Paper Dolls
Tips for Writing to Inmates


Many of the following tips are from a visitor to the Paper Dolls website, and we feel they are good advice. Some are from a prison penpal support group member.

  1. Check outdates if possible on state prison websites. Be in the writing for the long haul if the inmate is going to be held another couple of years.
  2. Assure the inmate you will not write a couple of letters, then disappear. This is a real downer for an inmate.
  3. Be forthcoming if there is a significant age difference between you and your potential penpal. Some female inmates are quite happy to have pen pals as much as 25 years older than they are. Others prefer a pen pal who could be a part of their lives after release. In most cases, they appreciate the honesty.
  4. Be forthcoming about marital status. Many inmates are happy someone helps make their day a bit better. And they appreciate the honesty.
  5. If you correspond with an inmate held in the state you live in, they will ask you to visit. Be aware of this before writing.
  6. It is best not to correspond with two inmates at the same facility (Paper Dolls note - or within the same state, because of transfers where they could eventually end up at the same institution).
  7. When corresponding with inmates, it is helpful to them to offer stamps from time to time. Be sure of the facility policy......state differs from federal....states differ from each other. The stamps help the correspondence and they can use them for barter.
  8. From the beginning, make it clear you will not forward a letter from them to another inmate. Most, if not all states prohibit inmates exchanging letters.
  9. For whatever reason, an inmate may choose not to respond. Respect this decision. If you do not want your letter given to another inmate, say so. They usually respect that. This piece of advise is based on a somewhat unpleasant personal experience.
  10. Be aware that, through no fault of your pen pal, your address could wind up in another inmate's hands. Rent a PO Box....they are about $5 per month.
  11. If you correspond with an inmate for a long, long time, they may ask you for your telephone number. You must decide this for yourself. Telephone calls by inmates are very, very expensive. But if you do so, it must be with the understanding it will not be passed along UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES !!!!!!!!!!
  12. Inmates are pretty much the same kinds of people as in the free world overall. There are some scam artists, some manipulators, some immature, some wise, some caring, some sincere, some sweet, some rotten. Because you can't be around them in every day life, it's more difficult to get to see what kind of person someone in prison really is, both good AND bad. It takes more time (calendar time) to get to know someone in this kind of friendship because you have less time (on the clock) actually interacting with them.
  13. Be wary about requests to send money soon. If you aren't the kind of person to give tens or hundreds of dollars to someone you've only spent a few hours with in your life if they request it, don't send money to inmates after a few letters. However, donations like magazine subscriptions or books (ordered and shipped directly from a distributor) are a much wiser choice to make.
  14. Avoid cliche filled ads:
    • I'm a good person who's made a few bad choices.
    • I truly am a good person in a bad situation.
    • I'm not a bad person, I just made bad choices.
    In other words "who me?"
  15. While it can be very disappointing to receive money type requests in the first letter or so, some of their ad's give hints as to this leaning. Examples are if she is seeking someone who is:
    • Financially stable or secure
    • Older gentleman (particularly from women in their 20s)
    • Distinguished gentleman
    • Gentlemen with the heart of (insert state)
    • Generous
    • Sophisticated
    • Independent (meaning independently wealthy)
    • High standards and values
    • Sensitive to my wants/needs/desires
    • Talks about travel and fine dining
    • Woman who loves to be spoiled
    • Who will be there for me
    • Make me as comfortable as possible
    • Be particularly wary of any variation "Looking for a man who can treat me right."
  16. There are two types that are far more likely put on the sex charm:
    1. Those being released in under a year and looking for a place to stay so they can be eligible for parole
    2. Those with decades long sentences trying to entice someone who is likely leaning towards short-timers they can meet up with
  17. Beware of those who are looking not so much for a pen-pal but for a dating match (and all the problems that can ensue from that).
  18. Those who talk about partying and carrying on a lifestyle that brought them to prison in the first place. Rehabilitation is hard and it must be wanted. People who distance themselves from any acknowledgement or responsibility with their crime are poor risks. They should desire a better life, not more of the same mess that got them locked up.
  19. "Live life to the fullest". It's a generic phrase that many use and it says nothing. When a person claims that's what they want to do, they either have no long-term goals, or don't wish to share them with whoever may be reading the ad.
  20. "I'm sexy!" She can mention it once, maybe twice, but if most or all of her ad gives you the hooker vibe, steer clear. It doesn't have to be talking about how "sexy" she is, either. She's locked up and can't deliver anything tangible in this area. Any overt promises of fulfilling your wildest fantasies, or anything like that, and it'll more than likely end up with her using you. And not in a good way.
  21. Financial Support. It is a given that a time may come when you will either be asked, or will on your own want to send some money to your penpal. However, she should not make money the primary purpose of the relationship between you two. Unless you want it that way.
  22. "Step Inside My World". Her world is rationed meals, smelly bunks, and harsh life. Do you really want to step inside that? She wouldn't want to, either.
  23. Lost Puppy Mindset. She is *NOT* a damsel in distress needing to be rescued, and she is not a lost puppy dog needing a home. While she may not be a bad-ass, hardened criminal mastermind, she probably is not a virgin angelic schoolgirl who just happened to get mistaken for someone else. She's been convicted because there is reasonable evidence that she did something criminal, or she admitted to it in court. People who need to be rescued typically are their own worst enemies and the cause of everything they need to be rescued from. They end up resenting their rescuers for taking control and trying to get them to change from their self-destructive ways.
  24. Conviction Explanation. A bit of unease is expected. She probably won't want to reveal every detail of her criminal history. But not saying anything, or trying to brush it off for a future date, is suspicious. Also, be wary of "mistakes" as an explanation. If she is sincere, she should want you to know where she is coming from.

Visitor's comment: Some of my ideas have come from reading Solzhenytsin's Gulag books. Now I don't equate our prison system with the communist gulags, but one does get a hint of how difficult a controlled, vulnerable life is for men and women.