S.C.I. Benner Township
301 Institution Drive
Bellefonte PA 16823
September 30th 2016
To see brief video of me speaking: www.wearecentralpa.com/news/changes-to-doc-mental-health-services
To see my art: www.angelfire.com/de/lagana/matt_matteo_art_cartoons
Coalition To Abolish Death by Incarceration
℅ Decarcerate PA
PO Box 40764
Philadelphia PA 19107
Dear Coalition Member,
Hello from S.C.I. Benner in Central PA. My name is Matt Matteo and I’m a 48 year old Pennsylvania State prisoner interested in becoming involved with your coalition. I’m beginning the 27th year of my incarceration in November after having been denied parole ten times beginning in 2004. The first 1-2 times I was interviewed by the board and was berated and criticized for my actions as a young man, I could take it. Then the 5th, 6th and 7th interviews began to dismay me. Now, after having been interviewed in July and denied once again… It’s beginning to seem absurd. I have completed my programs, have the support of the institution, no misconducts in 12 years, I work in the R.H.U. as a certified peer support specialist and have the support of my family and many friends. Yet, when I walk into the interview room… None of that matters, not a bit. It’s merely an opportunity for a parole board member to personally attack me and criticize me for my actions as a 21 year old. I’ll soon be 49 years old and I’m no longer who I once was. I’ve worked on myself and matured here in state prison. One thing the board interviewer said to me at my recent interview in July that really struck me: “You should get up every morning thanking your lucky stars you have any family or friends who want anything to do with you.” I told him he’s right, that I do not deserve the support of all my family who wrote letters of support to the board asking that I be paroled and attesting to how much change they’ve seen in me. But, in looking back on the interview and the many statements made to me like that, I had to ask how that was productive or in the best interest of anyone. I have ten years yet to serve until my maximum sentence expires. I’m grounded and level headed, not bitter at all, as I’m well aware my actions 26 years ago brought me here. Still, as I’m doing so well, all these years later, making good decisions, working hard and maintaining good relationships…. If I’m to continue receiving scorn and parole denials over and over again without any explanation… I don’t know how long it will be until I do become bitter. To take a 22 year old kid who made huge mistakes and sentence him to 12½ to 35 years in prison and then deny him parole despite his having changed and expressed remorse… Until he’s 58 years old… All in the name of public safety… I don’t believe that serves anyone, not me nor the state of Pennsylvania. When I meet with officers, counselors, my supervisor and even my peers, they’re shocked to learn I’ve been denied parole. I tell them I’m used to the disappointment but that’s a lie. This last interview in July, my tenth, I tried not to be optimistic that this time would be “it”.... I’ve got a home plan, a job waiting for me, glowing reports and assessments… I tried not to be optimistic because I knew that would only make it more painful when I got another denial. My last parole denial was nine months… This recent one was eighteen. I almost wish they’d not interview me at all. The continual disappointment is not only painful for myself but for my parents, siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, all of whom are waiting for the opportunity to help me transition back into the world. After the decision is delivered to me and I compose myself, then I have to make phone calls letting everyone know I’ve once again let everyone down. It’s torturous to be in this position… I wonder if anyone ever considers the mental state a person will be in after having been scorned and despised at interviews year after year and then released upon his or her maximum sentence. I don’t know if I’ll be made to serve my maximum sentence…. A 22 year old kid walking in and a 58 year old man walking out…. But it’s beginning to appear that way.
Still, despite the burden of my fear, anxiety and frustration with my failure to achieve parole, I’m working as a “C.P.S.” here at Benner and writing/drawing/painting in my free time. I was an art major at the Indiana University of PA at the time of my arrest and the biggest irony of my life is that I learned more about art and being an artist here in prison that I ever did in college where I focused more on my fraternity parties, beer and sleeping through classes. Prison has given me focus, structure and given me purpose. As a certified peer support specialist, I impart my “good energy” and help others by relating my own experiences and struggles and reframing them as parables. At least I think that’s what I do. I thank God for my skills in art and writing as I’ve got an asset to get me through dark times…. Being able to make something of an otherwise wasted day is a small victory even if it’s a watercolor of an old house or a cartoon for a magazine in Wisconsin.
I could go on and on like this… I apologize if it’s too much but I haven’t got too many outlets to vent about the situation I’m in. When a friend of mine gave me your address and suggested your coalition may be something I’d like to become involved with, I said “this does look like something for me.” Despite my not knowing anything about what you do or specifically how PA can be “decarcerated.” If you could reply to this letter and tell me more I’d really appreciate it. I feel like I have a lot to offer an organization such as yours whether it be writing or doing art, I’m not sure. Years ago, I contributed a lot to Graterfriends when Joan Gauker was their editor. I’d like to contribute in some way, as my interests definitely align with ending death by incarceration. I know there’s a need for prison but excessive sentences serve nobody. There’s a law of diminishing returns and I feel the bite of it every day I wake up and realize I’m still here, 12 years past my minimum release date and almost 50 years old.
I’m enclosing some photocopies showing who I am. Recently, I was interviewed in regard to my job as a certified peer support specialist by WTAJ TV out of Johnstown as well as by CNN, both in May of this year. I encourage you to look it up on the websites I’ve listed at the top of page one of my letter. The art featured on the angelfire.com site shows what I did artistically from 2000-2010. Ever since I left S.C.I. Mercer to transfer to S.C.I. Greensburg to be nearer to home in 2011, I’ve not been able to paint like I used to. By the way, home is in Derry, a small town near Latrobe in Westmoreland County, east of Pittsburgh.
Hopefully I’ll hear back from your coalition soon… I can’t tell you how much I appreciate knowing your organization exists. Thank you for recognizing there’s a problem in incarcerating people for so many years the point of their even being banished becomes lost. I certainly feel it with my own situation and see it on the faces of those around me every day.
With much Sincerity & Hope,