Letter Writing: Letters to Prisoners

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Getting mail is a ton of fun, but, in an increasingly digital world, writing it can sometimes be hard. This blog post series about Letter Writing aims to make it easier.

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.

"A" Block Cells
Photo by Ben Leto
Because, at least in the United States, inmates have very limited contact to the outside world and none to the internet, you will need to go through intermediaries to find a penpal. There are many websites where volunteers have posted up profiles of inmates who would like to correspond. Some of these do require a fee to access (most often, the money goes towards other programs to help inmates such as buying books for prison libraries). Most of these profiles include not only the name, age, and interests of a person, but their criminal record. Obviously, you will want to try to find a penpal with similar interests to yours, and you may choose to write to more than one. However, most sites recommend that if you write to more than one inmate, to make sure that they are not in the same penitentiary, as it could potentially cause rivalry.

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

LETTER WRITING SERIES: THANK YOU NOTES | PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE | LOVE LETTERS | SYMPATHY LETTERS | CONGRATULATORY LETTERS | POSTCARDS | LETTERS OF APPRECIATION | CORRESPONDENCE CHESS | GET WELL CARDS | LETTERS TO SICK CHILDREN | INVITATIONS | HOLIDAY LETTERS | LETTERS TO SANTA| LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION | LETTERS TO THE EDITOR | CIRCLE LETTERS | LETTERS TO POLITICIANS | WRITING TO ADVICE COLUMNS | THE LETTER WRITING GAME | PENPAL LETTERS | LETTER OF COMPLAINT | COVER LETTERS | LETTERS TO PRISONERS | OPEN LETTERS | LETTERS TO FUTURE YOURSELF | LETTERS OF APOLOGY | "OPEN WHEN" LETTERS | FAN MAIL | GOOD BYE LETTER |

6 comments

  1. this post of yours caught my eye since I happen to know a woman who corresponded with an inmate and they fell in love and married. He is still inside, but they have visits. It is a love story that fascinates me. xoxox

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is so interesting! It could be very rewarding but, also, very complicated...

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is an interesting read. My family has sent cards before for holidays and such - but it was someone we knew fairly well. I can see where the process would be really tricky - especially finding some kind of common ground, but yes, very rewarding at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is such an interesting post! I know of someone from where I grew up that was in prison and ended up marrying someone that was writing to him- I think that happens a lot. I can see why it would be such a nice gesture to write to an inmate, but you are right about making your intentions clear up front!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow I never knew you could do that! Given such strict security, I would have never thought there would be organizations where you can correspond to people in prison. Is this a program you have done before and if so, what are your experiences? Although this isn't the true way that has portrayed prisons, Orange Is The New Black is what I thought of when I read this and it makes me want to actually correspond with someone! Thank you for sharing!
    xo Olivia
    http://hernamewascelebration.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not written to inmates yet, but you can. Some of the other commenters said they've known people who have.

      Delete

Latest Instagrams

© Never Fully Dressed. Design by FCD.