For the last 8 months, I’ve been writing prison inmates. It has been safe, easy, and helps fight crippling loneliness! I have found it rewarding – so rewarding that I’m making a guide so others can do it too! Here:

America probably doesn’t even have that many inmates to write, and your post is stupid. 

  • With 5% of the world’s population, the US has 25% of the world’s known prison population
  • Over 2.2 million people are in jail or prison – 1 in every 100 adults/more than the population of New Mexico
  • 50% of federal inmates are serving time for non-violent drug offenses
  • Mandatory minimums are extremely harsh. e.g. for a first-time non-violent drug offense – the mandatory minimum is 5 years
  • 100,000 people are in solitary confinement – 23 hours in a 45 feet cell, with little or no daily human interaction

There are dozens of inmates you can write.

Ok, but why write them?


XmasCard

“There are scores of people waiting for someone just like you to come along; people who will appreciate your compassion, your encouragement, who will need your unique talents.

Someone will live a happier life, merely because you took the time to share what you had to give.

Too often we underestimate the power of a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring – all of which has the potential to turn a life around.”


Most inmates have lost support of family/friends, have difficulty making friends inside, are in solitary confinement. A correspondence helps keep their spirits up & helps alleviate feelings of isolation. A simple letter may seem petty to us, but sometimes it’s all people have to look forward to.

It sounds depressing – au contraire! It’s uplifting and often humorous. Despite their desolate circumstances, they maintain an optimistic outlook – which keeps my cynical & bratty attitude in check. Learning about their world puts things in perspective. It’s truly a unique experience. You connect to people and world’s you’d never encounter otherwise!

If you’re going to read anything in this post – read the Christmas card above. It beautifully articulates a profound sentiment. We underestimate the effect we have on others, and it’d be dope if we were more cognizant of that!

Is this safe? Or should I anticipate being turned into a human skin suit?

This is most people’s concern. It just sounds like a recipe for trouble. However! It is extremely safe and you can remain anonymous – if you’re not reckless.

Precautions to ensure safety:

  • Be careful who you choose to write to
  • Have mail sent to a safe location (see more info in ‘How To’ section)
  • Don’t use real names – create an alias for yourself and other people you mention
  • Don’t give away other identifying details, like “I really enjoy my job as the night-shift manager of the downtown Jamba Juice. I just love working from 6-10 PM on Mondays and Thursdays – it’s the best!”
  • Practice common sense! Err on the side of being cautious

Wow, Reah! I feel safe now! Count me in! What are the next steps?

1) Find an inmate! 

Don’t be turned off by appearance! Some sites look like Geocities, circa 1995. Some profiles read like dating profiles, but most people are just looking for platonic happy friendships.

There are a lot of considerations to make, like: age, crime type, death row, favorite food, gender, location, race, religion, sentence length, sexual orientation, zodiac sign.

List of Inmate Listing Websites:
Prison Inmates | Inmate | Convict Penpals | Write A Prisoner | Prison Inmate Penpal | Friends Beyond The Wall | Love A Prisoner | Lost Vault

My favorite site is PrisonInmates.com because it’s clean, organized, and has filters. If you’re writing your first pen pal, I’d start there.

Keep in mind – inmates have to pay for these listings, so they’re often only on one site, so it’s good to check the other ones too!

2) Writing your first letter

Writing your first letter can feel awkward because you’re initiating contact with a complete stranger. It can be brief – you’re just inviting someone to a conversation. I’d introduce yourself & your interests. Now is a good time to establish boundaries, e.g.:

“I have a boyfriend… but we might have to break up if he won’t commit to marriage and/or making babby. 4 months is long enough! Who knows, maybe I’ll be on the market again soon – LOL!!

That wasn’t my first letter, btw. Mine looked like this:

“My name is [alias], and I found you on [website].
I’m [age], living in the [region], [insert interests]

I just wanted to shoot you a quick letter to see if you want to correspond. I imagine things are pretty shitty and isolated, so if you want company I’m more than happy to talk! Whether it’s life, politics, religion, sports, books, etc. 

If you want to chat, you can send me letters here! {address}”

Boom. Easy peasy. First letter written.

3) Deciding how you want to send/receive mail

This seems daunting, but it’s super simple once you’ve decided. There are several methods!

Write them by hand – use your own address
Pros:
– Convenience
– You can handwrite letters, so it’s more personalized
Cons:
– It’s unlikely, but that guy on death row could escape prison and turn you into said   human skin suit. But if he does, you’ll be infamous, be on some Wikipedia page, and get lots of attention. So maybe this con is actually a pro?
– You’re burning less calories – as opposed to walking or logging in somewhere

Rent a PO Box
Pros:
– $16/every 3 months
– You receive actual mail and keep letters and art!
Cons
– The Internet doesn’t tell you if you have mail – you have to check irl
– Inmate will know your city & state

Jmail – paid mailing service
Pros:
– $25/year to have your mail sent to their PO Box
– Safe and untraceable! Even Jmail doesn’t know your address
– You never have to mail anything – it’s just like sending an email
– You can send photos
– When Jmail receives letters, they scan and upload them
– All your sent & received letters are saved in your account’s inbox
Cons:
– It can get expensive if you’re insane like me and have a million pen pals, because it’s $1 to send and receive a letter
– You don’t get the actual letter
– You can have them send you any letter for $5! So it is possible if you want a physical copy

Corrlinks – free email
Pros
:
– Free!
– Quick responses – at least once a day
Cons:
– Their website is abysmal and outdated, but it does work!
– Only some inmates have access… so usually they’d be the ones sending an invite
– I found this to be overwhelming. If they’re someone you really like – solid. But the capacity to message multiple times a day can be messy. I had one dude get very frustrated.

JPay – paid email/phone service 
Pros:
– Kind of a hybrid between the two – an emailing system that costs money
– Cheaper than JMail
– Has other features – like depositing money, phone calls
– Their site is also outdated, but still easier than Corrlinks
– Fast responses
Cons:
– Same as Corrlinks – responses are faster/higher expectations
– Don’t have physical letter
– You can use Jmail for any inmate, but Jpay is not available for everyone

What do I use?
– I started using Jmail for anonymity, but eventually wanted physical letters/to save money
– I receive all letters at a PO Box. I often use Jmail to send my letters, because it’s only $0.50 more than a stamp, and I can include photos.

4) Sending the letter 

Unsurprisingly, prisons are full of dickheads and will look for any opportunity to not accept mail. So make sure you double check everything!

  • Be mindful that your letter will probably read by prison officials.
    • Refrain from detailing your terrorist plot to eradicate the EPA once and for all. If you reallyyyy need to – speak in code. Make sure your code is hard to decipher, but also that your pen pal knows the code. Otherwise this is just an unnecessary and time consuming risk
  • Include your full name and contact information
    • I’ve had returned letters for dumb reasons. Once you determine your alias and address, make sure it’s very legible and complete

All listing sites will have inmates’ complete addresses – but make sure everything is included and matches.

  • Their legal name must be verbatim.
    • I know you wanna write ‘Reah “Heroin Kingpin of the West” Reavitt’ and/or ‘Reah “World Table Tennis Champion of 1994” Reavitt’ – NO. I can almost promise the letter will be returned in those cases.
      It must be “Reah Reavitt”
  • Make sure the ID # is included.
    • Every inmate has an ID number – put that next to their name
  • Facility name
    • Put this on the line before the address, e.g. Peter’s Phat Penitentiary
  • Address
    • Street address, city, state, zip – if you get this wrong just… stop reading and writing altogether.

EXAMPLE:
Reah Reavitt #666
Peter’s Punitive Penitentiary
123 Street Address
City, State, Zip

Wow that 4 step process felt like 0 steps cause it was so easy. 

Once you have a system established, it should be pretty simple and routine!

If you have any additional questions – please let me know! You can message me on Facebook or comment on this page.


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