United States prisons are notoriously overcrowded. Yet despite the dense population of jails across the country, life in prison is still incredibly lonely. Because of this, many inmates seek out pen pals to connect with. Various websites allow convicted criminals to post ads seeking someone to correspond with. The ad is similar to what you’d see when searching for free inmate records—listing their biography, photo, jail number and address, date of release, and in some instances, their criminal charges. The advertisement will also note what kind of relationship the inmate is looking for.
Infamous convicted criminals have often attracted scores of admirers who write to them. Serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy received hundreds of love letters from women when he was in prison. Some of these fans might get a thrill from establishing correspondence with a “celebrity” or perhaps have a real interest in crime. They could be fascinated by the crimes committed and want a real insight into the convict’s mind.
While maintaining a connection to the outside world is a likely reason individuals behind bars might desire a pen pal, an everyday person—with no real link to prison life— interacting with an inmate might appear strange to the general public. So what would be the motive? And should you consider writing a letter to someone in jail?
Developing a Meaningful Relationship
Often inmates don’t have a genuine relationship with someone outside of the prison walls. Family members may have passed on and friendships or marriages could have ended, especially when serving long sentences. In this regard, talking to someone who isn’t in prison can be immensely therapeutic.
Inmates might feel the need to open up and are grateful for the listening ear. The letters you receive could be filled with an unguarded level of intimacy, the way a close friend might talk to you. This trust and honesty can lead to a very special relationship. And as a writer, you can develop a deep connection with someone and find an unlikely friend. These bonds can become so significant they lead to long-term friendships or even marriage. Many inmates actually marry their pen pals when released or while serving their sentences.
A Sense of Doing Good
If you are looking to make a difference, writing a letter to a person in jail could be just the thing. Volunteer or charity work helps us connect to humanity in a powerful way. So many of us feel burned out at our jobs and the mundane routine of life. We might feel like we are not doing anything truly meaningful with our lives. Writing to an inmate or just offering your support can be therapeutic for you as well, and certainly rewarding. Giving your time and attention to a person struggling can make you feel you are making the world a little bit of a better place and contributing positively to society. Simply by writing a letter to a person in prison and brightening up their day can give you a smile as well.
Broaden Your Perspective
The life of a person who ends up in prison is undoubtedly different than your own path. Those in jail often leading troubling lives and have had traumatic experiences. Some of their problems might go beyond the criminal justice system, is struggling with addiction and in need of rehab for alcohol or experiencing financial woes and limited opportunities. By getting to know a person with such a different life experience and worldview to your own can help open your eyes. You will have a newfound perspective and establish a greater sense of understanding, compassion, and empathy.