Writing to an inmate with good intentions of providing some emotional stability, spiritual guidance and overall moral support is a good endeavor. However, not all inmates who request pen pals have the best intentions. Some intentionally want to use you for their own personal gain in a variety of ways. The best way to deal with any problems you could incur while writing an inmate is to put up rules for yourself that prevent them in the first place.
Some inmates will advertise for pen pals through several agencies both in print and online and then when contacted by an individual interested in friendship, the inmate will send out the same handwritten letter with the same request for items, cash or requests to help someone in their family to several unsuspecting people at the same time. All prison facilities provide for an inmate’s basic needs including warm clothing when the the weather warrants it, food and more. Each facility has its own rules and regulations about sending money. Primarily, cash should only be given to the inmate from his or her close family members and friends on the outside, versus a new pen pal. Inmates also have a way of bartering their goods for things like stamps, new shoes, paper or what have you. There is no need for you to send anything to an inmate that is outside the scope of personal development or enrichment. Stick to letters, puzzles printed off the Internet, comics strips cut out from the newspaper, inspirational quotes, etc…
Other inmates only want a new pen pal to do research for them from the outside for things like legal matters or trying to “contact a relative” for them. Do not ever give legal advice to an inmate, interfere with their legal proceedings or contact others on their behalf. Do not ever promise to look up someone on Facebook, MySpace or any other social network or give the whereabouts for anyone they might inquire about. This keeps you from being inadvertently from being involved in possible crimes or plans to commit crimes, even by “accident.”
Being in prison takes a toll on an individual’s psychological situation in both good and bad ways. Within 3 years of being incarcerated, the majority of inmates loose contact with friends, family and prior significant others. This leaves a person faced with internal drama’s, struggles and a deep sense of loneliness that will affect an inmate one way or another for the rest of their lives. By being friends with an individual behind bars, especially of someone with the opposite sex, you can inadvertently cause the inmate to think you have romantic feelings towards them more than you really wanted to incur. This can happen over time even if you avoided signing your letters like “Love, (your name)” or “Caring for you, (your name).” Some inmates are only looking for love outside the prison walls. If this is not your intention, the best way to handle it is to state so up front.
Think ahead of time what type of things you can do to keep your identity hidden and your personal information secure ahead of time, before you start writing to inmates. Enjoy writing your letters to your inmate pen pal, but remember they are in prison for a reason. Some people, incarcerated or not, are very good at lying, smooth-talking and manipulating their way into a person’s life. Keep good healthy boundaries in your life and sticking to them can help avoid running into potential problems when writing to inmates. For more tips on protecting your safety while writing inmates, click here.