A prisoner mentorship program that is connecting individuals currently incarcerated in America's Prison Industrial Complex with their concerned brothers and sisters who are not currently incarcerated with the intention of creating class-consciousness through relationships, education, and empowerment.
If you decide that you are willing to engage is this struggle, the Hampton Institute would love to help you in any way we can. We have attached several links to websites that host prisoner addresses who want to receive mail, although we recommend a personal connection over an internet contact, if at all possible. With almost 1% of our nation's population currently incarcerated, the chances are that you either know someone in prison or can ask your friends if they know someone in prison whom you can write to. If you do find someone through an online host, we recommend sticking with the same gender, and trying to find someone who you feel will be open to a relationship built around education and empowerment, as opposed to a relationship focused on personal details or romantic interests.
To start off, we highly recommend that you get a P.O. Box instead of using your home address, for obvious privacy reasons. Your first letter should be basic and unambiguous. Be clear with your intentions, who you are, and why you are writing to this individual. This does not mean you have to be cold and academic - just establish a basis of why you are contacting this person. If they are not interested in why you are contacting them, it is best you establish that quickly so you don't waste either party's time. If they are interested and they seem like a good fit for you, then you can always share more personal information later as you become more comfortable and establish a rapport.
As far as the actual logistics of writing them, here are a few tips to make sure that your correspondence is delivered quickly and safely:
● You should put the DOC Number and/or the name of the prisoner on the top right of each page of your letter, this will help get your full letter to the prisoner in case your letter gets loose since all incoming mail is opened and checked over.
● Make sure to only put your return address and the prisoner's address on the envelope. Make sure it is legible. You should also include your return address in the body of your letter in case something happens to the envelope.
● Do not use any stationary (paper, cards, envelopes) that has been embedded with any foreign matter such as decorations, leaves, metal, etc., this can cause your letter to be confiscated and rejected. Do not decorate your envelope with stickers or photos until you know what the prison policy is on this.
● Until you have established with your new friend a list of what that particular prison facility allows, do not send anything in your letters other than plain text on white paper (gifts, stamps, confetti, glitter, stickers, money, postal money orders, blank envelopes, blank greeting cards, Polaroids, blank stationary.)
● When you start sending your friend books, internet articles, etc., make sure to ask and find out prison policy on those items. Most facilities will not let you include any URL's on paper, others have a "black list" of books which will not be allowed (but if you print off the book and send it chapter by chapter it is much more likely to be sent through) and other facilities have libraries that prisoners can order books through, saving you time and money.
● If you are writing more than one inmate, do not share information about them to each other, or even let them know that you are writing to more than just them. This can lead to unnecessary drama for you and them.
● Be patient. Mail moves extremely slow behind prison walls because all mail will be inspected and scanned, both incoming and outgoing. Most Prison facilities also do not have mail services on weekends, and some only do mail on a few days of the week, so your exchange will likely be slower than you are used to.
For many inmates, letters are the highlight of their life, as many of them are forgotten by their friends and family and any contact from outside the walls of prison structure is incredibly refreshing and encouraging. Nothing is too trivial to discuss, current events are fascinating to those who are cut off from such common daily occurrences. Generally, most inmates have negligible to zero education, and many are barely literate. Do not expect them to know about "Class-Consciousness" "The Prison Industrial Complex" "The Drug War" or even basic historical events or political and social terminology. With that being said, also be careful not to patronize them or treat them as ignorant. It is a fine line to walk, but one that will be made much easier if you are coming from a place of genuine compassion, concern, and patience.
As far as your own education and awareness, it is a good idea to have a good knowledge base and awareness before you attempt to educate others. A few books we highly recommend are: "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander, "Race to Incarcerate" by Marc Mauer, "Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration" by Michael Jacobson, "Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money From Mass Incarceration" by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright and "Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure" by Dan Baum.
If you have any more questions or just want to learn more about this problem and how you can help, please do not hesitate to contact our program liaison, Jeriah Bowser, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your contribution to the struggle.