Advice for Prospective Pen Pals

For Pen Pals Outside

Just like anywhere else, you will find both good people and bad people in prison.  You cannot assume that every inmate is evil incarnate any more than you can assume that the milk of human kindness flows in the veins of every person you meet on the outside.  Sometimes, people are convicted of crimes even though they are not guilty.  Sometimes, people fear that they can’t convince a jury of their innocence, so they plead guilty to a crime they did not commit in order to be assured of a mild sentence.  Some people are guilty as charged, but have grown and changed and are not the same people they were at the time they committed their crime.  Until you know the specific facts of an inmate’s case, and have gotten to know them through correspondence, it’s hard to know whether the person you are writing to—today—is someone who is just waiting to work you for money, involve you in a money-order scam or whatever, or someone who will be a true friend to you.  Unfortunately, frogs are far more numerous than prince(sse)s.

Until you feel you have come to know your pen pal very well, take the same care with your personal information that you would in answering any other kind of personal ad.  While your prospective friend may be incarcerated and not expecting release soon, he or she may have associates outside in the free world who live close by.  If by some mischance you’ve chosen the wrong person to write to, you don’t want members of a criminal gang to know where you live.  You may want to rent a Post Office box or private mailbox to keep your home address private.

Be aware of differences between life outside and life inside.  Many inmates have little or no money, and little prospect of earning any.  Not all prison systems pay inmates for their work, and wages at those that do are usually only a few cents per hour.  Even where there is paid work, there are not enough jobs for everyone who wants one.  This means that such things as paper, pens and postage stamps may be more difficult to come by for your pen pal than they are for you.  Also, the Postal Service may deliver your letter to the prison in a couple of days, but at some institutions, it may take several weeks for it to be processed by the mailroom and given to the inmate.  Allow a couple of months before you decide that you aren’t going to get a response.

Here are a few more suggestions:

For Pen Pals Inside

Keep in mind that there are many inmates looking for pen pals.  A good percentage of these are looking to make some money by taking advantage of their new friends.  If you want to make it clear that you are for real, keep these points in mind:

Copyright © 2007 by Charles E. Galvin Jr.  All rights reserved.

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