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Expectations and Guidelines

Getting Through the Mailroom

All letters to prisoners go through the mailroom where they are opened and inspected to ensure they follow the regulations which are specific to each prison. In your first letter you should ask your penpal what the mailing restrictions are for that prison. They may include restrictions on sexual content, number of pages, whether they can receive pictures or photocopies, size of envelopes, etc. Again, these will seem arbitrary and silly. That’s because they are, but it is important that you follow them because they are the difference between your penpal receiving the letter or not. For your first letter, here are some guidelines to follow to help make sure it gets through:

  • Write your first letter on plain paper, in a plain envelope (no stickers, no photos, etc), using black or blue pen.
  • Include your first and last name as the return address. Most prisons in Canada and the US will not give a letter to an inmate if there is not a full name with the return address. If you are not ready to disclose your personal name, including the name of the project (Prisoner Correspondence Project), or using a pseudonym should be fine.
  • When writing to prisoners in the United States, all mail going into prisons must include their ID number or it will be returned. This should be provided to you when we match you up, if not, ask us right away. For prisoners in Canada, an ID number is not required on mail.
  • Make a copy of your letter in case it doesn’t get through on the first try. This is sometimes the case because of mailroom restrictions or because people are transferred frequently.

Please confirm with us once you successfully get in touch with your penpal. Some of these letters are being forwarded after considerable delay. If you don’t hear back from the person you’re corresponding with within 4 to 6 weeks, it is possible that they have been transferred or released. Get in touch with us so we can help try to locate their current contact information.