We've discussed writing to penpals and writing to people you don't know several times, but one way to get a penpal that has really intrigued me is writing to inmates in prisons. For obvious reasons this can be a very intimidating idea, and not for everyone (I'm still not decided if it is for me yet, even). However, research has shown that inmates who create and maintain positive relationships with people outside of the penitentiary are less likely to return to prison, to commit more crime, or have substance abuse. Those with these positive relationships are more likely to find employment and be reintegrated successfully into society. Because of the nature of creating a relationship of any sort with a felon can be risky and because they too need penpals who are willing to create a lasting friendship, writing to inmates should be done after one has decided to seriously commit to it, and follow certain tips.
|Photo by Ben Leto|
Once you have found someone (or several someones) you would like to try writing to, you'll need to compose a short introductory letter. Write a little bit about yourself and your interests; you could include a photo if you are comfortable with that. Keep it short, and make sure to be upfront about what you want out of the relationship. If you are only looking for friendship, say so; most intermediary groups strongly recommend that you not look for a romantic relationship this way anyway. On a similar note, after exchanging a letter or two, if you do not feel a connection to the person, or that you cannot find things to write to them about, be upfront and tell them you will be discontinuing the writing. Prisoners need stable, and continued connections in order to help them.
When sending your mail, look up if the prison has any requirements on how to address the letter. You will need their Department of Corrections number, and you will need to address it exactly as they ask; otherwise your correspondence will not reach your penpal. Include your return address on both the envelope and on your letter. In case the inmate does not get the envelope, you still want them to be able to contact you! It is strongly recommended that you use a mailing address, such as a post office box, rather than a home address.
As your correspondence continues, be aware of several things. First, inmates in penitentiaries have no right or expectation to privacy. Someone may- and probably will- read your letters before they get to your penpal. Be aware of what you wish to write then. Secondly, mail is slow in the penal system; do no be discouraged if it takes a while to get a reply. Also, remember that there are pretty strict restrictions on what can and cannot be sent to inmates, and that these rules change depending on which prison you are writing to. A good rules of thumb though are: no stickers, polaroids, cards with electronics or padded parts, cards of unusual dimension, or "non communicative" paper items such as tickets or lotto numbers. Photos, so long as they are not polaroids, regular sized cards, and handwritten letters are generally fine. Sending postage stamps is usually fine though it is worth checking the rules. Please be aware that inmates may be less than truthful. They may choose to lie about what landed them in prison, when they are getting out or, quite often, whether they need money. Regardless of this, it is important to treat your penpal with respect no matter what crimes were committed.
Though this is something that may be outside the arena of many people's experience, the rewards of helping someone while making a new friend could be very great indeed. Would you ever consider writing to an inmate, or have you before?
For Further Reading:
Tips for Writing to Inmates from prisonlife.com
Meet an Inmate
Write a letter to a Prison Inmate from WikiHow