writing

Writing to an Inmate

I am writing to prison inmates, I am their pen pal / friend, and it has opened up a whole new world to me. It’s a world I was aware of, a world I was even victim of in the past, and yet a world I know nothing about, despite having some things in common from our youths …

Now that I am regularly writing with inmates from different prisons in the US I come to realize how fortunate I am to have freedom. I appreciate so many things so much more, and even though I already appreciated them before, now I do even more.

I am learning, about them, but also about me. Friendships are made.

writing to an inmate
Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

What Defines us as a Person?

“My crime does not define me” – anonymous

I suppose not everyone would write to people who are viewed as the “worst of society”, but I believe that everyone – no matter what they have done – deserves a second chance.

In an episode on the Netflix show “I am a Killer” a lawyer mentioned that no one is the worst they have done in their lives. We all have done something we are deeply ashamed or even horrified by, but it doesn’t mean that we are that person. You cannot be defined by your worst action. Would you define yourself by the worst thing you have done in life?

Thinking
Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

Although, the show “I am a Killer” also includes some chilling personalities who show no remorse, there are several cases of over-convictions, and outlandish laws that can get someone on death row without having taken anyone’s life … it is an eye-opener.

A Deserved Second Chance for Everyone?

I have given people second chances and they threw those chances away and stabbed me in the back again. It happened many times.

I have met people (the majority of them women) who wanted to hurt me just for the sake of it, for some issue of insecurity they were having themselves – who knows? – and some of those women have hurt me badly, really badly … Some of those women still busy themselves with slander, for God knows what reason, but what’s the point anyway? I think that in the end they’ll only damage themselves.

gossip is bad

My point is that so many people keep on hurting and keep on hurting others, and for what? What for? Many of those people who hurt others are often heralded for their “great works”, expertly hiding their abuse towards others; and they walk free, free to abuse whenever they feel like it.

Focus on the Future, not the Past

I am pen pal with people who have done things that are hard for me to imagine, and it is a world that makes me pause … a world that often causes me to take a walk around my property to think, just ponder things. And yet, I am glad I am writing to them, because I know I can help, and I want to help, be a friend.

I do not focus on their crime from the past, but on who they are as a person. Being a pen pal to a prisoner brings some hope into their life, a hope that should not be taken lightly.

wireofhope-screenshot

When you start a correspondence you should be aware that you may be writing to them for years. Deciding not to write anymore may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Receiving a letter could be the highlight of the day, and taking that away can be devastating. So, when you decide to write an inmate, be ready to have that commitment. It’s best not to play with people’s feelings.

wireofhope-commitment
from Wire of Hope

And while we get to know each other, I realize how prison has been designed to punish but not to improve or rehabilitate. I get to know them as human beings, people who have hopes and dreams, people who are repentant of what they did, people who want a new chance in life, people who spend their days locked up.

locked up

You want to complain about lockdown? These people have been in lockdown for years, even decades. Yes, many of them have done things that merited their sentences, and although I abhor violence and I always will, and although there are repeat offenders and criminals who are not sorry for what they did, there are also many who do deserve a second chance in life and who have difficulties getting that chance from society. Those are the ones I would like to focus on with this article.

Amazon disclaimer: as an Amazon associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. This helps me maintain this website.

In the case of this book, “Why Miller Turned Killer“, it helps the author get the word out about his case.

Corresponding with inmates gives me a new perspective on life. Although I was already grateful for many things, I am now even more grateful than before, compared to everything that has been taken away from them.

look in the mirror

Why Write to Inmates

I write to them, because as a society, we cannot better anyone if we do not work on bettering ourselves. We’re all human beings. I cannot compare myself to the idiotic decisions I made as a teenager, or even in my twenties. I am not that person anymore.

I write to them because I believe that no one should be judged because of foolish decisions they made in their adolescence. We all grow, and so do they. We learn, and so do they. We need support, and so do they.

I’m happy I’m doing it. I am getting to know people who have been dealt hard cards in life, who have made mistakes and bad choices, and who know they have ruined lives for others, people who know no pardon and little forgiveness from others when they re-enter society. Being their pen pal makes such a difference in their lives.

wireofhope-penpal

Although I want criminals of the streets just like you do, and I want to be safe just like you do, nothing is ever black and white, which is something I am discovering, now that I have access into their world. Being their pen pal, I aim to help them and be a support for them, but I am realizing how we as a society still have so much to fix …

There is so much abuse in our childhood, bullying at school, and in some cases there is even violence at home; and although it isn’t always an excuse, it is a cause. Having lived with domestic violence as a child and teenager I know how it affects you as an adult and how difficult it is to get over it and put your past behind you. An adult who comes from a painful childhood is not the adult who was raised in a loving home. It just isn’t.

prison quote

Although there is no denying that we are all responsible for our choices, someone who was raised in an abusive and loveless home tends to make the wrong choices based on how he or she was raised and on what they were taught by parents who shouldn’t have been allowed to be parents in the first place.

angry

As parents, in schools, and as a society we have such a huge responsibility, which we often fail … It doesn’t mean that taking our responsibilities towards our children is the only way to stop crimes, but it will decrease them.

A system of harsh punishment – an eye for an eye – isn’t a solution for everyone either. Rehabilitation and education would provide much better results and more hope for a successful re-integration in society.

Evil is not born, it is made.

This is something I wrote in one of my books, and this quote is very true. Most evil is created by circumstances, society, abusers; and although I do not advocate making excuses, it certainly has a lot to do with it.

The Father of Modern Criminal Law

In 1764, in his treatise of Crimes and Punishments, Cesare Beccaria (who is considered the father of modern criminal law) argued that “by legitimizing the very behavior that the law seeks to repress—killing—capital punishment is counterproductive in the moral message it conveys.” He believed that laws were made to preserve social order, not to avenge crimes.

justice
tingey-injury-law-firm-yCdPU73kGSc-unsplash

“Men’s most superficial feelings lead them to prefer cruel laws. Nevertheless, when they are subjected to them themselves, it is in each man’s interest that they be moderate, because the fear of being injured is greater than the desire to injure.”

Having been a victim of crimes myself I used to have a black and white view of applying harsh punishments, but nothing is ever black and white, and the law makes mistakes; willful or not, it does. Justice isn’t always served, and some convictions are harsher for people with lesser crimes and end up being a slap on the wrist for people with worse crimes. How are those oversights even possible?

confused

Although I have always been aware that justice isn’t what it’s supposed to be, my eyes are being opened now much more than before. Even for a victim, justice doesn’t always do its work and often causes unnecessary suffering.

Final Thoughts

Being a pen pal to an inmate brings a lot of good, to them and also to you. When I started this, I did it for the sole reason to be there for them, to be a friend, someone to talk to; and as time went by I discovered that it is also doing a lot of good to me. In our correspondence we get to know and like each other, we see each other as humans who find themselves in different circumstances and who try to make the best of it.

wireofhope-testimonial

….

If you’d like to know more or write to an inmate, these two here below are some good websites where you can become a pen pal.

Wire of Hope

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Comments

  1. Hi there,
    I have thought so many times about writing to inmates; I think it would be so interesting to know how a person ends up in prison and I feel that they would really appreciate the contact. Here in Australia, it is very difficult to receive a prison sentence; people get warning after warning after warning until they do something REALLY bad and then they’re finally put away.
    Thanks for the great read

    1. Hi Marketa,

      You can write a prisoner through any of the links I provided in this article. You will make someone’s day if you decide to go ahead with it 🙂 I didn’t know how difficult it was to receive a prison sentence in Australia. Does that system work better?
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I was not aware that writing to prisoners was something one could or should do. I find myself rather torn on this issue. Maybe that is because I was the victim of a violent crime when I was younger that I don’t feel like I would want to befriend someone behind bars. I understand that as humans sometimes we make mistakes that cause harm to others and perhaps deserve forgiveness. When violence is involved I believe the harm caused is intentional. I applauded you for what you are trying to do but please be safe and don’t ever give someone behind bars any of your personal information. I am not sure I could ever do this based on my past experiences.

    1. Hi Deb,

      I understand completely. I have also been victim of a violent crime, so I absolutely understand your thoughts on this. I believe that the ones who want to write are genuinely interested in making a difference this time, in bettering their lives. I am aware that frauds and scams have occurred, but the websites who manage the prisoners’ profiles provide a lot of useful information, tips, and advice.
      The justice system in the US is also notorious for its harsh sentences and the arbitrary levels of them on different crimes. Writing to inmates is much more than just writing, it is a way of helping to reform a system that is focused on punishing and dehumanizing instead of reforming. Although I am no criminal law student, expert, or lawyer, I think that we can recognize when someone is truly sorry for what they have done and also when someone isn’t. I also believe that crimes can be prevented by raising our children with love instead of abuse.

      1. Thanks for responding Christine. Yes, I also believe we can tell if someone is truly feeling remorse for their actions. I had heard that the US has some pretty harsh sentences for certain crimes that seem should only be misdemeanours and that is unfortunate. I would hope the prison system would keep these inmates separate from the hardened criminals who are prone to violence and show no remorse.
        Again I commend you for trying to make a difference. We raised 5 children with love and they are all happily pursuing their own dreams in life and raising their own children in love. Take care.

  3. No one can be defined by the worst thing they have done in their lives…..
    This is very thought-provoking.
    As you say, I am sure we have all done somethings in our past that we are not proud of and, if they were revealed, may lead some of us to be locked up as well. How would we feel if the rest of our lives were defined by just one silly mistake or act of stupidity?
    Because we make mistakes and do ‘bad’ things does not mean we are bad people and that we should be separated from ‘normal’ society.
    This is such an archaic way of dealing with people and it’s beyond belief that so many people are locked away (especially in the US) for minor offenses that do no harm to others. It makes me believe that prisons are ‘for profit’ and not for the benefit of society or the rehabilitation of the offenders.
    Yes, there are some people who seem to have no compassion and willfully harm others, and the best thing may be to separate them from the rest of us. However, as you have pointed out, these are the people that were often mentally, physically, and emotionally damaged in their childhood. So, why aren’t their parents or those that did them harm held accountable for ruining a young child’s hopes of having a good life?
    Good and bad, right and wrong are never black and white!
    It’s awesome that people commit to writing and sharing their lives, thoughts and feelings, because as you say, “We all grow, and so do they. We learn, and so do they. We need support, and so do they.”

    Many thanks for another heartfelt message that serves to make the world a better place 🙂

  4. Hmm, you are making me think (which I like by the way – always good to be put on a different path for a moment).

    I have never thought about writing to inmates, except once. Years ago, I was a member of a pacifist political party in the Netherlands. This was when serving the military was mandatory.

    A young conscientious objector was sentenced to 14 months in prison in my hometown. So I wrote to him all this time and also visited him every now and then.
    I thought that was scary. But most of all it was so unjust that he was detained, in my view.

    I am not sure I would write to someone who has really done something bad. I do understand your explanation, and it’s a very thoughtful, considered explanation, for which I salute you. And as said, it makes me think, so thank you for that.

    I was wondering, how much influence do you have on the kind of person you are going to write with?

    1. Hi Hannie,

      I think that there are probably plenty more like your friend who are imprisoned for peaceful protests and things like that … Visiting him in prison must have been scary, it’s wonderful that you were such a strong support for him.
      I can understand your point of view. I thought along similar lines a few years ago, but all that changed when I stopped seeing them as the person they used to be and I started seeing them as the person they are now.
      I have no idea if I have any influence at all, but I hope to provide some support and friendship. A friend is sometimes the greatest gift in life.

  5. Hi there!

    Loved this post, such an interesting topic. I also have watched (and loved) I am a Killer. It’s an eye opening show honestly. I have not committed a crime, but I do suffer from shame trauma, and really sympathize with inmates who fight to be seen as a human being to the public.

    I’ve heard about writing to inmates before but have never really given it thought. I’m not sure if I’d be in the best headspace to hear some of what they’ve been through. I am glad there are people like you in the world with a warm soul and big heart to give to people in need with no expectations or judgments in return.

  6. Hi Christine,

    I think everyone deserves a second chance, and it’s very nice of you to write with to inmates & be there for them. If I write to inmates, I will also become grateful for what I have right now instead of looking at something I don’t have.

    This article reminds me of what Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” We never know what the inmates had been through before they went inside, so we shouldn’t judge them and try to be kind at first. By writing to inmates, they get support and company, and you get chances to review your life. So, it’s a win-win.

    Matt

    1. Hi Matt,

      Tolstoy had a point. I read Anna Karenina years ago, but I don’t remember the quote, it’s a good one.
      Chances to review your life, giving support and company, not judging the past, that’s indeed what it’s all about. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  7. I am on the fence about this and whilst many do think people deserve a second chance, many who are in prison have had the 2nd, 3rd and 4th chance.

    It also depends on what that person has done as well.

    However, my wife before we were seeing each other had a friend who used to visit a very well known Eastend crime family member and she used to go along for support.

    As a result of these visits, my wife decided to become a pen-friend to a person who was caught bringing drugs into the UK.

    It took around 18 months before the government allowed her to become a pen-friend, mind you having a surname such as Kennedy didn’t help matters at the time.

    Thank you for sharing

    1. Hi Mick,

      I understand why you might be on the fence about this, and it is certainly true that many are in prison even after they have had 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th chances. There are also several people in there who have no remorse.

      My article is aimed to support the ones who will make that second chance count, who will not fall back into the poor decisions that got them into prison, the ones who struggle getting their chances because of the others who took them for granted and messed it up for everyone else who wants to be a productive member of society again.
      Thanks for your comment!

  8. I have mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, people who commit crimes don’t deserve to be forgotten. On the other hand, they’re there for a reason. Too many scam artists who try to take advantage of people who are lonely with low self esteem. And then guess what? When they come home, they’re nothing like what they promised to be or promised what kind of life the 2 of you will have. I can be hit or miss.

    1. I absolutely understand, I have also been victim of scam artists, and it hurts.
      I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with this article, but just help understand that nothing is ever black and white and that although there are several inmates with no remorse, there are also many others who feel remorse for what they did and who deserve a second chance. It’s like that lawyer said, “no one can be defined by the worst action of their life”, and I agree, but I do understand your point of view. I’ve also been in the victim’s shoes, so I can absolutely understand.

  9. You have opened my eyes to a new train of thought. I know there are prisoner pen pal programs, but I’ve never felt the urge to do it. Just as you said, I would figure it would be a long term commitment that I don’t think I could make. I would imagine it to be very devastating if an inmate stopped receiving correspondence, so I wouldn’t want to play with someone’s psyche like that.
    I feel those people that are legitimately in jail (we all know some are truly innocent) deserve to be there and should be punished. If they committed a truly heinous crime, I don’t think they could be rehabilitated because they’re just evil, with no remorse.
    I’m not sure if you changed my feelings at all, but I definitely see your way of thinking and I do hope the people that get out are positively changed and use their freedom wisely.

    1. Hi Yvette,

      I understand, and I also think that anyone who has committed a heinous crime(s) and feels no remorse couldn’t be rehabilitated and should remain behind bars. Then again, there are others who are innocent, or over-convicted, or who regret their past actions and want a second chance, and I feel that we often forget about those people.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  10. Hi Christine,

    Indeed a thought-provoking article, I truly have mixed feelings after reading this content.
    Though I support you that prisoners should deserve a second chance but at what cost they have committed a crime that has caused harm to someone or who is no longer alive when they never valued feelings and life of other person how can they deserve to be understood.

    But I also feel prison is the place for transformation rather a punishment, due to different circumstances and situations they might have committed crimes for which they are sent to repent and transform to a better person.

    This topic is real eye opener to all people out there, the work your doing as a pen pal is heart touching you expressing their pain, and giving them hope to live.

    Thanks
    Cheers!

    1. Hi Samantha,

      I understand your thoughts on this. True, they have caused harm to others, and sometimes taken a life, and that is something that cannot be undone. I have also been victim of crimes and did I want the perpetrators punished? Yes, I did. Do I want them to suffer for the rest of their lives? No, I don’t. I just feel that destroying a life for the rest of their days every single day is not much about justice but more about revenge, and in the end, what does that say about us? In the end, two lives are destroyed instead of one.
      Then, there are many wrongful convictions, innocent people who spend years in prison for crimes they did not commit, people who did a crime but were over-convicted, for example getting life for non-violent crimes, or getting a murder 1 charge for manslaughter.
      As a pen pal you provide invaluable support and decrease the chances of recidivism.
      Thank you for your comment. This is certainly a difficult topic and your thoughts are very much appreciated!

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