For my activism project, I decided to compile some resources about how to write to prison inmates. My background in restorative justice and my prison abolitionist leanings caused me to become interested in the topic of maintaining the humanity of people on the inside. Additionally, my husband has written to prisoners and I was always intrigued by that. I wanted to try it for myself, but had a lot of anxiety and apprehension about it. I thought that if I found out more information about it, and could write about it, it would help me and others become more comfortable with the idea and the process.
I planned to display the information on a webpage, because I have the basic skills to create one, and because the internet is a good way for many people to access information. My original vision was to make a very comprehensive, highly detailed resource that put every shred of information I could find into one place. As I conducted my research, it became clear to me that there is simply so much info out there, that applies to such a wide variety of situations, that this aim was not very feasible — furthermore, I felt it might scare people away from finding a prison penpal, rather than encouraging them to. I decided it was better to hit the high-notes of my research, and provide a list of resources for further reading. The end result is a simple but functional single-page website with links to prison penpal and prisoner rights organizations, as well as commentary and summaries of some of the more notable things I learned. My hope is that a person with a budding interest in writing to an inmate would read the webpage and feel like they had just enough information to take away some of the intimidation and help them feel empowered to start writing letters.
I had hoped to include testimonials from folks who had had prison penpals, but most of the people I spoke to about this had experiences that didn’t really fit the scope of this project. Thankfully my husband Jay was very willing to help. His experience constitutes a “what not to do”, but includes his insights about what he could have done differently. I think this could be useful to a new letter-writer because it illustrates the importance of following the guidelines and communicating openly and honestly.
My research did help me feel ready to write a letter. I found the profile of a woman incarcerated in Nevada who seems to have many of my same interests. I wrote my letter almost as if her profile was a letter itself, responding to her statements with followup questions and conversationally sharing my thoughts. I kept it very lighthearted, and invited her to set the tone of future letters, should she be interested in writing back. Because we are interested in some of the same things, It felt like I was writing to any other friend or new penpal. I am very curious to see if I receive a letter back, and to find out where things will go from here.
I sincerely hope that others reading this will consider learning about writing to inmates. The bond and support you can give someone can do a lot of good for the both of you.
Please visit the webpage I created for this project at