Why Do People Become Prison Pen Pals?

Kristi Keller

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I don’t know if there are any hot debates about the prison pen pal topic but I suppose it would depend on what circles you associate yourself with.

While I’ve never searched out this topic I know it must be alive and well because there are organizations that exist for the sole purpose of facilitating inmate pen pal relationships.

I can say with certainty that there are plenty of people with varying opinions about corresponding with prison inmates. These opinions are a frenzy of arguments both for and against the idea, depending on what side of the argumentative fence you fall on.

Maybe a “fence” analogy isn’t appropriate in this case.

So, exactly what type of person intentionally seeks out prison inmates to correspond with?

And what types of people purposely start organizations that facilitate these inmate pen pal relationships?

Because you can’t just pick up a pen and paper and mail it blindly into a federal prison, hoping to get a response from a lonely inmate.

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I first became aware of prison pen pal programs through an inmate in the correctional system. I have an incarcerated family member and he heard about the pen pal program from another inmate. He then contacted me and asked me to look into it, so I did, and a Google search led me to Write A Prisoner.

Since it seems there are a few different ways for inmates to be listed on the service I reached out to the organization for clarification. It didn't take long to receive a response.

They were wonderful to correspond with so I decided to gift my inmate a listing on the site. It was as simple as signing up, paying a $65.00 fee, and creating the inmate profile.

However, if an inmate doesn’t have someone on the outside this task is NOT so simple. Things in the prison system take forever to accomplish. Snail mail, photographs, sending or receiving money, etc, are not speedy processes when incarcerated. Having a person on the outside helps immensely and I thought, it’s the least I could do.

Much of society, friends, and families forget about their incarcerated people over time, which is something I’ll never understand. But that’s another story for another time.

Soon after I paid the money, my inmate’s profile appeared on the website among many others who are also looking for outsiders to correspond with. I saw his profile, assured him that it was on the site, and then he sat back and waited, hoping for the best.

I wondered if this whole thing actually works because exactly WHO is out there looking to correspond with inmates?

In my heart, I hoped that someone was because many of these inmates have no one else. As I have learned over the years, my family member is one of the lucky ones who has a tiny bit of family who cares.

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Now back to the original question: What type of person intentionally seeks out prison inmates to correspond with?

I had no idea what the answer to that question was until my inmate started to receive letters. I should add that it took months for him to receive the first one.

He was getting very discouraged and so were we, his family on the outside. The process seems to take time but eventually, letters do begin to roll in.

One day while chatting on the phone with my family member, months after his pen pal profile went live, he told me that suddenly he had received three letters from three people in three completely different parts of the country, almost all at the same time.

The next thing I wondered was what type of people would they be?

We’ve all heard stories of women who want to get to know prison inmates intimately, develop relationships with them, and even marry them while in prison. That’s the part I can’t understand and I wondered if those would be the kind of people seeking out my family member.

On the contrary, those corresponding with him were intelligent, educated, compassionate, and supportive people just looking to understand more about what an inmate’s life and situation are like.

They’re parents, they’re professionals, they’re writers, they come from all walks of life.

I can’t say that I think it’s strange though, because I’ve had my own interactions with inmates through social events in federal prisons. It’s very intriguing, happy and sad, but ultimately enlightening. And I’m just a regular working woman with no agenda so I believe that there are other regular people with no agendas out there, who are just genuinely interested in human beings.

When we think of prison or see it depicted on TV and in movies there seems to be a focus on hardened, violent criminals when in fact, there are thousands of inmates guilty of non-violent and white-collar crimes.

The truth is the world is full of normal people who make bad decisions and end up suffering the consequences.

Although I have several good takeaways from registering my inmate for this pen pal program, one of the best was what it did for his esteem.

By inmates maintaining communication with society through pen pals, it may decrease the chance of institutionalization. It may also be a pro-social method of reintegration and reduce the rate of recidivism.

These inmates are obviously incarcerated for a reason, each with their own story to tell.

As human beings, we can’t be the judge of another human being, but we can certainly try to understand them.

It’s been shocking to me over the years, just how many family members and friends are quick to ditch out on loved ones who have made some wrong turns in life.

Any one of us has the potential to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or make a bad decision and end up where these inmates are.

If you don’t think that’s a fact, think of the last time you may have gotten behind the wheel even slightly under the influence. That action alone could land you among the incarcerated.

Then it could be you on “the other side of the fence” wondering who is going to give you a second thought.

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I'm an old school travel writer who's been flung into another writing world through life experience. I have a compassionate eye, a different opinion, and strong words for this world we live in. I also know a thing or two.

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