Never underestimate the power of a handwritten letter.
That’s the message Jessica “Jesse” DiMeglio, ’23, is aiming to share across La Salle University’s campus. The communication major has organized a Dec. 7 letter-writing event—one she hopes will make the holiday season a little brighter for nearly 450 incarcerated artists across the country.
DiMeglio holds an internship with the Justice Arts Coalition (JAC), a Maryland-based, volunteer-led nonprofit that provides education, advocacy, companionship and compassion for currently and formerly incarcerated artists.
“I have always gravitated toward social justice work,” said DiMeglio, a native of Ewing, N.J. “In high school, I leaned toward work that supported people battling hunger, poverty, and addiction. I read stories that helped me uplift those in society who didn’t have a voice or were looked down upon, and I worked with individuals and groups that allowed me to build relationships and a greater empathy for those marginalized by society. The Justice Arts Coalition is the connective tissue between art and justice. Their mission is one of genuine care.”
The Justice Art Coalition’s network of artists pursues all types and media—from oil painting and pastel painting, to graphite drawing, mixed media art, and poetry. One particularly resourceful artist, DiMeglio said, converts the ink from standard pens into paint and utilizes a toothbrush as his paintbrush.
“Their work is so inspiring,” DiMeglio said.
Now, she’s turning to the La Salle community to find volunteers who will help extend that inspiration to JAC’s artists network.
Want to help?
Members of La Salle community can participate in a holiday letter-writing event on Tuesday, Dec. 7, starting at 12:30 p.m. in the Union’s Dunleavy Room. Here’s how to pre-register and help.
She’s staging a holiday letter-writing event, scheduled for Dec. 7 in the Union’s Dunleavy Room. Here’s how the La Salle community can help: DiMeglio is seeking volunteers to handwrite letters to the Justice Arts Coalition’s artist network. All the materials needed will be available on site. Letters must be written in blue or black ink on only one side of a blank, 8×11 piece of printer paper. Letters can include inspirational messages, along with drawings and sketches, though a non-denominational approach is encouraged.
“The Christian Brothers have a long history of working with adjudicated populations,” said Regina Gauss Kosiek, director of university ministry at La Salle. “This partnership with the Justice Arts Coalition allows members of the La Salle community to support incarcerated individuals during a time of year when loneliness and darkness are most striking. Jesse’s dedication to bringing this work to campus is indicative of both her tremendous capacity for compassion and an understanding of what it means to be Lasallian.”
“Our campus community is so supportive, with UMSS (University Ministry, Service, and Support) and Regina and so many others,” DiMeglio said. “I’m confident in our ability to spread holiday cheer and reach these artists with compassionate and personal letters.”
Loneliness is rampant among the imprisoned. In Pennsylvania, for example, the pandemic prevented prison visitation until May 2021. Since then, visitors must submit to temperature checks and health screenings upon arrival and they are required to wear masks. The holiday season represents “a horrific time,” one family told WHYY Philadelphia, when visits are limited and might involve seeing loved ones only from behind a pane of glass.
The U.S. maintains the world’s highest incarceration rate and the most prisoners, with more than 2.2 million behind bars.
“Our country’s policy of mass incarceration is historically and geographically unprecedented,” said Caitlin Taylor, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminal justice at La Salle and an expert on mass incarceration. “By design, our prison system separates people from many of the things that define their humanity, such as their relationships with loved ones and ties to their communities. When the system erects countless obstacles for communication across prison walls, letter writing is one valuable strategy to remember that the people our system locks in cages are still someone’s parent, sibling, or child.”
—Christopher A. Vito