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Old 05-10-2019, 10:47 PM
Velocity is offline
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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.
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Old 05-11-2019, 12:28 PM
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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.
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Old 05-11-2019, 12:34 PM
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I, to would be wary of any info given. It's so easy to find people now with social media as it is.
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Old 05-11-2019, 12:54 PM
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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.
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Old 05-12-2019, 09:23 AM
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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.
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Old 05-12-2019, 01:00 PM
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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)
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Old 05-12-2019, 01:02 PM
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Also, how about emails? (not using my personal everyday email, but a different one set up.)
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Old 05-12-2019, 02:40 PM
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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?
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:10 AM
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Don't believe what they tell you about being innocent and reformed. And do not sen them any cash. That would open the floodgates.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:24 AM
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Also, don't send Boggle timer sand. That is really cocaine.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:49 AM
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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.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:55 AM
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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.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:57 AM
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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.

Last edited by Darren Garrison; 05-13-2019 at 09:58 AM.
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Old 05-13-2019, 10:43 AM
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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.
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Old 05-13-2019, 10:54 AM
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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?
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Old 05-13-2019, 10:58 AM
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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.
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Old 05-13-2019, 11:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by puzzlegal View Post
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.
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Old 05-13-2019, 12:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
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.
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Old 05-13-2019, 01:28 PM
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Yeah, 'cause no religious institution would ever do anything from a completely altruistic motive.

Maybe some do, but not the ones I grew up around and am still surrounded by.
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Old 05-14-2019, 03:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Chance View Post
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.
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Old 05-14-2019, 04:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
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.
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