Addressing Letters & Envelopes: Use this inmate's complete address on both the envelope and letter. If the letter should become separated from the envelope, the prison will still be able to get it to the inmate. The same can be said for the U.S. Postal Mail.
Ceasing Correspondence with an Inmate: If you are hearing from an inmate/inmates that you do not wish to have contact with, write and tell them so. If that doesn't immediately end the problem, contact the prison and tell them that you do not want to receive mail from the specific inmate/inmates writing. Also, you can take all letters from the inmate/inmates that you receive, black out your address, write "RTS" (return to sender) on the envelope, and put them back in your mailbox. The mail will then be returned as "undeliverable."
Crime Information: For full disclosure, viewers are encouraged to visit to the Department of Corrections website. There you will be able to see the inmate's record in its entirety. Not all Departments of Corrections have this information online, but more are becoming available all of the time.
Discussing Crimes: We recommend that you not ask the inmate about his or her crime. When they are ready, they may bring it up in correspondence, and that would be the time to discuss it.
Donations to Inmates: There is some confusion as to why we allow inmates the option to seek donations on friendonline.org. We do not encourage you to send money to an inmate at any time. Many inmates are indigent, and we fully understand that they may ask people on the outside for money once correspondence is established. Donating money is a decision that can only be made by you. Remember that you chose to write to an inmate, not sponsor one. You are not obligated to send money, nor do most inmates ask for money. If this makes you feel at all uncomfortable, don't do it. A few dollars can go far in prison, but you should never send large sums of money under any circumstances, nor should you ever send cash. Many pen-pals will send $10.00 or so on birthdays or holidays to the inmate they are writing. Inmates can use money in prison to purchase a variety of items including better quality hygiene products, art supplies, postage, phone cards, and food in some cases. They can also use money from their account to purchase magazine subscriptions and books.
Family: Many estranged family members find relatives on friendonline.org, people they have lost contact with over the years. While our stated policy is to not allow you to use our email forwarding service for writing to inmates that you already know, we always make an exception for estranged family members of inmates (excluding minors, however). Your support of incarcerated family is critical to their survival in prison and their success upon release. If you have found a family member listed on friendonline.org, we encourage you to write today. The first letter is on us. If you are looking for an incarcerated family member not listed on friendonline.org, we cannot forward a message for you. Additionally, many pen-pals from our site have helped inmates track down estranged family members. This may be something you want to discuss with your prison pen pal once you've established a friendship. If you decide to do this, pass on phone numbers and addresses directly to the inmate rather than facilitating mail between parties. Always be sure you are complying within prison rules.
Gifts: If the prisoner doesn't specify in his or her profile, write and ask before sending any items. Most of them will be thrilled just to hear their name at mail call. Institutions’ rules vary from prison to prison. It is recommended that you do not send cash or personal checks.
Giving Your Address: You do not have to give your address if you are willing to get a P.O. Box. In most cities, P.O. Boxes usually cost approximately $24.00 annually. Also, your local church will almost always let you use their address. Churches tend to be very supportive of inmates maintaining contact with the outside world. Be sure to stop in or give them a call before doing this. When using a P.O. Box or church address, it may be possible to correspond with an inmate using only your first name. Prison policies may vary on this, and you would need to contact the prison directly before doing this.
Guidance: You begin as a pen pal, but you are in a position to become much more - a mentor. You may become the most influential person in your prison pen pal's life. Many inmates lose all contact with the outside world. You are in a unique position to encourage positive behavior and reform. Outside contacts for inmates serve a much different purpose than those inside. Inmates will typically share more of their concerns with outside contacts, because it is not perceived as a weakness like it is in prison. You can help by providing a sympathetic ear and steering them away from trouble. Oftentimes, prisoners vent in letters about other prisoners, staff, conditions, regrets, etc. We recommend that you do not involve yourself in detrimental talk about the prison staff or other inmates; however, letting them share their thoughts can serve as a safety valve for inmates when they write letters. As your friendship evolves, try to help your prison pen pal focus on the positive. If appropriate, introduce the conversation of counseling, furthering their education, and definitely don't miss the opportunity to talk to them about employment if they're coming home soon. We provide a great deal of information and assistance regarding employment, but it takes friends working with the inmate to make it happen. We also list many self-help documents to help inmates get their lives moving in the right direction.
How Long Before Receiving a Reply: Please be patient. Institutional mail typically moves about 3-5 working days slower than normal mail. Mail is rarely lost as long as it is addressed properly. International mail can take up to one week longer for delivery. If you emailed an inmate using our email forwarding service, messages are sent on the 4th and 20th of each month, so be sure to factor that in when waiting for a response.
Mental Well Being: Do not correspond with an inmate or anyone that you don't know if your own mental state is unsound. It can be damaging to both you and the inmate.
Photos/Fake Photos: friendonline.org verifies inmate photos before placing them online only when that option is available to us. We do not consider old photos fake photos. Many inmates do not have access to new pictures. As is the case with all pictures posted on the Internet worldwide, it is entirely possible for an inmate to place a fake photo on friendonline.org. If you are unable to verify the inmate's photo at the correctional link provided on their profile, so are we. Keep this in mind when replying to inmates. If an inmate does place a fake photo, it will typically be of a very good looking person. This is something to keep in mind when replying to appealing pictures that cannot be verified. However, an attractive photo does not necessarily mean that photo is not authentic. If you send an inmate a photo, follow these guidelines:
1) Write the inmate's complete name and DOC number (if applicable) on the back of the photo.
2) Always send copies of photos. Originals can and will be lost sometimes.
3) Never send Polaroids. They will be returned.
4) Do not send anything sexual or violent in nature, and do not send anything that could be interpreted as gang affiliated. Use common sense when sending anything to an inmate, or you may unintentionally get him or her in trouble. Ideally, ask the inmate for specific instructions regarding the sending of photos. We also recommend sending no more than two photos at a time until you have reached the maximum number allowed; the inmate can provide this information.
Prayer Partners Some inmates on our site are seeking people from their faith to pray with. For example, some maximum security inmates or inmates of unorthodox faiths may not have access to other people of their faith, and thus turn to sharing prayer through correspondence. Appearances are important in prison, and some inmates are simply more comfortable sharing their faith with people outside of prison.
Receiving Money from Inmates & More: Never accept money orders, cash, check, etc. from inmates. Money orders can be faked, and cash can be counterfeited. Never accept money from someone else on behalf of an inmate. Never send money to someone else on behalf of an inmate.
Romantic Relationships: We are not a dating site. We always discourage inmates from placing profiles seeking romance, and we discourage you from seeking romance through our site. We are a pen-pal site. Positive relationships have come out of friendonline.org, and all began as friendships. We are aware that some inmates use their pen-pal profile space to solicit love letters. As you can see, many of these people end up in our Needs Mail section. It is human nature for people to seek romance. Inmates are no different in that respect, but as we’ve stated repeatedly, we promote friendship, not romance. If inmates are unlucky in love, suffice it to say that they will still need a friend. Even if their profiles focus on seeking romance, you can still write to them offering friendship. Additionally, if you are writing to a very good looking inmate who is seeking romance, it is highly unlikely that you will be the only one writing them. Good looking people tend to get good amounts of mail.
Security: Never discuss prison security with an inmate, even jokingly. Prison staff could misinterpret the conversation, and the inmate could get into serious trouble.
Third Party Contacts: Never contact someone else on behalf of an inmate. Never include correspondence from someone other than yourself when writing to an inmate. This is typically a violation of prison rules. Tips for Writing Inmates: A) Initial Contact: In your first letter, tell a little background about yourself - your interests and hobbies, things like that. Avoid sharing too much personal information. Prisoners are happy to hear from you and are looking for words of encouragement. You might respond to something they have written in their profiles, such as a love for the outdoors or some other area of interest.
If you don't receive a reply right away, be patient. Mail moves more slowly behind prison walls. These men and women are anxiously awaiting contact from the outside world. If you don't get an immediate reply, give it some time.
Be sure that both your return address and the inmate’s address are legible. Always print your name and address neatly on the envelope, and include it again in the body of the letter in case something happens to the envelope. Put your pen pal's last name and correctional ID number on each sheet of paper or the back of any photos that you enclose. This ensures that pages won't get lost when the mail is opened.
Birthdays can be a lonely time. If you don't have time for a lengthy correspondence, remembering a prisoner on this particular day can have a tremendous impact. Their birthdays are displayed with their profile information.
Greeting cards can be a good way to make initial contact. There are many friendship-type cards available just to say "hello" to the prisoner. This can take the pressure off of you about worrying what to write that first time.
You might want to include a photograph of yourself so the prisoner has a "face" to put with the name. Obviously, many of the prisoners are forthright in stating they are looking for relationships, but others are simply looking for a friend with whom they can correspond. A photo would be a nice gesture of friendship.
Be open and honest in your correspondence, but use good judgment and common courtesy. These pen pals are human beings. They are not novelty toys. They are people and should be treated with respect and courtesy regardless of what they are incarcerated for. You have voluntarily chosen to engage in correspondence with them, so please be careful and thoughtful in choosing your words.
We encourage you, the pen pal, to try and be a friend first and possibly a mentor to your inmate pen pal. During incarceration, a good pen pal can be instrumental in helping inmates overcome addictions, tracking down lost family and friends, and by providing a positive line to the outside world in general. Because communication with the outside world is a vital component in promoting a healthy attitude for inmates, your letters can have a significant impact.
B) Ongoing Correspondence: Maintaining an ongoing correspondence with a prisoner can be a mutually rewarding experience. As you get to know each other, your uplifting words of encouragement can make their prison sentence more bearable, and in many cases, it can have a positive impact on their transition back into society when that day finally arrives. You can and should encourage inmates in their endeavors, such as work, school, therapy during incarceration, maintaining positive family relationships, etc.
Writing More Than One Prisoner at a Facility: We encourage you never to write to more than one prisoner at any one facility. You may create a negative situation for the inmates if you were to do so. It is just good sense to avoid such a situation. There are prisoners from all over the country posted on friendonline.org, so there is no need to write to more than one prison pen pal at a particular prison.