#206 Sending inmates money: the DARK side
Sending inmates money: the dark side
I noticed that a lot of people have been reading some of my blogs, mainly ones dealing with sending inmates money. This seems to be a pretty hot topic to a lot of you, and in light of a recent email from a very nice reader, it seemed good to try to discuss it further with you guys, as best I can.
If you have read one of my blogs about this subject, you notice that I made a strong case as to why it can indeed be helpful to send inmates a few dollars, because it can really help with self esteem.
That sounds odd to many of you, but I honestly feel, as one who did time, that a few dollars can really help turn a bad day in prison to at least a decent one. Prison is hard enough as it is, and in many ways the inmates are like waves in the ocean, tossed here, tossed there. You go where you have to go, with little choice. This includes the meals and everything else.
But to get just a few dollars can really make a difference because it gives you the power of choice while in prison. There is something about being able to have a few dollars to buy something in the prison canteen….
Now note, there will be many who are not sympathetic with inmates that will laugh at these things, because you feel that “criminals don’t deserve nothing”. While there may be some truth to it, I strongly challenge any person saying that to work as a prison guard in a prison full of men with low esteem….see where that gets you.
I believe that an inmate with some money can build some self esteem, and have some power over how his day goes. For example, I am not a big fish fan. Never really liked it because one bone throws my whole meal out. So if we have fish for dinner in the prison, I feel down because it’s not something I can eat…but mind you, I will eat it if I have nothing else to lean on.
But if I had $5, or $10, then I know I have a choice. I don’t have to eat it because I can go to the prison canteen and buy something else. That power of choice gives me a better feeling about myself, because I am not bouncing with the circumstances; I have the power to change that.
So I argue with you that it is important for inmates to have money, because it can really turn a bad day into a decent one. I actually got a lot of emails and some comments from people who told me they were glad I shared that post, because it helped them get a perspective for their loved one, and it helped them understand that maybe it is a important to send them a few dollars.
Now…let me argue the opposite.
Lets talk about when you have to be cautious about sending inmates money.
This is important too, and for me to even blog this is very risky for me, because what I am about to share may paint a stigma about many inmates, which may be unfairly applied to me, an ex felon. But this is important to share, if you fall in the category of wondering if you should send money to someone in prison.
I have actually been asked this question a few times, and I have noticed a pattern in the behavior of certain inmates when it comes to this situation. We’re going to talk a bit about inmates who ask for money…and how to tell if they are sincere or not.
I may very well be shooting myself in the foot here, because I often ask for support of my blogs…as an ex felon, that is hard enough, but what I am about to talk about may make it harder. Somebody might already have a financial gift in the envelope, ready to send to me, but might think twice after they read this…
(please give me a chance to win you over before you do that)
So, the idea is, how do you know if an inmate is being honest when he asks for money?
Now, this can apply to any person that knows somebody in prison, but many times, it applies more to those who know somebody in prison. Although this CAN happen with relatives or close friends or relationships, it more often happens with inmates who make friends with those they have never before met.
Mind you, this is NOT all the time, so don’t pass judgment on somebody until you know for sure, but let’s talk about what you can do to make a better call on this situation.
If you have someone whom you have sent money to, maybe once, twice or a few times, it might have been cool. I mean, like I said, inmates with a few dollars can really be helpful. But what happens when you start feeling indifferent about it? What if you don’t feel right about sending him money? Is it wrong to say no, or to wonder if he is using you?
Its hard to at first realize when you may have crossed that line from being kind, to be used, because it’s kinda gradual. I mean, if you wrote to an inmate, and if you sent him $10 the first month, then he asked for $500, that is a problem. That’s easy to detect, and it would be easy to make a decision to drop the con man. But in most cases it isn’t that simple.
In most cases, you find a person you want to correspond with, you write back and forth, and maybe you feel that you want to help him a little, so you ask if you can send him a few dollars. Or maybe in the initial stages he makes light mention of how he is waiting for his loved ones to send a few dollars.
No harm, no foul right? He didn’t ask you for a Rolex watch. What could it hurt if you sent him a few dollars? So maybe you found it in your heart to send the guy a few dollars, and maybe he truly appreciated it. Maybe he wrote you and told you how thankful it was, and maybe it made you feel that you were truly doing something good.
But what happens if the amounts keep getting higher, or the requests for money start to become more frequent? What do you do when you find yourself saying, “I just sent him a some money last month, why does he need more?”
The initial thought that normally goes with this is that maybe this guy is conning you. I mean, how much money does a guy in prison REALLY need? And so you might now have questions, and decide to go online and see if you come across some answers…
And then you come across some crazy guy name Nolaw97 who has been running his mouth about prison issues. You read his crazy post about whether you should send inmates money and you start to think, “well, maybe he has a point. If it would help his time better, maybe I can send him a few more dollars”.
Before you buy into that, create a mental checklist about whether you should send an inmate money or not.
Before you ever send any money to an inmate, one of the first questions is:
“Do I trust him”
The second is:
“Can I afford to send this”
The third is:
“Do I feel good about this”
The three questions may well save you a lot of headache if you are honest about your answers. Now again, I say to you, this is very slippery roads I tread on, because as a guy trying to make a living writing prison blogs, I do often ask for support. And I do get some from time to time, in addition to selling my books and cards. But I know as an ex felon, if 100 people read my blogs, maybe 2 or 3 will consider supporting me, even if all 100 were truly looking for help.
But there are times folks, when you have to determine if your gifts of kindness are honestly accepted and appreciated, or if you are being conned. Now, to give you an example, let me first give you some examples of what inmates might say to you in an effort to ask for money.
Some inmates will say that the food is nasty, and they need money so they can buy “real” food from the canteen.
Folks, that to me is crap, because I have worked for 3 different prison kitchens. Every meal might not be out of a 5 star restaurant, but they were decent to eat. Some inmates use that excuse to get people to send them canteen money.
Some inmates will say that they need to buy clothes, like shoes or boots.
This is partly true…prisons do sell shoes for inmates who can afford them, but you’d be hard pressed to find prisons that have inmates walking around in bare feet. Prisons are obliged to keep the inmates well clothed, and that includes shoes. Granted the shoes are not Air Jordans, or Timberland boots, but they are good enough. Some inmates just don’t like wearing prison clothes, and try to find a way to look different while in prison.
Some inmates will say they are trying to take a class, and need the money in order to be able to attend the class.
This is questionable as well, unless they can prove to you that they are indeed taking a class. Heck, I wanted to take correspondence classes in prison but never had the chance. In truth, it IS possible, but there are so many obstacles that it is highly unlikely. Sadly, many prisons just don’t like it when inmates try to better themselves, and the rules make it very difficult to do so.
Now, lets just say that a friend or person you know in prison has said one of those examples, and the amount he is asking is pretty substantial. Let’s say he is asking for $150. Let’s say you had sent him a few dollars here, some there, and notice that it has been slowly adding up…or maybe QUICKLY adding up.
First question…do you trust him to send that kind of money? In this case, do you trust this guy to send him $150. Well, is he good for it? Do you fully believe that he really needs that amount?
Second question…can you AFFORD to send him $150? Will this set you back or cause you to reorganize your financial status? Does this force you to have to cut back on something so you can send him that money?
And third question… do you feel good about sending him $150? Is there a strong feeling that you are doing something very good for a person in prison, or do you have second doubts about whether he really needs that money, or will use it in the manner you sent it?
If in any of those three questions you answer in the negative…do NOT send him that money. If you do not trust the inmate, do NOT give him that kind of money. Even if you have some trust, balance that with the money you send him. See, you might be able to trust him with $20, but not $200, even if you had it to give. Don’t let the amount you send exceed your trust in him, he has to earn that from you.
When I ask people to support my blogs, I understand that you have to trust me before you even decide to send me a dollar. If you don’t trust me, don’t send me a dollar, because I want you to be fully convinced that I am doing the best I can to help others. But understand, I didn’t say I was perfect. If somebody sent me a couple of hundred dollars for example, I might go buy a video game with some of it. You might argue my choice in how I spend it, but if it makes me happy, then I get encouragement to write even more. If I need to buy ink and paper, I will do that, but if there is a chance for me to enjoy just a little of life, then I would like to at least taste that. But you have to trust me before you sent anything, trusting that I am sincere in what I am trying to do.
If you don’t have the money to send, then do NOT overextend yourself to help an inmate. Folks, remember, they get fed, they have a roof over their heads, they have clothing and limited medical attention…trust me, they will be fine if they don’t get any money from you. Yes it is true they can do their time better WITH money, but no inmate should be putting anyone out of the way for their own selfish wants.
If you have $500 in your bank account, but got bills that need to be paid, then an inmate asking for $150 can really put a strain on your finances. If you don’t have the money, it is easier to say you don’t have it, but if you are on that borderline, you might feel that maybe you can, if you sacrifice a little….that’s not the way to do it folks. If it puts ANY strain on your finances…do not do it.
And if you get a troubling feeling over it, do not send any money. You have to have it resolved in your heart that the money you send is for a good reason, and you can part with it, and you will feel good about why you are sending it. If that feeling is not within you, if you are asking questions about the request for money, do NOT send it.
Now, if you have gone through all these steps, and decided NOT to send that person the money (or as much as they want), what do you do?
You could simply tell them how you feel, and how you are not sure if you should send them the money…in this case, $150. But if I may, let me suggest the following strategy.
Instead, if you feel indifferent about it, change the conversation, and tell him that because of certain situations, you may not be able to send him any money for a month or two. You don’t have to get into detail about this, after all, its none of his business anyway. Let him know that you will have to hold off on sending him any money for awhile, in this case, 2 months….
And wait for the response.
The response you get will tell you what this guy is really about. If an inmate truly appreciates what you did, he knows that everything he got was based on your kindness, and he was blessed enough to receive. If you chose not to send anymore, that is your decision, if you choose to bless him further, that is your decision. A grateful inmate would understand that he was always at the mercy of your kindness.
But a conning inmate would take issue with your “sudden change of heart”. He would not allow his “gravy train” to go away so easily, and would go into defense mode to keep “his” money. He may first get angry with you, but in doing so he may well have shown his hand. How?
Guys who get upset at people who might stop sending money may realize that YOU see him for what he is, and is going into defense mode, either by denial or using the guilt trip on you. These guys will get upset and try to make you feel bad because you don’t care about him anymore and may even imply that you think that he is conning you…
Which in many cases…he is.
But inmates who do that are first lashing out at you, but at the same time, trying to convince you that YOU are the problem, not him. When you see this response, or ones like it, it is almost a sure sign that he was conning you, but is trying to put all the guilt on you.
But understand, he isn’t trying to push you out…not if you have been sending him money on a constant stream. No inmate wants to lose their money source. So as angry or upset as he may be initially, he may resort to another tactic….sympathy.
If he cannot get you to feel guilty that YOU were wrong, he might try to get you to feel sorry for him by using situations that might get you to act on his behalf. They might say that they owe money to somebody, and they REALLY need to pay up or they might be in trouble.…
(which is interesting, because if you were sending them money all the time, they should NEVER need to borrow)
Or a sick relative might be trying to visit and he needs money to send to them so they can visit him one last time…or that he needs money to call his sick mother. Folks there is no end to what an inmate will say to get you to feel sorry for them. Some will even say they feel so bad over what they did to you that they thought about suicide.
Folks, there are thousands of excuses.
But often these come to try to get you to send them money again, or to pull you back into their control, to get back to sending them money. If the inmate is doing this, then you are pretty sure that they were conning you all the while.
Yet let me make this clear, there can be ways for an inmate to ask for forgiveness and earn back that trust. I am not saying that NO excuse is good. Heck, I would have loved to have known somebody that was willing to send me money while I was in prison. And if a person asked me if I could use a few dollars, I would likely said yes. If they did that for a few months, I would be spoiled by their kindness. I would not mean to be, but I would slowly be conditioned to rely on your kindness…and almost start to expect it.
That would not make me a con man, because we all desire a few dollars, but the con comes if my thoughts are to manipulate you to send me more money. If you freely send money without me asking, it is not a con. If I honestly needed the money, and you agreed to send, it is not a con. But if the intent is to manipulate you to send money for the sake of getting it for my own gain, then that IS a con.
(oh boy, I may have really hurt myself with that)
Folks, there is nothing wrong with sending money to an inmate, its your money, you do with it as you please. If you feel fine sending an inmate $1000 dollars or $10 dollars, that is your right. But when you do, make sure you trust the person, that the amount does not compromise your finances, and that you feel good after you send it. If those three fall in line, then you are doing the right thing.
I remember a reader from Canada that emailed me about a person she was sending money to. She started to worry that he was asking too much, and it had really start to put a strain on her finances. I told her that I would stop sending money, because in the details she told me, he clearly seemed to be out for her money. But she told me she was going to visit him, and talk to him about it. She was going to travel from Canada to I think New York, and was paying for the bus ride, which was pretty far (can’t remember where in Canada she was from).
She went to visit him, and in her email to me, she told me it was over, this guy seemed to only be interested in what she could do for him financially. I won’t share the details, because that is between her and whom she shared it with, but she knew after that visit that this was not a man she wanted to associate with anymore. So she cut him off, and I told her to expect some mail from him, to try to get her to reconsider.
I think a week or two later she emailed me, telling me that he had indeed tried to use sympathy to get her to send him some money, I think it was that he was in debt to some guys and really, really needed to pay them back or be in big trouble. She told me she was not sending anything to him anymore. It took a hard lesson but she learned and she actually was better for it. In fact, she did not bear a grudge against inmates in general, because she found another inmate to correspond to. Good for her.
This really is embarrassing for me to share, because if you read this, you might look at me differently. I mean, why should you support this Nolaw guy, he will probably take the money and set sail to Hawaii for a 2 week cruise….
(hmmm, sounds like a good idea though….)
But I suppose I would be a fool to say that if I had such money I would never consider something like that. Hey, I would like to enjoy life too, wouldn’t you do the same? For me to do what I need to do on these blogs, there are things I do need, those being ink, paper, and sooner or later, a new computer and printer. That helps me to continue to write, blog and create things like prison cards, prison encouragement certificates and other projects.
Yet life is more than that. If I am so blessed to receive an abundance of finances, or able to sell a lot of my books, I’d love to take my family out to dinner for once. I’d love to go to a theme park for a weekend…I’d love to buy new shoes, clothes and a video game here or there. I’d love to help pay bills, or finally pay off my student loan. There are lots of things I would like to do.
So when a person sends me a gift, I try to get a priority list set, some things are top priority, others are less, depending on what gets me to the best frame of mind. When I am there, I can write much more, and better, because I know the reward of my writing keeps me going. The source of my writing has to come from God, because I never wanted to write prison blogs to begin with.
(and yes I do pay tithes)
So when you support my blogs, it might mean me buying ink for the printer, or certificate paper, or card stock paper for the greeting cards. It might help buy a new computer. But it might also mean a juicy burger at McDonalds, or a new shirt, or a nice video game that makes me happy. It can also mean having the resources to give free encouragement certificates to those whom I can help, if I can afford it. So the intentions may well be different, so I don’t want you to think I am conning you.
Simply put, if it is NOT in your heart to support my blogs, don’t do it. I have to earn that trust if you are on the borderline, so let me do that by continuing to write as best I can. I try my best to speak as an ex felon, to share what I went through, so I try to give you the best spin on what inmates go through, but I cannot forget that this is prison, and a lot of guys that are there are indeed there for a reason. I say that to you as a reminder when you choose to send money to guys in prison. Trust me folks, they are not all bad, and many of them don’t intend to mislead folks, but sometimes the circumstances turn people the wrong way. Nobody is perfect, and I am certainly on that list.
But if you are wondering whether to send money to inmates, consider the questions we discussed, and then make your decision. Remember, its YOUR money, not his.
Anyway, I better go, not sure why I got this migraine again, I had one yesterday, and it came back today about 3pm….need to get some rest. Until next time….
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