When a friend or family member is in jail, it can be a very difficult and emotional time for both the inmate and those friends and loved ones outside the bars. Because there is a lack of direct contact—and often times phone communication—letters can serve as a link between the prisoner and what is going on at home or in the outside world. For some people it can be difficult finding ways to get a letter started to an inmate who is incarcerated.
Gather all the information needed to send a letter to the inmate at that particular jail. Call the jail's main office, which is sometimes referred to as a booking office. Ask the main office for the jail's address and whether the inmate has a particular prisoner number by which they are identified.
Write down your words on paper. Start by discussing how you feel about the inmate. If you are thinking of them or missing them, the beginning of the letter should address this. Depending on your relationship, this is the place in the letter where you can express your feelings toward the inmate. It also sets up the overall tone of the letter.
Add the next paragraph. In this paragraph or section, begin to ask questions for the inmate to answer. What are they doing to occupy their time? What are they looking forward to the most when they are released? These are good conversations to get started with. This will give them something to respond back to if they are able to write back. Remain optimistic and also realistic with your words. Keep in mind that they have limited contact with the outside world and the inside world of the jail can be miserable and stressful for them. Reiterate that you support them and will encourage them once they are released.
Fill in the next few paragraphs with personal information about yourself such as what activities you have been up to, how your career is going, and any new happenings going on with your life. Incorporate other family members and friends into the letter. This could include what they have been doing and whether they have any changes that may be relevant to the inmate. Fill the inmate in on current events that are happening in and around the community that they are from. Discuss hobbies they may have and any news or events related to things they may be interested in.
Obey the rules when writing and sending. This is very important when sending a letter to an inmate. Some of the things to avoid writing in the letter is information about a victim—if there is one involved in their case—discussing illegal matters, discussing other inmates, parolees or felons, and talking about pornographic materials. Don’t send pictures that are in print or that reveal skin in a sexual or provocative way. Do not use glitter or markers when writing and preparing the letter. Do not send any type of cash, money or contraband in the letter or envelope. If you are unsure what to send, call the jail and ask for a list of rules and guidelines.
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Prepare the envelope by addressing the inmate with his or her name first, followed by the name and the address of the jail.
Use photos or old letters from the inmate to gain inspiration and strike up things to write.
Sending newspapers or magazines, or trying to send physical objects through the mail may cause the inmate to “catch a ticket” and get into trouble—resulting in additional time added to their sentence.