Prison Minstry – Prison Pen Pals


Prison Pen Pals – Letter From A
Prisoner

“I am writing to you from a
very lonely prison cell,” he wrote. “Three days ago I lost my mother
to cancer. I was thinking about ending my life… but when I found your name
and address in a used newspaper I felt as if this was the answer to my cry for
help.”

Deeply touched, I put the letter
down. I felt genuine empathy for Jack in this, his time of grief and
loneliness. It was mid-November when  the
letter arrived.

Jack went on to write, “I do
hope you are the kind of people my mom always spoke so highly of. Share my name
at church, in hopes of me receiving a special holiday wish. I would love to
have at least one Christmas card…my mom’s card would have been the only one I
received.”

As I continued to be drawn into
Jack’s loneliness I read further. “It breaks my heart to know that while
other men will be opening up their many Christmas greeting cards and opening up
their J. C. Penny Prison catalog order, I’ll be left standing all alone. Mom
could never afford a Christmas package, so that won’t hurt so bad, but to be
able to have a nice Christmas card and fellowship with the people my mom always
believed in would surely put a big smile on this sad face.”

Stirred to action, I wasted no time.
I e-mailed my family and friends a copy of Jack’s letter asking them to send
him a Christmas greeting. Then I contacted an associate pastor at my church and
asked him to have the adult Bible fellowship classes collect signatures and
greetings from the members.

I felt good, affirmed prison
ministry is important I reminded myself. There are thousands of men and women
in prison today who are looking for friendship. Many of these prisoners feel
like social outcasts. They are isolated from family and friends. Prisoners love
to receive mail.

It is usually difficult and often
impossible for prisoners to find friendship among the prison population. Many
inmates have registered for pen pals on Internet sites. Yahoo lists about
30,000 and Google has over 35,000 sites listed. One site alone registered one
million visits in a single year.

Prison Fellowship Ministries have a Pen Pal
Program that matches convicts to Christian volunteers. This is a prison pen pal
site for inmates in need of a caring friend. This site and others like it
attempt to bring friendship and hope to lonely prisoners. The programs try to
help ease the loneliness of the incarcerated. I have read that ninety percent
of inmates lose all contact with family and friends after 3 years. They soon
feel loss of dignity, self-worth and self-respect. A letter or a card from a
pen pal can lift their spirits.

Jack’s letters continued to come. He
told me of the excitement of receiving some cards and letters in response to my
becoming his friend. He shared how delighted he was to receive the Bible and
some Bible lessons I had sent. Near the end of one of his letters I became
disturbed. Jack wrote, “My feet are old and I don’t own a coat. These are
cold winters in the Cumberland Mountains. They tell me up here to get a pair of
Timberland boots.” Jack went on give specific information on the cost of
the boots and detailed money order instructions.

My niece had written to Jack.
“I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your mom. I just lost my Dad one
month ago so I think I know at least some of the sorrow you are feeling.”

The reason for my concern about Jack’s request was not the cold winter in the
Cumberland Mountains, but the sense that I had been used in furthering a
“con game”. Jenny’s letter included the same request as I did for
“Timberland Boots, number 31052 C, Size 9, tan, and a warm coat with a
hood, number 94271B”.

I later learned that a family from
the church had received the request as well. I felt both annoyed and betrayed.
I was embarrassed that I had been taken in. I had been conned by a con…or had
I?

When you become a prison pen pal it
is important that you be alert to known scams. You should be aware that
institutions provide all the basic needs of an inmate. Even educational
programs are often free to prisoners. If an inmate is requesting a donation for
something that seems unusual, contact the prison administration before sending
money.

Many people would never consider
writing to a prisoner. If you do find someone you would like to write to, don’t
hesitate. Most are honest about what they are looking for; however, use good
judgment and common sense, just as you would with anyone on the outside. The
majority of inmates is lonely and desperately need a new friend. Most look
forward to be transitioned back into a productive life after prison. Your
friendship can be a positive influence.

When I didn’t respond to Jack’s
request, he stopped writing. I had learned a good lesson, early. I have since
corresponded with many individual prisoners. My experience has been good. I
trust that I have been a help and encouragement to these convicts. However, I
often think of Jack and wonder if he ever bought the Timberland boots and the
warm winter coat with the hood, for the cold walks in the yard behind the walls
of Cumberland prison, in the state of Maryland.

Richard R. Blake, Former Training
Coordinator, Follow Up Ministries, Inc., A Para Church Prison Ministry

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