Writing a letter can be one of the easiest, but also one of the most
important things you can do to support a prisoner. It is often the best
available avenue to let a prisoner know that you are out here thinking of
them, and to keep them up to date on the struggles that continue outside
the walls(with copied articles, written updates, etc).
It will really brighten someone’s day to see that letter slide under their
door if they’re in solitary confinement, or to hear their name at mail
call if they are in general population. Prison is a terribly drab place –
someone like yourself reaching out can really turn a person’s day around.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of not knowing the person you are writing
– just keep it short, simple and upbeat. If the prisoner you’re writing
has a support site, check it out to learn a little more about the person
you are writing. Maybe there is a piece of art or a poem on the website
that you could bring up in the letter. If not, remember that prisoners
don’t have access to a lot of things that you do. Write to them about a
great hike you went on, or a great book you recently read. Share an
article with them that you think they might be interested in – then strike
up a conversation about it.
As a general rule do not include anything in your letter that has staples,
glitter, or glue, and only use a blue/black pen or a pencil until you know
more about what the prison will allow in letters. Most prisons/jails have
a website that lists what they will and will not allow in prisoners’ mail.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing a prisoner
is that all of your mail will be read by prison officials before it gets
to the prisoner, so do not write anything that you would not want these
officials (or the FBI, or other law enforcement agencies) to read. Never
talk about illegal activity that you or anyone you know has participated
in. If a person is pre-trial or pre-sentencing, make sure you refrain
from talking about their case or the charges against them. Prisoners can
(and do) get sanctioned for things written or sent to them – regardless of
whether or not it was initiated by them.
The first letter can be tough, but once you begin exchanging letters a
great relationship can be formed, and it is a great feeling as a prisoner
to know you have one more consistent person out there.
If you have any questions about writing prisoners, please e-mail us.