Advice for Free Prison Pen Pals

Many people sign up for free prison pen pals. I think it can be a really good thing, but it is something that can be dangerous at the same time. Here are some tips from my experience working with inmates that may help you:



1. Only be a pen pal if you are doing it with the right motive. That motive should be to offer another person some encouragement and hope. It should not be to meet your own needs. If you are becoming a pen pal because you are lonely, you are going to be at risk to be hurt.

2. Never send money. If an inmate asks you for money, you should say no. Second request and you better think twice about the inmate’s motive. Scams abound around prison pen pals. Always check the prison regulations before sending anything other than your letter to the prison. Most prison will not allow even stamps to sent in with letters. Free prison pen pals should not mean free money for inmates.

3. Do not be put in the place of contacting family members or other inmates on behalf of your pen pal. Families may have no contact orders. The request may be a manipulation of the pen pal to get something done that is clearly illegal.

4. I recommend not getting on an inmate’s visiting list. It blurs the boundaries between a pen pal and a personal friend.

5. Be very careful what you put in a letter. Write about current events, what’s happening in your life in a generic sense but don’t give out your children’s names, schools, and other personal information you wouldn’t want broadcast to complete strangers.

6. Always use a post office box number as your return address. Or if you belong to a church or other civic organization, check to see if you can receive an inmate’s letter at that address.

7. Do find ways to offer encouragement and give hope. Many inmates have not had the social networks that has taught them how to make good decisions or help them solve problems.

8. It isn’t necessary to ask them what they did to get to prison. It is public information. You can usually find it on the internet (I’ll show you how to look) or it’s as close as a phone call.

9. How to research: Go to the home page.

  • Click on the state you are interested in and it will guide you to the inmate locator page (if the state has one).
  • For federal prisoners, you will need to click on “federal inmates” on the nav bar.
  • If a state isn’t there yet, google that state and use the phrase “inmate search” or “ inmate locator”. If the state doesn’t have online search capability, they will provide a phone number for inquiries.

The ads for free prison pen pals show the need for lots of incarcerated men and women to be offered encouragement and hope. Be safe when you sign up.




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