The concept of “pen pals” conjures up images of friends from camp and cutesy letters dotted with stickers. Individuals take up pen pals for a variety of reasons: to maintain long distance friendships, to connect with individuals from other cultures or regions, and to seek a community. But having a pen pal can also be incredibly beneficial to prison inmates, some of whom don’t have family and friends on the outside to turn to during their sentence. Here are five reasons why you should consider writing a prisoner:
- There’s nothing like receiving a handwritten letter. In the era of text and email, sentimental communication like letters has fallen out of style. But the excitement of checking your mailbox and finding a letter, or of reading the handwriting of someone close to you, is hard to replicate.
- You’ll be providing companionship to individuals who need it most. Prison is a scary, lonely, intense experience, and having someone to vent to can help a prisoner cope. You can act as their connection to the outside (which can help with rehabilitation and re-entry) and distract them from their struggles, at least for a few moments.
- It’s mutually beneficial. Everyone could use a friend, and the relationships you forge in writing inmates is just as strong and intimate as any other friendship. You’ll meet someone who’ll listen and who’ll support you, and who will be just as excited to receive your letters as you are theirs.
- It’s completely safe. There’s a negative connotation with incarceration that inmates have to carry even after prison, and that can ward some people away. But being imprisoned doesn’t make someone any less deserving of kindness and respect. Every prisoner will have a story that goes beyond their charge, and if you’re still uncomfortable, then charges are generally public and you can stick to writing inmates with charges with which you’re comfortable. If you feel uncomfortable about giving out your address to an inmate, you can always get a PO box for cheap and use that to address letters. Boundaries are yours to set, and you have complete control over who you write and how much information you give.
- It’s super easy. Web sites such as Write a Prisoner connect you with prisoners’ information and addresses so that you can find someone to connect with. Most prisoner profiles include short bios, zodiac signs, pictures, sentence lengths, and charges. The website also includes important legal information about how to send letters that fulfill prison regulations. All you have to do is find a profile that resonates with you and then you send them a letter!
Having a pen pal is a gratifying experience that can lead to lifelong friendships. Writing a prisoner not only helps their emotional wellbeing but yours too.