One of the main problems that puts people off from getting
involved in supporting prisoners is a feeling of intimidation
about writing to a prisoner for the first time. It is very
hard to write a letter to someone you don't know. People find
that they either don't know what to say, feel there are things
they can't talk about, or think that prisoners won't be interested
in what they have to say. Well, this is a problem most of
us have had to deal with and get over, so we've drawn up some
suggestions to help you. Obviously, these aren't rigid guidelines,
and we don't pretend to have solved all potential problems
in this space. Different people will write different letters.
But hopefully, the guidelines below will be of some use.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Some prisons restrict the number of letters a prisoner can
write or receive. Prisoners may also have to buy their own
stamps and envelopes, and prisoners aren’t millionaires,
so don't necessarily expect a reply to your card or letter.
A lot of prisons allow stamps or a self-addressed envelope
to be included with a card or letter, but some don't. Letters
do also get stopped, read, delayed, and 'diverted.' If you
suspect your letters have been or will be nicked by the screws,
you can send it ‘Recorded Delivery.’ Although
this unfortunately costs a lot, prison officials do then they
have to open it in the prisoner’s presence. Also, you
should put a return address-- not just so the prisoner can
reply (!), but also because some prisons don't allow letters
without a return address. Of course, it doesn't have to be
your address, but be careful about using PO Box numbers, as
some prisons don't allow these either!
WRITING FOR THE FIRST TIME
Say who you are, and (if it's relevant) what group you're
from. Some people reckon it's better to be upfront about your
politics as well, to give prisoners the choice to stay in
contact with you or not. Say where you heard about them and
their case. The first letter can be reasonably short-- maybe
only a postcard. Obviously, when you get to know people better
you'll have more to talk about. If you are writing to a "framed"
prisoner whom you believe to be innocent, letting the prisoner
know that you believe them will bring them confidence.
Some people writing to prisoners are afraid to talk about
their lives and what they are up to because they think either
the prisoner is not interested or that this may depress people
banged up, especially prisoners with long sentences. Although
in some cases this may be true, on the whole a letter is the
highpoint of the day for most prisoners. Prison life is dead
boring, and any news that livens it up, whether or not it's
about people they know, is generally welcome. Especially if
you didn't know them before they went to prison, prisoners
will want to know about you and what your life is like. But
use your common sense; don't write about anything that is
likely to either get a prisoner in shit with the screws, or
get you (or anyone else) in trouble with the cops.
THEY'RE IN THERE FOR US; WE'RE OUT HERE FOR THEM
For people imprisoned from our movements and struggles, it's
vital to keep them involved in the ongoing resistance. Telling
them about actions, sending them magazines (if they want them),
and discussing ideas or strategies with them are good ideas.
Use your head, though; some people will just want to keep
their head down till they get out.
Based on the www.spiritoffreedom.org.uk
adaption of a leaflet produced by the Anarchist