How To Write A Letter To An Inmate
So, you’re interested in writing to an inmate?
That’s great news! Our Victorious Living Prison Outreach has written to thousands of inmates. We want to share some of what we’ve learned with you.
Before we do, however, we want to encourage you. Your act of writing a letter to an inmate will be life-changing—for the inmate and you!
When someone is separated from family and friends, surrounded by darkness, and facing uncertain events, your letter will be used by God to provide the hope that a person needs to face another day behind bars. Your words will be life to them. And when you receive their response to your letter, their words will be life to you, too. Know also that by writing to an inmate, you are carrying out God’s command to remember prisoners!
The following tips are intended for people who want to write to inmates through a correspondence outreach, like Victorious Living Prison Correspondence Outreach, or for those who want to start a prison correspondence outreach in their church.
Here are our best tips on how to write a letter to an inmate:
Tip One: Ensure Your Letter Reaches the Inmate
- Contact the facility for mailing addresses and instructions.
Each facility has its own rules regarding corresponding with inmates. Often, a facility may even restrict the type and size of stationery. If you don’t follow their rules on how to write a letter to an inmate, your letter will not reach the inmate. (If you are joining our team at one of our Shine Bright and Write Events, we will have already done this step for you.)
- Familiarize yourself with the Department of Corrections rules.
We recommend taking a volunteer class through the DOC even if you don’t intend to go behind bars to minister. This class will provide crucial information regarding how you can interact with an inmate. For example, you cannot contact anyone on behalf of an inmate, or include stamps or money in your correspondence.
- Address the letter correctly.
Include all relevant information on the envelope, including the inmate’s DOC identification number (and housing information if available), inmate’s full name, facility name, and facility address.
Tip Two: Set Your Procedures
- Determine your return address and signature line.
For safety reasons, our organization uses one PO Box; and all correspondence to and from inmates flow through this address. Our writers do not provide their addresses or mail the letters, nor do they sign their names. They use a standard signature.
- Determine who responds to incoming mail.
Our outreach does not match individual writers to individual inmates in order to respond to letters efficiently. However, many ministries do have matched pen pals and find it to be advantageous.
- Carefully screen your writers.
Remember those who write, do so on behalf of your organization. They represent your beliefs and attitudes. Make sure they are willing to follow your guidelines on how to write a letter to an inmate.
Tip Three: What to write?
- Ask God to give you His Words and listen for His inspiration.
- Be Yourself.
Remember, you’re writing to a person who needs encouragement. Just your act of showing up by way of mail will be a blessing.
- Remember to:
- Stay positive.
- Avoid giving counsel. Stick to the “The Bible says…”
- Avoid political discussions and religious/doctrinal arguments.
- Refuse to judge, condemn, or criticize anyone’s religion or lifestyle.
- Avoid sharing personal information.
- Do not make promises.
- If you don’t know what to say:
- Tell the inmate you are praying for them and then write a prayer.
- Share your favorite verse and tell them why it’s your favorite.
- Don’t know a verse? Google by topic or download a bible app.
- Share the lyrics of a song.
- Draw something for them.
- Share your own experiences about a specific topic.
- Encourage the inmate to read a chapter in Proverbs or Psalm daily.
- Use one of our sample letters of encouragement to inmates to get started.
We hope these tips on how to write a letter to an inmate will be helpful to you as you begin your ministry! Check out our other prison ministry resources for more helpful tools to reach those behind bars. If you’d like more information about starting a prison ministry, joining one of our Shine Bright and Write events, or hosting SBW events at your church, contact us today. We receive thousands of letters annually. You can help us deliver the hope and light of Jesus to inmates across the nation.
Interested in learning more about Victorious Living? Check out our free magazine for inmates, the inspirational videos on our YouTube page, and our inspirational stories online to discover more about our prison outreach ministry.