Letter-Writing Guidelines

Receiving letters from the outside helps to stop prisoners from feeling isolated and other prisoners are always amazed at the amount of mail animal rights prisoners receive. When you first start up correspondence with a prisoner, try not to ask specific questions, so prisoners don't feel under pressure to give a response. Please don't feel offended if you don't get a reply, or if a reply is a long time coming, as animal rights prisoners often receive large amounts of mail. They also frequently have ongoing legal matters to deal with, which can be a lengthy process. Consideration must be given to the fact that prisoners may not have time or that they may not feel like writing.

That said, prisoners have little to look forward to other than the daily mail call, and are looking for anything to break the monotony of daily life in the prison, so any news of your personal life will be very welcome. It allows them to make a human connection and to briefly escape the concrete walls, if only in their mind. They may start off as strangers, but after a while, you'll find a connection with them and be writing back and forth in no time.

Keep letters positive and avoid angry rants. Talk about what is going on in your daily life or just send a bright card with a short note or a favorite quote. You can buy small packets of cards which are really useful for keeping in touch with the prisoners.

  • Use blank notebook or copy paper no bigger than 8.5x11 and don't use any special colored or gel pens or pencils, stamps, or stickers.
  • Write on both sides of the paper, since the number of pages s/he can have may be limited. It is also totally acceptable to type your letters. More will fit on a page.
  • Number the pages like "1/5, 2/5, 3/5..." so that a prisoner can tell if some pages are missing. Mention if there are enclosures included like photographs.
  • Write the prisoner's full name and inmate number on each page and on any photos or other correspondence included.
  • Write your return address and full name in the letter as well, as s/he will not receive the envelope your letter is mailed in.
  • Use plain white envelopes without a clear plastic address window, or any special decorations.
  • Don't write anything on the outside or inside of the envelope except the prisoner's address and your full name and return address in the upper left hand corner of the addressed side of the envelope. Most prisons also REQUIRE a return address on the envelope.
  • If you want to use an address label, they are ONLY OK to go on your envelope; DO NOT put an address label anywhere inside or on the letter/card.
  • Do NOT send him/her stamps, envelopes (self-addressed or otherwise), blank paper or notecards. S/he will not be able to receive them and s/he will likely be denied your letter.
  • Do NOT send any form of currency, whether cash, check or money order. Donations should be made only to their support team, unless they suggest otherwise. Check with each site first.
  • Do NOT send photographs larger than 4x6 (or 5x7 at some facilities). Do not send Polaroids (unless allowed by the facility). And make sure the content is appropriate.
  • Do NOT include any paperclips, staples or any extra things in your letter.
  • Do NOT send a card that has glitter or any 3-D objects in or on it.
  • Do NOT apply lipstick or perfume on correspondence or envelopes.
  • Do NOT send cards with paper inserts glued in them.
  • Do NOT tape your envelope shut.
  • Do NOT ever write "legal mail" or anything implying that you are an attorney unless you are.
  • Please use your common sense; don't write about anything that is likely to get a prisoner in trouble in any way. Don't write anything that could be construed as advocating violence, or appear to be "code."
  • Do NOT mention illegal acts, or mention other prisoners.
  • Photocopy your letter before mailing it. Occasionally letters get "lost," so having a copy will allow you to resend it.

If you send a letter and it gets returned to you, please let his/her support team about it and the reason why so they can add any other restrictions to their guideline list.

Please do NOT send in any books or magazines unless the support team or prisoner requests or approves it first; prisoners will have restrictions on how many books and/or magazines they're allowed to keep. Many facilities have personal property boxes which inmates can put in extra items if they go over the limit they're allowed to have in their cell. They can swap items in and out, but they cannot go over the limit of the box. Double-check to make sure that what you want to send does not send them over their limit. Most places require shipments of literature directly from major booksellers like Amazon or directly from publishers. Photocopied zines are generally not accepted.

If you establish a regular contact with a prisoner, it would be good of you to contribute to them either through their support team, or if they have given the OK, through the facility. It does cost them money to get stationery and stamps to write, so they will be able to write more often if you donate to them to be able to do so.

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Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN)
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Seattle, WA 98115