Helpful hints to those responding to an inmate’s pen-pal ad
Check all info, release dates in the ads can be ‘optimistic’ and you may think your pen-pal is getting out next year but her earliest parole opportunity could be in 10 years, or she may be listing her early parole date but there is a possibility she could be in much longer. Therefore, perform your due diligence.
Don’t just write one letter and disappear. That is depressing to the inmate. If you plan to be a good pen pal, let the inmate know that you can write once a week or once a month, whatever you feel comfortable doing on a regular basis.
Let your inmate pen pal know your current situation honestly. If you are married, say so. If you are 112 years old, state that. Don’t misrepresent yourself. That will be seen as lying by your inmate and will not be taken well. Use the Golden Rule when corresponding with your chosen pen-pal(s).
If you know in advance that you will not visit, state so early.
If you are ONLY writing as a pen pal and there is no possibility of anything more, state that up front. It will be appreciated.
It’s not the best idea to write to more than one inmate at the same facility. That can breed contempt between inmates and create trouble that you don’t want to be a part of. Keep it simple and if you are going to write to more than one inmate, first, let them know and second, it’s best that they are not from the same facility and even better if they are not in the same state. It’s just less hassle that way.
Some inmates can only write letters. Others will have access to what I call “Inmate Email”. They don’t have access to the Internet so don’t ask. But some facilities will allow you to send a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). Others do not. You need to research what is allowed before sending anything. Most inmates do not have a lot of money, so sending stamps or a small amount of funds to their JPay account can help them in returning mail to you. $2 per month will pay for 4 letters per month so don’t go overboard if you decide to use the JPay deposits to help your pen pal afford stamps. It’s best if you’re allowed to send SASE and keep it at that.
Do not agree to forward mail for them to anyone…no one…period. If you are asked that, they may be banned from sending that person a letter and you could be assisting them in breaking the rules. Don’t do that.
Sometimes an inmate won’t respond. That is no big deal. The same thing happens on this side of the fence so it’s simply a preference so don’t get upset if that happens. She may pass your letter on to someone that she thinks may want to write to you and you might get a letter from someone you never wrote to. That’s ok too. You may find someone to write to that way that has already decided she’d enjoy writing to you. Go with the flow.
Some people who write to inmates prefer to have a P.O. Box for security reasons. Enough said.
Inmates have written letters, phone and visitation as means of communication. You may be asked for your phone number or you could be asked to visit. This is your decision. It usually takes months to be approved for visits and sometimes phone calls. You can’t call the inmate, they have to call you and it’s quite a process to get all that approved. Be patient if you decide to allow phone calls or if you decide to visit.
If their ad says that they are looking for a generous man, then you’ll probably be asked to send the pen pal money. It’s up to you if you want to do that but that is quite a business on the inside. If you send money, only send what you can afford to do without. You may not get what’s promised, if anything. Before you send money, be sure about it.
Her conviction. They are a bit uneasy about disclosing the details but if she is sincere about a good pen pal relationship, she should want to be forthcoming and give you the basics about what happened. Again, the Golden Rule applies here. You want to be upfront with her and likewise, you want her to be upfront with you as well.
It is recommended to do a search on your inmate with name, county and state. You may find an article about her crime and arrest. You will then be able to see if she’s being honest with you if you’re already writing or if you wish to write or not to begin with. If you are going to keep it at “Pen Pal status” only, then it may not make as much difference as if you are open to making a connection later.
Some states post pictures of the inmates that are current. It is suggested you compare that to what you’re provided in the ad to see if they match. Sometimes an inmate will provide you a pic of themselves 40 years ago OR a pic of someone they know or a model. Again, you have to protect yourself and know who you’re writing to.
Don’t expect too much. Don’t promise too much. Don’t allow yourself to be lied to if you have a way to verify what you’re being told. Don’t lie to her either. If you find someone you can relate to, you don’t ever want to be caught in a compromising situation. If you are really 5’ 6” tall and living on a modest retirement income, the worst possible thing would be a year or two down the road to have to tell her that you aren’t really 6’ 2” and 32 years old with a large bank account, and that you don’t own a yacht, etc. Be honest, be respectful, and enjoy writing.