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Letters: Life After Prison, Thriller Anniversary

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Letters: Life After Prison, Thriller Anniversary

From Our Listeners

Letters: Life After Prison, Thriller Anniversary

Letters: Life After Prison, Thriller Anniversary

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Listeners weigh in on readjusting to life beyond bars after long prison terms, and also share their memories of the first time they heard Michael Jackson's "Thriller," 25 years ago.

NEAL CONAN, host:

It's Tuesday, the day we read from your e-mails and blog comments. The number of adults in U.S. prisons hit a new high. A new Pew study revealed that one in 100 adults is in jail. Last week, we talked about what happens after long terms in prison with a number of former inmates.

The show a struck a nerve from Jaime(ph), a listener from Portland, who wrote, my nephew did six years for essentially, a bar fight. He was 19, is now 26. Has been out just over a year with two stints back in for breaking parole. He has no job skills, wasn't a good student, lives with his sister. He's not allowed to drive or go to his home city at the victim's request. He is at the bottom with nowhere to go but up, but he isn't headed there. He is still essentially 19 years old, wants to make up for lost time and has so few options. We are your basic middle-class people with no long generational history of crime. I never thought I would visit a prison in my lifetime. What can the future hold for him now? We are as lost as he is.

Many inmates spoke about their fear of leaving the routine and relative safety of the life they knew in prison. Chris(ph) is a former corrections officer for the state of Missouri. He wrote about his own experience. I had occasioned to work with one offender who'd been in for over 40 years. He was convicted of murder. He was one of the quietest, most soft-spoken people I've ever known. He was about to parole out and confided in me that he was scared. He didn't think he could make it. He very pointedly stated that he was already planning a crime that wouldn't actually physically harm anyone, but would get him put back in prison. I left my position prior to his release so I don't know how his story ended, but he wasn't the only who felt that way.

Another show that touched a chord for a completely different reason was our celebration of the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album, though not everybody found that music so sweet, especially when it was on repeat. Joan(ph) in Connecticut related this story. When our daughter was 11 years old, she brought the cassette tape of the "Thriller" album, which quickly became the background music to all of our lives. She played it constantly -from the moment she woke in the morning until the time she finally fell asleep. At night, it was a "Thriller"-dominated environment in our house.

The turning point came during a long family car trip to visit grandparents when her brother pushed the eject button on the car tape player, seized the cassette and hurled it out of the window with astonishing swiftness. Since we were speeding along in the New York State Thruway at the time, we couldn't stop and retrieve the tape. We all traveled along in sweet, though shocked, silence for the rest of the trip after her cries of protest waned. It was a good lesson in democracy of the airwaves as the tape was ultimately replaced and played with moderation. I think I can still sing every word of that song, and I bet everyone else in the family can, too.

Joan was not the only one subjected unwillingness - unwillingly to "Thriller" nights and days. Matt(ph) from Denver wrote us, when I was about 10 years old, we just moved in to a new house and we had a contractor fixing things up for us. My sister, mother and I were crazy for the "Thriller" video. One day in the summer, it came on MTV, my mom went to get the contractor and forced him to sit with us and watch the whole 15-minute video. I can still remember his bewildered smile as he sat and watched Michael Jackson sing and dance with the zombie dance troupe while my mom talked with him about how great the video was. I could almost hear him thinking, please, God, let this thing end so I could just go back to hanging the freaking dry wall.

If you're one of those that couldn't get enough of "Thriller," you could always go back and hear our segment again. You can find our podcast by going to npr.org/talk. If you have comments, questions or corrections for us, the best way to reach us is by e-mail. The address is talk@npr.org. Please let us know where you're writing from, and give us some help on how to pronounce your name.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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