Letters to Prisoners Ministry

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Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners

Here is a list of specific guidelines used when corresponding with prisoners.

May 2011

Letters to Prisoners Ministry

Prison Letter Ministry

Brief List of Guidelines for writing to Prisoners

These recommendations are GENERAL. They fit most situations all the information listed here is posted elsewhere on the Internet and is from my own experience and the experiences of others that write letters to inmates. It is not intended to reflect the views of the SIVCC. These guidelines are posted for your edification and no one associated with this posting accepts responsibility for your actions. This is a truly rewarding Ministry and God will bless you for participating in it. This is not meant to scare anyone but certain precautions are necessary. Let God take the lead and then follow Him.

The first step is to pray and seek God's guidance and blessing. Then you can check out the list below.

1. Examine your motives. Offering another person some encouragement and hope through the Word of God is the goal.  Do not try to meet your own needs. If you are becoming a pen pal because you are lonely, then you might end up getting hurt.

2. Never send money. If an inmate asks you for money, you should say no. If you say no and they ask again then you should rethink the situation and the inmate’s motive. Scams are prevalent with prison pen pals. Always check the prison regulations before sending anything other than your letter to the prison. Most prisons will not allow stamps to be sent in with letters.

3. Do not contact family members or other inmates on behalf of your pen pal. Families may have no contact orders. The request may be a manipulation of the pen pal to get something done that is illegal.

4. It is recommended not getting on an inmate’s visiting list. It blurs the boundaries between a pen pal and a personal friend.

5. You must be very careful what you put in a letter. Write about current events, what’s happening in your life and how the Lord has worked in your life but don’t give out your children’s names, schools, and other personal information you wouldn’t want broadcast to complete strangers.

6. Always use a post office box number as your return address. Or if you belong to a church or other civic organization, check to see if you can receive an inmate’s letter at that address.

7. Do find ways to offer encouragement and give hope. Many inmates have not had the social interactions that would have taught them how to make good decisions or help them solve problems.

8. It isn’t necessary to ask them what they did to get to prison. It is public information. You can usually find it on the internet, or it’s as close as a phone call.

9. Use caution and common sense before sending photos of yourself and/or family to a prisoner. Most prisons do not allow polaroid type photos. Check the rules and regulations before sending any photos. * See Note Below

10. Do not push your personal beliefs onto the prisoner. Remember that this is an outreach and keep the Lord in your correspondence.

11. Don't rush the relationship you are developing with a prisoner. Allow them to discuss their life on their own initiative. Dedication and time will help build positive long lasting relationships.

12. Write regularly at least several times a month. Prisoner's look forward to mail call and will be happy to hear from you.

13. NEVER write more than one prisoner in the same prison. If you choose to have more than one pen-pal try to assure they are located in another state. This helps the development of trust between you and your pen-pal. It also protects the prisoner from becoming "jealous" of your other relationship.

14. Be patient waiting on your pen-pals response, some prisoners are limited financially. If you become concerned feel free to write them another letter. They are NOT limited in their mail intake.

15. Don't make promises you can't keep, prisoners will hold you to a high standard.

* Note

You are about to send some photos to your favorite prison inmate, and you would like to know what is allowed and what is forbidden. Depending upon your state, there may be a limit to how many photos they can own at one time or how many photos you can send in one envelope. Be sure to check with your Department of Corrections before you get them in any trouble.

No sexually explicit photos. While different states allow more than others, even lenient states do not allow nudity. Prisoners who have committed sex crimes may have different rules than the rest of the population, so you may have to inquire after the rules concerning your specific inmate.

Watch the rules. While you may not think it matters if you are the one breaking the rules of the prison since you are on the outside, bear in mind that even though you will not get in trouble, your prisoner will. They are required to see to it that visitors, guests or family members are kept aware of the rules and if you behave in violation of these, they will get in trouble not you. Also, watch out to not send anything gang-related, as that is strictly forbidden in prison.


Watch your safety. Even if you send photos to family members in prison, other prisoners have access to and can steal from their belongings. Whether you are sending pictures to a family member or just a pen pal, be sure to not send anything which could put you in danger in any way. This includes not writing last names on the back of the photo and being aware of the background scenery of your photo. Many inmates are expert at determining the exact location of a picture by the background scenery and clues which can be found in the photo. When writing to your prisoner, do not use your house address, but rather a more central post office box. Even if you are writing to someone you trust, everyone has an enemy and in prison, those enemies have access to your photos and letters.


Ministry Chartered by Southern Indiana Virtual Church of Christ
Charter #450-3-1