How to Write a Letter to an Inmate: A Step-by-Step Guide
Published June 6, 2023
However, writing to someone in prison is different from sending regular mail. For one, different facilities have different mail rules. Plus, your letter will be thoroughly checked and read by the prison staff. So you can’t just write anything you want.
No worries. In this post, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to write a letter to an inmate. We’ll also list down the do’s, don’ts, and other things you need to know to make sure your letter reaches the inmate.
Whether you’re writing to someone you know or are trying to get in touch with a potential prison penpal, here’s how you can write and send a letter to an inmate:
1. Before Writing Your Letter
As I said, writing to prison isn’t like writing regular mail. So before putting your thoughts on paper, here are some things to keep in mind:
Make sure you have the inmate’s information
Obviously, you can’t send a letter if you don’t know who to send it to. So the first step to writing a letter to an inmate is getting their information, such as:
- their full name
- their prison ID number
- the name and address of the facility they’re in
Most prisons have online databases that let you look up an inmate’s ID number. So if you know the inmate’s full name and where they’re detained, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding all the other information you need.
If you’re sending mail to a prison pen pal, their mailing information is usually listed in their pen pal site profiles. Otherwise, you can call the facility to confirm their details.
Check the prison’s mail rules
Every facility has different policies on sending and receiving mail. Some impose limits on the number of correspondences an inmate can receive in a month. While others have completely banned all types of physical mail.
If you’re not sure about the facility’s mail rules, be sure to do your own research first. Most of the time, these rules are posted on the prison’s official website.
2. Writing Your Letter
After getting the inmate’s information and familiarizing yourself with the prison’s mail rules, it’s time to write your letter.
What to Write About
If this is your first time writing to that particular inmate, start your letter by introducing yourself and why you’re writing.
Telling prisoners little tidbits about life outside can be a huge help too. You can tell them about the weather or even silly stories like your dog’s misadventures or that time when you mistook salt for sugar.
These stories might be too trivial to include in your letter, but for inmates, it’s like a window to the outside world. It serves as a bridge to the world (and life) they’ve left behind.
Including encouraging quotes and messages is a great idea too and inmates can certainly use a lot of those.
If you’re writing to a pen pal, you can also consider asking them questions about themselves like their hobbies, interests, etc. This will not only help you get to know them more. It also lets them know that you are genuinely interested in getting to know them.
What Not to Write About
As mentioned, prison staff are authorized to inspect and scrutinized prisoner correspondence with friends and loved ones. That means they can open and read every single word of your letter.
So if you don’t want to put the inmate in hot waters, you should refrain from writing about:
- their case (the information you give can be used against them in court)
- any illegal activities
- game results (some inmates use this information for gambling purposes)
- any incriminating information
Also, it can be inevitable to have intimate exchanges with your pen pal. Romantic and sexually suggestive letters are generally alright, as long as you’re comfortable with other people being privy to your intimate exchanges.
In addition, if you don’t personally know the inmate you’re writing to, you should avoid disclosing any personal information. You can tell them your address but don’t disclose the street or house number. Though there are lots of sincere inmates out there, it’s undeniable that there are bad eggs too. They can use your personal information to threaten you or for other criminal activities.
What Language to Use
Since letters have to be read by prison staff, some prisons require that letters be in a certain language.
For instance, the Florida Department of Corrections requires that prison mail should be in English or Spanish. Though an inmate may receive letters in another language if they can secure written permission from the warden.
If the prison’s website doesn’t say anything about it, you can call them beforehand just to be sure.
Other Things You Can’t Include
Jail mails are one of the biggest sources of contraband in prison. That’s why most facilities tend to be really strict with parcels and things attached to prison correspondence. Common prohibitions include:
- cash and checks
- gang-related photos and books
- sexually-suggestive publications
Most prisons also prohibit crayons, glitter, permanent markers, stickers, perfume, or paint. So stick to plain white paper and blue or black ink.
3. How to Send Your Letter
Now that you have your letter, here’s how you can send it to the inmate:
Address the envelope
Keep in mind that there are hundreds if not thousands of inmates in a single facility. So addressing your letter properly is essential if you want your letter to reach its intended recipient.
On the center of the outside portion of your envelope, write the recipient’s information. On the first line, write the inmate’s full name and prison ID. Under that, write the name of the facility they’re currently in. In the last line, write the address of the facility including the city, state, and zip code.
Don’t forget to indicate your return address in the top right corner of the envelope. Write your full name, street address, city, state, and zip code.
If you are writing to the inmate for the first time, consider using a PO Box instead of your actual address for safety purposes.
Secure your letter
Your mail will change hands a lot of times before reaching its intended recipient. So it’s inevitable for some pages to get detached from the rest of the letter and eventually get lost.
To avoid this from happening, make sure to secure your letter before sending it. Write the inmate’s full name and ID number on every page, then number each page. You can also include your name and return address on the letter itself in addition to the one on the envelope.
Mail your letter
You can mail your letter to prison through the usual route: by taking it to the post office or depositing it in the mail. You can also use a courier or delivery but most prisons do not accept deliveries from private logistic companies.
Aside from physical mail, some jails also allow inmates to correspond through email. In fact, as mentioned, certain fails have banned physical mail altogether.
If the jail offers email service, instructions on how to go about it are usually posted on their website. Most jails that offer email service also partner with private providers so you can also find information about the service on their sites.
At Globaltel, we also offer jail mail services at affordable prices. No need to write the letter on your own. Just go to our website, input the recipient’s information, then type your message on the screen. You can also include postcards and photos from your phone or other sources as long as they conform to the prison’s guidelines. We will take care of the rest, from printing your letter to sending it to the inmate.
Sign up now and start sending postcards right from your computer today!
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer for the GlobalTel blog. She works hard to ensure her work contains accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources and doesn’t settle for less. Her passion for telling stories about true crime and criminal justice has allowed her to create hundreds of articles that have benefited millions of people.