Undertaking the task of becoming an inmate pen-pal involves time, money and resources that you may or may not have on hand. The time doesn’t have to be difficult and the resources you need doesn’t have to be very involved or complex.
If it’s been a terribly long time since you’ve written an actual hand written letter, set aside about one hour’s time to write a letter. This can be more or less depending on the length of the letter. Budget this time for each inmate you commit to writing to. Letters can be written before work, on lunch breaks, on the bus while stuck in the evening commute or for a few minutes during commercial breaks. You could also, just sit down and write letters. Finding what works best for you will only increase any satisfaction you may find in writing inmates.
The next time you go to the grocery store, ask the cashier for a book of stamps along with your other items. Many national retail grocery centers allow you to purchase books of stamps at the register. This concept applies also when getting lottery tickets, batteries or any other item you need from the customer service desk. The next time your getting money from the ATM, if your ATM machine offers it, get a book of stamps while you’re at it. If you’re only writing one inmate a month, this small investment will go a long way. Ask friends of family for a book of stamps as stocking stuffers or extra birthday gifts. Packaged notebook paper, a box of envelopes and ink pens can be purchased at any dollar store for a dollar or less each item. You could keep your expenses extra low and say “Stamps” when someone, like your significant other offers to buy you coffee or dinner. (Unless you really want the coffee or the dinner…)
You’ll need paper, envelopes, pens and regular first class stamps. See the section above “Money” for ideas on acquiring these items. You may already have these items available to you. Many prisons change their rules on mail handling and what is allowed and what is not allowed to be sent to the inmates. It’s tempting to use different colored paper or fancy stationary, but instead stick to regular plain white printer or notebook paper with lines. White legal pads are OK as well. You may even do some research on the Internet or call the prison to inquire if different colored papers are OK or not, only to have the rules change the very next day. If you sent pretty paper in the mail today and the rules change tomorrow, the letter will not be delivered to the inmate. To maximize your chances of the letter actually reaching the inmate, stick to the white, plain papers. As of this writing, 6 sheets of college ruled notebook paper can fit into one #9 standard envelope for the price of one first class postage stamp.
It really doesn’t take a lot to brighten an inmate’s day by sending something encouraging in the mail. The simple fact that you took the time to write and the fact that its handwritten means the most to the inmate who receives it.