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Writing to Prisoners

How do I write a letter to someone I don’t know?     What do I say?

Are there things I can’t talk about?     Will the prisoner be interested in what I have to say?

First Things First

Some prisons restrict the number of letters a prisoner can write or receive, and prisoners have to buy their own stamps and envelopes. So don't necessarily expect a reply to a card or letter.

Most prisons prohibit sending in stamps because those are considered a form of currency.

Make sure you include a return address (it doesn't have to be real), because many prisons will not deliver a letter without one. If you don't use your return address, make sure you include an address somewhere inside your letter so the prisoner can reply.

Writing For the First Time

Say who you are, and where you heard about them and their case. The first letter can be reasonably short, maybe only a postcard. When you get to know people better, you'll have more to talk about. If you are writing to political prisoner, and you believe them to be innocent, it helps to say so, as it gives people confidence to know that you believe them.

What to Talk About

Some people are afraid of talking about their lives, what they are up to, thinking this may depress people locked up, especially prisoners with long sentences. Although in some cases this may be true, on the whole, a letter is the highpoint of the day for most prisoners. Prison life is dead boring, and any news that livens it up, whether it's about people they know or not, is generally welcome. Especially if you didn't know them before they went to prison, they want to know about you, what your life is like, etc. Use common sense and don't write about anything that is likely to get you or anyone else in trouble with the cops.

They’re In There For Us; We’re Out Here for Them

For people imprisoned for a movement, it is vital to keep them involved in the ongoing resistance. Tell them about actions, send them magazines if they want them, and discuss ideas and strategies. Use your head, though. Some people will just want to keep their head down until they get out.

Entire magazines might get censored if they are on political topics such as drug war reform and ending cannabis prohibition.  However, if you tear out individual articles or print text articles from the Internet, they are likely not to get noticed by censors.