Prisoner pen pals
Prisoner support ranges from books-to-prisoners projects that mail free books to inmates to individually becoming penpals with a prisoner. Some people focus on political prisoners while others see the entire prison-industrial complex as illegitimate and criticize the way that it targets marginalized communities. A key way we can support prisoners is by communicating with them. In an email-dominated world, writing an old-fashioned letter on paper can be surprisingly rewarding for you as well as a prisoner. Here are some tips on writing letters to prisoners.
• When writing to prisoners, you have to put their prisoner number on the first line of the mailing address to get it through.
• Make sure to put a return address on your letter. If you are writing to a prisoner you don’t know, it may be best to use a PO box or other address that doesn’t disclose where you live.
• If you’re writing to a prisoner, keep in mind that the prison officials or other authorities may read your letter. Don’t discuss anything sensitive. If the prisoner is waiting for trial or sentencing (or on appeal), it may be better not to discuss the details of their case.
• Prisons prohibit mailing items like books, food, money, etc. Ask the prisoner for the rules.
• Don’t make promises you can’t keep like offering to find a lawyer to take their case, sending them money or expensive items, offering them housing on release, organizing a support campaign, etc.— being let down when you’re locked up can be especially devastating. Be clear about your intentions. If you’re not looking for a romantic relationship, it can be helpful to all involved to say so right off.
• While the state locking people up is shitty, it doesn’t follow that all prisoners are angels. They are people just like everyone else, and some of them are flawed or can be manipulative. Use reasonable caution and treat prisoners like you would another penpal.
• Be careful about accepting collect phone calls from jail — prison collect calls are usually absurdly expensive.