Letter to a Friend in Jail Example

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You can write letters to incarcerated family members and friends to make them feel less isolated or lonely. However, it may be difficult to start if you’re writing for the first time.

What topics can you discuss with an inmate, and what kind of letters can you send each other? What’s the process of sending a letter to an inmate, and what facility procedures should you consider?

People serving time in prison don’t have direct and regular access to other means of communication like the telephone or mobile phone; if they do, the privilege is rare and limited.

This article promotes healthy communication between people who are free and those behind bars. It gives you creative ideas for writing engaging and inspiring letters to inmates.

This write-up also discusses how to send letters to inmates, what kind of letters you can send, and how to maintain communication with inmates despite the physical barriers of incarceration.

The law doesn’t prohibit friendship with inmates. Also, correspondence between family members and an incarcerated loved one or close friend is highly encouraged. You can send letters to incarcerated individuals through the mail system set in place by the correctional facility.

You can check mail policies by visiting LookUpInmate.org and going to a prison or jail’s website. Aside from this, you can get information on more than 7,000 correctional facilities in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Miami, Cleveland, Atlanta, and other cities in the United States.

What to Say When Writing to an Incarcerated Friend or Family Member

Suppose you’re asking what you should say to a friend or family in prison. In that case, the answer is to put into words your continued love for them, despite them being at the lowest point of their lives.

From an incarcerated person’s point of view, a letter is their only window to the outside world. It’s a paper anchor that keeps them sturdy and stable as they ride out the storm of their imprisonment.

Why Should You Write a Letter to Someone in Jail?

You write a letter to connect them to the outside world. People behind bars are set apart from society. They don’t know what’s happening outside the concrete walls and steel bars.

Unlike phone calls, letters are tangible things prisoners can keep in their cells. Letters help remind inmates that despite their predicament, some people still believe in them and support their rehabilitation and change.

Understanding the Rules For Sending Letters

Sending letters to inmates is protected by the First Amendment. However, letters sent to prison are still subjected to the rules and regulations imposed by the correctional facility where your loved one is incarcerated.

Are There Any Specific Inmate Letter Rules?

You should remember that prison officials can inspect and read the letters you send to an inmate, whether you’re a family member or a close friend.

Here are other things to consider:

  • Don’t use paper clips or staples.
  • Don’t use a marker, glitter, glue, stickers, crayon, or lipstick.
  • Don’t add perfume or any fragrance.
  • Don’t include drawings that might look like codes or secret messages.

Letter-to-Prisoner Example

Writing a letter to an inmate is similar to composing a typical letter to anyone.

Remember to write the complete address so the letter won’t be discarded or returned to you. Here is a short list of information that shouldn’t be missing from your envelope:

  • The inmate’s full name
  • The inmate’s ID or booking number
  • The complete address of the correctional facility
  • The sender’s complete return address

Here’s a sample letter you can use when writing to someone in prison.

Date

Greeting

Dear [Name of inmate]

Opening

It is always my joy to hear news from you. Since your last letter, I have been anxious about when your next mail should arrive.

(If your pen pal has shared what happened to them since your last letter, you can react to this immediately. It shows that you’re excited about their experiences and want to discuss them before sharing yours.)

Body

As for me, the days came as usual.

(You can now add your experiences. Remember to choose wisely the experiences you want to share with your pen pal. It’s best if you can share uplifting things. Make it descriptive but not flowery.)

I don’t know if you already know, but the latest news is really interesting.

(You can add the latest news to inform your pen pal about what’s happening in the world outside prison. Show them how you feel about the information you’re sharing.)

Don’t fret over what you’re experiencing now, and look at the brighter side of life.

Closing

(You can end your letter with an encouraging cheer that will be a sufficient morale boost until you send your next mail.)

Signature

What Should a First-Time Letter to an Inmate Pen Pal Look Like?

Getting a pen pal behind bars is a good thing if done right. You can have the opportunity to help a person in need of emotional support. However, you should always be wary of writing to inmates.

A first-time letter to an inmate should be an introduction, an ice-breaker, or a key that will open the gates of feelings for you and your recipient.

Start by telling your new friend why you’re writing. Introduce yourself well enough that you’re no longer a stranger but a friendly acquaintance.

You can use this template to start your correspondence with a prisoner pen pal.

Dear [Name of the inmate]

Opening

(Start your letter with an inviting greeting. You should express yourself here as you’re introducing yourself to someone who has never met you.)

(You can add the reason for writing. Just make sure that your reason should also benefit the recipient.)

Body

(Here, you can now expand your introduction. You can set the mood of the letter. You can make it funny, formal, or friendly. Show your personality through your hobbies, likes, and dislikes.)

Open-ended questions

(Here, you can now ask questions the recipient will answer in reply. Make sure that these questions are not intruding. Ensure you let the reader feel they can share as much or as little as they want.)

Closing

(End the letter with genuine excitement in receiving the reader’s reply.) 

Signature

How Do You Start a Letter to Someone in Jail?

Introduce yourself, include your reasons for writing, and end with open-ended questions allowing your recipient to continue the conversation seamlessly.

Write your letter casually and ensure your voice comes out of each sentence you write. Never sound too formal or business-like, as it would make your letter dry.

Finding Your Friend’s Contact Details, e.g., in the U.S.

If you need to locate your friend or pen pal in prison, you can visit sites called inmate locators. One such site is LookUpInmate.org, where you can search for a particular inmate currently incarcerated in county jails or state or federal prisons in the U.S.

Some Tips for Writing a Letter to a Prison Inmate

How you write your letter will depend entirely on the recipient’s reader type. You should base your writing on what your loved one or pen pal behind bars wants to know.

Let your feelings flow freely onto paper so those deprived of freedom can experience your emotions.

How to Compose a Letter to Someone in Jail

There are countless ways to start your letter and tons of creative ways to tell the story of your own life. However, there are elements that you can add to your letter that can make your correspondence with someone in jail meaningful.

What to Include

One big difference between writing to someone in prison and writing to your best friend is that prison mail is monitored. in some cases, these letters are inspected by prison officials. The reason for this is to help prevent the entry of contraband inside a correctional facility.

With this information in mind, you can compose your letter to avoid any awkwardness when prison authorities inspect your letter.

Play Games

You can play games through correspondence, especially if your inmate pen pal is inclined to indulge in a few word games on paper. You can play games like:

  • Crossword puzzles
  • Word search
  • Word association games
  • Tic tac toe
  • Correspondence chess

Remember that for games to work in correspondence, both of you should love doing this type of pen pal activity.

Be Empathetic

The words you write should be sensitive to an inmate’s plight. An empathetic letter should be from the heart, acknowledging the inmate’s feelings. It doesn’t mean you agree with the inmate’s mistake, but rather you believe that any wrongs can still be righted.

Empathy makes a written letter powerful as it helps an inmate feel that there are people ready to understand their predicament.

You can send letters of empathy to boost their morale, which is dampened by the continued stress of incarceration.

Talk a Little About Yourself

Another thing you should include when writing to an inmate is introducing yourself. Present yourself in a way that you won’t remain a stranger to them but a welcome acquaintance ready to listen to what they have to say.

Talk About Your Hobbies

You can discuss your hobbies and what you do in your spare time. You can also talk about each other’s favorite past times and dive into things you feel passionate about.

Remind Them About Happy Times

Life in prison deprives people of the freedom to do whatever they want, and the old, happy times may be distant.

However, through letters, you can make inmates relive the happy times before they were sentenced and before the mistakes happened. You can talk about where they lived before or how life was during their childhood.

Don’t Judge

When you send letters to inmates and become pen pals, make sure you don’t judge or make comments that show judgemental statements.

People who have gone astray need a helping hand, not an accusing finger. People can change for the better, and individuals locked in prison can become better versions of themselves if given a chance.

Get Personal

Don’t sugarcoat life with verbose language. Get personal with your letters to inmates. Show them your life, struggles, pain, happiness, and everything that makes life special. You can reveal more about your daily activities and how writing this letter is also a fun experience for you.

Follow Up

When you want to continue your correspondence with an inmate, you can follow up with each other through letters. You can check on an inmate and ask them what they’ve done since you last exchanged mail. It gives inmates something to look forward to every week or month you send letters.

Ask Questions to Meet Them

Ask questions to know an inmate better and not interrogate them. Remember that people behind bars need an outlet to release their frustrations due to their sad situation. Also, you can reciprocate by answering their questions.

Really Get to Know Them

Once you see that your prison pen pal has opened up and is ready to take your conversation to a new level, you can communicate deeper and learn more about their motivation, plans, dreams, and desires.

Telling Them How Life Is Outside Prison

People behind bars long to know what’s happening outside the prison walls. You can satisfy their curiosity by filling them in on current events while they’re in prison. Likewise, you can also describe to them your everyday activities, your walk to the mall, and the different sights and sounds you encounter as you travel to different places like any free individual can.

Include Open-Ended Questions

You can add open-ended questions that your inmate pen pal will answer in their following letter. You can ask them how their week or month was and how it is better or worse than before. Small open-ended questions open an avenue to pour their souls into and make them look forward to your next correspondence.

Share News With Them

You can share the latest news about anything you learn online or on television.

You can share the news with inmates, especially about things that may directly impact them. An example of news worth sharing is when the government released stimulus checks to people, including inmates.

Tell Them How Often You’ll Write to Them

Give the inmate you’re writing an idea of the frequency of your letters. Sending handwritten letters through the post office is not straightforward, as other conditions must be met for incoming mail to be accepted by the prison facility.

“What Can I Add to My Letter?”

You can write almost anything you want if you don’t add things deemed not allowed inside the prison facility. Remember that there are kinds of letters that you can’t send to inmates, and you should adhere to these regulations.

Write a Letter With Inspirational Quotes to Someone in Jail 

You can add inspirational quotes to your letter. You can find quotes from online sites, from the books you’ve read, or from influential people in your life. Make sure you add simple quotes that address the needs of prisoners behind bars.

More importantly, refrain from giving a lecture or unsolicited advice, especially on matters that should be reserved for the lawyers. Try to keep your tone warm and positive.

Most inmates don’t get to receive letters regularly, so ensure that they receive only uplifting and encouraging letters from you.

Write a Letter With Bible Verses to Someone in Jail 

If you and your inmate pen pal share the same religious beliefs, you can add bible verses to your letters to uplift their emotions and faith.

What Can You Say to Encourage Someone in Jail?

You can encourage inmates by showing them that you understand their situations and are ready to accept them as people who can change and become better than before.

How to Properly Address Your Letter to a Prisoner

You should use plain paper when sending letters to an inmate. Even if it’s a love letter and you want to decorate it with different styles and colors, it’s best to send it in plain white paper to avoid rejection by the prison facility.

The reason for using white paper is because of a drug called K-2 (synthetic cannabinoids), which can be sent discreetly by mail through soaking paper in liquid K-2. Prisons have started to only accept mail written on white paper to quickly see if a piece of paper was tampered with.

Address your letter like the sample below:

Inmate’s First and Last Name, #Booking Number

Name of the Correctional Facility

Facility’s Address

Facility’s City, State ZIP Code

Inmate mail is delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS), so mail your letter to your local post office near you. Also, there are different regulations set in place by the State’s Department of Corrections, which you should be aware of when sending anything to an inmate behind bars.

Where to Write a Letter to Someone in Jail

When you’re writing to someone you know who’s in jail or prison, remember that each facility may have different rules.

If you want to have a pen pal in jail, look for programs supporting this kind of correspondence.

You can contact your local jail or prison facility or talk to a local church organization or ministry. You can also join social media groups encouraging pen pal programs with inmates.

References

1. Know your rights Prisoners’ Rights
https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/prisoners-rights
2. Prison mail laced with drugs forces officials to set new guidelines
https://fox59.com/news/prison-mail-laced-with-drugs-forces-officials-to-set-new-guidelines/

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