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Izzi
Izzi

Hi all,

I often see that we have quite a lot of visitors in this forum (currently 900+ ) and before I started writing I was also anonymous here, just reading what people were talking about. Thought my personal experience could serve as a little guidance for anyone thinking of getting a penpal, or planning to write somebody else, but still searching. Hopefully people can add their own suggestions too. I wrote begginer in the title but I barely made it out of being one, aha. Just bear with me.

I actually started writing roughly in February last year I believe, so it really hasn't been that long, but I have exchanged correspondence with a few different people. A few things stood out for me, though.

[B]Things I did and regret doing[/B]:

- Writing too many people, all at once. I had a lot of free time back then, which I don't now. Though I always reply, if I am taking too long because I misjudged how much I had in my plate, that means I am being a bad penpal. I guess I was so excited to get a first letter I wrote a few too many and when they came back, I was overwhelmed. I kept it going just fine for a few months, and then fell back on it - found amazing people to chat to, and at one point was looking at more than one letter 15+ pages, and didn't have the time or the energy to reply as soon as I got it.

- Writing to people likely to not respond - I am by no means saying 'don't write this person' but I found that there was a pattern to the inmates who didn't reply, or took months to reply. One person took 8 months to reply to my letter. I find they may just be too busy, specially if they have little to go in their sentence. That's not saying it's the case for everyone, though. I'm sure many will get anxious near their release date (one of my penpals has over a year, but he refers to the amount of months he has left, so it feels closer) but in my personal experience, those were bad choices. They didn't just take very long to reply (I'm aware I am partially guilty of that too however) they had a tendency to be more demanding/ Pictures, personal information about me, very quick to 'try to get to know' each other, which didn't create an ideal picture at the beggining.

- Not proof reading letters. It has led to some misunderstandings. Always. Proof. Read.

- Intentionally not mention something out of fear. I find (now, a year later after much reflection) that if I write someone, I'm hoping they'll be open and honest with me, right? And therefore, I must reciprocate that. I have however in the past left out information about myself, worrying what my pp might think. I realise that if I'm writing somebody from my address, sharing my life with them, I have to trust their judgement, even if they're still strangers. The awkwardness of having to go through that thing you didn't mention, and then perhaps explaining why you didn't mention it before is horrible and I don't recommend you hide anything from your pp, unless you're happy to assume they, too, may be avoiding certain areas. Also, it went really badly for this guy here: http://www.viralnova.com/jason-moss/ who kept multiple different personas with the people he wrote, adapting and creating a new personality for each one.

- Not knowing the prison rules beforehand. Once my penpal asked for a photo but didn't mention that the prison didn't allow him to keep printed photos, only images that were printed directly onto A4 white paper. He had to write me back and say that he saw the photos but couldn't keep them. Also, sometimes there is a limit as to how many photos they can keep, and if that's the case, usually they'll have family photos and won't be willing to toss those away for a couple new pictures from a penpal.

- Sending photos that could be misinterpreted. Maybe it should've been obvious to me from the beggining, but it wasn't. Whenever I sent photos with friends and I happened to be wearing anything seen as 'suggestive' in the pictures, I had a response that, although very politely, challenged the boundaries of friendship-only I was aiming to establish. And mind that what most people in the free world would see as suggestive is not exactly the same for prison. Shorts, dresses, low cut tops are a big no no for me to send. As much as I may have a photo I want to share and I think what I wore is just fine, I now ask myself: ''how would my grandparents feel about this?'' hahah and usually I know what to send and what not to.

-Forgetting to sign at the end. I type my letters because my handwritting is bad, plus I'm left-handed, so I make a huge mess with ink when writing by hand. However, to keep it personal I always sign letters at the end. That is, when I don't forget. Once a pp called me out on it (very politely) but still, I could tell he wasn't very happy. They want another human connection, and typed letters lack a lot of that, so forgetting to sign by hand, or just writing your name and printing it make a huge difference.

- probably the most important thing [SIZE=5]NEVER WRITE TWO PEOPLE IN THE SAME FACILITY[/SIZE]. If you do not tell them, they WILL find out, and not only will it hurt their feelings (I was straight up from when I started writing) they may get into conflict. They have their own set of rules in prison settings and few things are as bad as stepping on 'somebody else's territory'. That being said, even though it may be OK for you to 'be shared' and talk to more than one person, it's not ok with them. Not because they're possessive or territorial, but because prison is a lot like middle school. They'll brag about you, or make up information about you and throw that out in the yard. One might get it wrong, or somebody else might catch your name and there you go - you'll have a few prisoners knowing who you are, your name, and if they want to bully somebody or test their status, physical strength, they will try to get a reaction from the other inmate, who might feel obliged to do something to defend himself and you could have a potentially violent situation that I'm sure any person would want to avoid.

[B]What I try to do (and has so far worked well)[/B]

- NOT give too much information before they ask. For example, I never send pictures of anything until they ask. I introduce myself and say what my expectations are, and what I am willing to do and to be for them (a penpal, a possible friend; willing to share my life, send pictures, etc)

- Make boundaries clear. It's probably no surprise that people who are incarcerated can easily become lonely, and a lot of inmates tend to ask to receive mail just from the opposite gender. That, for me never proved to have a malicious underlying to it - they were just being honest, that having so much contact with (in my case) males, it would be nice to hear from a female, and I get that. However if something wasn't clear I would expect a question or some flirtatious behaviour in the response. The best way was to be straight up, and set boundaries in the first letter, so could always refer back to that, and just reiterate what had already been said.

- Think a lot before writing somebody on death row. They're not monsters, they're not scary, and they're lonely and looking for some support and a source of positivity to keep their spirits up. It's incredibly daunting when you learn what they go through on the row, and it's no surprise inmates sentenced to die often end their own lives. It's a great thing to do, but they will focus their attention on you, 100%. I find that I had more letters, pictures, questions from death row. Simply because they've been institutionalized for so long, it's special for them when somebody from the outside reaches out. Nevertheless, it can be emotionally distressing, overwhelming, saddening and really once you start to get to know that person and care for them, there's an inevitable sense of hopelessness and sadness for not being able to be more helpful. I started sending loads of pictures of me, my dog, (never my food) my mundane activities and landscapes. And by landscapes I mean the two different views I get from my window. They really appreciate. If you ever write to a DR inmate, don't ever leave them hanging without explanation. It's the worst, most disheartening thing anyone could do. That goes for everybody, really, but specially DR, because you'll leave someone wondering what happened, for possibly years or the rest of their lives. If you don't feel like writing anymore, be straight up and let them know you will cease any correspondence. A ''perk'' if you could say, about death row, is that nothing gets shared - your pictures won't end with someone else, your address will remain with your pp, and you can expect to never receive random mail from somebody you don't know. It's probably the 'safest' in that sense, that you can be sure your information will remain with the person you intended it to go to.

-Write someone on death row. They can be the least judgemental people you'll ever encounter. They have their share of 'bad karma' and the last thing they are looking to do is look down on anybody else. Whereas they surely don't act the same way they do with you with the people they see everyday, during yard for example, they probably have developed a mask to keep them from being hurt. When you give it your time and support, you find that there are actually people (somewhat) like me or you (not felons per say) who are able to give so much. They also have enough free time that they can be very detached from material things and if literate, well-read people with lots to share. Their life isn't easy and they surely made mistakes, but the reason they landed on death row does not lie solely on their crimes. There's so much that can happen and render somebody a DR prisoner, it's unfair to generalize that sector of the American prison system. Not to say though, you should just take them at face value - some people have been removed from wap for their celebrity-like status as a result of the nature of their crime.

- When I don't have time to post a letter, it will have a written date on it, but not always a stamped date, so the inmate will assume it was the mail office that delayed their mail - and they can get feisty. If they mention it, or if I'm aware I really did take long to post the letter, I always take responsability for that, instead of allowing them to just think it was the mail room. They don't need to feel more scrutinized by the people around them than they already do, so when I take responsability for things like that, it eases their generalised anger towards the environment they're in.

As a conclusion, I'd like to say to anyone who's considering: VISIT YOUR PENPAL! I did fly to visit someone who was more of a friend than a penpal, and it was one of the best things I could have done. He was so excited, it was great to finally meet him and having been inside I have more of a grasp of what goes on in the environment he's in. I also encountered other visitors in the waiting room and got the chance to talk to such a variety of people, it was incredible. Some were immediate family, some were penpals, some were romantic partners, and every single person in that room knew exactly what I was feeling, and I could somehow share their feelings too. Having someone you care about incarcerated isn't easy, and I developed so much respect and admiration for those people. It's a constant battle, specially for the closest ones, the brothers and sisters or mothers and fathers of inmates, and as tough as it is, they still are there for their loved ones. People were at the prison at 7am and had just come from places that were a four hour drive from the prison. Others took the day to be there, brought their children along. Toddlers. Emotional support dogs. Others drove six hours for a non-contact, one hour only visit, to surprise their significant other. All this when you don't know until you get there if there's gonna be a lockdown, or if they might turn you away for parking in the wrong place or wearing the wrong clothes. There's so much input from the families and I would never even grasp what It could be like had it not been the crippling anxiety in the waiting room, when people who shared the same feeling offered a helping hand and shared their experiences during the time we were waiting to be called in.

Anyway
I hope this can be helpful to someone
If I said anything that doesn't sound right or there's more, feel free to add.

 
EricIndiana
EricIndiana

I just joined and filled out a profile for an incarcerated friend. He was then transferred to a new facility and I can't figure out how to change his institution so that poeple can write to him. Where do I go to change his contact info.?

 

Thanks,

Eric

 
Noel
Noel

Hello, my name is Noel.
I am a 36 year old charismatic latino male who knows how to keep a good conversation going. 
I like trying new things in life and being open minded. I do not judge because nobody is perfect and I understand that
life sometimes changes us. I definitley respect anyone who has been through tough times and still caries on living their
life to the fullest. You only have one life right so why not make it a great one. I am very passionate about Art as I am
an artist myself. I like drawing anything and everything that pops into my head like portraits of loved ones, characters,
and beautiful places; you name it I can probably draw it. I am also a big animal lover. Anything from your fluffy dogs and
cats to exotic reptiles, snakes, scorpions and everything in between. I'm very much in awe of my surroundings like nature.
I enjoy the beuty of everything and everyone around me.   
I'm not looking for anyone or anything specific, but hopefully I find someone who will be a positive influence in my life
as I intend to be one in yours. We've all made mistakes and I intend to grow from and move past them to start a new 
chapter in my life. If you'd like to get to know me and become friends send a letter my way. Hope to hear from you soon.
Sincerely, Noel.

 
Yazmin
Yazmin

Hi ,

As I am new here, your information helped me a lot ! Thanks for the tips and tricks. I wrote my first letter yesterday. I'm excited and curious. I really hope the person I wrote to, will receive my letter , and I will get some response.
Have a nice day!

 
Amy Harris
Amy Harris

Hello Newbie here XD,

Just have to comment, your post is very insightful and helpful. I've been wanting to write to a prisoner for a long while and finally get the chance to after a previous let down. DR was the first thing i thought of personally, i'm happy to write tot anyone but DR is the one i'm rather passionate about, i've done research about it and it honestly breaks my heart. My mother is very supportive about my decision, i'm 21 by the way, i'm so nervous and excited. Anyway sorry for rambling on, just putting my two cents into the conversation.
Thanks so much for the help you've posted.

 
Izzi
Izzi

Thank you for sharing! Very insightful, and has me rethinking on writing to a DR person. (Though amongst other things, I want to be careful how much I put on my letter plate.)
I write to 2, one lifer(male) and one not (female). My girl writes about once a month but is in a big transitional stage in her prison journey, but my guy writes a lot. It can be so addicting to get that first fee letters pictures ect from these people. I've found this process can be a bit draining but also rewarding for me! I'm glad I found these forums so I can have someone to talk to about these things as it's frowned apon by most. Even my local postal office lady basically said to go write a soldier instead. Haha, good idea as well, but I've found people behind bars are the some of the most easy going, non judgemental, and genuinely good company people. Just because they made mistakes doesn't mean they should be exiled from friendship (or more).

Hey, DropIntheOcean!

I'm so glad my experience could add something to yours! You had me smiling saying that you'll re-consider writing a DR person! All I can say is that, for me, it's the most balanced and rewarding penpalship there is. When you write DR you can be almost one hundred percent sure you've made a difference just by reaching out. But of course it's not for everyone. If you do write, though, may I just suggest you take your time choosing and background-checking the pp. Since it's DR there will probably be at least something from papers, but you can easily find a legal transcript (the automatic DR appeal is usually public domain) with a neutral explanation of the case. Google scholar almost always has it. It's a much better indicator of what you'll get into (what I mean is, don't be me, who wrote somebody only to post the letter and find out it was a famous serial killer who was clearly playing with me; side note: psycopaths are very charming, their ads usually stand out, dr or not dr, might want to keep that in mind) okay I'm not being very encouraging, am I? ahahah no but on a serious note, I think dr is worth writing to.

Yes, I totally get what you're saying! The first few letters are exciting and filled with enthusiasm and expectation. The problem is that once you satisfy your curiosity or wandering mind on what it was going to be like, you either feel a connection and feel keen to write and share your life with them, or it dies out right there by the second letter. As for your female pp, that's probably when she'll be busiest in her new setting and less likely to write to you. It's probably no 'fault' of her own, just busy really. And I, too, find it draining to write! That's something I forgot to mention, one-to-one conversations, specially through letters are very intimate, it will feel draining to put so much out there. But I find that once I seal the letter and pack it to drop it off at the post office I feel really good, like I just got a huge task off my shoulders. That's also why I found DR so interesting - since I'm putting a lot of input into it, it's a bit frustrating when a pp replies to a long letter with something really short or says they've been busy or use their letter to almost demand answers about us - the people on DR will likely have the same input, you'll get a lovely letter thanking you for thinking of them, wishing you the best, offering you a shoulder to lean on if you ever need it, maybe some handmade cards, poems or drawings. I've felt really appreciated with my dr penpals, as opposed to taking a chance with others who are only serving time, you know?
Mate, hahah if you ever need to talk about it you can pm me anytime. I write a lot and just last week when I got back from Cali, all excited to show my friends my picture with my pp, they were BRUTAL making judgements about him and eventually about me too. I found that very few people in everyday life are understanding, or at least respectful. Don't ever let them put you off writing, though - befriending people in these situations is a really selfless act. Also I can't believe the post office lady said that to you! That's so rude and invasive, wow. Well, like you have already experienced, the world isn't such a friendly place once we're open about writing felons, let alone to the felons once they leave. All help is valid, and although they're locked up, deprived of so many things, there's still so much to learn from them (and I don't mean just realising that there are things we take for granted all the time). Well, best of luck in your quest for -maybe- a new penpal! And if you want to talk just pm me :)

 
DropInTheOcean
DropInTheOcean

Thank you for sharing! Very insightful, and has me rethinking on writing to a DR person. (Though amongst other things, I want to be careful how much I put on my letter plate.)
I write to 2, one lifer(male) and one not (female). My girl writes about once a month but is in a big transitional stage in her prison journey, but my guy writes a lot. It can be so addicting to get that first fee letters pictures ect from these people. I've found this process can be a bit draining but also rewarding for me! I'm glad I found these forums so I can have someone to talk to about these things as it's frowned apon by most. Even my local postal office lady basically said to go write a soldier instead. Haha, good idea as well, but I've found people behind bars are the some of the most easy going, non judgemental, and genuinely good company people. Just because they made mistakes doesn't mean they should be exiled from friendship (or more).

 
Izzi
Izzi

Thanks for posting this!

I want to add something of an addendum to your tip about not writing two inmates at the same facility.

-Be careful about writing to two inmates who are incarcerated in the Federal system. Your Federal inmates may be imprisoned on opposite coasts today, but next month, they might just end up as cell mates in Kansas! I've been writing to my Fed pen pal for a little over a year, and in that relatively short time he has been transferred through four states!

Good point! I guess I would also mention the possibility of transfers within the same state. Met this lady in visitation waiting room who mentioned it was her 6th different prison visiting her husband, who had some time but nothing near life. From what I understood, those 6 different prisons were all in California and the span of time was of no more than two years. Knowing how gossip flows on the inside, I wouldn't be surprised if these prisoners bumped into friends or acquaintances.

 
vynte
vynte

Thanks for posting this!

I want to add something of an addendum to your tip about not writing two inmates at the same facility.

-Be careful about writing to two inmates who are incarcerated in the Federal system. Your Federal inmates may be imprisoned on opposite coasts today, but next month, they might just end up as cell mates in Kansas! I've been writing to my Fed pen pal for a little over a year, and in that relatively short time he has been transferred through four states!