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Old 05-10-2019, 10:47 PM
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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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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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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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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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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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Old 06-10-2019, 11:39 AM
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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.)?
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:41 AM
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Anything you tell them they can tell to someone else.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:56 PM
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Quote:
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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.
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
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.
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:05 PM
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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.
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
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:19 PM
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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.
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Old 06-10-2019, 02:08 PM
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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.
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:15 PM
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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.
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.
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Old 06-11-2019, 01:01 AM
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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?
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Old 06-11-2019, 09:50 AM
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Probably Manuscript.

Regards,
Shodan
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Old 06-12-2019, 12:41 AM
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That makes sense. Thanks, Shodan.
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Old 06-12-2019, 01:19 AM
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Why not write instead to prisoners of conscience, through Amnesty International?
https://nowtoronto.com/news/amnesty-...te-for-rights/
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Old 06-12-2019, 06:25 AM
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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?
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Old 06-12-2019, 07:05 AM
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I write to someone on death row. Hes never getting out.
I applaud your optimism.
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Old 06-13-2019, 01:43 PM
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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.
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:01 PM
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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/
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:30 PM
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Thanks Maastricht, I may consider that but for the time being I'm focusing on U.S. inmates in U.S. prisons.
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:59 PM
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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.
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Old 06-13-2019, 06:18 PM
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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.
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Old 06-15-2019, 12:47 PM
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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?
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Old 06-15-2019, 01:02 PM
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Writing a prisoner? Here's what I think:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3IqtQGdTs8
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Old 06-17-2019, 12:51 PM
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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?
Not really. Usually the only way to find out is when the inmate writes back.

Be sure to find out what the rules are for the specific prison system, as they can be incredibly picky. In my state (Kansas), for example, the envelope MUST have your first and last name and a valid (or at least valid-appearing) return address on the outside; it can be a post office box or similar, but an envelope without a sender's name and address will not be delivered. Neither will an envelope that weighs more than one ounce, so roughly four or five sheets of paper. Your state may well have different rules.

Some states do have an email option, usually a commercial provider such as JPay or Access Corrections, but it's not free
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Old 06-17-2019, 02:59 PM
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OK thanks, does it have to be real name or can we use an alias? (along with PO box)
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Old 06-17-2019, 06:19 PM
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OK thanks, does it have to be real name or can we use an alias? (along with PO box)
The prison system here wants it to be the real name (whether that's what they get is less clear, but they do check to be sure it at least plausibly appears to be real).

However, this is really dependent on the individual state systems.
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Old 06-17-2019, 10:08 PM
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I had a brother, now deceased, who spent a good share of his life behind bars. He told me about writing to women. All the cons do it. Many of them have several they correspond with. They will wonder if the writer has a friend, because there is this guy in jail who gets no visitors and hardly any letters. So maybe you write to the friend, or you have a friend who will write (even though the guy is already writing to several.)

They all have a sad story, and they usually have four or five options of women to use when they get out. So if you write, be extremely cautious of revealing any identifying information. My brother was quite a sweet-talker, but he'd stay with someone only until he found another sucker.
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