It’s The Clothes That Make The Man

He is being released from prison after 5 and 1/2 long years. Years that seemed like an eternity to his family.

We receive the “prison clothing form” in the mail 4 weeks before his get out date.

For those of you that haven’t reached this stage yet, on this form you list “exactly” what “get out of prison” clothing you are sending to your loved one. No more, no less, exactly!.  Blue jeans, black t-shirt, white socks, black belt, black running shoes. You enclose (in this case, the goldenrod copy of the two page clothing form. You keep the pink copy for yourself.) And then you mail the package.

The package of clothing that you’ve probably had boxed up and ready for so long that you’ve had to dust it off a few times before that clothing form ever arrived in your mailbox. The clothing that your loved one has requested, clothing that will make him feel like a free man, for the first time in 5 1/2 years when he walks out of those prison gates. For some it’s brand new clothes, for others it’s a favorite old T-shirt or broken-in jeans.  Whatever it is, the saying that “clothes make the man”, will never be more true than in this instance. Those clothes, whether new or old favorites, bring your loved one back into the real world, it puts them back amongst the living.  They’re given a renewed sense of dignity, a feeling that they are once again a person with a name, an individual, no longer just a number in a khaki colored jumpsuit.

So, you track the package on USPS.  According to tracking it arrived at the post office two days after you sent it. During your weekly prison call you inform your loved one that his long anticipated “get out” clothes have arrived at the post office. It’s finally sinking in, he is getting out.

But, during your next weekly call you find out that the clothes have never been received, the prison mailroom says they don’t have any package. The plain brown paper wrapped package that was supposed to bring your loved one back to life is missing, disappeared.

Give it time you say, maybe it’s been misplaced, these things happen.  Two weeks later, it’s still AWOL.

You wonder how it is that you’ve sent weekly letters and  packages for birthdays and holidays for 5 1/2 years and not one has ever been lost by the postal service and yet now, the most important package your loved one has ever wanted in 5 1/2 years, has turned up missing.

Get Out Day is fast approaching. This missing package may not be important to anyone at USPS or at the prison, but it’s important to me, it’s important to the family member who is getting out.

I contact the prison, they verify, no package ever arrived. “Don’t worry”, they tell me, “we’ll supply some kind of clothes for him to leave in, alot of inmates don’t get clothes sent to them.”

That’s just sad I think to myself. But I want my loved one to walk back into life with decent clothes, not prison hand-me-downs.

I call the Post Office where the package supposedly landed. I talk to multiple people, get put on hold multiple times while searches into dusty back corners of the post office are conducted. “Nope, it’s not here” I’m told.  Something is mentioned about a missing tracking number, maybe something not getting scanned, perhaps it didn’t get taken off the truck, maybe it’s at another location.  When I mention that USPS tracking shows that it did arrive at the Post Office, I’m told that that doesn’t necessarily mean that it did. (And so the point of tracking is what?)

Getting nowhere, I call the USPS customer service line.  “I know this means nothing to the USPS”, I tell the woman on the phone,” but this is my loved one’s “getting out of prison clothes”, it’s important that we find this package.” I am way past the point of being embarrassed or ashamed to say my loved one is in prison, prison has made me stronger and I’m on the outside!  I get teary eyed when the first USPS worker I’m connected with tells me that she completely understands, she has a nephew in prison, she gets the importance of the clothes. She helps as much as she can and moves me up the chain of command. I repeat my story to the next senior USPS worker and she tells me she understands the urgency in locating the package. Her own son, a teen when he went in, is getting out of prison in July. She gets the importance of the clothes.

An investigation is started, USPS from both east coast and west coast are searching for this package. Consumer Affairs in two different states are contacted, they make calls, they determine the package was picked up by the prison courier the day it arrived at the post office, but where it went after that, they have no idea.  “Do you mean it might have been stolen”? I ask.  I’m told that they can’t say, but I can file a claim.

Let me just say to those that don’t get it, there’s no monetary claim amount that would replace the feeling of walking out of prison after years of incarceration, in your own clothes. None.

I email the prison hoping that someone, somewhere at a level above the mailroom will see my email, read about our dilema and try to help locate the package. The BOP website states it may take 15-30 days to receive a response.  I send the email anyway.

I received a call from our local post office.  They had been contacted by the USPS powers that be to also try to locate the missing clothes package.  I hesitated a moment before once again explaining, this time to the USPS woman at my local post office, the reason for my desperation in locating the get out clothes.  “Oh, I understand” said the USPS worker “I was a parole officer before I worked for the USPS, I know how important just a pair of clothes from home are to someone getting out of prison.  Real clothes from home bring inmates getting out, back to life.”  She gets it too.

I wait for follow-up calls from USPS supervisors and Consumer Affairs.

And then there it is. An 8 word email response from the prison:

“Your package has been located at the facility.”

13 days after it was delivered, numerous calls back and forth to USPS and Consumer Affairs, calls and emails to the prison, the package with the get out clothes has been located at the facility. I don’t know where it was hiding all that time or who located it. I thank the powers that be but know that I still “won’t believe it till I see it” when he walks out wearing his own clothes.

And I thank those wonderful women I spoke with who work for the United States Post Office, those with family members of their own in prison, who get it, who weren’t afraid or embarrassed to share their own stories with a complete stranger, who understood that it wasn’t just a package of clothes that had gone missing. Women who weren’t my family but who belonged to a “sisterhood by circumstance”, women who knew the package wasn’t just a package, it was more than that, so much more.

And next week a young man will walk out of prison with dignity and (fingers crossed) in his own clothes.





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