Folks who are behind bars suffer the highest forms of isolation and alienation. For those who are willing and able – I strongly suggest you become prison penpals. The organization Black & Pink compiles and maintains a database of predominantly LGBTQ inmates seeking connection with someone in the “free world.” The database outlines exactly what kind of connection the prospective penpal is seeking: spiritual, motivational, revolutionary, romantic, etc. It is your choice as to which penpal you connect with; and this can be filtered by age, sexual orientation, sentence (i.e. solitary confinement or death row), location, etc.
Becoming a penpal through Black & Pink is free of charge and easy. After clicking on the link to the website, there are 4 steps: Review the Guidelines, Choose Your Penpal, Fill Out Form, and then Write Your Penpal. Be sure to enter an accurate e-mail address, as your penpal’s physical address will be sent there within minutes.
Frequent questions/concerns about ethics, limit-setting, and potentially giving them your home address are discussed in the Black & Pink Guidelines. I am not a member of the organization, but I have been a penpal for a few months, so I can answer some questions in the Comments section below.
Being a penpal is not entirely free, though. Inmates receive abysmally low wages behind bars – so it is best for us to eliminate the costs associated with being a penpal for them. You will need the following materials: envelopes, lined paper, and postage stamps. If you work in an office setting, I suggest ‘liberating’ some of these materials from your employer (only if you can get away with it!). If you are part of an organization, I recommend pooling funds to purchase these materials for everyone in the group.
You will need 2 different sized envelopes: one standard size, and another one that is small enough to fit inside the standard size envelope. Send your letter in the standard envelope and include a blank sheet of lined paper for your penpal to reply back on. In that standard envelope, also include the smaller envelope – which should be self-addressed (i.e. write your name and address in the middle section) and stamped. This ensures that all our penpals need to do is write their response and send it.