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~Tips for Writing to Inmates~

    Please remember that writing to an inmate is a commitment. These men and women are so very lonely. Most have lost all contact with family and friends. It is difficult to form a solid friendship behind bars, just as it is difficult for them to trust again. Many want to start a relationship, many just want a friend. Someone who will listen and let them feel special and needed. They have precious little in prison. A friend is so special to them, they treasure this friendship and become incredibly protective of mail, pictures and anything associated with their friend. Receiving a letter helps them escape where they are if only for a while.

    If this is your first time writing to an inmate, you may be apprehensive about what lies ahead. You will meet all kinds of people, just as we do on the outside, some you will find you like right away and others you may not wish to write to again. Don't give up if you do not "click" with someone right away, you can always try writing to someone else.

    You might want to use a Post Office box until you feel more comfortable sharing your home address. You may also choose not to give out your phone number until you have been corresponding for a while. The cost of a phone call will be yours, inmates may only call collect.

    Honesty is important. Inmates do not trust very easily, you may find it takes a while for some to open up. Others are so anxious to talk to someone again that their thoughts are everywhere, their excitement is just too much to handle. If you don't want to divulge too much about yourself, that is your option but please remember to be honest about everything. They may want to know why you are choosing to write to an inmate. They find it hard to believe they have found a friend in someone they have never met when often their own families no longer are a part of their lives. They may want to know if you are available for a relationship.

    Many consider their crime to be personal. They may not want to share this information in a first letter. If they invite you to ask questions, by all means ask. If you wish to verify the crime of a pen pal, you can check on the State Doc Sites.

    Inmates are so happy with the smallest of gestures. Their lives have been so bare of all the beautiful things in life that it is thrilling for them to hear things you might consider mundane. They love to receive pictures (some prisons have restrictions on the size and number that may be sent in at one time). They also love to hear about your day, even if it is just a trip to the grocery store.

    Remember to send birthday cards, thinking of you cards and cards to celebrate the holidays. Many times, you'll find a prisoner has not received a card for any occasion for many years.

    People writing to inmates do so for many different reasons. It is easiest when writing your first letter to let your pen pal know what the boundaries are so there are no misunderstandings later. If you are offering friendship only, and are happily married then try to select a prisoner who is looking for a friend only. If you are available for a relationship, then let them know. If you do not wish to be asked for money or your phone number, just let them know. Most will abide by your needs providing you are clear from the beginning.

    Writing to an inmate can be a wonderful feeling. Very strong friendships are made through letters and you'll find you are just as excited as they are to receive mail. This is fun, rewarding and easy to do. So please pick up a pen and make a prisoner smile today! You'll be happy you did.

    Try to use fun, colorful stationery. They don't see much that is beautiful inside and love to receive pretty cards and stationery. White out, perfume, tape, glue, and stickers are not allowed (on either envelopes or letters) in many prisons. Find out the rules before using any to ensure your letter will be delivered.

    It's important not to write to more than one person in each prison unless you have asked. They don't have much to call their own and so become very protective and jealous of their few friends.


~ Gift Ideas for Prisoners ~

Prison rules vary from place to place, so to be sure what is allowed you should contact the prison or ask your pen pal before sending anything in. Many prisons are quite strict, allowing only money orders to be mailed so the inmate can buy from the prison. The following is a list of things that is acceptable to most prisons.

Magazine Subscriptions

These are great fun and can be shared. They usually need to be sent in via a publisher.

Money Orders

This is the easiest way for them to purchase what they like. You may send it to the prisoner by mail in most cases but in some prisons a form needs to be filled out and mailed to a separate place for cashing. The inmate will then receive notice that his account has been credited.


These are usually accepted providing there is no spiral binding on the calendar. In some prisons it may need to be shipped directly from the publisher.


Stamps are not allowed in some prisons. Some have a weekly limit and others are only allowed the embossed envelopes. These are always a welcome gift.

Cards and Note Paper

They love to receive pretty, colorful stationery and cards. When birthdays and holidays come around, many prisoners cannot afford to send a card to a family member so this helps them considerably.

Word Search/Crossword Puzzles

They also enjoy getting word search and crossword puzzles. If the book can't be sent..tear out a few pages at a time and include in your letters.

Submitted by Kris.

Free Stuff!

I send my pen pal jokes, stories and information I print from the internet. It's free and it gives him a chance to see the world from behind bars..:)

Submitted by Terri.

Special Gifts!

For my friend on death row, I wanted to buy him something for Xmas that I knew he wouldn't already have and also something the system could never take from him, so I had a star named after him, it's not expensive and all the other guys loved it to because none of them has one, it was really appreciated.

I also rip pages out of all my magazines when I've read them, he loves them and I also send paintings my 4 year old son has done at school.

Submitted by Lynn.

I sent my pen pal a strip of photos taken from a photo booth as a book mark, with some silly expressions, my penpal got a laugh, why not try it yourself?

Submitted by Scott.

I have a photo program where I can take any photo replace the face with my inmate's. For someone who has not seen himself in anything but prison clothes for over 24 years, this has been soooooo much fun for him to see himself in the pages of a Wal-Mart ad modeling clothes, or walking along a beach, or any number of other creations. I've also done a calendar month by month with one of these fun pictures. Its great, not only does HE get to "see himself" in a different light, but so do I and its easier to picture him out here someday!

Submitted by C. Jones.

I sent my pen pal coloring pages that I cut of coloring books of his favorite character, and I try to scent them with a nice perfume or fragrances. Remember they don't have too many scents in there.

Submitted by Miriam.

I send my pen pal post cards of just about anything and he loves them. I do not write on the card itself, just enclose it with my letter. He really spends a lot of time looking at these. And he even sends a thank you note for them. Cards from places that I have traveled too, some of local attractions. I try to find ones that have some sort of printing on the back because he is a very curious fellow. The cost is 25 cents each and he really enjoys them!

Submitted by William.

News papers or home town journals............ soft back books.......... many read the entire series by many authors........... Clancy is a favorite, Gresham is another..... however there are many, many others.......... detective and mystery novels do great too!

Submitted by Scott.

I write a prison inmate all the time and we have become very close friends. One of the things I do for my friend is get song lyrics from the many song web sites out there and mail them to him. He can't seem to get enough of these and is the envy of all his neighbors because he knows the words. Sometimes he will get the whole tier singing along.

Submitted by Billy.

I have a prison pen pal and one thing I like to send him is jokes that I get off the internet. They don't have too much to smile about in there, so he really enjoys these.

Submitted by G.Thompson.

Every so often I mail my pen-pal an air freshener (the scented cardboard ones that you hang on your auto rear view mirror) that is in the shape of a cartoon character. He puts it under his pillow to make his bed smell nice. I thought the flowery ones would be best, but he prefers the pine scented ones. He closes his eyes and he is outside in the trees.

Submitted by Colleen

What I do is I send him his horoscope along with mine, I highlight it and it comes with the news and a lot of different places and things. I then give it a light sprinkle of body spray so he can read it and think of me at the same time!

Submitted by Marita

Whenever I go to a concert, or an event, I like to try to obtain something from the event that I can send, a flyer, photos, ticketstubs, etc. I had one of my inmate's favorite bands sign a band photo, and since it was on paper, I could send it. He loved it. It's a nice way to let your inmate know he/she is missed, and thought about out here in the "free" world.

Submitted by -Jamie Phx, AZ

My penpal likes mystery paperbacks. It gives him something to read and find out if the guilty party is who he thought it was.