Guest contributor: Monica Wood

Writing From Inside: “Dear Karla,” by Karla

categories: Cocktail Hour


Dear Karla

This next post from the ladies at the Maine Correctional Center “Meet the Authors” class came from the following prompt: Write a letter to a person–living or dead, fictional or real–who, for one reason or other, is no longer available to you. Karla wrote to her younger self, a poignant piece filled with both regret and hope. It’s a letter many of us could have written to our younger selves, whether our older selves are in prison or in the corner office on the 100th floor. [MW]


DEAR KARLA, by Karla

Dear Karla at 15,

Listen to your parents.

Now, you may think you’re way too cool and you don’t need them; but when you’re 25, all you’ll want is your mommy and daddy and all their advice. A shoulder to cry on when things get scary.

The world is terrifying, so be careful. Study hard and follow your dreams. Do what you love; you get only once chance, so use it wisely. Make something of yourself.

Don’t take life for granted; you never know when time will run out. Do not become bitter or mean. Remember to laugh as much as you can because it’s good for the soul.

Do not mess with drugs. They will not only ruin your life, but will destroy your family’s life even more, as they sit back and watch you slowly die, knowing they can do nothing for you. And you will have to stand by and watch, while all they do is cry.

Make sure you know that if you become the person you are starting to become, you’ll live in hell for a long time, and hell is lonely. You will become an awful, pitiful person, and when you finally hit bottom you’ll realize all the years–so easily destroyed–that you can never get back. When you finally decide to change, you’ll have to work extremely hard to prove yourself.

Know that you will meet some amazing people along the way. Learn from them. Know that you are strong, much stronger than when you started. Know when you are starting to fail, and correct it.  I hope you will take my advice, because it will save you from what your life has become.

“You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.” — Anonymous

“I am not concerned that you have fallen; I am concerned that you will rise.” — Lincoln



Monica Wood

[Today’s post is the third from a group of women inmates whom I work with in a program called “Meet the Authors.” (They don’t have internet access, but your comments will get back to them, through me, after being vetted through the chain of command.)  The program runs in 12-week rounds, two hours per week, with a different group of students for each round, always with a few repeaters. We read the work of Maine women writers, who come to discuss their work and offer a writing exercise in their respective genres. The women then write short pieces, using prompts from me or the guest writers, and revise them according to feedback from the group.

To read the first post from inside, click here.  To read the second, click here.  To read my full introduction, click here.   –Monica Wood]

  1. Shelley Burbank writes:

    Hi Karla:

    I really enjoyed your letter and read it aloud to my fifteen year old daughter. I wonder what your younger self would write back? She probably had her reasons for her choices, at the time, and I imagine there must be quite a story in those years in between. Also, the advice about knowing when you are starting to fail and correcting it? Amazing advice for anyone, at any age, and full of belief that correcting it is possible. Loved it. Keep writing!

  2. Courtney writes:


    You describe yourself as stronger now than when you were 15. We all get stronger from living through and growing from difficult experiences. Acknowledging your family’s pain was very powerful to imagine. Reading your essay made me so hopeful for your future and for your continued growth.

  3. Beth Harpaz writes:

    This filled my eyes with tears. There are so many kids who need to read this letter right now. I wish you luck and love, Karla. You are an amazing writer.

  4. Sue Paradis writes:

    Karla, this is so well put. I wish I could give it to every kid in Junior High! (as well as a few older people… you never know when the light will come on!)

  5. Amy Chapman writes:

    Karla, please take Bill’s advice and continue to write your story. Your level-headed voice, your tough life experiences, and your obvious ability to learn from what you’ve lived through all need to be shared with a wider audience. If you do decide to go on and write a memoir, ask Monica for her “magic advice” about how to structure your story. It’s so simple, but will make all the difference between a project that seems overwhelming and one that can be taken on in logical steps. And your story is so worth telling. Best of luck to you.

    • Debora writes:

      Monica Wood has Magic Advice on how to structure a memoir?!!


      Sounds like a bad ass Bad Advice Wednesday! Hope you’ll tell it!

  6. Debora writes:

    Karla, I agree with Elizabeth. I like the cool headed voice here. It’s the same voice that, out in the world, when things start to get crazy or a “friend” makes certain suggestions, that voice says “No thanks, that’s not for me” and walks away–or runs for that matter, toward what she really wants for herself. Writing it and reading it helps you say it–’cause it’s hard sometimes to say “No thanks, that’s not for me.” And then the great thing is that eventually stuff comes around to you, and you get to say “Wow, yes, this is for me.” And it’s scary in a GOOD way!

  7. Peter Dudley writes:

    Tragic that wisdom comes so late, but heroic of the author to have achieved it through so much difficulty and struggle.

  8. marty castleberg writes:

    This is giving back in the best possible way. Thank you.

  9. Elizabeth Hilts writes:

    I’m struck by the gentle compassion for the young Karla; there’s no blaming, no criticism, and (maybe most important) no self-pity—just love. Your writer’s voice is “cool,” in the sense that there’s no drama even though the situations were/are dramatic. That’s something I strive for in my own writing, so thanks for that.

    I would also love to read a more in-depth piece showing the people involved.

  10. Bill writes:

    We all need to get this letter. And Karla, if you want to come back to this material, I for one would love to read a story or scene–something with your people, your characters, talking, acting, interacting, for good and bad–for each line here. That would take time, but what a memoir it would make. Thanks for the letter. i hope young Karla listens, because she’s still right there inside.