WHAT TO WRITE

Thank you so much for your willingness to write and encourage an inmate. We know the idea of communicating with a prisoner can feel daunting so let us help you know what to write.* If you have any more questions about what to write feel free to contact us!

First Letter

• Just introduce yourself. Give your name, interests, and line of work. Tell what church you attend and what your hobbies are.

•  Basic facts.

Born where, education, career, military, married, the how-and- when of your salvation, and why you volunteered to be a pen pal.

What not to ask

The letter shouldn’t ask an inmate, “What are you in for?” (reason for incarceration).

• Build trust in your initial letters.

Don’t give people advice unless they ask for it. Letters should be filled with genuine questions about the life of your pen pal. Basic questions must come first: Where are you from? Where were you born? Do you have a family? Each question will open doors to new ones. Share the basics of your own life. People need to trust you. The first few letters must have the intention of building trust and confidence—the “right to be heard.”

A good first letter should address your personality

As best you can, and some of your social interests or hobbies. But also it should address why you are writing a prisoner.

• A good first letter should be encouraging and uplifting.

Include a little information (not too personal) regarding the writer. Tell how you came to Christ. Tell about your activities as a Christian in your church or Bible studies. Be friendly, but not pushy or preachy. A first letter is an introduction. Inmates are always eager to meet new people.

Example Letter:

Dear Joseph:
I received your name from Inside the Lines Ministries. They came to your institution to hold a basketball or volleyball tournament.
 They mentioned that you were interested in having a pen pal. I am looking forward to getting to know you through our correspondence in the months ahead. Since I know virtually nothing about you, I’ll be interested to learn a little more about your family, about any background you wish to give, and about your daily schedule and life where you are now.

My goal in having a pen pal is to establish a friendship in which we both can share a little encouragement and information. Perhaps we can broaden our understanding of each other’s situations.

I am a high school math teacher. My wife and I have three children—one in college and the other two in high school. Although my schedule is very busy with school and church activities, I plan to answer every letter you write, and to write at least every other week as I am able to do so.

I look forward to hearing from you and to our beginning to share some of the things that are important
to us. Feel free to call me Don, as that’s what most of my friends use.

Warmly,

Donald P. Smith
 

DOs and DON'Ts

The first way to avoid problems is to stick to the following "do’s and don’ts" of

writing to a prisoner pen pal:

 

DO

DO

• Remember that the main purpose of a pen pal ministry is Christian friendship.

• Encourage and pray for your prisoner friend regularly.

• Write at least twice a month, if possible.

• Be a good listener and give hope through God’s Word.
• Be aware that prisoners may have emotional ups and downs. You may be able to provide some emotional stability.

• Be aware of con games. If you have questions just ask the Assist staff.
• Be prepared for the possibility of unwanted romantic overtures.

• Send your inmate a special occasion card (birthday, Christmas). The Assist staff can help you in sending your card.

DON'Ts

• Give legal advice or counsel regarding a prisoner’s case.

• Send money for financial support or legal fees; don’t co-sign loans or process money orders.

• Ask why a prisoner is incarcerated.

• Provide other names and addresses for your prisoner pen pal to write to. Inside the Lines will take care of mailing your letter for you.

*All information on this page taken from Prison Fellowship's "Visit Prison in an Envelope"