for Writing to Prisoners:
Prison life is a boring place and any news, whether from a person
they know or not, is generally welcome. On the whole a letter
is the brightest point of the day for most prisoners.
Make sure that your letter has a return address (some prisons
require this). So that the prisoner (who often has very limited
financial resources) can reply to you, include a pre-embossed
stamped envelope. Pre-stamped envelopes can be purchased from
the post office (envelopes with regular adhesive stamps are often
not permitted). You may not be writing to a lifer, but a parolee
who is due to be released in the near future. For privacy purposes,
use a return address that is not your home address. Setting up
a P.O. box at the post office is an easy and relatively inexpensive
procedure. You may also wish to use a work address.
When writing for the first time, say who you are and say where
you heard about the prisoner and their case. Keep your first
letter reasonably short and to the point. It is best not to overwhelm
people. Be prepared to respond in a timely fashion and to continue
the correspondence for at least six months. However, don't give
anything or make any commitments that you feel uncomfortable. Trust
your intuition. Remember that a prisoner's mail is screened.
Don't write about anything that is likely to get your pen pal in
Do not use staples or paper clips; do not send cash, stamps,
or Polaroids. Letters containing them may not be accepted by
prison officials. Don't send money or honor immediate requests for
money. You may wish to send books or magazines. Before mailing such
material you should learn about the prison's package receipt policy.
Ohio prisoners may only receive books that are sent directly
from a book store or publishing house.
Your pen-pal is a life-sized person, no bigger and no smaller.
A great challenge of a pen-pal relationship is to be understanding,
without supporting or reinforcing each other's self-delusions and
vanities. Remember that everyone in the "free world" faces
problems and challenges, too. It is really true that we are all
doing time in one way or another, so both of you can try to help
each other see and dismantle those prisons of mind-which are far
more limiting that any prisons of bars and steel.
If you would like
to write a prisoner and need help finding the right person, we would
be happy to assist you. Please contact one of the individuals below
for help in finding the right pen-pal match:
Kenyatta, CURE-Ohio, 1834 Grace Avenue NE, Canton, OH 44705. Email:
Jancius, Prisonersolidarity, P.O.
Box 422, The Plains, OH 45780.
Lyons, Loved Ones of Prisoners (LOOP), 829 Woodside Avenue, Youngstown,