that’s forever as well so we have to be more accepting.

Oh, about e-mailing one of my letters to Spirit of Freedom – I’m fine with that, that sounds like a good idea, I’m all for ways to make more pen pals especially since unfortunately the amount of mail I’ve been receiving has been dwindling. So, thanks ahead of time, it was a very thoughtful gesture. Now you have a few to choose from as well.

Well, I think I’m going to bring this to an end about now, do a little reading then start this writing assignment I have due for my writing class that’s held (sp?) every Friday night.

Thanks for everything, John Doe, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your wonderful mail and support that you’ve shown me over the past, well, I’m not sure how long we’ve been corresponding, well, quite a few months anyhow. I hope someday I can receive one of your infamous hugs, I think that’d mean a lot to me.

Oh, talk more about Hawaii – when’d you move there? What inspired you to move there? I have a really good friend I’m in touch with that moved to Honolulu a few years ago and she seems to really like it.

My friend, this is our strength,


Peter Schnell

Reg. # 99476111

FCI Otisville

PO Box 1000

Otisville, NY 10963

Original: Letters from a prisoner