Friday, April 30, 2010

Prison Pen Pals

This is a touchy subject in and of itself. The idea of exchanging mail with someone who is incarcerated is more than a little daunting. Paranoia creeps in and your thoughts drift to 'what if they escape?' 'what if they use my information to steal my identity?' 'these people are in prison for a reason', and so on and so forth.

I'm not denying any of these things as they are all quite valid - but I want to pose the question, none the less, as to whether or not you currently write to a prisoner or would ever consider writing to a prisoner.

If anyone is wondering the bad side to the "what if", I give you this article, snagged from

SAN DIEGO (AP) — An ex-convict has pleaded guilty to killing his prison pen pal, encasing the body in cement and living off the victim’s savings and credit cards.
Thomas Jeffrey Brooks faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty Thursday in San Diego to first-degree murder.
Prosecutors say Brooks and 80-year-old Edward Andrews became pen pals while Brooks was in a Victorville prison. They say Brooks met the victim after he was released.
Authorities say Brooks killed Andrews and that he and an accomplice encased Andrews’ body in a concrete orb that was the centerpiece of a rock garden in the San Diego backyard of Brooks’ landlord.
Prosecutors say Brooks withdrew about $24,000 from the victim’s accounts and made $108,000 in phony check deposits over eight months. 

Outside of a random, possibly one in a couple million chance - would you? These are people who's families may have abandoned them, that are dealing with a lot from day to day. 

Then there's the people who "collect". People write to famous murderers, generally serial killers. What would you say to Charles Manson in a letter? How about the BTK killer, the Unabomber, Dr Kavorkian, David Berkowitz, and so on.

Would you give them your real name? Would you ask about life in prison or why they did what they did? Or would you travel outside the norm and ask some more unique questions?
The high profile killers get a lot of mail. More mail than they can reply to, a lot of the time. I'm told the Unabomber doesn't usually reply to pen pal or "fan" mail, while other people are just very picky to whom they will respond to, like Charles Manson. And still others will write to you about God, the universe and everything.

One of the biggest tips I've learned, though it may be self evident - if you're uncomfortable, then use a P.O. Box. These people will understand. They're not dumb - they know people are afraid of them.

I give you the most complete list I have found so far, on a forum and website title "Write-A-Murderer"

Before writing to anyone, do your research. Google them. Wikipedia is a great source of information, but sometimes only on the more widely known felons. There are also sites that you can input prisoner numbers and search for how long they will be incarcerated for, as well as why they were incarcerated in the first place.

You might also want to find out if they are regretfull of what they've done or not. I can't imagine it being very pleasant to write to someone who talks incessantly about killing.

Also, before sending your letter out - STOP! What are you sending? Your letter WILL be read by the Warden, or an employee hired specifically to read all ingoing and outgoing mail. Every prison is different - some prisons will not even allow you to use stamps that are stuck onto the envelope in any way, and must be printed. Some prisons its okay to send the prisoners extra stamps, postcards and the occassional picture or magazine article - and others, it is forbidden. This may also change depending on what level of security the prisoner is located in. Do your research first and formost.

If you have further questions, I recommend the site: Ask a Convict -

I would love to hear everyones thoughts on the subject. Any rumours, myths, facts - anything.


Peacefully*Chaotic said...

This is a very interesting subject.I think it's a compassion thing.At least with me it has been.I have had 2 pen pals that are incarcirated.I never asked either of them any questions about why they were there.I figured they probably had many people ask them that already and I just wanted to offer my friendship through our correspondence.One of my pals was a male.He was very smart and wrote beautifully.He told me about his case .he was accused of murder. voluntarily.He claimed he was innocent and was framed.I didn't question him .I sent him articles from the internet that he requested.We were pals for a while until he started telling me he was in love with me and thought about me all the time.I am married and he was well aware of this.i knew it was a fantasy born of his lonliness,but I had to slowly stop our correspondence.i did not want to give him false hope.The other pal is a young woman.She was very brief in her explanation for her incarceration.She was very repnentant and misse her young child very much.I liked writing to her very much.Unfortunately I moved and have her letters packed away ...with her address.I am hoping she will write again so we can continue to be pen pals.I fear she may think I just don't want to write anymore.Seeing your post has made me think I will research her address and perhaps look into anothe pen pal.The women especially need lots of support and who am I to judge?You never know where life will take you.We all need to practice some compassion and of course use cautin!Sorry for the long comment.If you wish to respond please email me or visit my blog
By the way I am a follower of your blog and have enjoyed quite a few of your posts!

Peacefully*Chaotic said...

Sorry for al the typos!I should have read it before posting it!I meant to say my penpal voluntarily offered information regarding the reason he was in prison.

O Arrow said...

I have written a few prisoners in the past, but none of them were dangerous murderers, most were drug offenders and/or thieves or some other, lesser offense. Right now I write one prisoner I actually knew previous to his incarceration. I use a p.o. box since I don't know if the person I write is the only one with access to my mail. I never get too involved, but try to be encouraging or friendly. A lot of prisoners are just really lonely and bored, so they love reading material - sometimes I'll send a good, used book along with my letter. I don't think I'd ever write a "celebrity criminal" but the prisoners who have contacted me always get a response. If they start sounding weird ("send me a picture") I just cut them off.

justawhisper said...

My cousin is in prison for murder. I know that he is a wonderful human being who made a mistake when he was younger. I have often thought about trying to find him penpals but I fear that people will not see him for who he is.

pen pals said...

This is a great post . thanks for sharing with us .

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