To make sure your letters reach your correspondent, you need to follow the prison’s rules, otherwise, your letter will either be returned unopened or disappear without a trace.
Every state has its own rules about writing to prisoners, but these are almost universal requirements/guidelines:
- Address your letter correctly, making sure to include the prisoner number.
- Write your name and address both on the envelope and the enclosed letter.
- Do not enclose anything with your card or letter unless it complies with the prison’s guidelines. Usually, a photo or a news clipping is acceptable, but nothing else is, including stamps. The best approach is to send nothing but your letter the first time and ask your correspondent what is and isn’t acceptable in their prison.
- Don’t use scented stationery or attach stickers or glitter. It’s surprising the sort of things that can prevent your letter from being delivered.
- If you want to send a book or stationery to a prisoner, do not send it directly. Instead, purchase the item from an established bookstore and have them send it to the prisoner. Many small bookstores, unfortunately, do not mail goods to prisons, but Barnes and Noble and some other large booksellers do. [NOTE: Because Amazon no longer includes receipts in all the packages it sends, do not use Amazon. Most prisons require that a receipt accompanies the book. We have found that most books mailed from Amazon get returned.]
- Do not send hardback books or ring-bound books. These get treated as if they are weapons!
- Your correspondence may be opened by the prison. Don’t say anything that could cause repercussions for your correspondent, such as disparaging remarks about prison officials. Sexual or violent content is likely to prevent your letter from being delivered.