I wanted to walk you guys through what we put together in a typical Welcome Home Kit (WriteAPrisoner.com - Welcome Home Kits).We don't have an exact science down, and we actually do custom tailor these kits in some instances. For example: If we're sending them to an inmate who's being released in December and in a state like New York, we may include a pair of gloves, beanie cap, and chapstick. If they're being released in Florida, we might send sunblock and lip protection. If they don't have decent footwear, we might send shoes. We send these somewhat often, so we're always looking for bulk sales. Most Dollar Stores will have some great options if you're looking just to send one kit. The total cost for these on average is about $25 for us. We've gotten them out the door for much less, but that does seem to be about the average.
Okay, so let me rundown how a typical kit gets sent:
1) Make sure the inmate is coming home within a few months and is without a good support base. There is no reason to send this kit to those who don't need it - if they have good people in their corner already helping them back on their feet. There are plenty of inmates who have no one waiting to help. It just makes more sense to focus on the most needy.
2) Make sure you have a contact at the prison who will accept this kit on behalf of the inmate. Never send this thing blindly into a prison. It will almost certainly be rejected. When sending this in, address it: Attention: Your Prison Contact Goes Here. Be sure to include a personal and encouraging, note to the inmate listing the contents of the kit. If you are willing to go the extra mile, provide an area map along with addresses and phone numbers for police, public transportation, homeless shelters, job agencies, rental properties, emergency healthcare, laundromats, etc. for the person. Also, send a separate note to your prison contact stating something like:
Enclosed, please find a bag full of items (note: include an itemized list of what you are sending) to help with offender Jon Doe's reintegration into society. I understand that these items will not be given to him until he is leaving custody, and I appreciate you taking the time to make sure that he gets these items intended to help him when he first gets released. I'm enclosing a list of the items I've sent.
You can include contact information in the letter above if you're comfortable with the prison contacting you if there is an issue. Also, know that some prisons will not accept these kits. This doesn't mean they're trying to be the bad guy. In some cases, policies may conflict with your good intentions. Transitional government homes may have more lenient policies with receiving something like this on the inmate's behalf. If that doesn't work, it's possible the inmate may have another contact who will give the kit to them. In most cases, the inmate will provide a contact inside or outside of the prison. It never hurts to check with the prison before sending your welcome home kit.
3) Get your kit together! Here's what we have in the one pictured in this blog:
Item 1) The bag ($7)
Item 2) Toothbrush with built-in cover and toothpaste ($2.50)
Item 3) Water bottle ($1.50)
Item 4) $3 in quarters - If they need and can find a payphone in this world of cellphones. (Can also use for laundromats,newspapers, etc.)
Item 5) Comb ($1) - Another simple toiletry.
Items 6) Two bags of peanuts and sunflower seeds ($1) We usually buy these in bulk and add a few to every kit. Any healthy snack can help.
Item 7) Q-tips ($1)
Item 8) Shampoo and conditioner combination ($1) - We have male and female toiletries and send what's gender appropriate.
Item 9) Shower gel ($1)
Item 10) Antiperspirant ($1)
Item 11) Flashlight with batteries ($1) - We usually throw this in every kit. Make sure you buy one with batteries if you decide to send one.
Item 12) Lint roller ($1) - We send these so they can make themselves presentable for come what may - job interviews, landlord meetings, etc.
Item 13) One roll of toilet paper ($1) - We usually buy the ones that are individually wrapped, unlike what's pictured today.
Item 14) Burger King $10 gift card - We don't usually send these, as they drive the cost up quite a bit, but gift cards for food (or cell phone time) are useful.
Total cost for this kit: $33.00
Some of what you don't see listed here that we would likely include are a shaving kit for men and feminine products for women. It's really up to you as to what you send. Do make sure you're never sending the inmate anything which that be considered questionable. Your kit will get rejected if you do, and that would be a real shame. Stay away from pocketknives, medicine, and anything else prison staff would be leery of giving to someone getting out of prison.
Okay, that's about it! If you decide to send one to your pen-pal before his or her release, please feel free to provide us with your feedback. We realize this is quite an undertaking, but you have the ability to really provide a good jumping off point for these men and women.