Does prison racism extend to penpals too? | Write a Prisoner


Does prison racism extend to penpals too?

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Gardeneel's picture
Does prison racism extend to penpals too?

I've heard that male prisons, especially in California state prisons, tend to be incredibly segregated based on race, and that if you associate with people outside your race you're labeled a race traitor and beaten, thus losing protection from a group and becoming vulnerable. Non-racist folks who enter prison may leave racist because they were forced to adapt that way.  

Anyways, how does this affect how prisoners see penpals? Do the inmate's general associates give a shit that he's writing to someone of another race? What if the inmate is forced to become part of a gang in order to "make it" inside prison? I would imagine they are very strict about no racial mingling, but would they care if it's just penpals? I've heard that inmates sometime share photos of their penpals. Can they still do that freely if their penpal is of a different race than him? (Using male pronouns because I'm not sure how much racial segregation are in female prisons.)

I'm Asian American and I just sent a letter to an inmate yesterday. It got me thinking about this situation. I'm partially worried that my race/name would hinder some potential penpal friendships, but I'm also just curious about learning more about prison culture. 

If anyone has insight into this I'd love to know. Thank you! 


davidspottermor...'s picture

I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t think you have a problem. It’s true that races do tend to get segregated but it happens systemically as well as by prisoner choice. Even then there are many situations in which prisoners of different races will mingle and work together. On a side note, I don’t think they all group share their letters but could be wrong. Why don’t you ask your pen pal their opinion. If such a culture exists in their prison I’m sure they won’t mind you asking as not to want to endanger them.

Gardeneel's picture

Hey David! I appreciate your response. You're right, if I feel like it might be an issue I'll definitely ask them. My earlier hesitance was due to not wanting to put them at an awkward place; I think I overthink too much. :) But if anyone else has any input I'd be interested from a pure curiosity standpoint. 

ShadeyBiz89's picture

I am female, I'm half white and half Korean, I write to a black male inmate in California, per what you mentioned, and most of my penpals period are either black, hispanic or mixed and I've never had a problem. Not with him or anyone else, I've written to mostly mixed race and black people.

I am fairly sure the racial segregation is only within prison, it's a way to keep themselves safe among their people, but when it comes to outside contacts, most are accepting of any race (not all, but most). Myself being mixed, I've never had a problem because of it, whether or not he/others I've written to share my info or let others know they write me I'm unsure of, but it has never affected our correspondence or their personal safety so I'm willing to bet that it's not an issue. I am willing to bet things will work out fine with you and your penpal!

PDS's picture

***warning****  These are only my personal opinions and are expressly generated by my own experience with TDCJ(Texas)prison system. I state none of this as fact. I will not be responsible if you get butt hurt by anything I have written below. Read at your own risk.***

I know that in Texas racism used to be a huge issue, because there are so many different gangs in TDCJ that it’s ridiculous! The problem is that when a young man enters into TDCJ prison for the first time, if they weren’t in a gang before they went in, they soon are taken in by a gang or little clique members who promise to protect them from beatings, rapes, or whatever else could happen to them.  It doesn’t have to even really be a racially motivated gang, though most are. They will join up with a gang or a clique, because no one can survive alone in any prison. I can imagine some of these young men are scared out of their minds when first entering prison. I know that in Texas the nonviolent inmates are put into the same units violent inmates are housed, so there are a lot of things for them to be afraid of. So these young men are vulnerable, to say the least, and they will join one of these gangs or cliques for protection.  You have to remember, “safety in numbers”. I think the only thing most all gangs can agree on is that they don’t care for the corrections officers and that they wish they weren’t in prison. Lol  

I don’t think most of them really want to be a gang member or racially motivated. I don’t think that most men carry that racism or mentality past incarceration, though there are some who will, so I just think it’s mostly a way of survival for them while in prison. Prison is like a totally different world than we live in...might as well be another planet.

I don’t understand all the ins and outs of prison, although I do have some experience as a corrections officer, but I do know there needs to be a lot of prison reform here in the state of Texas. They are working on it, but it’s slow going. They have to involve politics so it may take an eternity.  Lol.

Side note: inmates have been known to share letters and pictures with other inmates. However, I don’t see them sharing them with someone they don’t trust.





Jocbail13's picture

Yes I agree with PDS. I am from Texas and have three family members in prison all in Texas. I have an uncle who became incarcerated before I was born in 1994 he got out briefly when I was 16 and went back in when I was 18 for a probation violation I believe. It is true that you stick with your race even if you hadn't On the outside you basically have to when inside in order to survive. I think there are exceptions to this rule but can't really say for sure. For example I had a guy I was friends with who only hung out with black people on the outside his girlfriend is black and he has mixed kids. He talks and acts like a very stereotypical black man. I'm not sure how that played out in prison but I'm assuming he either stuck with his race and changed his entire demeanor or the black people let them stick with them (which I doubt but could've been possible) 

ShadeyBiz89's picture

Inside it absolutely does, I see what both of you are saying. I also mentioned in my post they have to in order to survive, but from a penpal perspective which is tied to what the OP is asking, I've written to 4 inmates in Texas alone (spread out over time), all of different races, along with many others across parts of the U.S. and I've never had a problem. All penpals I've written to have been fine with my race, most have embraced it, which tells me that the racial segregation is prison based, not truly what they are as people completely.

A former Texas PP of mine told mke that racism is a huge problem in Texas and he told me had I grown up there, I would've had a completely different experience. But he also told me that the majority of inmates where he is don't carry that mentality with outside people, only those inside because they have to.

This is an interesting topic, I liked to hear the other perspectives, that was cool!

Shygirl14's picture

I was worried about this too as I live in Cali amd I asked my last pen pal about it (he was Hispanic) amd he said that’s just “prison sh*t” and yes they do mingle other races but it’s obvious they segregate too. The reason I revealed my race was a. He wanted a pic,b he would send many pics where it was him and only Hispanic guys and c I know about the Cali racial bs in prisons. I agree just ask your pal. As far as ads most of them if they are racist keep it on the low,but will sometimes specify the races of women they’re into (nod nod wink wink) but that’s not often . save for the occasional ad where a guy will have swatzicas or whatever I think most are open to whomever writes, I suppose in a beggars can’t be choosers sense. I will say tho if I was a racist but was lonely I probably wouldn’t blast that I harbor close minded views on a site seeking companionship seeing as most would be turned off even if they were of the race you were willing to write to. So I’m assuming they have since enough to not put it all out there so I’d still just ask just in case . You’ll find out soon enough in their letters. Now last note there was an ad I saw where the man had a swatztica on his forehead and it was apparent he’d got a lot of questions in his replies about it because he put a disclaimer in his ad that it was a stupid mistake in his youth” so you just never kno till you write. 

Gardeneel's picture

Hey PDS, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I really appreciate it. Also sidenote - I find it funny how you added a disclaimer at the top. Is that from personal experience? haha!

I've heard that Texas prisons are notorious for being a bit rougher than other states? Not sure how true it is but I've heard stories about their death row prisons. In your experience, are prisoners in Texas able to freely visit one another's cells? Or do they have to sneak the pictures into mealtimes or yard times or are those things allowed by the COs? Despite all I've heard about prison, there are a lot of the little details I don't know. 

IL_PPP's picture

I have a Mexican pen pal who is in California - and he can write a full page about how he doesn't understand homosexuality or muslims, and how he dislikes undocumented immigrants (though his mother was one back in the late 70s.......). We've got very different political opinions. I usually just don't respond to them. It makes writing him very hard though.