Tips for Penpals

  • We ask that before agreeing to write to a prisoner, you think about how much of a commitment you can make to the person you are writing to. We ask that you only begin writing to someone if you can commit to writing consistently on a long term basis. At the beginning of your correspondence, please be open with your penpal about how often you will be able to write to them.
  • Please use your first and last name on your envelope’s return address. Letters may be read, sent back, or disposed of if they are not addressed in this way. You are encouraged to use your own street address or PO Box for your correspondence. If this is not possible please notify the collective.
  • The envelope should be addressed using your penpal’s government name and Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) number, which will be given to you by the collective. The prison will refuse to accept letters if they are not addressed in this way. However, you should use a penpal’s preferred name in the letter itself. You should ask the name and pronouns the inmate prefers when writing your first letter.
  • Do not assume that the correspondent is surviving on the inside as an out trans/queer/LGBT/gender-nonconforming person! Please wait for the penpal to openly discuss their identities first before assuming them.
  • We ask that you not speak down to, discriminate against, shame, or condescend any correspondent you are communicating with. This collective is about solidarity and validating that our struggles as people of color, activists, sex workers, youth workers, immigrants, anti-capitalist, trans, queer, gender-nonconforming people are intricately connected with prison abolition and prisoner liberation. Please be conscious and aware of power dynamics and actively seek support around the acknowledgment and eradication of these dynamics in your correspondence.
  • Just because the correspondent discloses personal information in their letter might not mean that they wish to discuss personal matters freely in future letters. If unsure, always ask which topics they feel comfortable talking about, and whether it’s alright to reference information they reveal in previous letters. Similarly, we recognize that a penpal might bring up topics or request things from you that you might not be comfortable with. If this happens, please do not hesitate to contact collective members.
  • If any legal questions arise during a correspondence, please let them know that we are in no way able to assist with legal matters. If your penpal desires legal services, contact collective members and we will direct them to folk who may provide those services.
  • Your safety is very important to us! It is common for mail to be screened in Illinois prisons and jails, so please keep your own safety in mind when disclosing any personal information about yourself (i.e.—immigrant status, age, history of incarceration, sexual preferences, etc.)
  • You are encouraged to communicate boundaries and capacities to a penpal. There might be some letters which feel flirtatious or sexual. Your safety and comfort are your own, so if you’re ok with sexy letters, keep writing them! If you aren’t, please respond to your penpal clearly stating your boundaries in a respectful, loving, but firm way. If for any reason you are not comfortable, or can no longer engage with your penpal, please contact the collective members immediately.
  • Unfortunately, prisoners are expected to pay for envelopes, paper, and stamps through prison commissary (an individual account for accessing materials and supplies for sale by the prison). As a collective we cannot provide monetary support for prisoners. There is a chance that penpals may ask you to contribute money to their commissary. If you’re ok with contributing money to your penpal’s commissary, please do so. If not, please know that the collective does not expect you to do so, and we encourage you to communicate what you are and aren’t able to provide as a penpal. If you have additional questions or concerns about this, please email us.
  • We at the Write to Win Collective ask that you are transparent about privilege(s) that may apply to you—including being a non-incarcerated person, a white person, or having class privilege—in whatever ways feel true and necessary to building solid and truthful relationships. Do not be afraid to speak openly and honestly!

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