PEN PAL PROGRAM

We are so excited to launch our new Pen Pal Program!

Please read through the guidelines below and then sign up here. 

Pen Pal Program Guidelines

Why We Write To Incarcerated People

 

As abolitionists, we seek to challenge the carceral state through pen pal writing. We acknowledge that the prison industrial complex disproportionally targets Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, queer and trans/non-conforming people, as well as disabled folks and sex workers. The PIC uses isolation as a tool of oppression and control. When we write to incarcerated people, it breaks down these walls and builds connection and solidarity between the inside and outside. These relationships can be extremely rewarding, and can have a positive impact on mental health. Writing can also be a form of harm reduction. When incarcerated people receive letters at mail call, it shows prison staff that they have people watching out for them on the outside. Forming these connections also allows us the opportunity to provide support that is unique to that person, for example specific programs, resources, or information that can benefit them. As we do this work, we aim to dismantle systems of oppression and build a society that no longer criminalizes people, nor looks to a cage to solve its problems.

 

How To Find A Pen Pal

 

You can find somebody to write through our Pen Pal Program. If you are on the outside, click here to fill out our Google Form to be matched with a pen pal. Those on the inside can write us a letter to request a pen pal at: 

Books Behind Bars Pen Pal Program, PO BOX 2611 Wildwood, NJ 08260.

Our pen pal program is for folks who are incarcerated in New Jersey. If you’d like to write to somebody out of state, we recommend seeking a pen pal through these national organizations: 

  • Black and Pink is a pro-abolition, LGBTQ+ focused prison pen pal program. 

  • Anarchist Black Cross Federation has a master list of people who fall under the definition of Political Prisoners - “someone who is in prison as a result of conscious political activity on the street.


 

The Basics

 

Address your envelope with your pen pal’s legal name, their I.D. number, and facility’s address. Don’t forget to write your full name and address in the upper left hand corner. Prison staff will open and inspect all letters. Sometimes the envelope may get destroyed or separated- so we advise writing the following on the top of each page: their legal name, I.D. number, and the number of pages. If your pen pal has a chosen name that is different from their legal name, use the first initial and last name of their legal name, and ask them how to address it moving forward. We do recommend that you use your own address when writing. If this causes apprehension, we invite you to examine any fears that come up and look into where they are coming from and work on that as we build our movement towards abolition. 

 

Do's And Don'ts

 

Do:

  • Introduce yourself. Tell them where you are from and how you found their contact info.

  • Set healthy boundaries and expectations.

  • Be honest and realistic about how often you can write. If you can only send a single letter of solidarity, say that. 

  • Respond to each letter within two weeks.

  • Write from a place of solidarity, not charity.

  • Get creative - feel free to include poetry, song lyrics, drawings, crossword puzzles, magazine/newspaper articles, etc. You can even collaborate on art, poetry, etc by sending projects back and forth. 

  • Be patient if it doesn’t seem like you have much in common at first. Just as you would  with meeting anyone new, talk about your interests and ask open-ended questions. Your conversations will become more engaging as you learn more about each other. 

  • Learn from each other. Share information on topics you’re knowledgeable about. Ask questions about your pen pal’s strengths and skills.

 

Don't:

  • Don’t make promises or commitments you can’t keep.

  • Don’t use glitter, glue, tape, perfume, or stickers. This will cause prison staff to reject your letter.

  • Don’t out people or disclose sensitive or incriminating information. Keep in mind that prison staff will inspect every letter. Take cues from your pen pal and ask what they are comfortable sharing.

  • Do not share information that your pen pal shares with you without their consent, especially on social media. It is okay to process difficult information that is shared with you with a trusted friend, but incarcerated people’s stories shouldn’t be used for clout or self-promotion - most importantly, this could put your pen pal at risk if information is shared without consent.

  • Don’t ask details about their arrest.

  • Don’t make racist, classist, or sexist assumptions about your pen pal, or any other incarcerated person.


 

Icebreakers

  • Favorite books, movies, shows and food

  • Facts about your hometown

  • Favorite place travelled or would like to

  • Historical figures you admire

  • Hobbies or hidden talents

  • Short or long term goals

 

Issues And Questions

 

Having a pen pal should be a positive experience. If something makes you uncomfortable, and you’re not sure how to handle it, please email us. We are here to help! Also, if for any reason you can no longer write to your pen pal, it’s ok - just be sure to let them know, and email us so we can match them with somebody else.

Email us: info@booksbehindbarsnj.com. Write Pen Pal Program in the subject line.

 

 

Books Behind Bars

 

Books Behind Bars is a grassroots, all-volunteer prison abolition program that provides free books upon request to people incarcerated in New Jersey prisons. As people were writing us letters to request books, we started getting more and more requests for pen pals. So we decided to create this program to meet this need. 




 

BOOKS BEHIND BARS

PEN PAL PROGRAM

P.O. Box 2611

Wildwood, New Jersey

info@booksbehindbarsnj.com