Friday, 19 September 2014

Prison Penpals: Who Writes and Why?

Having posted recently on this blog about the problems prisoners can face in keeping in touch with family and friends while they are in jail, I thought I should write something on the subject of prison penpals. These can really be a lifeline for prisoners who don’t have any close family or friends of their own. Just receiving an occasional letter from the outside world can make all the difference to someone who is struggling with life inside.

Although the whole prison penpal thing isn’t yet as developed in the UK as it is in the USA (where there are numerous websites listing cons requesting penpals such as, it is still a growing phenomenon in our prisons. I know a large number of cons who do write regularly to their correspondents, some of whom they have never actually met in person. 

Typical US penpal ad
Sometimes these penpals are friends of friends, or even female prisoners in women’s nicks. Others are involved in various prisoner support groups, religious organisations or just make contact through online websites similar to the US versions.

In general, I’m all in favour of anything that provides prisoners with a window on the outside world and a bit of normality in what can be a very dark, depressing and loveless environment. Having a regular correspondent can also improve cons’ writing skills, as well as their motivation to learn.   

Years ago I was involved with an international charity that matched prisoners on US death rows with penpals. For several years I wrote a couple of times per month to a con who was in a prison down in Florida. He was an entertaining correspondent and I did learn quite a lot about the US penitentiary system from him. We also had a shared interest in English literature and I was able to order paperback books for him via We’d both read the same book at the same time and then compare our views and reactions to it in our letters. I really enjoyed writing to him and I like to think that our correspondence made his existence on death row a little more bearable and less isolated.

Sadly, his appeals ran out, his time came and he was executed by lethal injection. I still have a collection of his letters that were written around 12 years ago, including the last one he sent me the night before he was put to death, in which he thanked me for my friendship and support. Obviously, back then I never imagined that I’d end up in the slammer myself. It’s a strange old world.

So I do appreciate how important having regular correspondents can be, especially when prisoners have no-one else with whom they can communicate. However, there can be potential perils and pitfalls for the unwary. 

I was reminded of the problems with prison penpals when I was reading one of the latest letters on the excellent Prisoners’ Families Voices website. I’ll share it because I think this is an instructive story of the sort that will be familiar to anyone who has served a jail sentence, but which may come as something of a surprise to those who haven’t had any direct experience of prisons or prisoners.

The writer of the letter explains that she made the decision to break up with her then partner who is serving a lengthy stretch inside and told him this during a visit. She goes on to observe that her ex recently informed her in a letter that he has now met another woman who has become his penfriend. 

In this letter he also let her know that this person is sending him money and ‘looking after him’. However, she relates that her ex-partner then goes on note that he has no intention of settling down in a relationship with the woman he is writing to, but would “jump at the chance” to get back together with her (his ex) when he is released. And thereby hangs a tale!

Writing in search of love or...?
This phenomenon will be only too familiar to many women who have developed a penpal relationship with a bloke who is in the slammer. For those on the outside, writing to a con they may never have actually met is seen as a slightly edgy thing to do. There may even be a frisson of excitement in corresponding with a self-proclaimed ‘bad boy’ who has some tattoos and a bit of attitude. 

Prison, by its very nature is a closed world and people can become very curious about what really goes on inside. Maybe that’s why so many people read this and other prison blogs.

However, there is also a potentially romantic element to having a boyfriend in the nick, particularly for females who are a little bit – how to put this politely? – needy. Having a boyfriend who is in jail at least means that his penpal girlfriend knows where he is on a Saturday night. He won’t cheat on her – at least not with another woman – while he’s inside and the fact that she holds the purse-strings also gives her a degree of power over him. It’s her decision whether she sends him a regular postal order or not. The relationship can soon become one of mutual dependence: romantic, as well as financial.

A weekly postal order can make all the difference
The key problem is that a sizeable number of cons are highly manipulative people. Those that don’t have close family members willing to provide financial support have limited options when they are in prison. Having a penpal who is willing to provide the readies for burn (tobacco) and other essentials is a prize worth having. If she (or he – believe me, some cons aren’t that fussy) keeps that all-important cash flow coming, then his letters from prison will continue to drop on to the doormat.  

Understandably, a great many cons are also sexually frustrated. Having a regular supply of explicit letters from a female correspondent is a massive bonus, as is having a few candid photos from time to time. Of course, there is a limit to just how sexually explicit prison mail can be, but the bar is actually pretty high before a letter will get blocked. 

While working as an Insider (peer mentor) I’ve been asked to read letters to cons who have problems reading and I’ve been quite amazed at what routinely gets past the censor, including some of the photos wives, girlfriends and female penpals have sent in. Really racy ones might get passed round between mates in order to spice up those moments when a prisoner manages to get some special time alone in his cell… if you catch my drift. 

Some do find true love with cons
I have known some cons who build up quite a ‘stable’ of female penpals, often in addition to having a wife or regular girlfriend at home. One young drug dealer I got to know quite well in a B-cat nick was running four relationships simultaneously: his partner, with whom he had two kids, as well as three unsuspecting female penpals who each thought that they were in exclusive contact with him and who believed they were romantically involved. 

All four women were sending him a monthly postal order and the cash, which totalled much more than he was allowed to spend each week on the canteen, was mounting up in his prison account. He was completely shameless about his activities, although he did ensure that he wrote a loving thank you letter to each one in response to every letter – and postal order – he received.

Now, it is also true that some prisoners and their penpals do form serious relationships that continue after release. However, for every story of true love, I would guess that there are another half-dozen that are doomed from the start, mainly because – as in the case described above – the con really isn’t romantically involved beyond breaking up the boredom of prison life by writing letters and, of course, waiting for the arrival of those loveable little postal orders that make life in the slammer so much more bearable. And as the cynical American writer Dorothy Parker once observed, the two sweetest words in the English language are “cheque enclosed”. I wonder if she ever wrote to a con.


  1. I've thought about writing to a serious criminal on many occasions. I would probably write about articles and letters within "Inside Time".

    1. Thanks for your comment. Inside Time is a good source of information about what goes on inside prison. There is also Converse, another monthly tabloid format newspaper and in October there will be a new publication called Jail Mail. These are all distributed free of charge via prison libraries.

    2. I would think that's an appropriately clear-eyed dissection of the reality, Alex.

      It's that maybe one in seven shot that makes it sometimes worth trying for some folks ...leaving aside the power/exploitation dynamics present on both sides (probs found on Guardian Soulmates too ---not quite so edgy, but still edgy you'd think !). Regards, Geoff.

    3. Thanks for your comment, Geoff. I think the whole prison penpal issue is fraught with difficulties, but it can offer substantial benefits.

      I know one lifer who has been transformed by having a 'significant other' he met as a penpal. She has now been visiting him regularly for several years and they are planning to get married when he finally gets parole. The change I observed in him has been entirely positive.

      On the other hand, I've seen some real train crashes waiting to happen, particularly when a con has a family waiting for him at home while he is writing to one or more female penpals, primarily motivated by the financial support his own partner is unable to provide.

      It's obvious that both correspondents in any penpal relationship (inside the nick or in the outside world) are looking for something, whether that is companionship, friendship, a new partner, a sexual adventure or - more cynically - financial benefits. The problem with prisoners is that some of them, at least, see penpals as cash cows to be milked, and that can lead to all kinds of heartache and disappointments.

    4. hi i recently started writing to a male prisoner in the u.s as friends via the federal prison email system+ending up falling for him..i help him out with cash each week so he can continue emailing me but for at least a month now i cant shake the feeling that hes scamming me?basically i've tried discussing my doubts+fears with him but he gets quite mad+ says ive got mental issues for doubting him when i think he really should be trying to make me feel safe+if he was genuine he wouldn't be getting so mad+would at least understand my fears!?...i've done quite a lot for him,sending him books+letters when hes only written to me twice as he doesn't buy stamps with the money i send!i really dont want to give up on him incase he IS genuine but something really doesnt feel right.i'm not really getting anything out of this other than him emailing me but he could be using the money ive sent to message other women!?i know inmates can be wary of women on the outside and their intentions for writing but ive been nothing but honest with him+have even asked him to ask someone on the outside to check up on me which he wont do...really would love some advice on this as feel like someone genuine wouldnt get so mad at my fears..dont wanna give up on him incase he's just wary of me!

    5. Thanks for your comment. This can be a very tricky issue. Obviously, I don't know anything about the person you are writing to beyond what you've shared above. However, I'd be concerned when you say that he "gets quite mad" when you try to discuss your concerns with him.

      I think you are right when you raise the concerns that many cons have about writing to penpals they've never met. It definitely works both ways and I can only imagine the devastating impact it could have if prisoners feel that they are being misled or manipulated. However, in your case, it does seem that your penpal is getting more financial benefit out of the relationship than he is putting back in (ie not using the money you send to buy stamps etc).

      I have no way of knowing whether he is 'playing' you or even other penpals, but I think from what you've written above, you do have strong suspicions and my advice would be to follow your own instinct on this. If you get the impression from him that the financial support you are giving him is more important than your letters, then I would advise thinking long and hard about what type of relationship it really is.

      I don't want to pre-judge this guy, because I know nothing more than you've shared, but I'd say that the anger you indicate he expresses is not a good or healthy sign. One test you could use is to tell him you want to continue writing, but won't be in a position to send him money for a couple of months. If he breaks off contact, then you can be sure it's your money orders he values, not you.

      On the other hand, if he accepts this and still writes to you over this period when you're not sending in dollars, then he is much more likely to be genuine and valuing you and your moral support, rather than the cash help he's been getting. Thanks for writing and I do hope things work out for you.

    6. thank you Alex...i have a strong suspicion that hes got another female penpal and has done for a while..obviously i dont begrudge him making friends but i wish he'd be honest+i feel like hes using my money for the email system to talk to her as his emails are getting shorter and shorter and asking the same questions when ive already told him 3times before...i really dont know what to do as obviously i dont want to desert him if hes having a bad time..but when i told him i needed time to think he said ok then,see ya bye..good luck!i'm 99% sure hes lying but have no way to be sure...if anyone else has been in this situation would you be able to help also please!?

    7. Thanks for sharing your experience on this issue. I think you need to follow your own instincts here. If this penpal relationship doesn't feel right to you or you feel pressured in any way, then I'd advise caution, particularly where financial support is involved.

      There are some recent letters from female penpals who have had similar problems on the Prisoners' Families Voices website. The link is in my blog post above, as well as in my recommended blog list to the right of my site. You might find it helpful to read about the experiences of other penpals.

    8. o.k thank you so much Alex!done a lot of research today and unfortunately my PP is ticking all the boxes of been an emotional manipulator...i just thought it was prison getting to him but he's going through all the cycles of manipulation:(

    9. I'm afraid manipulation can be a problem with some prison penpals, particularly when money is involved. Cash can make a big difference to the quality of life inside prisons and there can be a strong temptation to get it through emotional blackmail.

      Of course, this happens with family members, too. I've often been queueing for payphones on prison wings and heard cons pleading or even bullying their parents, partners or other family members to send in cash, sometimes using excuses that are obviously untrue or far-fetched. All too often the money is used to pay debts they've run up to other cons or to fund various addictions and these situations can encourage dishonesty or manipulation, so I would always caution potential penpals to be aware of the possible risks. Having someone to write to on the outside should be a source of emotional and moral support. It shouldn't just turn into way of getting cash handouts.

  2. Would be interested on your opinion on that Belgian lifer who got euthanasia. Sounds like something Grayling and co could turn into horrifying stuff.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes I saw this story and commented on it via my Twitter account.

      I'm in two minds about the issue. The first consideration is that - as with any legalised euthanasia - there is the question of informed consent. While I do support the right of terminally-ill people to determine their own fate in their own time, should they wish to do so, I think that we get into potentially dangerous territory when the person concerned is physically healthy and not in serious physical pain.

      Many prisoners are clinically depressed, not only because of their imprisonment, but also in some cases because of traumatic events in their pasts - horrendous abuse, family violence, neglect etc - that have never been addressed or resolved. If every con who felt depressed at some stage in his or her sentence could request euthanasia, just how informed would that consent turn out to be?

      The second consideration is whether those who are sentenced to whole life tariffs (destined to die in prison) should be able to opt out of their punishment early. I can see both sides of this argument. On the one hand they are a lifelong burden on the taxpayer and there is no pretence that they will one day be rehabilitated.

      On the other, given that we don't have the death penalty (thankfully) any more, are the families of victims going to object to these cons finding a quick, painless way out? In any case, those who are determined to exit can and do commit suicide in their cells without too much trouble, as the rising suicide rate shows.

      I think my real concern over this case is that this is just a return to the death penalty by the back door. Mind you, as I've posted before on this blog, I think that had I received an Indeterminate sentence (never even a possibility in my case), then I would probably have opted for suicide myself, even though I've never been a suicidal type of person.

  3. This is not a comment on penpals, but a question that you might like to consider for a future post.

    The subject is prisoners recalled while on licence. No doubt they all complain about probation offices delighting in catching them out for trivial breaches of their licence conditions, but they would wouldn't they? I don't know whether the complaints are justified, but there are some figures here suggesting that recalls are much more common than they used to be.

    Do you have any insights from your experience?

    1. Thanks for your question. I have covered some of the issues of recall in a post in August: That might answer some aspects of your question.

      I got to know quite a few probation officers and there seem to be two basic schools of thought. The first is that POs really hate initiating the process of recall - which is done by issuing a "Request for Recall" - because of all the additional paperwork required, particularly if they have a heavy caseload. These POs claim that they would only recall if a person on licence repeatedly breached the usual conditions (ie kept turning up late for appointments or not coming to the office at all), was committing further crimes, had moved their place of residence without notifying them or was behaving in such a way as to suggest that they were a danger to the public.

      The second school of thought is that POs are often too quick to issue a Request for Recall, particularly if their relationship with the person on licence is strained anyway. My own view is that reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

      I am planning to do a more detailed post on being on licence in the near future, but I don't want to cover ground I've already posted on before. Hope that information helps.

  4. Readers who found this blog post of interest might like to read another letter about prison penpals that appears on Prisoners' Families Voices website: She also highlights the potential risks, particularly when sending in money to prisoners who then turn out to be deceiving their correspondents about their intentions and true family commitments back in the community. It's also interesting that in this case, it was another con who tipped her off.

    1. This is called "grooming" isn't it? You can encounter conmen outside prison too.

    2. Thanks for your comment. "Grooming" I think does tend to imply some kind of sexual motive (which to be honest is probably the kind of future relationship that many of the penpals hope will develop when the prisoner is released). I definitely think that this type of thing could be characterised as developing a relationship based on false pretences - although as you rightly point out - this happens all the time back in the outside world, including down the pub on a Saturday night when the wedding rings disappear into pockets and handbags!

      I think that in a prison context there is a strong temptation to get involved in financial exploitation as well. A con on Enhanced level can spend £25.50 per week if he or she has private cash in their prison spending account. Add on another £8 to £10 per week if they have a prison job or are on an education course and it is possible to live reasonably comfortably on around £35.00 a week, even if they smoke (as around 80 percent of adult male cons do). So if a prisoner doesn't have private cash or family or friends willing to sub him or her during their sentence, forming a 'romantic' relationship with a penpal is seen by many as a good alternative source of extra cash.

  5. thanks for give good information
    i learned from it

  6. Thanks for such a great article Alex, I have become hooked on your blog and am still reading through the posts.
    What prompted me to comment on this particular post is because I have been talking to a con for about 2 months now. We met in a prison function that he was working at (trying not to divulge too much info!) and got on well, when I was leaving he asked me to leave my number for verification purposes and very naively I did, not thinking that the prison already had my details if they needed to contact me.
    Later that day I received a phone call from him and he was very nice, very funny, charming, all of that. We had a great conversation and have been speaking everyday since. I have been to visit him once again and am planning on another visit. He is due to be released in a couple of months and I have grown quite fond of him.
    He has never asked me for money or any "favours" and often expresses how much he likes me. I understand the capacity that he is in and also like you mentioned boredom while in the nick might be encouraging such constant communication between us.
    He's been living a life of crime since his teen years and now says he's ready to change. I would love to see him change but am very weary considering that this life has been such a large part of him. He also talks about our relationship like it is official and says he wants to carry it on when he gets out. Often times when we are speaking i forget that hes in prison and it feels normal, like a long distance relationship, while this is all nice to hear I am aware that he might be talking to other women and I have said this to him and he denies it of course and I also know that he might have a girlfriend waiting for him.
    I would like for this time to be the last time he is in the nick, is there anything I can do to help him stay with this mind state that he is in when he gets out because I know there is a lot of temptation on the outside and it's easy to get back into that world?
    Also, as much as I like him because I think he's a fantastic person with the loveliest personality I know that once he gets out that might be it for our so called relationship and I have said this to him and mentioned that if nothing romantic comes of us I would like us to stay great friends because we get on so well which he objected to again because he is very adamant that he wants a relationship.
    I am very glad that I met him and visited the prison that day because it erased the stereotype view that I had of cons. Speaking to him has also showed me that even the drug dealers are good people, I know it sounds silly but the way prisons and cons are potrayed is to induce fear into us and it really shouldn't be that way.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. As I'm sure you've seen from my previous posts on this blog, I'm keen to provide an insight into prisons and jail life for people on the outside. One of my main aims has been to challenge some of the common stereotypes and prejudices against anyone who has served time inside - whether or not they are guilty as charged or a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

      I know that this will sound corny, but some of my best mates in prison have been involved in the drugs trade, including a fair few well-educated lads who gave in to the temptation of 'easy money'. In the same way that young blokes can do stupid things when they are immature and reckless but then grow out of it, I do believe that some drug suppliers and dealers can make a genuine commitment to going straight and finding legal employment. I know a couple myself!

      Obviously, I can't comment on your friend's personal circumstances because I don't know him or his background beyond what you've shared. I think it will be important to remember that he will be on licence for the second half of his sentence - with the constant risk of recall for any licence breaches, so this will inevitably impact on his life (and yours, if you do develop a relationship with him). It's also worth bearing in mind that licence can be a very stressful experience for the ex-prisoner and those close to him (or her). It's a return to 'normal' life - but not as most of us know it!

      I suppose that it is a good start that he hasn't been expecting money or other financial assistance from you while he's been inside, so that could mean he is genuine about making a fresh start when he is released. Of course, where he lives and what he does while on licence will be subject to approval by his supervising probation officer, as will the home area to which he'll be released.

      If you live in the same area, then this makes things easier, but one of the standard licence conditions is to inform your probation officer of any new or developing relationships, so if you do take things any further it will mean that you do enter into his world in a more formal way. You might be required to meet his probation officer in person, agree to home visits etc. He could also be subject to police surveillance if they suspect he's not cut all ties with his past criminal activities and associates. I raise these issues not to discourage you, but so you do have all the relevant information you deserve to have when making these important, potentially life-changing decisions.

      You ask about helping him keep clear of crime when he has been released. It is well-attested that having a stable relationship (whether partner or family) can be a major factor in rehabilitation and reducing the risk of reoffending by ex-prisoners. The more you have to lose outside, the less you want to risk it all by going back in jail!

      In my own view, the best way to help an ex-prisoner stay away from crime is through finding employment and stable accommodation. Being an ex-con on licence, especially if not returning to a family home, can be a very lonely, isolated and impoverished existence. Finding a job can be a massive barrier to overcome for anyone with a criminal record, although maybe he could start with some voluntary work. These are important considerations for anyone who is considering starting a relationship with someone who is about to be released.

      Has your friend discussed his employment and accommodation plans with you yet? I think these are vitally important issues, because they could have a significant impact on your own future should this friendship develop into a relationship.

      I hope things do work out well for both of you. Just make sure that you are going forward with your eyes wide open. Feel free to ask any follow up questions and if I can advise, I will.

  7. I've considered writing to a prisoner a few times. I can see it being a huge lifeline to someone in such terrible circumstances. We all make mistakes, that's part of life. I've seen a few websites that offer a "go between" service where they take your letters, process them and vice versa so I might give that a go.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I can confirm that just getting a letter from 'outside' can make an enormous difference to some prisoners' lives. I have shared a cell with a Polish guy and he never received a single letter from family or friends in the months we were living in the same pad. In contrast, I used to receive a fair amount of post, so the difference was very noticeable.I suppose it makes those inmates who never get mail feel much more forgotten and isolated.

      When I was transferred to another prison I started writing to him (in English) and this encouraged him to really make an effort in education classes to improve his English language skills so he could write back. A year or so down the road and his letters were written in pretty decent English! That's just one example of how having someone to write to you in prison can change lives, so if you feel ready to write to someone, then I'd definitely give it a go.

  8. Hello. I considered writing to a considerable prisoner in the UK, put it his way - a woman and one who is serving a whole life tariff (you can work it out just from that). Just curiosity really. Only thing is, I don't have access to the persons prisoner number, so could I still write?

    1. Thanks for your question. In my experience as long as you know the prisoner's current name (that is, they've not changed it while inside - which does happen in some notorious cases) and the address of the prison where they are presently being held, then the letter should get delivered. If the individual is in the high security estate (Cat-A), then all letters will probably be subject to security checks. Other than that, the worst that can happen will be the letter coming back with 'return to sender' stamped on the envelope.

      Do make sure that you include your own name and address at the head of the letter and most people also write their name and address on the back of the envelope. Hope that advice helps!

    2. I have taken your advice on board, but I kind of feel strange. I've had a fascination with female criminals for quite some time, but is it a little too macabre to want to talk with a serial killer like Rosemary West?

    3. Interesting question. I think that people write to notorious prisoners for a wide range of reasons. Some may hope to get a personal insight into whether the person to whom they are writing really is the 'monster' that the media portray them to be and corresponding might be a way of finding out more. This sort of thing fascinates criminologists as well.

      Other people who write perhaps get a thrill out of being a penpal with someone who is extremely notorious or who is perceived to be extremly wicked. Look at the number of people - mainly women - who write regularly to prisoners such as Charlie Manson. Infamous cons are, after all, still 'celebrities' in their own way. Mind you, as Friedrich Nietzsche once observed: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

      At the same time, however, it's worth remembering that plenty of notorious cons do get regular sackfuls of 'fan' mail or requests to be penpals, so I honestly wouldn't hold my breath while waiting for any reply!

    4. I briefly lived at university with a gentleman who was apparently engaged in a lengthy correspondence with a chap called Varg Vikernes who was then in a Norwegian prison for a notorious series of arson attacks on churches and the stabbing of the guitarist from a rival metal band... it only came up twice in conversation almost apropos of nothing (I know a lot of strange people), but my friend was deeply fascinated with philosophy and said that while this man had some pretty vile racist ideas, he was very interesting to talk to.

  9. I enjoy letter writing so what is the best way of finding out who to write to? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your question. I think that for some prisoners having a regular correspondent can make a massive difference to their lives, so it can be a very positive thing to do. However, as I warn above, there can be problems and pitfalls!

      It is much more difficult to get prison pen pals in the UK because it is less developed here than it is in the USA where there are dedicated websites and support groups. However, I am aware of one UK group called Bridging the Gap: That might be a good place to start. Best of luck!

  10. There's the Bent Bars Project/agency as well that you have listed in your resources who put me in touch with the guy that I currently write to. He's asked for nothing more than a few print-off of pictures of Jesus and stuff because he's taken up some sort of Bible studies inside. Prior to him, many years ago I also wrote to a guy in the USA who was inside. It didn't take long to realise that all he really wanted was for me to send him money orders. I sent him one, but after the next 3 or 4 letters from him asking for another, he stopped writing and that was the end of that. This guy that I write to now (in Nottingham) I posted him some stamps (because I have got tons of them), cellotaped to the letter as the prison advised me to and he said that he didn't receive that particular page. Because I don't know him personally I have to wonder if he's being honest with me or trying to milk me? I think that it will become apparent in time.

    1. Thanks for your contribution. Sorry it's taken so long for me to reply. I must have missed this one as the post itself was over a year ago.

      Getting into a prison pen pal relationship is always a bit of a gamble, but it can be very rewarding if it works out. Of course, prisoners (and pen pals') motives do vary. Some inmates are very lonely (especially those with no family or friends who are still in contact). Financial support can also play a major role too, I'm afraid.

      You current correspondent may well be telling the truth about the stamps. Under the new rules (PSI 30/2013) stamps aren't permitted to be sent in. They could be in his stored property box until either his release or, maybe, when he is transferred to another prison. It's a bit of potluck really whether they will be handed to him in the future. It really does depend on the specific prison policy and the individual censor office on duty on the day!

  11. I haven't read through all of the comments or your replies Alex, but I just wanted to give a penpal's version if I may.

    I've written to inmates in the UK, US, Canada and Australia on and off for neary 30 years - since I was 18. I've had friends go to prison, so the notion of supporting someone through it wasn't as alien to me as it is for many - and as such I like to think I haven't fallen into some of the holes others get themselves in to. I've never been "groomed", never been scammed, never been taken advantage of in any way. I've had a wide range of penpals in prison, all ages 18 - 75, both genders, some for a brief time and some for years - currently I've been writing to my two pals for 6 and 9 years. I like learning about other people, that's mainly why I do it. I don't send money, or gifts and don't visit. It's just letters between us and they understand that.

    I'm also married to an inmate. I knew him briefly before his crime, decided to stick with him initially as support, but after a couple of years we got married. He's in the US so things are not as straight forward as they would be if he were here in the UK.

    You hear a lot of the negative stories online about how people fall for their inmate penpals and then get hurt emotionally, physically (not so often) or financially. You don't hear many "normal" stories, and that's why I wanted to comment. I feel normal in writing to my penpals, and see nothing abnormal about Hubby & me besides the physical distance. I have a full-time responsible job, good education, perfectly healthy self-esteme and no commitment issues, and I have no kids going without just to fund international phone calls or visits - Hubby and I don't get any phone calls because of his state's rules on them. But there seems to be no way to make it sound anything other than sad or pathetic in most people's eyes, thanks largely to the "documentaries" over the years. I could spend my spare time volunteering at an animal sanctuary or knitting hats for smoothie bottles, but I choose to spend some of it writing to inmates.

    I wont say any more as it will sound like I'm trying to justify my situation, and that's not my intention. I'm happy with what I do, and my penpals and husband are also happy that I do it. That's all that matters really.

    1. Thanks very much for your very helpful and insightful comments. It is very good to hear from someone who is having a positive experience, both as the wife of a prisoner and as a pen pal.

      In terms of relationships, I do think that having previous pre-prison 'history' can make a big difference. I used to write to an old friend whom I'd known for years before he was jailed for embezzlement from his employers. When he was sent down, it was very normal to write to him in prison.

      I'm also sure that for every prison pen pal 'horror' story, there are many others that we don't get to hear about because the relationship between the correspondents is going perfectly normally! That's why I'm delighted to read your own story. Thanks.

    2. I've just turned 19 and I'm really interested in writing to inmates both for me to learn about them and for them to have someone to write to. What kind of websites would be best for me to try? I live in the UK. Thanks.

  12. Your article was really insightful. I learned alot as I identify with the plump of women who are probably now experiencing a 'frisson' of excitement of writing letters with an now infamous convict currently in NY.I like my penpal as a person, but after reading your article, I do identify with some of the things you have said about having several 'stable' female penpals. I will be cautious though about giving out my $ so quickly. As you said the woman is in 'control' and lastly I do like the fact that I know where he is on a Saturday night, in his cell reading and writing a letter to me :)

    1. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion. I think that being a pen pal (even to a notorious inmate) can be a fascinating experience. I learned a lot myself from writing to a double murderer on Florida's death row, a correspondence that continued for some years until he was executed.

      I also believe that as long as the pen pal on the outside is aware of the potential pitfalls - especially the financial ones - and feels in control of the situation, then the risks are really pretty small! Enjoy the experience, because there are many interesting people behind bars.

  13. Hi Alex.
    I'm a journalist for national newspapers.
    I'm looking to get in touch with some prison penpals, to show the good side of it and how it can help rehabilitate prisoner and how it can be a good experience for the penpal too.
    Do you know of anyone who writes to prisoners/prisoners who have penpals? Or where would be a good place to start?
    You can contact me on 07771693675 or email me
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Many thanks,

  14. i am considering going to the police, I was with someone and they went to prison, we split up for a short time as I had found out a few things about him after he was sent down, i was in a very vunerable condition at the time, a few months later he got back in touch and i went to see him, we satrted to write to each other and i would go and see him every two weeks then he started to say he was in trouble and needed money and could I pay it into a bank account so i did to help him, he seemed to have changed and the letters were so lovely and he said he would make everything wonderful when he got out, after 2 years he got out and will not have anything to do with me, i saw him on facebook as we had friends in common so i messaged him he ignored my messages started to add drug dealers to his friends list and his probation home is in the next street, hes told his probation officer i am a psychopath and theyve told him to have nothing to do with me, I was vunerable because my daughter had died, he was allowed out for her funeral and used my vulnerability as a weapon to get money from me. He used her funeral as a way of seeing his family (who werent invited to her funeral and just turned up) I am left still grieving my daughters lose and now i am so upset that i was conned.

  15. Oh and i had ended up hundreds of pounds lost into bank accounts so i guess thats fraud and conning me to