When I was a child I can not remember receiving letters through our letterbox at home addressed to me. The thought of receiving a letter never even entered my head as a child. There was no text messaging, emails or internet during my childhood and mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction so to keep in touch with someone you had three choices – visit them in person, telephone them on a landline or telephone box, or if it was not urgent you could write a letter and post it in a post box.
As a child, who could I write to? I did once write to Father Christmas asking for a bike and I put the letter in a cardboard post box that was in my school classroom. I didn’t get a bike for Christmas so my faith in writing letters was low. Christmas and birthday cards tended to be hand-delivered so I missed out on these delights coming through my letterbox. Even now, many years later, I can remember receiving the first ever official letter addressed to me. My name and address were typed – not hand-written. Being typed made it extra special as I knew it was not from family or friends as they would not type. I felt really grown up as it was addressed to Master. My Dad said it was like putting Mister in front of an adult’s name and Master was the junior version. It was my first junk mail. I was thrilled.
When I left school I suddenly felt like an adult, especially when I received a letter with my National Insurance number in it. I opened a bank account for the first time and the bank sent me a letter containing a cheque book and cash machine card. These letters announced my arrival in to the adult world but they also brought with them responsibilities which, as a child, I didn’t have to worry about.
As I grew older, I received letters which charted my life – driving licence, college, university, passport, employment, bank, credit cards, loans, mortgage, gas, electricity, council tax etc. More and more of the letters I received were about financial matters and about money I owed. I never seemed to get letters saying someone owed me money.
Letters became something to dread as they never seemed to contain good news.
The internet arrived along with mobile phones, text messaging and emails. I was being bombarded by junk mail trying to sell everything from Timeshare holiday homes to pills that enhance my love life. I had emails from helpful Nigerians telling me their government could give me money – for a small upfront fee. I received less and less paper letters in the post as they were now going the technological route. I used to dread letters dropping through my letterbox. That became dreading letters dropping in my email inbox. Technology made me contactable 24 hours a day. Things were getting bad when I started dreaming about missing emails while I was asleep. I may have become a bit obsessive about constantly checking to see if I have any new emails or texts.
In a funny way it was a relief when I came to prison. I no longer had the worry of having to check my emails or texts. I didn’t have the anxiety of making sure my mobile phone was charged up and had credits. It was back to basics of pen, paper and landline prison phone. The stress of being contactable at any time vanished. I didn’t have to convince a window telesales person that I was happy with my existing windows. I wasn’t woken up at 3am by my mobile phone beeping that a text arrived saying I can have 10% off cat food.
I still dread getting letters, especially from probation, but at least no one is demanding money.
I actually smiled when I got my first piece of junk mail while in prison. Some things never change.
Read the whole of The Gates of Ytan