You Came Unto Me
A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Corresponding With Inmates
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1st John 5:13)
Upon completion of this chapter you will be able to:
∙ Explain how to get started corresponding with an inmate.
∙ Summarize guidelines for corresponding with inmates.
This chapter is for those who wish to be involved in a correspondence ministry with jail or prison inmates. It explains how to get started and presents guidelines for safe and effective correspondence.
HOW TO GET STARTED
First, contact the proper authorities at the institution. Some prisons provide programs that match inmates to “friends outside” for corresponding and/or visits. If the prison does not have such a program, contact the chaplain for names of those who need someone to write to them.
Second, obtain a list of the rules for corresponding with inmates at that specific prison. Most institutions have established, written rules that govern correspondence. These differ from institution to institution. Some prisons permit you to send stamps and stationary through the mail, soft cover books, Gospel tracts, Bibles, and cassette tapes. Other institutions have specific procedures for sending such materials, i.e., the book must come directly from the publisher. Some institutions do not permit inmates to receive any of these items through the mail.
GUIDELINES FOR CORRESPONDING
Here are some guidelines to help you correspond effectively with inmates.
1. Keep in mind as you write to prisoners that many of them feel suspicious, resentful, and lonely.
∙ They are suspicious, because they have been abused or taken advantage of in past relationships. They may question your motive for writing: “What are you getting out of doing this?" Work at developing mutual trust, respect and understanding.
∙ Inmates are often resentful because they have been rejected by society, and after all, you too are a member of that society. Give inmates unconditional love and understanding.
∙ Inmates feel lonely because they are alienated from society, friends, and family. Many have been rejected by the latter. A week without a letter can seem like a year, so write often and respond promptly. One prisoner is reported to have called mail "paper sunshine."
2. Pray that God will help you to properly understand each letter and direct you with the proper response. (See Chapter Twelve on “Relating To Inmates”).
3. If possible, it is best not to use your home address when answering letters. Use a post office box or your church or ministry address. This will avoid possible future problems, i.e., another inmate getting your home address, a parolee showing up unexpectedly on your door step, etc.
4. Make it clear from the beginning that you are not looking for romantic involvement. It is easy for prisoners to become infatuated, even if they have never seen you, because of their loneliness. Kindness from you can be misinterpreted by them. If this happens, you should straighten it out in your very next letter or visit. Be courteous and tactful, but firm in this area. Some ministries restrict pen-pals to the same sex.
5. Do not share anything about yourself that can be used against you later, for any reason.
6. Do not send money unless you have really prayed about it and know God is directing you to do so. If you do send money, never loan it. Send it as an outright gift, but make it clear not to expect future gifts. Be sure to clear the gift through proper channels at the institution.
7. Do not promise help with employment, housing, etc., after release from prison unless the ministry with which you are involved is adequately prepared to give it. Your purpose in writing is to be a source of encouragement in the Lord. Any request for social services should be channeled to proper post-prison release ministries.
8. Do not be too “preachy” in your letters. Establish relationship first, then it is easy to share regarding spiritual matters. Share incidents from your every day life that make the inmate feel part of your life and family.
9. Include in your letter anything you are permitted to send such as. . .
∙ Interesting news clippings.
∙ Crossword or word search puzzles.
∙ Picture post cards.
∙ A gift of stamps or stationery, from time to time, if the institution permits.
∙ Funny cartoons.
∙ Paper book marks.
∙ Bible studies or correspondence lessons.
“It is so overwhelming—the letters I have received—there is nothing to describe it. I am so blessed. Thank you, from the depth of my being. There are no words to express what it means. My heart cries out that others can experience it also.”
Texas Death Row Inmate
Karla Faye Tucker
(regarding her correspondents)
SELF-TEST FOR CHAPTER FOUR
1. Write the key verse from memory.
2. What are important things to do when you want to get started corresponding with an inmate?
3. Summarize the guidelines for corresponding with inmates discussed in this chapter.
(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)
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