#228 Prison Q&A Prison pen pals

June 11, 2010 at 6:58 pm Leave a comment

Q&A: Prison Pen Pals

A very hot day today, just came back from walking to the post office to mail out one of my books, but glad I was able to do it. There just seems to be a sense of hope each time I mail something out to people who ask for my works.

Again, as always, if you are interested in supporting my blogs, feel free to email me, or if you have questions that I can blog about, let me know. I don’t know everything, but I can do what I can to talk it through.

So today’s blog is directly based on an email, so I wanted to talk a bit today about prison pen pals. This is a subject I don’t talk much about, probably because I don’t deal much with prison pen pal sites because of some very bad experiences with some like LostVault and WriteAPrisoner.

Perhaps they aren’t telling you as much as they should about prison pen pals, maybe because they don’t value the opinion of an ex felon (since I had been banned from them before). But in light of an email I got from a reader, I figured, why not address those questions here for you.

So today I want to blog out some thoughts about the prison pen pal genre. I am basing this off an email, and one or two I got before this one, and I want to see if I can talk to you about the idea of writing to prisoners.

These are the questions I want to address:

Question: Why do inmates ask for money?

Answer: There are a lot of answers here, and I have blogged often about this, as this is a MAJOR issue when it comes to loved ones with people in prison. But with pen pals, this is a greater issue, because in most cases, you don’t know the person at all. A mom wondering why her son needs $50 is one thing, but a pen pal who just started writing to a guy in prison doing 30 years is another thing. If you have not already, bounce back to the last blog, and check out my other blogs on inmates and money. For a person writing to prison, the rule of thumb may be that if they are asking you for money, don’t send.

That sounds cold, but I caution you that many inmates take advantage of people by using so many different excuses to get your sympathy, and eventually money. And yeah, I know I say this against myself, because I ask for support from my readers as well… I mean, that yacht isn’t gonna pay for itself, right?

(he said, HOPING you know I am joking)

Question: Why don’t parents, siblings and friends help send money to inmates in prison?

Answer: That can be misleading…because the reality might be that they already are, and the inmate is not telling you. This comes down to trust, how much do you trust that person you are writing to? Granted not every inmate is some crook, but there are many scams in prison that rely on you falsely trusting someone who wants you to feel sorry for them and send them money.

Its quite possible for an inmate do have 10 people sending him $50 a month, while telling each of them that he is poor, and his dear old mother won’t send him anything, and all his friends have forgotten about him. Again folks, this sounds cold, but I am saying this because this IS an excuse some guys use. Now remember, not all guys in prison are like this, I say that profoundly, but many will use any excuse if it gets you to send them money.

One reader emailed me about a person they wrote to, and was worried because he kept talking about how his family would never send him any money. Remember folks, inmates don’t NEED money, but it helps if they had some. But rule of thumb here, when inmates start complaining about their folks and friends not sending them money, it does not always mean they aren’t. It might mean they are, but the inmate is looking to get more money from as many sources as he can. It might also mean that those family and friends might have stopped sending him money because either he got greedy or he burned his bridges with them.

Is it legit for an inmate to tell you, as a pen pal, about their family not sending money….maybe, but with some exceptions. If you ASKED, and they said that, then there is no fault of suspicion, since you did ask. But if the inmate brings that to your attention, it usually means he is trying to play on your sympathy. The idea is to get you thinking, “that poor man. His mother must really hate him to not even send him $20 a month. And what of all his friends that he had? Surely they must care enough to send him a LITTLE something.”

That line of thinking can easily play on your sympathy to get you to send him money. And while the act is kind and generous, be very cautious that it is not the beginning of him always complaining about his family never doing anything for him. It may be a sign of a con. I mean, if that works, then I might say something like this:

“Please support my prison blogs, my family keeps telling me that they will help me buy that Rolex watch, but they keep talking about how much it costs, so I don’t have watch right now. And my friends all tell me about how they go to Hawaii every summer, and I never get to go…so if you support my blogs, I can have a Rolex watch and go to Hawaii….”

(is that working for anybody??)

Question: Do I have to send money to show I care?

Answer: Very easy answer here…absolutely not. In fact, any inmate that implies that is surely on a con. For example, I say a lot on my blogs that I would love support, but I never, EVER want anybody sending me a penny unless you first truly believe in what I am doing, and that you can easily afford to do so. If there is any question in your heart about my sincerity, don’t send me anything, not a penny, not a dollar, not $1000.

With prison pen pals, you really need to be careful when inmates ask for money. I will admit that the temptation of an inmate to ask is tremendous. If I was still in prison, and someone asked me as a pen pal if I can use some money, I would be very, very tempted to say yes. I mean, if you are offering, then it is good for me to accept your charity. But I think with my foolish pride, I would fight it because I would not have felt worthy of the gift. If you read my Grades of Honor books, you would have read some of that and how I felt during that time.

But rule of thumb here folks, if an inmate asks you to send money, based on how much you care, it is the beginning of a scam. Caring and compassion isn’t based on what you send. It is a financial measure, to be sure, but the heart matters before the dollar. IF you send an inmate $25 because you care, that is fine…if it what your heart led you to do. If you sent $25 because the inmate wanted you to send him that, because you CARE for him, then its not your heart…its manipulation.

Easily put, when you give money to anybody, if your heart is calm, or at peace with it, then it is a good thing. If you are troubled or in question after you sent it, then it may be a problem. For example, if you sent me $50 and you questioned it after you sent it, then you are not fully convinced of me and what I do. But if you sent me anything, and was fully persuaded that I am doing the best I can, then you can have peace for what you did.

The same goes for inmates. If you truly care about an inmate, then it does not matter whether you sent $5 or $500, if your heart is at peace, then that is what matters most. But if it is not, and you feel pressured to send, then it may well be a con.

Question: Do inmates want pen pals from women, men or both?

Answer: Its interesting, because in the years that I have written posts and blogs, the percentage of men that email me, or write posts, or support my blogs are less than 1%. An overwhelming majority are women, which is odd because millions of men have done time. But it is interesting because a lonely man in prison would like to hear from any person…but in most cases they want to hear from women.

This is a complex situation, because as one reader told me, a lot of inmates have requests for pen pals, and indicate that they would like to get a pen pal of any gender…but when guys write to them, they want only women, because maybe they are worried about men writing to men.

It is a selfish thought, because if I was in prison now, I would LOVE to have gotten mail from sports guys that I could talk to about football, basketball or anything like that. And many ministries that write to inmates are by men as well, so to be sure, there are many instances of men writing to men. But maybe because the inmate didn’t make clear the INTENTION of the pen pal, maybe there is some misleading of what he wants.

Odd, because the first thing that comes to my mind is “beggars can’t be choosers”.

If a man is doing 20 years, if the only pen pals he gets is from men, isn’t that better than no mail at all? I mean, I know what it is like to wait at mail time in prison, and names are called, and yours isn’t one of them. I cannot tell you guys how uplifting getting mail can be when you are in prison. Heck, even JUNK mail is better than nothing. So if a person writes to an inmate, it should not matter whether it is a man or woman… but sadly many guys do have a preference, even though they don’t make it clear.

And maybe it is a macho thing, maybe it is because they are secretly looking for a relationship, or maybe they believe that it is easier to con a female than a male (no proof on that, just what an inmate might think). But rule of thumb seems to be that many inmates, NOT ALL, seem to prefer female pen pals. But remember there are many exceptions to that rule.

Question: Why are we advised to use post office boxes when writing to inmates?

Answer: This is basically an issue of trust and safety to the person outside the prison. In a better world, you may not need it, but there is the concern that by giving your personal address to an inmate, there might be the fear that he might “come visit you”.

That would scare the heck out of most people…and for some legit reasons.

Say you have been writing to an inmate for a couple of years, or even months. He is due out in 3 months, and you have been writing to him using your home address. The fear here is that when he gets out, he might come see you…for whatever reason. And since we assume only the negatives for ex felons, him visiting you would only be for one reason…bad news.

Now, that is hypothetical, but this is the stigma attached to prison pen pals. This is also why a lot of women on sites seek out men that have LONG sentences, because there is little to no chance of ever seeing them, if such a thing happens. Word to those folks, if you are thinking along those lines…then you should not be writing to them anyway. No need having a friendship that isn’t sincere.

So the idea of a post office box gives you the safety of him not knowing where you really live. Now, this is purely based on trust, so if you really trust that person, then feel free to write to him from wherever you wish. If you have a concern about giving up your physical address, then by all means, use the PO box. This may also help you in case the prison gets too “nosey” with your mail, or if other inmates get ahold of that address. You giving him a PO box does not mean you don’t trust him, it is perfectly fine to do that. If the inmate has a problem with it, then maybe he has a problem of trust. I mean, if somebody wrote to me, I don’t care if it came from a land address, a PO box or a address from Mars, as long as I got a letter.

These are the same ideas I think about often when I talk about my books and support. I realize that I am asking folks to give me a land address so I can send books to them, or cards and the like, so I understand the idea of trust between me and those who support me. The same goes for inmates and you who write to them. But don’t get bent out of shape when it comes to using a PO box or not. If you are comfortable using a home address, fine. You don’t have to go out of your way to get a PO box if you don’t have one. If you trust the person you are writing to in prison, that is fine.

I know there are many other questions, but I thought these might kinda steer you in the right direction. Not sure if prison pen pal sites truly address these issues from the perspective of one who did time, but I figured this might help a bit. As usual, feel free to email me if you have any questions on prison issues. In general, those of you who write to inmates are truly doing a heroic job, because you care about people that society won’t spend a second with. A lot of those guys are people who made a mistake, and many truly wish things could have been better, but for now they are in prison, regretting a mistake they made. But is so helps when people like you take the time to write to them. I hope you understand the magnitude of charity you give simply by writing to them.

But in the same essence, be mindful to not have your charity turn to manipulation, as many inmates do use people to get money. If you can see the signs, you can tell before hand if the inmate is being honest with you, or if he is trying to take advantage of you.

Well, gotta go, the World Cup is on, and I wanna see some of it, if you wanna support my blogs or ask about my books, cards and the like, you know the email. Until then…


Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#227 Prison Talk: Power of Choice #229 Counterpunching the probation officer

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