Regardless of why you’re considering corresponding with inmates, there are several things you should examine before jumping in with both feet. This article is designed to give you an overview and is obviously not all inclusive to the things you should consider giving your own personal situation.
Examine your motives for wanting to write to inmates to begin with. Are you wanting a pen-pal as a hobby and feel like you’d have a better shot at getting letters returned from an inmate simply because they have more “time” to write you back? Are you considering a romantic endeavor? Do you feel led by God to minister to those behind bars as outreach of your faith? Are you just bored? The culture of writing inmates a varies widely from that of writing an individual that is not locked up. Some inmates will attempt to emotionally manipulate you into getting certain needs met while they’re behind bars. You need to ask yourself if you’re prepared to deal with those types of situations a head of time. This author personally does not recommend writing inmates if you are emotionally needy or are seeking a romantic endeavor just because of realistic unfavorable consequences that could manifest because of it. However, you are always free to make your own choice.
Writing inmates involves a certain level of commitment including the time involved in writing the actual letters, purchasing postage stamps and letter writing materials. Some inmate pen-pal companies you sign up with will ask you to make a six month commitment to writing an inmate even if you don’t end up liking the inmate very much as a pen-pal. The amount of time and money you expend will increase with each pen-pal you take on. For example, determine if you can realistically send some type of correspondence at least once a month to one inmate or perhaps 20.
You need to decide again, your reasons for wanting to write to an inmate. The reason you want to write will help narrow down the possible companies you want to go through to be matched with inmates to write. There are more than 100 inmate pen-pal companies in existence. Learn as much as you can about the company you want to volunteer with and don’t work with any company you don’t feel completely comfortable with.
You need to understand that inmates are in jail and in prison because they were convicted of charges in a court of law and protect your safety at all costs. It’s the nature of the beast so to speak. 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. Other companies do not bother with this. Don’t ever share your physical address with an inmate. You may need to get a Post Office box to alleviate that.
Each prison facility has its own list of rules and regulations. You’ll need abide by those rules to avoid getting yourself and the inmate into potential trouble. This is especially important if you signed up with a company who provides you with a listing of names, who has lackadaisical structure for its volunteers or for those who find an inmate’s address off the Internet and just starts writing.
Inmates live in a culture and environment filled with negativity, emotional drama, depression, stress, anxiety and distrust at every turn. Sometimes, even though an inmate is requesting a pen-pal, he or she will be very distrusting of you or you could find yourself at the end of a letter that is filled with angry words. Inmates cannot always write back due to a lack of paper and envelopes or no money for stamps. Inmates are also moved without notice and mail is often not forwarded.
Once you’ve taken these core things into consideration, and you still feel like writing to an inmate, by all means go ahead. You’ll make a world of difference to someone and may finding yourself effecting their life in very real and positive ways.