Adopt an Inmate

Calling all Angels

Hate Mail

People hate us. It sounds melodramatic, but it is true nonetheless. We’re hated by each other, by people on the outside, and by people working on the inside. By ‘us,’ I mean incarcerated persons. Offenders, inmates, convicts, prisoners. And there are people who make it their mission in life to let us know that hatred is all we deserve.

An inmate can be persuaded otherwise through cards and letters. Phone and visitation are also effective ways to do this, but it all starts with mail. You can’t visit me or receive a phone call until one or two letters pass between us. Therefore, those who staff prison and jailhouse mailrooms have the power to wreak havoc on an inmate’s psyche. The mailroom is the hub of most love entering or leaving prison. Limit mail? Limit hope.

This isn’t lost on people working in mailrooms nor those who make rules and regulations governing mail delivery. Some examples:

Stickers – Many prison mailroom employees around the country believe stickers are abhorrent. It is unclear why adhesive is so detested. Prison mailrooms consider it so dangerous, mail will be returned to sender if any adhesive-backed material is attached anywhere on a piece of mail – including an address label. It is a wonder why stamps exempted from the no-sticker rule.

Pictures – There is a major industry which supplies provocative photos to prison inmates. Inmates pick from proof sheets supplied by various companies and take their choices to the mailroom when they are ready to order. Personnel review photos after they arrive to ensure they aren’t too revealing. They will also carefully scan any photo sent by family members. An inmate I know was told that a picture of his four-year-old daughter had been rejected because she was flashing a gang sign. He later found out she was holding up a peace sign.

Address rules – Letters from prison require complete return addresses in case they contain threats or illegal instructions. The USPS doesn’t care as long as the ‘To’ address is deliverable. I once absent-mindedly omitted the city and zip code of the return address on a letter. Rather than add this to the envelope, a ten-second operation, the mailroom employee grabbed a carbon-copy form, filled out the violation details, stapled it to the envelope, and sent it back for correction. After I completed the missing information and dropped the letter back into the mailbox, it was rejected once more (in triplicate) because I had used an abbreviated first name (Rick, instead of Richard).

Handmade items – Some mailrooms will reject homemade cards – something children love to make for loved ones in prison. An inmate on my wing needed to mail a large drawing but couldn’t afford the 8″ x 15″ envelope from commissary. He made his own envelope. The mailroom rejected it, claiming that the envelope “couldn’t be properly inspected.” Someone donated an official envelope and helped transfer the stamps from the rejected envelope. Technically this was also a rule violation. Inmates aren’t allowed to give commissary items to one another. Its considered extortion. Don’t give a friend a stamp or an envelope — it leads to rape. Or so one would think.

Stationary – Families in Texas were once able to send their incarcerated loved ones writing pads, pens, pencils, and even stamps. No longer. Other states have followed suit and force inmates to purchase stationary at inflated prices.

Postage – Commissary sells various stamp denominations but nothing else that might be useful. For instance, USPS offers a flat rate box which is economical — compared to stamps — if one needs to send home books. Because mailrooms are notorious for banning books, inmates often have to pay return postage for a rejected book. Not only will the mailroom refuse to sell you a flat rate box but they will also inflate the number of stamps required to send bulky items. Because they can, prison scum.

Eff Ewe – Maine recently tried to ban all non-legal mail to any of its prison inmates. Only judicial notices and legal correspondence would have been allowed. If the people of Maine hadn’t stopped the proposal, I have no doubt that many other states would have done the same. They may even yet try.

There are some reasonable rules regarding mail delivery which aim to ensure prison security, say, don’t send explosives or metal files through the mail. Yet, when you look at many rules and more importantly, the way they are enforced, it’s obvious that safety is merely a lame excuse offered for efforts to drain hope from the incarcerated. On its face this seems odd, doesn’t it? Why would prison officials want to squash an inmate’s hope? Because they don’t know who they’re supposed to serve. If they were intent on serving society, they would turn out hopeful, educated individuals who are ready to lead positive, productive lives. Instead, they make decisions which tend to embitter and degrade their charges— the very thing which leads to recidivism— costing society dearly.

Of course, not everyone can be educated. Not everyone can be turned from their anti-social behavior. Certainly though, belligerence and hatred greatly lowers the odds that one will leave prison better than when they entered.

The prison mailroom should be a conduit for love and hope and it is in many cases. It could be more, and you can be a part of that more if you’re on the outside reading this.

You could adopt a inmate, for instance. If you’re so inclined, you could also help by raising awareness about spiteful prison mail policies. Share this. End hateful prison mailroom practices.

Rick Fisk, Dalhart Unit, TDCJ

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5 thoughts on “Hate Mail

  1. sherrie g swett on said:

    I was told by an N.C. inmate that the reason stickers, glitter etc. is not allowed because people smuggle illegal drugs in the prisons by melting them down and putting them on the sticky side of the stickers. That ruins it for all of the honest adoptees like myself trying to bring cheer to an inmate. Mail rooms are always loosing mail in N.C. and not delivering pictures to inmates. I continue to advocate for them and write my letters. I will share this post

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    • Yes, that is the official reason given – drugs in the adhesive. They could remove the stickers or keep the envelopes and let them have the letter or card but they just reject it as a whole. It would be interesting to know how often drugs are actually found.

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      • sherrie g swett on said:

        Correct. The mail is disposed of and the inmate gets written up and put in seg. for this. They take displinary action against the inmate. I feel this is so wrong, its not their fault that it was sent to them, They say that their is alot of drugs sent in that way in N.C. prisons.

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  2. beeshebags on said:

    I’m not sure if it’s all of OH state facilities, or just Grafton CI, but they don’t give the envelopes to the recipients any more, instead, each person has their own mail bag (not sure if it’s a proper mail bag deal or just zip lock bags with names on).

    I know contraband is sent in, in all manner of ways, but instead of stopping our mail, and kids drawings etc…but, how about checking out their own staff and how some of them will make some side money carrying illegal items into the facility BEFORE stopping outside mail.

    It’s infuriating for me, being all the way down in Australia, where it costs me $2.95 to send a letter…I like to draw on the envelopes (my way of gifting back, as over the years I’ve received so many awesome art on envelopes, and they always bring me joy to receive them) so if I send to one of the ‘strict’ facilities, they reject the letter….it gets returned to me, the inmate gets into trouble and I’m now out of pocket the original $2.95. So I repackage it in another envelope….send it in, and bang goes another $2.95….all up, this transaction has taken about 2 x 2 weeks for my mail to arrive there, and then another up to 4 weeks for the first letter to be returned to me….the recipient has possibly received a write up for the drawing and STILL hasn’t gotten a letter from me….so not only is it wrong because he gets into trouble for something outside of his control, but he thinks I’m not writing him back….grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    Years ago when I used to write, things were so chilled and relaxed, but as the drug use amongst Americans began to become serious, so the rules have changed. I personally would never jeopardize my mail by sending anything illegal, I may bend the rules on something like perfumed/scented letters….but only because I envisage the odours they normally contend with (feet and farts for instance!) and I know my perfume smells WAY better…and one has just recently told me a lengthy process to spray it on the letters so it will last alot longer….but isn’t so detectable visually on the letter….I normally just spray a heap onto a tissue and put it along with the envelope and/or letter into a ziplock bag! If a letter has ever been rejected for the perfume, I just don’t do it to that facility again…simple….my life is all about making things easier for the inmates, not harder.

    I would hate for any state to pass a bill to ban personal prison mail…isn’t it against the rules/guidelines for them to refuse all mail and if they refuse any it has to be for a particular reason, such as a physical threat, someone that isn’t to have contact with the inmate (sorry I hate labels, but sometimes I have to use something and am always unsure of the least offensive…some I know don’t mind one ‘label’ but hate others) or escape plans etc.

    Sorry for the long winded response.

    Hugs
    Naomi

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    • We feel your pain, Naomi! Of the hundreds of letters we receive each week, roughly 10% is rejected mail for various reasons. What’s particularly bothersome is it’s nearly impossible to know what the rules are until you violate them. You can check the website, call the facility’s mailroom and ask – but typically the only way you will see the printed list of violations is when it is included in a piece of rejected mail. We are collecting all the violations we know of and will be listing them by state on our website soon.

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