When I was in prison, one of the best moments of the day was on the phone. Every weeknight, an officer comes to the flank and distributes prisoner mail.
Sometimes, I get letters or emails from home. Other times I get letters from people I’ve never met, but who have read my case and want to offer support.And then sometimes I get the latest issue of rolling stone read or current east bay catalog so I can order new underwear. No matter what I receive, it always makes me happy to hear my name called on the post call.
Hearing from family and friends is absolutely the best. My brother would send me seven-page long handwritten letters, single-spaced front and back. I live for those.
Sending letters to prisoners is one of the best things you can do while incarcerated. The connection to home is so important and it helps inmates get through each day.
I recently reached out to my friend Mistie Vance at the Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri, to ask her about inmate mail. I wondered what it was like to receive a letter after ten years in it. I also wanted her to answer today’s blog topic: what can you put in a prison letter?
In this blog post, Mistie will cover the following topics:
- Do not include contraband when sending mail to prisoners
- speak honestly and normally
- Pornographic letters are banned
- Every jail has different content rules
Do not include contraband when sending mail to prisoners
You can’t write anything you want in prison letters. If you put the wrong stuff in there, the intended recipient won’t receive them. Obviously, you do not want to put items such as drugs or other illegal contraband in prison letters, as doing so could result in legal action being taken against you. However, there are some other important criteria to consider when communicating with an incarcerated person.
speak honestly and normally
Since it is very important for prisoners to feel as normal as possible while incarcerated, friends and family should communicate as much as possible and be honest. The way you talked to them when they were on the street is how you should talk to them now. After all, they’re still the same person, and so are you.
If you genuinely care about this individual, you should not encourage further illegal activity after release and should support any steps taken towards positive change. If you were involved in illegal activities together before the person was incarcerated, you might consider making some changes in your behavior to help your friend or family member avoid a situation where they might reoffend.
Many people are afraid to talk about their true feelings to someone in prison because they don’t want to worry that person or upset them in any way. This is actually a disadvantage in many ways. Being honest about how the person’s actions or incarceration made you feel is important in helping the person understand the full impact of their actions on others and is a motivator for change.
All too often, we don’t fully appreciate the impact our negative choices have on others until they stop hiding how they really feel and are completely honest about the situation. Be as open as possible, but try not to make the other person feel like a failure. Make sure your loved one knows that you only want to help them understand the impact their actions have on others so they can make positive changes that benefit themselves and others.
Pornographic letters are banned
If you are in a relationship with someone who is incarcerated, how you talk in your letter will determine whether your partner gets them, or if they are added to the infamous “Wall of Shame”.
If the letter is too explicit, the offender is recalled to the case handler’s office and forced to sign a document authorizing the letter to be processed. They were also warned that any further letters of this nature could result in a conduct breach.
Every jail has different content rules
Photos sent to prisoners must be appropriate – especially pictures of children. No photo of a child without a shirt will be accepted, regardless of the child’s age or gender.
Different agencies have different rules about what is allowed in an envelope. For example, the prison I was new to did not allow a letter and several photos in the same envelope. They must be mailed separately.
In some men’s institutions, handmade cards are only accepted if they meet certain criteria. If you wish to send anything in a letter to a criminal, it’s best to know the agency’s regulations beforehand. Anything other than letters, pictures, drawings and cards is considered contraband and will not be accepted by the agency.
When writing to friends and loved ones in prison, the way you speak and the type of language you use is far less important than the message you send. The most important thing is not what cannot be said, but what can be said.
Use your letter as an opportunity to build confidence, encourage and motivate those you care about, and use it as an opportunity to grow. Through positive affirmations, and an outpouring of love and support, you can help the people you care about become the best version of who they are, unique and wonderful. Everyone has beauty, sometimes we just need someone to reflect it and let us see it.
Do you send letters to prison inmates? Please tell us about your experience below.
Sources: Inmate essay from Mistie Vance, Chillicothe Correctional Center