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Why WriteAPrisoner?

Why people should write to prisoners.


Decades of research have shown that maintaining contact with the outside world supports the mental health and emotional well-being of inmates. In addition to fostering more positive attitudes and reducing recidivism among those who engage in regular communication, society at large benefits. Inmates who maintain positive relationships during incarceration are better equipped to interact with family members, employers, and others upon release. This compilation presents key findings from numerous research projects and other sources, highlighting the many reasons to write to a prisoner.


Social Adjustment and Emotional Well-being for Inmates.


Social Adjustment & Emotional Well-being

"[I]t is undeniable that since approximately ninety percent of all inmates will one day be released, allowing prisoners to communicate with the outside world has important consequences: "Without such contact with society outside the prison walls, rehabilitation would be adversely affected, prison morale weakened, perhaps inviting riots and other forms of internal disorder, and the inmates’ ability to readjust to the world outside the institution upon release would be markedly impaired. Free speech in the prison context is also important since it is the only first-hand account we have as to how the penal system is run. Communication also plays a vital role in an inmate’s access to the courts and his relations with counsel" (Holtz, 2002, p. 2).


"Very often, inmates have used the Internet not only to look for pen-pals and counsel, but also as a way to convey the inner workings of the American prison system or to tell their stories in order to garner support from the outside. Others write of their personal growth while incarcerated or share their creative writing or art work" (Holtz, 2002, p. 3).


"A clear and consistent emphasis on maximizing visitation and supporting contact with the outside world must be implemented, both to minimize the division between the norms of prison and those of the freeworld, and to discourage dysfunctional social withdrawal that is difficult to reverse upon release" (Hany, 2002, p. 17).


"The recommended policy guideline adopted by the Association of State Correctional Administrators on August 23, 1972, echoes the view that personal correspondence by prison inmates is a generally wholesome activity: ‘Correspondence with members of an inmate's family, close friends, associates and organizations is beneficial to the morale of all confined [416 U.S. 396, 413] persons and may form the basis for good adjustment in the institution and the community’" (U.S. Supreme Court PROCUNIER v. MARTINEZ, 416 U.S. 396 (1974) 416 U.S. 396).


"Two pieces of paper, envelopes and a pencil are provided to offenders upon arrival so they may correspond with family members and friends. While you may not send any food, clothing, cash, stamps or other items through the mail, written correspondence is encouraged. Many emotions may be felt at this time, so it is important that you maintain communication and provide support. It is common for new arrivals not to correspond with family or friends initially; they are often depressed and embarrassed. You should continue to write during this time, including your full return address on the envelope. The offenders need to know you still care and are there for them" (Missouri Department of Corrections, 2010).


“One of the most important ways you can communicate with an offender is through written correspondence. Encourage your family and friends to write! Even if you are coming to visit soon and have talked on the phone recently, a letter is really appreciated, especially since your contact with an incarcerated loved one is restricted. If you have a few free minutes, send a quick note or card!” (Missouri Department of Corrections, 2011, p. 9).


"There are recognized rehabilitative benefits to permitting prisoners to maintain contact with the world outside the prison gates" (Wilken, 2002).


"As a group, prisoners have a markedly lower level of subjective quality of life and self-esteem but a higher level of anxiety and depression amounting to a severely compromised psychological well-being. Male prisoners are more likely to engage in emotion-focused and avoidance-focused coping behaviours, the former of which is highly likely to maintain their low levels of well-being" (Gullone, Jones, & Cummins, 1999, p. 6).

"The majority of people interviewed at the time of their release returned to their communities alone. Only a small number of returning prisoners were met by family members, friends, or social service representatives" (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001, p. 26).


"The literature on prison reentry shows that connections to family and friends are strong predictors of success for women. Maintaining positive family contacts during and following incarceration fosters integration into the community and reduces recidivism. Good relationships with law-abiding intimate partners contribute to women’s financial security and reinforce their sense of competency. Law-abiding partners also can act as emotional role models and give social support" (Bui & Morash, 2010, p. 2).


A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Prison Service stated: "Prisoners corresponding with penpals is common practice throughout the world and something that we do not discourage. It gives inmates an opportunity to write about prison life and is particularly useful for those who do not have a wide circle of friends or family to confide in." The spokesman added that the practice could be considered "therapeutic" and "educational" for inmates and may also "improve a person's literacy skills" which would in turn help prisoners "express their thoughts and feelings more clearly" (Devlin, 2010, p. 1).


"The Prison Pen-Pals Project, a PWAC project that is moving to Body Positive as part of the consolidation, is an attempt to help alleviate the isolation so many prisoners experience, and to provide them with the information and support they need while living with the virus behind bars" (Whittier, 1999, p. 4).


One inmate living with HIV stated, "I know how hard it is in prison, period -- the isolation, the loneliness, the despair, the hopelessness of being behind walls and the feeling of no one caring can be overwhelming. And being in prison with HIV is double trouble" (Whittier, 1999, p. 9).


"Several participants reported that feelings of loneliness were a significant factor in their suicide attempts. Most of the inmates who expressed such feelings said that they felt isolated from both the outside world and within the prison. These feelings were related to relationship difficulties; however, in many cases inmates felt lonely despite communicating with other inmates and family members, and thus this subtheme appeared to be more a part of depressive symptoms than of relationship issues. One participant observed: ‘Nobody is keeping in touch. That’s the main thing about depression in prison, being alone. Here in prison you’re alone, you don’t have nobody. I tussle myself all day long; that’s the only person I got. Sometimes…I would not wish it to my worst enemy I guess, you know what I’m saying?’" (Oregon Department of Corrections, 2009, p. 45-6).


"Prisoners’ family relationships and social networks outside the prison are emerging as a major corrections and social services issue. The strengthening of family ties is being promoted as a correctional treatment strategy and major changes in corrections communications policies support movement in that direction" (Hairston, 1991, p. 87).


"Two percent of the men who had three or more different visitors during the year prior to parole were returned to prison within one year of their parole. This number contrasts with 12 percent of those who had no contact with family and friends and the difference was statistically significant" (Hairston, 1991, p. 97-8).


"Several studies suggest the prisoner's mental health is dependent on his contact with the outside world" (Hairston, 1991, p. 93-4).


“We found that something as simple as a pen pal relationship can lead to tangible benefits for prisoners,” says researcher Professor Jackie Hodgson. “Given the recent rise in prison violence and suicides, increased prison overcrowding and the current resource pressures on the prison system, letter-writing seems an extremely valuable way to provide greater support for prisoners, based on genuine relationships of care and trust, at remarkably little cost” (Jones, 2015).


“Many inmates have become out of sight, out of mind to their family and friends, and receiving a letter at mail call can lift spirits, let the inmate know that they are not alone, and help eliminate the monotony that goes along with being incarcerated” (Duke Law, 2019).


"[I]t has been suggested that the inmate can draw on the social support of family and friends to better adjust to the stresses and strains of prison life" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 48).


"More recently, the National Institute of Corrections suggested that visitation may facilitate the development of healthy family relationships that may constitute an important ingredient in the offender’s support network after release. Furthermore, states are reexamining their prison policies and, in some cases, recommending increased prisoner access to visitation, mail correspondence, and telephone communication (e.g., see Florida House of Representatives Justice Council Committee on Corrections, 1998)" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 49).


"Research suggests that maintaining the inmate’s ties to family and friends will improve the inmate’s chances of reintegrating into the community after release. Changes in prison communication policies since 1971 seem to demonstrate the integration of this belief into contemporary correctional practice. However, only 30% of the facilities responding to our 2005 survey reported making significant changes to their communication policies during the past 10 years. Furthermore, the 2005 survey shows that communication policies have changed little and, in some cases, have gotten more restrictive since the 1991 survey" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 55).


"Research shows that for women, quality relationships that support their new goals and vision of their lives makes the difference. Cherie D. Lindsay, lead Case Manager… says, ‘Relationships often lead women into difficulties that end in arrest and incarceration. By building new relationships with family, mentors, and support systems it creates the possibilities for a new and fulfilling life.’" (OurPlaceDC, 2010, p. 1).


"The present study examined institutional and individual factors that were related to levels of anxiety, depression and psychological well-being within these groups. A psychiatric history, religious faith, feelings of guilt, lack of close friends outside prison, or disinclination to take part in sport, training or hobbies were found to be associated with high levels of anxiety, depression and psychological morbidity" (Cooper & Berwick, 2001, p. 169).


"Based on the analysis of data obtained from 276 adult felons confined in a maximum security institution, the analysis clearly shows that adaptations to imprisonment are in part attributable to such extraprison influences as… frequency of contacts with individuals in the free society, and quality of the inmates’ perceptions of their post-prison life chances" (Thomas & Foster, 1973, p. 226).


"The loss of contact with the outside, on the other hand, becomes pronounced after about a year away from home. The evidence supporting this comes from the autobiographies of former inmates and the drop in letter-writing and visiting by relatives after a one-year period" (Sommer & Osmond, 1969, p. 254).


"…incarceration frequently isolates the inmate from the larger community, thereby minimizing his exposure to 'legitimate' influences…" (Waldo, Chiricos, & Dobrin, 1973, p. 354).


"I had first heard about Myrtie Howell from an inmate in a New Hampshire prison when he wrote to ask those of us at Prison Fellowship headquarters to join in prayers for her health. The Fellowship had matched this man and Mrs. Howell up as pen-pals, something we do with thousands of inmates and volunteers. ‘Please pray for Grandma Howell,’ he pleaded in a childlike scrawl, ‘cause she’s sick and may be going to die. Nobody has ever loved me like she has. I just wait for her letters, they mean so much.’" (Colson, 1985, p. 12).


"Correspondence allows people to maintain and even strengthen bonds and ties within a community despite being physically disconnected, and it is one way to facilitate reentry (into society)," said Lisa Kinney, Virginia Department of Corrections spokesperson. "Using different modes of correspondence, offenders can build and maintain relationships, return with resources, and feel positive about themselves and their connections" (Adams, 2013).


“[I]n-person visits, phone calls, and letters have roughly equivalent [positive] effects on family connectedness and mental health during the first year post-release” (Folk et al., 2019, p. 460).


“For those incarcerated, including those who have been wrongly convicted, writing and receiving letters and building connections with people outside of prison can provide a sense of hope, validation, and encouragement” (Nguyen, 2023).


“Writing a letter to someone in prison also serves a pragmatic protective function: When a person receives mail, it signals to guards and other authority figures that they have people on the outside looking out for them. It also serves as emotional support for people inside, who are subjected to ongoing isolation and trauma…” (Schenwar, 2023).


“Many prisoners feel isolated and disconnected from the world outside. Prison pen pal programs provide them with the opportunity to make social connections, relieve loneliness and improve their mental health. Engaging in correspondence can also allow inmates to learn, grow, and develop new interests. It encourages them to reflect on their lives and fosters a sense of responsibility and motivation to change for the better” (University of Texas, 2023).


“Correspondence, at a wholesome and constructive level, with family members, close friends, associates and organizations is essential to the morale of all confined persons. It may form a positive basis for both present and future adjustment in the unit/center and in the community” (Arkansas Administrative Code, 2023).


“Letter writing cuts into the isolation and brings people closer together through the physical and figurative walls that the prison-industrial complex builds, and in doing so, it helps keep people safer. Imprisoned people who receive no mail or contact from anyone are at risk of being recognized by both corrections officers and other people inside as being vulnerable, because the lack of mail sends a message that no one is coming to advocate for them…” (Krausch, 2022).


“Nothing, of course, compares to the chronic isolation and loneliness felt by the millions of prisoners enduring long stints in solitary confinement, which U.N. experts have described as a form of torture. As I wrote for Solitary Watch, during my year of solitary confinement when I was 17 years old, I was so lonely that I resorted to dialing random phone numbers, hoping that someone would answer my collect call and be a friend or write me letters. I was that desperate for connection. I remember the sinking feeling when the mail cart would pass my cell, for weeks and months at a time, without a letter for me. The squeak of the wheels passing reminded me that I did not matter to a single person outside that concrete box, challenging me to care about myself enough to go on living” (Williams, 2023).


“It’s important to note that a further benefit of combating loneliness through prison pen-pal services is less violence and crime. The surgeon general reports that higher levels of social connectedness are associated with lower levels of community violence” (Williams, 2023).


“For people who are incarcerated, mail offers a link to the outside world that extends beyond words or drawings on a page. Paper letters and cards let people in correctional facilities hold and touch an item that a loved one held, running their fingers over the handwriting, or smelling perfume on an envelope” (Marks, 2022).


Deterring Recidivism for Inmates.


Deterring Recidivism

The Florida Department of Correction recognized the importance of social connections in Rule 33-5.006(7), stating, "Inmate visits with approved family members or friends should be encouraged for the positive purpose of maintaining home and community ties, which after release should provide a deterrent to recidivism" (Florida House of Representatives, 1998, p. 14).


"Currently, released prisoners encounter few resources to help them secure employment, access substance-abuse treatment, and reestablish family and community ties. The combination of these pre-release preparations coupled with follow-up on the outside (via parole, nonprofit community organizations, faith institutions, family, or friends) might reduce the risk of recidivism or drug relapse and improve the odds of successful reintegration after release" (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001, p. 24).


"The findings suggest that prison communication policies are becoming more restrictive on visitation and inmates are assuming more of the expenses for correspondence. At the same time, policies regarding telephone usage seem to have gotten more lenient, with the financial obligations falling solely on the inmates. These results are informative as many state legislatures are becoming increasingly attentive to strategies that might reinforce inmate relationships with family and friends to reduce recidivism rates, lessening the financial strain of incarceration on state budgets" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 47).


"High rates of recidivism, shrinking state revenues, and burgeoning prison populations have made facilitating successful prisoner re-entry a central priority for federal and state governments. This was exemplified in President George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, in which he called for a renewed effort to reduce barriers to social integration for men and women leaving correctional facilities. This has translated into state and federal efforts to fund demonstration projects of community and faith-based organizations that strive to integrate ex-prisoners back into the community" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 47).


"Facilitating prisoners’ contact with friends and family members while incarcerated—through prison visitation, telephone and mail correspondence, and conjugal visits and home furloughs—has long been suggested as one means for improving prisoners’ behavior while incarcerated. In addition, the contact has been suggested as decreasing the likelihood that prisoners will be rearrested and returned to prison after release" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 47).


"There are a number of explanations why maintaining the inmate’s connection with family and friends will improve behavior while incarcerated and reduce recidivism after the inmate’s release. First, it has been suggested that continued contact with friends and family serves as a counterforce to prison institutionalization" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 48).


"The literature on women offenders reveals that particular types of resources from personal networks prevent recidivism" (Bui & Morash, 2001, p. 4).


Key findings from a 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (2011) emphasized the importance of positive communication, especially with regard to visitation, stating that: "1) Offenders who were visited in prison were significantly less likely to recidivate (The reductions in recidivism were: 13 percent for a felony reconviction; 25 for reincarceration for a technical violation revocation); 2)Nearly 40 percent of the offenders were not visited once while in prison; 3) Visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial in lowering recidivism; 4) The frequency with which inmates were visited had a significant effect on recidivism (Inmates visited more often were less likely to recidivate.); 5) Visits closer to an offender’s release date had a greater impact on reducing recidivism; 6) The larger an offender’s social support system, the lower the risk for recidivism; 7) The total number of different individual visitors an offender had was significantly associated with less recidivism" (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2011, p. 1).


“Visiting maintains healthy family and community relationships. Visiting can help offenders build support networks they will need after release. Research conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections has shown that positive interactions with friends and family can lower recidivism” (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2019).


"We encourage family and friends to write letters - as prisoners who keep in contact with family and friends are often more successful, cope better on release, and are less likely to reoffend" (Government of South Australia, Department for Correctional Services, 2023).


“Prison visitation… offers a temporary relief from this separation, and affords incarcerated persons the chance to connect directly with family and friends in the prison setting. While other forms of contact, such as letters and phone calls, are certainly meaningful, the ability to visit, face-to-face, over the course of several hours is considered a vital bonding opportunity for confined persons and their loved ones… research has linked visitation to decreases in the odds of recidivism that hover around 26 percent (Mitchell et al., 2016)” (Turanovic & Tasca, 2022, p. 925).


“Connection with the outside world has been proven to support anti-recidivism after incarceration. In 2015 the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that a single visit from a friend or family member corresponded with a 25 percent drop in technical violations and a 13 percent decrease in new crimes upon release” (Greenwood, 2023).


“[I]t is essential for people who are incarcerated to maintain ties with communities on the outside, to better adjust to life after their sentence and to decrease the risk of recidivism… Topeka K. Sam, who spent three years incarcerated before becoming an activist for women in the correctional system, says getting handed magazines, letters, and cards gave her a physical reminder of the community she had supporting her. ‘During mail call, everyone runs over to this area, and if your name is called, you feel good, because you know you have family and loved ones and people who care about you,’ she says. ‘It meant everything to me. It was a way to connect’.” (Marks, 2022).


Employment and Reintegration for Inmates.


Finding Employment and Reintegration

"Returning prisoners who were employed after release relied largely on personal connections—family, friends, former employers—to find their jobs. Social connections that are maintained during the period of incarceration can be an important resource in helping released prisoners achieve positive post-release outcomes" (Visher et al., 2004, p. 2).


"[E]mployment—an essential aspect of becoming a responsible member of society—is the single most important concern for returned inmates. Over seventy-five percent of inmates in one study said that finding employment would help keep them out of prison (Kim, 2009, p. 461).


"This study documented a few key hurdles to successful reintegration—namely, finding a job, finding housing, and getting access to needed health care services. Most returning prisoners who found a job within the first month following their release were either re-hired by former employers or had help from family or friends. Relatively few found new jobs on their own, often because they lacked the skills to conduct an effective job search or could not find employers who would hire ex-offenders. Few parolees reported receiving help from their parole officers" (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001, p. 26).


"Returning prisoners who indicated that their families or friends were supportive of their efforts to rebuild their lives had lower levels of drug use, greater likelihood of finding a job, and less continued criminal activity" (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001, p. 26).


"Women’s network relationships can create opportunities for meeting needs through direct assistance from network members and can provide access and information useful in obtaining resources and assistance elsewhere" (Bui & Morash, 2010, p. 3).


"By giving access to resources, networks have important effects on employment, earnings, education and skills, and mental health. Strong ties, which play an important role in emotional well-being, occur within intimate relationships in small and closed social circles, such as family members, relatives, and close friends who can provide intense, multistranded forms of support" (Bui & Morash, 2010, p. 3).


"Because most prisoners descend from impoverished neighborhoods that are riddled with crime and drug use, those communities may be less able to provide the types of social capital (e.g., good-paying jobs in a legal vocation) necessary to facilitate the prisoners’ successful re-entry into the community. However, these networks may nonetheless offer more practical forms of support to the inmate after release such as housing, money, and clothing and encourage the ex-inmate to participate in rehabilitation and training programs. Because the inmate typically leaves prison with a bus ticket, a department of corrections identification card, and no home of his or her own, it seems logical that having ties with his or her family and friends while incarcerated—assuming this social network was not a source of his or her criminal involvement—will provide the ex-prisoner with some of the forms of social and economic capital he or she will need" (Hoffman, Dickinson, & Dunn, 2007, p. 49).


“[M]aintaining contact… is associated with higher levels of emotional and instrumental support post release and with a lower likelihood of recidivism” (Barrick et al., 2014, p. 20).


“Inmates are looking for people who will help them build positive and productive lives, despite their past. They have changed and are taking steps to prepare for release, such as seeking a pen-pal, yet they need support to gain stability. The reality of leaving prison and starting again is hitting them. They are looking to build relationships of support to build confidence, trust, and opportunity, and create new networks. Inmates want support that will help them reintegrate and fit into society when they leave prison. Having positive support can lead to other positive outcomes that have been shown to reduce recidivism, such as finding employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Further, if they have positive connections upon release, they have somebody to talk to about their challenges and to engage with in activities that do not involve crime and help them adopt prosocial roles. Furthermore, the statements demonstrate that inmates need positive influences to help them become contributing members of society as they adopt non-criminal identities. Inmates’ need for positive relationships shows the massive impact peers have on behavior” (Mejia-O’Donnell, 2019, p. 49).


“Damon was incarcerated in the Midwest when we began writing in 2018. He has since been released. But without much support from the state or family, finding his footing has been challenging. I've been able to help him in ways that seem small to people who aren't in the system—looking things up for him on the internet when he doesn't have access, liking his posts for the contracting business he is trying to get off the ground. Having a positive, consistent person in his corner has eased the transition back into society” (Greenwood, 2023).


“Formerly incarcerated students who wrote letters to their teachers — describing their hopes and dreams, asking for a second chance — were less than half as likely as their peers to return to jail, a Stanford University study found. Researchers spent two years working with about 50 students in Oakland Unified who had spent time in the county’s juvenile justice system and had recently returned to their regular schools. Researchers asked the students to write personal letters to their teachers. Half the letters were delivered to the teachers, and half were not. The recidivism rate among students whose letters were delivered was 29%. For students whose teachers did not see the letters, 69% ended up back in jail. ‘The letters helped teachers see beyond the stereotype. These were individual children in difficult circumstances who were asking an adult for help,’ said Gregory Walton, associate professor of psychology at Stanford. ‘Ultimately, it’s all about love.’” (Jones, 2021).


“Research on incarcerated populations has shown that maintaining communication with loved ones reduces recidivism and helps ensure stability and mental wellness after release” (Chen, 2022).


“Writing and receiving letters can help inmates develop their ability to communicate, express themselves, and solve problems. These skills can be valuable for reintegration and rehabilitation” (University of Texas, 2023).


Information About Writing to Inmates Worth Noting.


Worth Noting

"[T]he public seems to recognize the need for prisons to be productive… Taxpayers want institutions which are humane and seek to improve inmates during their incarceration" (Applegate, 2001, p. 266).


"Based on data from 554 Kentucky Department of Corrections staff members, results show that correctional staffers tend to have favorable views regarding the presence of prison amenities. Furthermore, analyses of patterns and trends across types of jobs, experience, and educational attainment show that prison staffers are accepting of most particular amenities" (Tewksbury & Mustaine, 2005, p. 174).


"Political discourse and media stereotypes often mask the reality of prison life for the general public. Based on these skewed accounts, inmates are often thought of as ‘kicking back in the rec room La-Z-Boys with a pack of Marlboros and the remote control, surfing the facility's hundreds of cable channels beamed via satellite’ (Wunder, 1995, p. 5). Because of overcrowding and fiscal concerns, inmate privileges have been on the decrease over the past several years" (Hensley et al., 2003, p. 250).


"Some of today's criminal justice students may become tomorrow's leaders in the corrections industry. As a result, it is important to take note of their current attitudes toward correctional issues and the realities of prison life. Although significant attititudinal differences did not emerge between criminal justice students and their counterparts in other majors, a great deal can be understood from these findings. The present findings generally support recent examinations of societal perceptions of inmate privileges (Applegate, 2001; Lenz, 2002). As with the general public, students had somewhat neutral views of prison amenities, especially those that one might view as "comforts" to the daily functioning of inmate life. In addition, students were also more likely to favor programs seen as rehabilitive, which again coincides with the general public view. As Applegate (2001, p. 266) stated, ‘retaining certain programs, services, and unlikely to result in public outcry.’ It is important to understand both the general public and student perceptions of inmate privileges before throwing out the baby with the bath water" (Hensley et al., 2003, p. 261).


"Studies show many inmates have experienced trauma early in their lives that may have been the impetus for the actions that led to incarceration" (Altintas, M., & Bilici, M., 2018, p. 100).


"Throughout 19 years of...incarceration, my children's lives have become tangible with every piece of mail that I have received. We have become emotionally connected through letters, cards, schoolwork, and artistic efforts. We were able to touch, hug, kiss, and cry together through letters. My children invited me into their lives every day through their letters, and I constantly reminded them of my love through mine. One letter feels as if it could fill one thousand days" (T. Eldrige, quoted in Nahra, A. & Arzy, L., 2020, Brennan Center for Justice).


“Prisoners’ letters provide authentic details that only those serving long-term imprisonment (Wright et al., 2017), locked in solitary conferment (Reiter, 2016) or held on death row (Maybin, 2000) can impart” (Vannier, 2020).


“Strongly tied to the notion of enriching their lives, several respondents [in one research project] also found that the pen pal exchanges brought them new insights. Some examples include: ‘It gave me a unique insight into a world that is very different from mine’; ‘I see people differently now, every one of us has two sides’; ‘I am struck by how human he is, not a monster’; ‘There is some light, some hope in every human being’.” (Knoll-Frey et al., 2022, p. 322).


“Prisons around the world are trying different approaches within their prisons to show the possibility that the alternative to ‘hard time’ works better to combat recidivism. Rather than using a prison and sentence as punishment, other countries are working toward a prison sentence as a time for change and reform where the person can learn other skills to use after time served as well as maintain their support system with family and their mental health” (Hector & Key, 2018, p. 160).


“Letter writing is simple, cheap, and deeply effective. It lets the recipient know they have not been forgotten, and gives the writer a line into what is going on in the opaque and purposefully impenetrable world of prisons” (Greenwood, 2023).


“One way to actively practice love is by writing to someone who is incarcerated. Prisons are built on principles of isolation, segregation and disconnection. By writing to someone inside, we defy those forces, simply by connecting” (Schenwar, 2023).


“Participating in a prison pen pal program can lead to profound and life-changing connections for both individuals involved. By understanding the benefits, choosing a well-matched pen pal, and maintaining positive and supportive correspondence, meaningful relationships can flourish. Remember to approach each communication with an open heart and an open mind, as these connections have the power to transform lives and make the world a more empathetic and understanding place” (University of Texas, 2023).


“Prisoners' lives can be significantly improved – and sometimes even saved – for the price of a stamp” (Jones, 2015).


Rewards to Free World Pen Pals.


Rewards to Free World Pen Pals

"Corresponding with an HIV-positive inmate can make a huge different in that person's life, and in your own. The rewards are immediate. Spiritual satisfaction is guaranteed. One nonincarcerated participant explains the experience as, "so rewarding. I have two prison pen-pals and they have truly enriched my life. It's amazing how a page or two can have such a profound effect on my life and the life of my pen-pal. I wait anxiously for my next letter and I know my friend does too. Dealing with my virus, here in freedom, seems less troublesome when I read about the lives of my friends in captivity" (Whittier, 1999, p. 17).


"Writing to inmates has filled my last days with joy" (Myrtie Howell quoted by Colson, 1985, p. 12).


"I read hundreds of inmates' letters each month; in their expressions I see a side of life I had never been exposed to, suffering and pain I can't even imagine - usually left to suffer alone: death of loved ones, sickness, abuse, and so many regrets..." (Michael, 2009, p. 271).


"The things that the prisoners wrote really jumped off the page - they were sad or angry, or despairing, or filled with excitement and hope about the future. They were often very funny. And they ere honest. I had never encountered that level of honesty in conversation before - and I haven't since. What I think really makes a difference is the feeling that someone is listening. There are a lot of men and women in prison who have very few people in their lives, and little experience of positive and stable relationships. Posting a birthday or Christmas card and knowing that it will be the only one that a person receives is bittersweet in a way I never get used to" (Ayrton, 2018).


“Prison pen-palling quickly changed my life. The letters I received were filled with curiosity, joy, pain, and an array of other emotions. Some were short and some were long, but regardless of their content or length, they all expressed gratitude to me for writing to them. Since then, I have continued to write to many…” (Mejia-O’Donnell, 2019, p. 2).


“Writing with a person in prison is a lifeline for both the person behind bars and in the free world. But this is rarely the image of prison pen pals we see in the media… In reality, writing letters to people in prison is an invaluable, inexpensive way to reduce harm, and a viable way for everyday people to begin to tackle the problem of mass incarceration.” (Greenwood, 2023).


“Prison pen pal programs offer a unique and rewarding experience for both individuals behind bars and their pen pals… Being a pen pal can provide a rewarding sense of purpose and the opportunity to make a tangible difference in someone’s life. Prison pen pal programs can even help you form lasting friendships, and the honesty and openness that often comes with these exchanges can lead to deeply meaningful connections” (University of Texas, 2023).


“Writing to someone in prison is a special gift for both of you, but particularly for the one who is incarcerated. So many people in prison, especially those on death row, have little or no contact with people on the outside, so receiving a personal letter is something to treasure” (Sister Helen, 2023).


“Mail is widely understood as a major lifeline for incarcerated people, with some literature finding that it’s the most common form of family contact. The fulfilling feeling of receiving personal mail, the ability to write and read (and reread) mail at one’s own pace, and the relatively low cost of a letter mean that it’s a highly practical and cherished mode of communication, universal to people both inside and outside of prison” (Wang, 2021).


In their own words: from former inmates listed on writeaprisoner.


In Their Own Words: From Former Inmates Listed on

"One cannot fully understand the therapeutic effects one receives from correspondence with his or her peers on the outside." (M.J., Hagerstown, MD)


"In here a friend's letter is worth more than gold. Although I'm surrounded by people 24 hours a day, I often feel as if I'm here alone." (Q.B., Reidsville, GA)


"Mail is the only thing to look forward to in here..." (J.S., Camp Lejeune, NC)


"I've been in for quite some time now, 10 years to be exact, and it has been so lonely. My heart aches to care again, and I long to know that someone cares for me." (T.V., Fox Lake, WI)


"At this very moment while you are reading this, I am trapped in my concrete cell wishing and hoping and praying that you'll decide to write me. I am extremely lonely and I need friends." (W.E., Atmore, AL)


"I’ve been down for 15 years on a life sentence for murder robbery that I committed when I was 18. At that time of my life I was very confused and used drugs and alcohol, trying to find myself. Because of all the choices I made, all those years ago, I have spent my adult life in prison. Aside from the few family members I have left, I have had little contact with the streets and would like to meet someone who won't pre-judge me because of where I am and for the mistakes I made. I deserve to be in prison for what I did, but I am no longer the same person who did those things." (T.Y., Hagerstown, MD)


"Prison has taught me the true meaning of loneliness - what it means to be separated from everything that's real... My struggle is not to become a product of this environment..." (G.S., Malone, FL)


"Yes, I'm in prison, and yes, I'm guilty. I think I've paid my debt to society and definitely have a new attitude and outlook on life! I need new friends and a new environment to start my life anew." (T.W., Lake City, FL)


"It gets lonely in here at times. I thought I had a lot of friends. But when something bad happens, like going to prison, you come to realize those so-called "friends" weren't friends at all…" (F.P., Long Beach, CA)


"Nobody cares. You should see the faces of the hundreds of men who wait expectantly day after day at mail-call…" (H.W., Atmore, AL)


"I committed a costly mistake as a teenager which consequently led to my incarceration, and now my loneliness has become a prison within a prison." (L.C., Raiford, FL)


"The worst solitude is to be destitute of a sincere friendship!" (R.L., Raiford, FL)


"I'm terribly lonely. Whenever the mailman passes my door, which is often, my heart sinks to new lows." (R.V., Coalinga, CA)


"Throughout my life I've endured much, and have learned how to adapt and deal with most of it, but learning how to master loneliness has always found a way to elude me." (M.W., Jackson, GA)


"My friends and family outside of prison have all disappeared. Everyday is a struggle to retain an ounce of dignity. I don't seek pity. I ask you to remember that prison is a very lonely place. Having someone willing to listen, confide in and be an outside source of strength will help to make prison life bearable." (T.C., Shakopee, MN)


"Prison has taught me to never take things for granted, and that, for me, starts with people, and real friendship. I am striving towards getting myself back in the real world and I could sure handle meeting some positive people on the right side of the fence ("the real world") to help me stay positive." (D.C., Crestview, FL)


"...year after year the letters dwindle to zero, and I am thinking, 'Sure would enjoy a shout at mail call today'..." (L.J., Manchester, KY)


"I often sit in this empty cell and reflect on life - life inside of these walls, life outside of these walls, and I fight the impossible battle of trying to figure out exactly where it is that I fit in. The fact, plain and simple, is that I need a friend to help me bridge this gap..." (W.L., Ely, NV)


"I'm in a place where friends are hard to come by... I thought I could do time by myself, but I was wrong, so now I'm reaching out in the hope of finding someone who can take away the loneliness." (F.P., Ely, NV)


"I refuse to accept this graveyard of broken promises and rusting dreams as a way of acceptable life for myself... and as I stand looking out through these bars, again I feel the loneliness and frustrations which are the constant companions of men inside these walls. Just another nameless statistic?" (L.S., Corcoran, CA)


"Despair, disappointment, anger, frustration, hopelessness and heartache wake us up in the morning and put us to sleep at night. We have become the forgotten, the faceless, the overlooked, the unwanted, and the unloved." (H.S., White Deer, PA)


"Corresponding helps me shrug off the dark mood of despair which threatens to beset my spirit." (A.M., Raiford, FL)


"If it wasn't for, I would not have a life to go out to when my time is up here..." (G.G., Manchester, KY)


"I received an email forward from someone very important in my life who I haven't heard from or seen in years (and I do mean years) - and this email was from my father. He found me on your site and I am so spellbound that I still haven't found the words to respond to it." (R.A., Rahway, NJ)


"I wanted to thank you and all who helps us that are locked down reach out and be able to feel life a little more though your site." (U.W., Ione, CA)


"I've 2 pen-pals now and it has been good to get mail from positive people." (V.T., Soledad, CA)


"Thank you. It doesn't even cover the gratitude I feel for all that we've accomplished together these last years. You have been an invaluable resource. I can honestly say that I don't know where I would be today without you. So, thank you indeed! I have received your notification of ad termination and I must say, it's like saying goodbye to an old friend. I'm going to miss you. I find myself in a position that I have long strived for - namely: I'M GOING HOME!!! :)" (T.D., Ione, CA)


"Thank you so much for your positive and uplifting influence in my life. You have helped me become a better, happier person. You are so appreciated!" (V.G., Pocatello, ID)


"I greatly appreciate everything that your company has done for me and for the mail that has been coming in. Unfortunately I have to ask that you guys please remove my whole ad and photos from the website. I have found one friend that I want to continue writing throughout the remainder of my sentence. I will continue to tell other inmates and friends about the good business y'all provide and will most definitely send them to your website so that they are able to find some positive friends that will help them change for the better." (M.C., Huntsville, TX)


"I would like to thank you very much for helping me connect with the world. Because of your program, I've met two very nice people who really care about my situation and have treated me like a human being and a person instead of a dog in a cage." (D.M., Corcoran, CA)


"Thank you for making my life almost worth living." (C.A., Corcoran, CA)


"I would appreciate you ending my ad as soon as you can :) It has been great and did exactly what I was hoping it would do - found me a great friend! She is keeping me pretty busy in the letter writing department, and I don't want to be the cause of some other prisoners missing out on what I've got - a great friend!" (L.C., Graterford, PA)


"Your web-site does miracles for us lonely guys. Thank you very much and Merry Christmas." (J.T., New Boston, TX)


"Living one's life in prison is a very unpleasant thing whether a person is actually guilty or innocent of whatever offence(s) that they've been alleged to have committed. Some of us have loving and caring family members who give that needed support to help us cope with the storms within our incarceration, and some of us don't, but everyone needs a friend…For corruption, hatred, ignorance, sin, crime and violence is everywhere in this world no matter where we are. But even more so in prisons which is a totally different world… However, there are some truly caring people in this world. For there are no words that can express how good it feels to know that there is someone who cares." (D.S., Angola, LA)


"I was going to write earlier but I wanted to make sure that I am leaving. On March 23, 2009 I am going to be released from prison. So you can go ahead and remove my profile. I want to also thank you for your service. Because of you, I have made many new friends which has made my time here much easier. The best part is because of your service, I now have a wonderful job awaiting me when I get out." (T.G., Hawkinsville, GA)


"Having someone to write to and talk to in prions can make all the difference in the world." (D.P. Schuykill, PA)


What we've heard from people on the outside.


What We've Heard From People on the Outside

"I would truly like to thank you! My son is a prisoner of New York State. He has met some good people who are trying to help him." (Mom in NY)


"I just wanted you to know that I've been involved with your pen-pal program for a couple of months now...and it has been one of the most uplifting experiences I've ever had. I currently write to three different inmates and recently opted to add two more to the fold! Each person is unique; each has his own story to share. What's most important for those of us on the outside to remember is that we benefit as much, if not more as the souls that are behind walls. I am very happy that I was watching television at the precise moment your program was being featured. I really feel as though it was God calling my attention to a wonderful opportunity to do something compassionate and caring for someone else - I'm happy I heeded the call. Thanks to all of you for creating this program. It's just awesome, and I feel so privileged to have discovered it. God Bless you all and continued success in your endeavors." (A.S.)


"I think you guys are doing a FANTASTIC JOB in trying to put some hope in people’s lives for real! I just got out of prison myself, and I'm writing a lady as we speak I got from your web site. I will VOLUNTEER if you guys need any help." (Mike in MO)


"I am on your site and got out. I have nothing but words of praise for your site. I am going to try and write someone to give back." (Jeremy in TX)


"I would love to post this on your website. I wanted to say what a great service you offer to inmates. I started my writing my inmate several months ago. She is the one that sent in a letter to you,, thanking you for your service and what a difference our friendship has made in her life. Her name is W.P. at Leath Correctional. You should have received her thank you letter by now. The best way I could share why this is such an important thing to do for another human being is the message in the short story below: An old man awoke just before sunrise, as he often did, to walk by the ocean's edge and greet the new day. As he moved through the morning dawn, he focused on a faint, far away motion. He saw a youth, bending and reaching and flailing arms, dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin. As the old man approached, he realized that the youth was not dancing to the bay, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night's tide, stopping now and then to pick up starfish and then standing up to heave them back into the sea. He asked the youth the purpose of the effort. "The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun rises, they will die unless I throw them back into the sea." The old man surveyed the vast expanse of beach that stretched in both directions beyond eyesight. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the youth's plan became clear and the old man said, "But young man, don't you realize that there are more starfish on this beach than you could ever save before the sun is up? You cannot possibly expect to make a difference!" The youth paused briefly to consider the old man's words. He then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it as far as possible into the sea. Turning to the old man, he said, "I made a difference to that one!" ~ Author Unknown ~ I feel like the little boy in this story. The world is the skeptical old man. The starfish is my friend W.P. That is how society can make a difference. One person who believes they can make a difference to one person who needs them to survive. She's a great friend and a faithful penpal and I'm glad I met her through your service. is truly a special ministry to forgotten souls who need a friend in their lives to encourage them and simply to care. Some are so alone and desperately need love and friendship. People aren't DISPOSABLE because they are in prison, and not every person in prison is guilty. I hope more people will "take a chance" on a stranded little starfish on the shore and "make a difference" in their lives." (M.D. in Virginia Beach, VA)


* Because some released inmates were finding their names on our site, we have elected to use only initials of inmates on the site (excluding active profiles) to help minimize the stigma of having been incarcerated. In accordance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, we still retain all original testimonials featured on the site should they ever be called into question or summoned by a court of law.


Note from founder Adam Lovell.


A Note from Founder Adam Lovell

I wanted to put the above section together to share with you what the studies say and to show you some of what we actually hear. We get letters nearly every day from inmates asking to have their profiles removed because they have found someone to correspond with. When I started this service in 2000, I never imagined that it would grow into a community that has reached literally millions of people. is largely based on what the prison ministries have been doing for years - encouraging people to communicate with inmates. It began as a way to encourage the general public to correspond with inmates and to provide more information about the prison system and the people you're corresponding with. We have heard from thousands of people on the outside who offer their help, suggestions and expertise. This has been just as rewarding as watching so many inmates turn their lives around.


We have the power to transcend the walls, to promote rehabilitation, to restore dignity, and to champion human rights. Mail call is often the darkest hour of the day because many of these people are forgotten. Daily they are reminded that contact with the outside world is a privilege they no longer enjoy, a privilege many acknowledge they were responsible for losing. Receiving mail can lift their spirits and give them hope. Some will never live outside of prison walls again. Others are serving shorter sentences, hoping that good behavior and a desire to live a better life will lead to their release and a productive life. These are human beings. You must ask yourself this: Could you, or someone you love, have been sent to prison for some offense you committed but later regretted? Would you be cast off and forgotten? Could you endure the horrors of prison rape or solitary confinement? Could you endure the isolation from the outside world? Could you hope to receive a letter, a few words of hopeful encouragement, or could you expect to languish behind bars, mocked and despised by a society that is not entirely innocent itself?


As a society, we must be watchful of politicians who ride the backs of those less fortunate on their way to office - politicians who wish to "stamp out crime" without acknowledging the sources of most crime - poverty and ignorance, and questionable sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes. It is an easy platform for politicians to embrace: I'm tough on crime! Who would argue against that? Surely no one is going to say, "I'm soft on crime." But we are a short-sighted nation if we fail to see beyond this simple premise. The American prison system is big business. You can't fight City Hall, as the old saying goes, but there should be nothing stopping you from reading, listening, and learning why more and more Americans are finding themselves in prison. Since 1980 America's prison population quadrupled. One in 100 Americans is incarcerated. One in 10 American men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in his lifetime. No other country on the planet incarcerates the way the U.S. does. We represent less than 5 percent of the world population, yet of the world’s incarcerated, 25% are right here in the land of the free. Something is not right. We should all be working to reduce crime – yes – but we should also be working to reduce recidivism, and that’s where our site works to make a difference.


If there is hope for change behind prison walls, there is hope for change everywhere. We have received letters and emails from released inmates telling us how this service was a turning point in their lives. To call that "rewarding" is an understatement. Indeed, many people who come to this site have learned that they are the turning point in someone's life. Prison doesn't offer much in terms of positive influences. Inmates keep up appearances for other inmates so they don't appear weak. Many inmates will only let their guard down and be human when dealing with people on the outside.


We have accomplished much together, and now we're tackling other worthy projects - Back to Work, Books Behind Bars and Children Impacted By Crime Scholarship Funds. The best is yet to come. We'll never let up, and we thank you for the support, encouragement and suggestions over the years. If we can keep one inmate from returning to a life that will lead right back to prison, our efforts are not in vain, and it's been many more than just one.


Critics of will often point to the fact that we are a commercial endeavor. It is important to note that income allows us to do what we do. We have 160 work hours going into this site each week on mail processing, typing profiles and development. This is not volunteer work, and none of this would be here without income. Also, I am not here just to earn a living. I have exchanged hundreds of letters with friends and loved ones in prison long before ever starting this. I had a great uncle who died in a U.S. prison 40 years ago. The guards claimed he committed suicide by hanging himself with his sheet. The autopsy showed he was beaten to death. A letter smuggled out from an inmate to my great-grandmother claimed the guards did it and then dragged his body by their cells as a warning to other inmates. I have a mother who helped launch the first literacy program in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections nearly 30 years ago because tutors were afraid to go inside to tutor the illiterate adults there.


I have childhood friends who will never leave prison. One who was a timid and good kid is now serving life for murder here in Florida. He originally went to prison on a lesser offense. When he came home, he was different, and I later found out why. Once released, he killed another young man over a simple argument. Before this, I ran into him at the state college, and he was trying to get his life back on track. My preferred memory of him is still as the boy who stashed my bike in the woods and pedaled me miles home on his handlebars when I cut my foot open on an oyster bed as we were dragging a sand net in the Indian River. We were maybe ten or eleven years old, and it is a reminder - to me, at least - that a person should not be judged on their worst deed. I am not one-sided on this, and I have met many good people in corrections who also want to see these people have an opportunity and a chance to succeed and grow as human beings.


Adam Lovell



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