Tips for Writing to Prisoners:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 trouble.
4. 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.
5. 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:
Kunta Kenyatta, CURE-Ohio, 1834 Grace Avenue NE, Canton, OH 44705. Email:
Angela Jancius, Prisonersolidarity, P.O. Box 422, The Plains, OH 45780.
Theresa Lyons, Loved Ones of Prisoners (LOOP), 829 Woodside Avenue, Youngstown, OH 44505