So you’ve decided to become a pen-pal with an inmate and you’re trying to draft your first letter. Unanswered questions are spiraling through your head as you try to figure out how to craft a well written letter and make sure you’re in compliance with all of the facility policies.
Well, worry no more. We’ve compiled a list of tips and best practices that will guide you through the process of your initial and on-going correspondence with your incarcerated pen-pal.
TIP #1: Understand the safety best practices
Your safety should be your number one priority. There are many components that go into ensuring that you are protecting yourself and others, and should be taken seriously when corresponding with inmates. For example, you may want to remain anonymous when writing inmates so that you are not revealing your real full name or home address. We have a complete list of safety tips when writing inmates.
TIP #2: Have a well-rounded introduction letter
The feeling of intimidation when drafting your first letter to an inmate can be overwhelming.
What do I say?
How do I say it?
What if he/she doesn’t share the same interests?
How can I express my personality through words?
Is there anything I should avoid saying?
Listen. Be yourself, but be cautious of revealing too much. The best introductory letter is to tell a little about yourself, define your purpose of reaching out (along with any boundaries you may have), and mention one or two things you read in their bio.
Sharing your purpose and boundaries is best way to start a pen-pal relationship so both of your know where you stand. You can also ask the inmate to share what their purpose is first.
A good example of an introductory letter would be:
I found your information on InTouch for Inmates and saw you were interested in a pen-pal. I’d love to correspond and get to know you a little more! If this interests you, I think it’s best for us to define exactly what we’re looking for in a pen-pal and just go from there. For me, I feel my purpose is to have a positive impact on the life of someone that’s going through a difficult time. I’ve experienced difficult times in my life before, and it’s lonely when you have no-one to talk to or help you through it mentally.
So looking at your bio, I noticed you were really into building cars. What got you into that?”
TIP #3: Verify the inmate’s mailing address by visiting the state or federal inmate locator
If you discovered the inmate on our site, the inmate’s mailing address will be on their profile (once unlocked). You can verify that the address is up-to-date by visiting the state or federal inmate locator online. State inmate locators are unique for each state. You can find a link for your state’s by simply using a search engine by typing in “DOC inmate locator”. You can verify the federal inmate’s address by going to this federal inmate locator here.
TIP #4: Send your letter in a standard sized envelope with no windows
Include your return address and return name on the envelope (see our safety tips for anonymity here). Many facilities will reject the mail without return name and address.
TIP #5: Only include writing paper in your envelope
Facility policies for what is allowed and not allowed will vary from facility to facility. Before sending gifts, such as extra stamps or envelopes, books, photos, etc., you should contact the facility to see what is allowed through standard postal mail. However, if any type of gifts are allowed, we recommend that this is not something you provide on your initial contact with a pen-pal. Establish a relationship with the pen-pal first to make sure they are accepting of whatever it is you are trying to provide.