Straight Dope Message Board

Straight Dope Message Board (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/index.php)
-   In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/forumdisplay.php?f=12)
-   -   Writing to prison inmates as pen pals - what to be mindful of? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=875375)

Velocity 05-10-2019 10:47 PM

Writing to prison inmates as pen pals - what to be mindful of?
 
I have not gotten involved with a church prison ministry yet, but I have considered writing letters to prison inmates (people I don't know and have no connection) as pen-pal ministry. What are the risks involved, and what should I be aware of (law and procedure-wise?) I won't divulge any personal info to them, of course - more like letting them have someone to talk to.

Mr. Bill 05-11-2019 12:28 PM

While I have not done this myself, I can think of a few things off the top of my head.

Do not give any information that would allow them to find you if they are released and/or escape. I would use a PO Box (not in your hometown, but a neighboring one) for mailing purposes. If possible, don't let the inmate know what church is sponsoring the relationship. You might want to even consider not giving your last name and/or using a pen-name.

Do not give any legal advice, as there would seem to be several ways in which that could go wrong.

Absolutely don't send money, outside of small amounts for their commissary. Frankly, I would be hesitant to do even that for fear of setting a precedent which could provide a basis for larger demands. A subscription to appropriate magazines might be a better gift if you want to do so. Check with the prison as to what is allowed.

Don't agree to contact people on the outside for the inmate. You don't know who you might be going to meet or what they are capable of.

Remember that the person you are communicating with is a criminal and is probably very good at manipulating others. Unlike you, the inmate has all the time in the world to think about how to do so. Be on guard against attempts to do so with you.

All that said, I applaud you for your interest in performing this service. Just don't get your hopes up that you will be the cause of someone turning his life around and walking the straight and narrow. It might happen, but the odds are against it.

Beckdawrek 05-11-2019 12:34 PM

I, to would be wary of any info given. It's so easy to find people now with social media as it is.

Teddie 05-11-2019 12:54 PM

I write to someone on death row. He’s never getting out.

I’ve told him about my life and family, I’m not living in fear that he’s ever going to come over to the UK and seek me out.

rbroome 05-12-2019 09:23 AM

What we have been warned about is another inmate appropriating the letters and starting to manipulate the relationship. What we were told, by an inmate with whom we were corresponding, that in prison con artists find people who are receiving letters and either divert the letters to themselves or take them from the recipient, and start replying. Apparently they can make themselves sound like anyone and sound very sympathetic. They after all have nothing but time to refine their craft. You have to be very careful to avoid falling in to a trap while you think you are corresponding to a friend or relation.
Not to discourage you from writing-far from it! But just be careful about the possibility of manipulation.

Velocity 05-12-2019 01:00 PM

Thanks. Is there anything that is illegal to write to a prison inmate? (such as legal advice or information about court cases, as already mentioned, but I wouldn't be writing that)

Velocity 05-12-2019 01:02 PM

Also, how about emails? (not using my personal everyday email, but a different one set up.)

Darren Garrison 05-12-2019 02:40 PM

If you are really so afraid about what this hypothetical criminal may try to do to you, isn't the simplest solution be to not pick a criminal pen pal?

Annie-Xmas 05-13-2019 09:10 AM

Don't believe what they tell you about being innocent and reformed. And do not sen them any cash. That would open the floodgates.

Darren Garrison 05-13-2019 09:24 AM

Also, don't send Boggle timer sand. That is really cocaine.

RickJay 05-13-2019 09:49 AM

Everyone's warning you to be cautious and that's all good, but might I just say that I truly admire you for doing this. It's a kind act of the purest charity, and you should be commended for it.

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker 05-13-2019 09:55 AM

I'm cutting and pasting my response from 2007 from an earlier thread.:

Quote:

OK, in my misspent youth, I did just that. I wrote to a number of incarcerated people who had placed ads in various tabloids.

The stories were all pretty similar: I'm in prison for writing bad checks as the result of a bad relationship with an abusive boyfriend. I just need a little bit of money to buy stamps and supplies at the canteen. I've received lots of responses, but you're the only one I'm writing back to. Oh, and my out date is just next month. Can you send me a little extra for my trip out?

And almost all are knock-out gorgeous (I suspect that some of those are actually incarcerated inmates, but not necessarily the one that you're writing to.)

I don't have any regrets about it, and it was not anything that I was remotely serious about. I just thought it would be fun.

Well, what can I say, I'm easily amused.

BTW, the "babes in prison" is a racket that thrives in part because of the "women in prison" movies. They can run quite a racket by getting money from clueless pen-pals. That's probably a little more difficult in the era of the Internet, where a number of state prison systems have actual photos of prisoners online--and yes, I have since then looked up a number of the people I wrote to. Ha! Anyway, during the time I was writing, there was a sort of sting operation in Arkansas and Texas. In Arkansas, I was sent a letter from the office of the Attorney General in that state. It said (basically) that "these girls are running a racket, and we'd like some info on the girl(s) that you've been writing to." It included a form with a list of questions like "Whom and how many inmates are you writing to? Have they asked for money? etc." Oh, and one thing, the letter said, "Many of these inmates are incarcerated for violent crimes, and some of these inmates are not even the same race that they're claiming to be!"

Anyway, I filled it out, and did send it back. Don't know whatever became of that investigation, and the inmate I was writing to stopped shortly thereafter. (Once they see you're not sending them money, they start to lose interest.) In TX about the same time, I heard that inmates were being prosecuted under RICO! Don't know that that actually happened, but the authorities were aware of the scam the girls were running (i.e., sending out the same letters to each person asking for money, saying that they were the only one, etc.)

Anyway, just some food for thought.
Now, this was in the days before common Internet access, where it would not have been easy to get details on the inmates, what their sentences were, and exactly what they looked like.

Darren Garrison 05-13-2019 09:57 AM

Quote:

Everyone's warning you to be cautious and that's all good, but might I just say that I truly admire you for doing this. It's a kind act of the purest charity, and you should be commended for it.

Except he says it is a church prison ministry. It isn't charity, it is a recruitment drive.

Velocity 05-13-2019 10:43 AM

Thanks for the advice everyone.

AIUI, one has to be careful about writing things that could trigger grief or frustration in an inmate - for instance, writing about attending a family member's graduation ceremony or wedding or going on vacation would make an inmate envious about not being able to do things like that. What sort of topics would be useful for conversation in mail? Sports? Steering clear of politics would probably be best, of course.

puzzlegal 05-13-2019 10:54 AM

Related to what Darren said, what is your goal in writing? Are you looking for a hobby? Do you want to help prisoners pass the time? Do you hope to reform prisoners? Convert them to your church? Help them find God in a more general sense? Something else?

Jonathan Chance 05-13-2019 10:58 AM

I'll reaffirm the caution about sending money et al. That's solid.

But for those of you who are saying 'be careful! They're master manipulators!' and such? Have you ever met an person who's an inmate in a prison? I've interviewed dozens over the years ranging from minor drug offenses to major child porn producers. Most of them are unsubtle, obvious fuck ups who couldn't trick anyone with even the slightest bit of non-naivete. They vast majority were there because they couldn't meet the minimal requirements of society to behave themselves.

Go ahead and write. You might do some good. But don't go in fearfully thinking everything said is part of some master plan to fool you. Most will be just looking for some communication and human contact outside of the small society in which they find themselves.

Velocity 05-13-2019 11:13 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by puzzlegal (Post 21639623)
Related to what Darren said, what is your goal in writing? Are you looking for a hobby? Do you want to help prisoners pass the time? Do you hope to reform prisoners? Convert them to your church? Help them find God in a more general sense? Something else?

Mainly giving them someone normal to talk to on the outside, "pass the time" might be the closest description based off of the ones you listed.

Doctor Jackson 05-13-2019 12:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Darren Garrison (Post 21639448)
Except he says it is a church prison ministry. It isn't charity, it is a recruitment drive.

Yeah, 'cause no religious institution would ever do anything from a completely altruistic motive. :rolleyes:

Darren Garrison 05-13-2019 01:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Doctor Jackson (Post 21639892)
Yeah, 'cause no religious institution would ever do anything from a completely altruistic motive. :rolleyes:


Maybe some do, but not the ones I grew up around and am still surrounded by.

rbroome 05-14-2019 03:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jonathan Chance (Post 21639630)
I'll reaffirm the caution about sending money et al. That's solid.

But for those of you who are saying 'be careful! They're master manipulators!' and such? Have you ever met an person who's an inmate in a prison? I've interviewed dozens over the years ranging from minor drug offenses to major child porn producers. Most of them are unsubtle, obvious fuck ups who couldn't trick anyone with even the slightest bit of non-naivete. They vast majority were there because they couldn't meet the minimal requirements of society to behave themselves.

Go ahead and write. You might do some good. But don't go in fearfully thinking everything said is part of some master plan to fool you. Most will be just looking for some communication and human contact outside of the small society in which they find themselves.

That is good to hear. The advice we received was from someone who has only been incarcerated for a year or two. So perhaps his advice was the caution/fear of a newbie.

puzzlegal 05-14-2019 04:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Velocity (Post 21639661)
Mainly giving them someone normal to talk to on the outside, "pass the time" might be the closest description based off of the ones you listed.

So long as you don't give too much personal information, that doesn't sound very risky. And it seems like a nice thing to do. Best wishes.

Velocity 06-10-2019 11:39 AM

Follow-up question: Can you get in any legal trouble for your comments/opinion on a legal matter (in a letter to an inmate)? (i.e., "I think the prosecution of your case was racially biased," etc.)?

TriPolar 06-10-2019 11:41 AM

Anything you tell them they can tell to someone else.

Jonathan Chance 06-10-2019 12:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Velocity (Post 21690462)
Follow-up question: Can you get in any legal trouble for your comments/opinion on a legal matter (in a letter to an inmate)? (i.e., "I think the prosecution of your case was racially biased," etc.)?

Yeah, but it's just your opinion. Unless you're a lawyer or something your opinion counts as much as anyone else's does. Which is to say, not much.

I could see you potentially getting in trouble for incitement to riot or sending plans to escape or something. But merely commiserating with the inmate? I think your exposure is minimal at best.

DrDeth 06-10-2019 01:00 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Darren Garrison (Post 21638240)
If you are really so afraid about what this hypothetical criminal may try to do to you, isn't the simplest solution be to not pick a criminal pen pal?

Yep, they try cons. They prey on lonely women.

DrDeth 06-10-2019 01:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jonathan Chance (Post 21639630)
I'll reaffirm the caution about sending money et al. That's solid.

But for those of you who are saying 'be careful! They're master manipulators!' and such? Have you ever met an person who's an inmate in a prison? I've interviewed dozens over the years ranging from minor drug offenses to major child porn producers. Most of them are unsubtle, obvious fuck ups who couldn't trick anyone with even the slightest bit of non-naivete. They vast majority were there because they couldn't meet the minimal requirements of society to behave themselves.

Go ahead and write. You might do some good. But don't go in fearfully thinking everything said is part of some master plan to fool you. Most will be just looking for some communication and human contact outside of the small society in which they find themselves.

That's true. Many are violent or druggy fuck ups. But con artists are very clever. in the course of my career as a Fed, I met mostly con artists and money launderers. And they are smart, clever and master manipulators.

And of course, they will manipulate the less clever prisoners into handing over their letters for the con artist to "help with".


https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-...484-story.html

Annie-Xmas 06-10-2019 01:19 PM

One exceptionally good rule of life: Be extremely careful of anything you sign you name to. The simplest, most innocent thing can come back to bite you in the tush.

PatriotX 06-10-2019 02:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Velocity (Post 21636422)
I have not gotten involved with a church prison ministry yet, but I have considered writing letters to prison inmates (people I don't know and have no connection) as pen-pal ministry. What are the risks involved, and what should I be aware of (law and procedure-wise?) I won't divulge any personal info to them, of course - more like letting them have someone to talk to.

I have a friend who went to prison.
I was helping him with a MS
I tried to send the MS back 5 times before it was finally received.

They are incredibly, incredibly picky about the incoming mail.
In theory any paper envelope will do.
In practice, the envelope must match the criteria in the head of whoever is sorting mail that day.
You can only send so many pages at a time in.
Though apparently the number of pages out is indefinite.

Melbourne 06-10-2019 07:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jonathan Chance (Post 21639630)
I'll reaffirm the caution about sending money et al. That's solid.

But for those of you who are saying 'be careful! They're master manipulators!' and such? Have you ever met an person who's an inmate in a prison? I've interviewed dozens over the years ranging from minor drug offenses to major child porn producers. Most of them are unsubtle, obvious fuck ups who couldn't trick anyone with even the slightest bit of non-naivete. They vast majority were there because they couldn't meet the minimal requirements of society to behave themselves.

Go ahead and write. You might do some good. But don't go in fearfully thinking everything said is part of some master plan to fool you. Most will be just looking for some communication and human contact outside of the small society in which they find themselves.

All but one of the prisoners I've known have been barely literate. I don't know that the pen pals represent the same group.

nearwildheaven 06-11-2019 01:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PatriotX (Post 21690815)
I have a friend who went to prison.
I was helping him with a MS
I tried to send the MS back 5 times before it was finally received.

MS? What's that?

Shodan 06-11-2019 09:50 AM

Probably Manuscript.

Regards,
Shodan

nearwildheaven 06-12-2019 12:41 AM

That makes sense. Thanks, Shodan.

Maastricht 06-12-2019 01:19 AM

Why not write instead to prisoners of conscience, through Amnesty International?
https://nowtoronto.com/news/amnesty-...te-for-rights/

Royal Nonesutch 06-12-2019 06:25 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Maastricht (Post 21693680)
Why not write instead to prisoners of conscience, through Amnesty International?
https://nowtoronto.com/news/amnesty-...te-for-rights/

What if they only want to talk about things that you don't find interesting?

Jackmannii 06-12-2019 07:05 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Teddie (Post 21637046)
I write to someone on death row. Hes never getting out.

I applaud your optimism.

control-z 06-13-2019 01:43 PM

The only personal experience I have is a friend's mother wrote to prison inmates, I believe through her church. She started a relationship with one and would go visit him on weekends and such. Didn't end well, she was naive and sent him money but he turned out to be a manipulator.

Honestly I think a lot of people are in prison because they don't function well in normal society and are manipulators or predators. It really depends on what they are in prison for and why they did it, but you can't trust their answers about all that.

Maastricht 06-13-2019 05:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Royal Nonesutch (Post 21693812)
What if they only want to talk about things that you don't find interesting?

Who is likely to be the more interesting person: a criminal who got caught, or a hero who stood up for ideals?

The first one is easier to feel superior to, I grant you that.

Prisoners of conscience are treated better when they get more letters; the prison feels it would be ... conspicuous... if they would want to let them disappear. Getting letters strengthens their courage. https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-invol...te-for-rights/

With Amnesty, your can write to governments, but also to the prisoners or their families.
Eitehr way, your letters do a world of good. http://writeathon.ca/successes/

Velocity 06-13-2019 05:30 PM

Thanks Maastricht, I may consider that but for the time being I'm focusing on U.S. inmates in U.S. prisons.

as_u_wish 06-13-2019 05:59 PM

Back in the mid-eighties, our family wrote to a prisoner through Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship. I believe Prison Fellowship screened the prisoners. We wrote via a Prison Fellowship address which forwarded our mail and the prisoner's mail. The correspondence was a blessing for him and for us. Over about 10 years we wrote probably 2-3 times a week. We talked about everything from going shopping to planting the garden, to trying to pay off credit cards. He wrote about his hopes, his dreams, his faith, the conflicts with other prisoners. My kids grew up sending him pictures they drew and practicing letter-writing skills. We sent modest gifts at Christmas (a towel, some stamps). We never revealed our home address or last name.

When he finished his sentence we never heard from him again. We had been told to expect that - that many prisoners want to end all things that they associate with prison.

After that we asked for another name. We wrote to that prisoner only twice. It was very clear he (a) wanted money and (b) wanted a girl friend. His letters were unpleasant and we dropped it. And decided not to seek out a third correspondent as our family life had moved on.

Velocity 06-13-2019 06:18 PM

Thanks for the advice.


Anything that one should write differently to someone who is serving a life sentence and won't ever get out, as opposed to someone who will only be in for a few years? I am guessing the mindset becomes very different.

Velocity 06-15-2019 12:47 PM

Another technical Q: is there a way to verify that a letter was, in fact, delivered to an inmate and not sitting somewhere undelivered in an office?

Gatopescado 06-15-2019 01:02 PM

Writing a prisoner? Here's what I think:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3IqtQGdTs8


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:10 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.