Because you could make a difference in someone’s life.
Numerous studies have shown that a single pen pal can make a significant impact on an inmate’s daily life, rehabilitation process, legal battle, sense of determination, and feeling of hope. Others have shown that inmates with one or multiple contacts in the outside world are less likely to reoffend and will have better chances of reintegrating society and finding employment. In fact, both of us, Sigrid and Élodie, co-founders of Wire of Hope’s Prison Pen Pal Program, have been writing to prisoners for years and have experienced the change in our prison pen pals’ lives, as well as in our own.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that at least 95% of American State inmates will eventually be released from prison.
Most inmates, especially those with long sentences, will at some point experience loneliness, despair and a social and emotional struggle that will be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to overcome after their release. In the United States, prison administrations rarely work towards correction and rehabilitation, and mostly focus on punishment. This treatment strips inmates of their self-esteem, but also of their sense of belonging and being appreciated, which most of them already lacked, especially as kids. Obviously, Wire of Hope does not condone criminal activity of any sort, but we believe in rehabilitation, we believe in second chances, and we believe people are more than the worst action of their life.
During our fight for prison reform, we were asked on multiple occasions why we decided to focus on criminals, instead of victims. It would be easy to lock them all up and throw away the key, but in times like these, where the United States houses almost 25% of the world’s total number of inmates while having less than 5% of the world’s population, it is necessary to take a new look at the situation and rethink our ways of dealing with this issue. For this reason, we chose to focus not on ways to punish, but on ways to ensure that these people will not reoffend once released. The prison-industrial complex is built to isolate and dehumanize people, reducing dramatically their chances to reenter society after their release. Engaging in a prison correspondence is a way to take a stand for prison reform, as people create a support and solidarity system that will reduce recidivism. With less recidivism, there will be less victims.
Why would anyone care for these people, that most see as nothing but a lost cause?
As simple members of society, without political agendas or attention from the public, it may seem that our ways to make a difference in the prison system are quite limited. However, writing to an inmate and building a connection with a prison penpal, even as little as once a month or every other month, can lead to tremendous benefits. Not only does corresponding with someone in the outside world provide inmates with a distraction from the monotony and emptiness of prison life, but it also brings them a feeling of acceptance they have been missing, sometimes for years. This opportunity to drop the mask and express themselves can lead to solid friendships and help inmates feel less stigmatized. Conversing with people on the outside, with similar or very different experiences in life, will help them either to feel understood and accepted, or to open their minds to new ways of life and fields of opportunities. If you’d like to know what inmate penpals have to say about their prison pen pal experience, you can directly go read the testimonials they kindly shared with us.
Ultimately, a prison correspondence can lead to unsuspected positive changes in all pen pals’ lives, on both sides of the fence.