Pen Pal Program

What should you know before becoming a pen pal?

Adapted from Abolition Apostle's guidelines.

First off, incarcerated people are people.

Approach your first letter as you would any new relationship – in a spirit of openness and curiosity. Introduce yourself and let them know you are writing as a pen pal through Abolish Everything. Share some basics about where you live, what you do for work or what you study in school, and what you like to do for fun.

You are a lifeline.

Many of our prison pen pals have been incarcerated for years or decades and no longer have living family or other outside support systems. Others are estranged from family or friends. When we enter into relationship with these people, we provide a vital connection to the outside world. It’s a responsibility we take seriously, and we ask that you do so as well. Corresponding with a pen pal is a commitment, so do not cease communication with your pen pal without informing us beforehand and without informing your pen pal.

Express and maintain boundaries.

It’s all right to set boundaries with your pen pals. We know from conversations with formerly incarcerated people that folks inside often think of pen pal writing as an opportunity for romantic or sexual connection. If you receive a letter that feels romantic or sexual, you can be clear with your pen pal that you are not willing to communicate in this way. If you need to cease communication with a pen pal for these or any other reasons, please just let us know.

People are more than the worst things they have ever done.

We strive to support the social and material needs of our pen pals, and to focus on their humanity. Let people share what they wish in their own time. Do not look up your pen pal online. Do not ask about why they are incarcerated.

Sending mail to prisons.

We recommend using Ameelio, which is a service that allows you to send mail to people who are incarcerated without having to pay for postage. They will mail your letter for you.

If sending a letter through snail mail, you are welcome to hand-write your letters or write them on the computer. View the Virginia Department of Corrections' guidelines on what type of mail is accepted. On the top of your letter, write both TO: (with the full name, I.D. number, name of facility/institution, and address of your pen pal) and FROM: (your address). This helps to make sure that your letter will be delivered to your pen pal if it is separated from the envelope.

We encourage people to use their home address. It is important to challenge and question any anxieties or fears we may have regarding sharing our address with people who are incarcerated.

All prison mail passes through a mail room where it is opened and inspected. You should have no expectation of privacy. Expect delays. Prison mail often takes weeks or even months to receive. Letters can be held up in the mail room and withheld by guards as a punishment. If people who are incarcerated lack stamps, envelopes, or writing paper, they will not be able to reply to a letter until they obtain these things.

How can you become a pen pal?

Fill out the form below and we will do your best to match you with a pen pal.

How can someone who is incarcerated be added to our pen pal list?

If you know someone who is incarcerated in Virginia who would be interested in being added to our pen pal list, please contact us with their name and I.D. number.