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Expectations and Guidelines


Prison can be a violent place and many people aren’t out because it can open them up to administrative abuse and violence so don’t assume your penpal is out in prison about their sexuality, gender identity, or HIV status until they explicitly tell you so. Following the guidelines below will help you to avoid unintentionally outing someone:

  • Ask in your first letter how discreet you should be. Your penpal is going to know best what they need to keep themselves safe. Even if the precautions they tell you seem silly or arbitrary, it’s important that you follow their guidelines.
  • Don’t assume someone is out just because of their posting. Incoming mail is often screened much more thoroughly than outgoing. Additionally they may have entirely changed prisons since submitting it and now find themselves in a different environment.
  • If your penpal has a chosen name that is different from the legal name they are incarcerated under, address the envelope using the first initial and last name of the legal name and ask in the first letter how you should address it in future.
  • Check in with them on your first letter and ask whether or not it is okay to send them resources, materials, etc, that are gay, queer, trans, or HIV themed or focused.
  • Keep in mind that envelopes are seen and handled by many prison workers and other prisoners. Avoid including any markings on the envelope that might out your penpal including drawings or a return address from an identifiably gay organization.