Reviews and Praise for “Letter to Ms. Em's
Every now and then, a book comes along that has the capacity to change your viewpoints on the world. Many writers put together stories that make an impact while simultaneously telling a tale that may or may not be true. We call that non-fiction versus fiction.
Sometimes, with non-fiction, the impact being made isn’t just because of the subject matter. Sometimes, it’s the very fact that the subject matter is true. Because this is the case, I am making the recommendation that this work be a must read for anyone that is even remotely entertaining the notion of taking the road that we at most times wish would be the one less traveled. Letters to Ms. Em chronicles the correspondence between an inmate that goes by the name of “Rainn” and Emlyn DeGannes, the owner and proprietor of MeJah Books in Claymont, Delaware.
Instead of telling the story of a man whose life went horribly wrong, Letters to Ms. Em tells Rainn's tale in a series of letters, allowing the reader to probe into his mind and emotions. It is through this dialogue of letters between Emlyn and Rainn that a friendship blooms…an unlikely friendship rooted in trust, understanding and encouragement. Instead of looking at Rainn as a statistic within our nation’s penal system, the reader is forced to look at him for what he is: a human being that made a tragic, life altering mistake. It is within the pages that you get to know Rainn; seeing him as a human being perhaps for the first time in his life.
Letters to Ms. Em also depicts Emlyn as a true humanitarian. She opens her heart to a man that everyone else may have forgotten. That type of compassion in a world that is anything but is nothing short of remarkable. Within the pages of this work lie letters and poetry that take you into Rainn’s soul. You experience his reflection of life, the challenges that he faces as a father who desperately wants to do the right thing for his children even though he is not physically present to lead and guide them. His poetry depicts his anger and rage, sometimes at himself and at other times his circumstances. One poem that is particularly heart wrenching is “Is Someone Listening?” listed on page 103.
This work is currently under review to be included as a must read for the youth of Delaware…and deservingly so. We are living in an era where one’s basic humanity is constantly tested. There are parts of the city where our children having virtually no hope is commonplace. As a result, they make wrong choices. And most of the time, they aren’t aware of the severe consequences of their actions until it’s too late. If the journey that Ms. Em and Rainn share can deter one child from making a tragic, life altering mistake, then this publication has done its job.
Hello Ms. Em,
I purchased a copy of Letters to Ms. Em less than 36 hours ago and I just finished reading the book! Rainn's writings were so captivating I could not put the book down. First, I thank you for being there for Rainn and for all you brought into his life! Second, I thank you for your persistence and dedication to serving young people in the prison system. Finally, I want to know if you will relay a message to Rainn for me? Thank you Ms. Em!
I just read Letters to Ms. Em and I am compelled to write to you with urgency. I admire your strength, courage, and persistence to tell your story. Many lives will be touched and changed for the better because of your writings. I especially want to thank you for writing on domestic violence prevention. I encourage you to continue writing and trusting that your voice is making a difference. My name is Ms. Doris. On February 24, 2006 my 15-year-old son Tony was shot and killed. My life was devastated by unspeakable pain and loss. At the same time my heart cried out for 16-year-old Mr. Jackson who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for taking my son's life. My heart went out to Mr. Jackson because I knew he was not born a cold-blooded murderer. Something happened to him from the time he was born till the time he pulled the trigger in my son's face. I wondered where were his perpetrators that contributed to his demise?
The day Mr. Jackson was found guilty no one was in the court room to support him, not even his mother. My heart went out to Mr. Jackson because I believe he had a horrific story that no one heard. I believe Mr. Jackson was victimized repeatedly before he killed my son and no one heard his silent screams. To this day Mr. Jackson contends he is innocent so they will not allow me to communicate with him. They won't let me tell him that I forgive him for taking my son's life. They won't let me tell him that I know he has a story and I would like to be a part of his healing process. I am hopeful that one day Mr. Jackson and I will have opportunity to connect. One thing is certain, we cannot be healed if we do not acknowledge we are sick.
Rainn, my hat is off to you with much respect for your healing journey as you wrote so eloquently. I would like to write to you again. May I write to you? Until then, be encouraged because you have made a difference in my life. Thank you Rainn!
Doris J. Thomas, MSP
Mothers of Crime Victims
Dear Ms. Em
Thank you for signing my books. I'll be order more books soon, I'm reading your book now and all can say is WOW!! I hope you go all tour soon.
9/27/2011 5:51:28 PM
Hi Em and Ms. Diane
Just want u guys to know that I received both books today (thank u) and I have been reading "Letters to Ms Em" faithfully.
All I can and will say is WOW! (very powerful) and I am so proud of Rain, u, and the whole MeJah fam for putting something so great together.
As I’m reading the book its bringing me to tears u know? and I’m not trying to get all emotional but the words in those letters move u Em u know?
I AM JUST SO PROUD OF WHAT U HAVE DONE WITH BOTH RAINN AND I AND PLEASE TELL MY BROTHER RAINN THAT I AM SO PROUD OF HIM AND WILL SOON REACH OUT.
YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO PROUD EM U KNOW?( I MEAN REALLY REALLY PROUD) BECUZ I SEE EXACTLY WHAT U R DOING AND HAVE DONE TO HELP US GROW AND GIVE BACK.
I FEEL SO HONERED TO BE APART OF THIS MOVEMENT U CREATED AND I WANT U TO KNOW THAT I WILL NEVER LET U DOWN EM.
I LOVE U AND AM SO PROUD OF U AND YES I KNOW UR PROUD OF ME TOO BUT IF IT WERENT FOR U WE(BOTH RAINN AND I )WOULDNT BE THE MEN WE R TODAY.
IT TOOK UR LOVE AND BELIEF IN US FOR US TO LOVE AND BELIEVE IN OURSELVES EM AND WE TRULY OWE U OUR LIVES.
I LOVE U AND WILL CALL U IN A FEW DAYS OK?
TELL MS. DIANE I THANK HER FOR THE BOOK AND EM I AM TRULY PROUD OF U AND RAINN.
IM PROUD TO BE UR BROTHER, FRIEND AND FAVORITE AUTHOR :)
I hope this letter found you in the best of health. I’m Omar in I’m at the County, and CJ went up state last night. He gave me all his books that you sent him. He knows that I read my time away and that they’re in good hands. I had a lot of talks wit Chris. About life and these streets I became rather fond of him. I wish him the best upstate. I couldn’t sleep last night after prayer. I started reading Voices: Letters to Ms. Em. I feel almost compelled to write you so I did. I urge Chris to write you once you send Hill Harper’s book Letters to A Young Brother. I always told him still in contact with your support because they might be your livelihood. It humbling and comforting to know that you got someone. It hard to express myself more importantly they appropriate way because of what I’m going through facing life hurt my heart and soul. With nobody to express my feelings hopefully my weight lifts at this end of the letter. Huff?
My Attribute: Omar Abdul Rahim
I stated in the first letter, if I remember correctly that I started to write again because of the book “Letters to Ms. Em.” At the end of the book the teacher describes your store. I remember going to your store when my dad was alive, it’s a long shot but you probably remember him. I will send a picture. I’m really motivated by your book I wanted to be part of the solution since I was not the problem now I’m in here all I need some support, encouragement and guidance. We will be a force that’s relentless for change. I will show you better then I can tell you. It took me a year, and some change to find myself. In help myself understand my fault so I can now understand someone else’s. Im sorry my writing is sloppy I want to get this letter out before I bang in the cell. I wanted to send some poetry now since I was inspired with courage of him expressing himself that way. I feel like I know you a little because of Rainn opinion of you. I always knew you was a good person because of Chris when you first sent him Hill Harper’s book, “Letters to A Young Brother" is a magical book, but I’m lock up reading your book it feel like option behind bars. I will keep it short.
I appreciate your time Ms. Em.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 9:25 PM
I just finished reading "Letters to Ms. Em". I met Ms. Em when she hosted a book signing event for my husband and myself for our book "Kissing The Underbelly". While I am familiar with child abuse (my sisters and I are survivors), I have to admit I had no experience of prison or of anyone close to me being in prison. Although my husband grew up on the streets, he managed to avoid that one. What I do have experience of though, is growing up alongside a severely disabled sister. As I was reading this book, it struck me that there are parallels. Severe disability is in a way a kind of prison, and permanent disability is sort of a life sentence. My sister has always been an inspiration to me though. She has always pushed through her limitations and found ways to live a meaningful life. She told me once that people were always coming up to her and saying "Oh, you poor thing!", but she told me that is bullshit. All she's ever done is play the hand God dealt her, which is all anybody does. She takes what she has, and makes the best of it and leads the best life that she can. She has never walked, and she has almost no use of her right hand. Her vision has always been terrible; she has been classed as legally blind most of her life, but now, in her seventies, she is going blind for real. She has her brain and her speech and a good left hand, and she has made the most of them. She is an artist, but is losing that as her vision goes. She would be a musician if she had two good hands, but she has settled for singing. She has a bachelor's degree in political science. She tried to get a job teaching, but back in the sixties they wouldn't hire her because her disabilities might "upset the children". She then got a master's degree in counseling. She also volunteered for years as a "docent", or guide, at the zoo. She has a passion for animals and nature, and even now, in her seventies and more disabled than ever, she tools around her building in her electric wheelchair and photographs flowers and animals. Although she is "free" to move about to the limited extent of her disability, her body is her prison. She can no longer transfer from bed to chair, or for that matter, to the toilet, but must use a ceiling lift. As I said, she is going blind as well. She lives alone, does her own cooking, but has an aide to shop for her as she can no longer do it herself. She does not let these limitations stop her though. She has her computer and she keeps in touch with us all via that. She subscribes to an audio book service, and "reads" voraciously. She writes a lot, and always has, but has refused my offer of help getting published. She says that if she were to make any money at it, the "system" would just cut her benefits accordingly, so her writing is just for herself and us. Through her, I have come to the belief that "prison" is a relative term. You are in less of a prison than many people on the outside, because you have taken steps to free your mind. I know people who move about the world unobstructed, but they have locked themselves into a prison of the mind that is more limiting than any stone wall or bodily paralysis could ever produce.
Judy Anderson author of Kissing the Under Belly