I am an average US citizen living abroad and wanted to write a letter to the Commander In-Chief, telling him my personal opinion and other information regarding the current policies. Do you think its a waste of time?
Does he actually respond or does he have a generic draft that he sends out to his fans?
Yes, I have. I’m a former prisoner and every year since 2009 when I was released, I’ve written to President Obama asking him to visit a prison, telling him what an important message that would send to both inmates and staff, and telling him about my current work in the AZ women’s prison, the very one where I was incarcerated. I basically wrote for my own entertainment. I never expected any one to read them.
On January 3rd, 2016, I got a call from the White House inviting me to be a guest of the First Lady in her box at the President’s final State of the Union address. I was sworn to secrecy until the WH announced the list of guests and when they did, my phone didn’t stop ringing. It seems there are journalist all over the world who watch for that list.
A week later I was at the White House. I had a press liaison to help me navigate the press interviews. I had a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch! Imagine me, a former prisoner, meeting with Mrs. Lynch. Yes, it was a little surreal.
That night before SOTU, the twenty-three guests and our plus-ones were guests at the WH for a lovely reception. We toured the beautiful historic rooms and when we looked out the blue room windows to the Washington Monument, it has started to snow. We ended up in the reception hall. There, while a Marine played show tunes on an antique piano, White House staffers mingled with a diverse group of guests from the president of Microsoft to a twelve year old who started a program feeding healthy food to the homeless. The networking was punctuated with delicious hors d’oeuvres and champagne. It was going to be a long night, magical. but we needed the sustenance.
While at the reception, three young people approached me. “Ms. Allen, we’re from the Office of Presidential Correspondence and we wanted to meet you. You wrote one of our favorite letters.”
They read my letter! Later I learned that considering the volume of mail the President gets a week, I won the White House Letter Lottery. My letter made it through all the sorting, the volunteers, the staff and finally to the office of Elizabeth Olson, the Director of the Office Presidential Correspondence. She selects the final ten letters the President reads every day.
My letter wasn’t just about me, it was representative of all the voiceless, faceless women and men behind bars. The men President Obama visited with in prison were also representative of those same women and men forgotten inside our prisons.
My journey to prison gave me a passion and a purpose I never expected. I’m living that purpose now and my letter reflected that. Do you have a passion? Write letters, to the President, the Governor, your legislators, the head of companies, hospitals and, most important, the people you love. Real letters on heavy cream paper. Letters have power and give you a voice. Who knows, you might be invited to the White House for the price of a stamp.
This article first appeared on Quora