Writing to inmates in an effort to help positively shape their future is a noble gesture. Sacrificing your safety as you correspond with a perfect stranger who was knowingly convicted of a crime is not. While basic common sense applies anytime you begin a relationship with a complete stranger, working with inmates requires taking additional safety precautions.
For example, you never want to share the physical location of your home, business or other employer with the inmate. To remedy that, consider getting a PO Box near where you work or live. The PO Box does not have to be in your same hometown, as long as you are able to faithfully retrieve the mail from there at least once week. Some might say that having a PO Box in your hometown is just as dangerous. Well, an easy explanation to give the inmate is, “The PO Box is near where I work, so it will be easy for me to drop off and pick up the mail there,” and leave it at that. If the inmate questions you about the postmark, simply advise the inmate, “That’s just the nearest mail processing station I happened to be near that day,” and leave it at that. You are never under any obligation to reveal your true location to an inmate for any reason.
If you can afford it, check into getting a permanent mailing address at a commercial mail forwarder such as UPS Store or other business that offers private mail boxes. Some facilities you sign up with even forward your mail to you. This can be especially helpful if you want inmate going to an address that is not yours but you’re not able to retrieve it on a weekly basis. Instead, have your commercial mail forwarder send the mail to your home or to another temporary address.
Some inmate pen-pal companies will insist that the letters are forwarded one or both ways through their company headquarters to protect your true mailing address. Choosing to work with a company this those types of policies do cause the mail to be delayed by about a week, sometimes each way, depending on the situation. If you want to avoid getting a PO Box for either reasons of expense or safety concerns, opt only to work with companies that forward the mail for you. Two such religious based agencies are Evangel Prison Ministries out of Louisville, Kentucky, and Prisoners for Christ out of Woodinville, Washington. Remember, there are more out there, you only need to do an Internet search for “inmate pen-pals forward mail” or “prison pen-pal forward mail” to find a list of companies that may suit your situation.
An inmate pen pal will naturally want to know about your life. That is part of the reason of writing after all. To protect your safety, answer questions about work, school and family life in general terms. For example, instead of saying “I’m a 10 year veteran at (fill in the name of your exact employer),” say, “I’ve worked for 10 years in the (fishing/boating, warehouse, vinyl, manufacturing, administrative, etc…) industry.” You can say “I’m married and have 3 kids” and perhaps give their ages but not their names.
It will be tempting, but avoid sending pictures of yourself or your family to the inmate. Especially if you feel the person has become romantically attached to you, even without you intending for that to happen. (It happens). Some organizations you work with, will automatically prohibit the practice up front. Not giving an inmate a picture of yourself is one less thing the inmate can use, or people they may know, can use to track to you down. The Internet is a funny thing. Instead, feel free to send pictures of your pets, postcards, scenery’s or pictures found in magazines. Do not send a stock photo that is not you and say that it’s you.
A general rule of thumb is: If you feel slightly uncomfortable talking about it or disclosing it, then don’t! This will cover your bases combined with common sense and just making yourself more aware of the safety precautions you should follow. By following the extra safety guidelines, you actually free yourself up to be more genuine with the inmate. True genuineness comes across loud and clear and effects inmates in a positive way.