In signing up to be a part of Georgia Freedom Letters, you are making a commitment to write with someone in prison, and it can be very harmful to those inside to cut off communication after committing to writing. Please do not make any promises you can’t keep. If you are going out of town, or something is preventing you from writing with as much frequency, let your pen pal know.
Based on Black and Pink’s guide and the Humanities Behind Bars guidelines:
- Respond within two weeks of receiving a letter.
- Do not look up your pen pal online. Respect their privacy, and allow them to share with you their charges or any other personal information if they choose to do so.
- Respect boundaries and privacy in the same way you would in any relationship; do not ask inappropriately probing questions about someone’s experience.
- Do not share information that your pen pal shares with you without their consent, especially on social media. It is okay to process difficult information that is shared with you with a trusted friend, but incarcerated people’s stories shouldn’t be used for clout or self-promotion––most importantly, this could put your pen pal at extreme risk if information is shared without consent.
- Do not make racist, sexist, classist assumptions or assertions about your pen pal, prisons, or the people in them.
- Georgia Freedom Letters is a project to build solidarity across prison walls, not a romantic program. Avoid explicit or sexual images. If someone expresses romantic interest, it’s helpful to name your boundaries in a clear, affirmative, and nonjudgmental way. Here’s one example: “I just want to clarify that while I’m grateful to be in communication with you, I’m not looking for any romantic relationship and am only interested in writing to you as a friend. I completely understand if you’re looking for a romantic relationship, and don’t want you to feel any pressure to continue corresponding with me just as friends––but I just want to be clear that from my end, I’m not looking for anything romantic.”
- Keep in mind that your mail can be read by prison officials. For your own protection, be thoughtful about sharing information that could put you at risk, such as immigration status, history of incarceration, or any other sensitive information.
- Prisons can often significantly delay letters. If you go 4-6 weeks without hearing back from your pen pal, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will let you know if they’ve been transferred to a different prison.
- If your pen pal knows anyone else who would like to be written to, you can either 1. Ask them for their name and GDC number, and share that information with us, or 2. Give them our address, so that they can write to us: Georgia Freedom Letters, PO Box 5290, Atlanta, GA, 31107.
- If you receive a request that you are unable to meet, it is okay to be honest and direct –– e.g. “Unfortunately, I’m not able to provide financial/legal support.” Most importantly, do not promise to offer support that you are unable to follow through on. While GFL does not currently have an infrastructure to offer legal or financial support, we are hoping to build out a support network through this project. You can also forward any questions to us at email@example.com.
Should I Use My Name and Home Address?
We know that corresponding with anyone you do not know, incarcerated or not, can carry risk. We encourage you to use whichever of the following options makes you most comfortable:
- Using a Pen Name or different last name
- Using a P.O. Box or a work address
- Corresponding with your pen pal only through JPay
- Using your full name
If for any reason you can no longer engage with your correspondent, let us know as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sending Your First Letter
- In your first letter, start by introducing yourself and why you’re writing to your pen pal. Please make sure to include a print-out of the GFL participant guidelines (English version; Spanish version) so that everyone has the same information!
- When writing your first letter, it’s helpful to ask your penpal what type of correspondence they’re interested in (for example, someone to talk about prison with, a friendly correspondence, an exchange of political ideas, etc.)
- To send your first letter, you have two options: send a hand-written letter through the mail, or use the Ameelio service, which sends your letter free of charge. Once you have established contact, you also have the option of using J-Pay if your correspondent is able to do so.
- Write on 8.5 x 11 white paper (types of paper vary depending on the facility but white paper is the standard).
- Write the return address on both the envelope and in your letter (some facilities make photocopies of your letter and throw the envelope and original copy away). The return address must include a full name, or it will be returned to you.
- Plan to use one stamp for every 3-4 pages of letters.
- Use traditional letter envelopes (#10 envelopes are ideal).
- Always date your letters.
- You may want to make a copy of your letter in case it is intercepted arbitrarily and not returned (not an uncommon occurrence).
- Be sure that both the address and the return address are clear and legible.
- Make sure to include your correspondent’s GDC number with their name.
- Address your envelope exactly as shown here:
- Ameelio is an online service that sends your letter free of charge. You can make an account, and Ameelio will print and send your letter for you.
- Once you’ve made contact with your pen pal, you can continue to send letters, or you can ask whether they are able and want to use J-Pay.
- If you decide to use J-Pay, once you have made an account (you can choose to download the app or use it on a browser) then look up your pen pal using J-Pay’s locator tool.
- Write an email to your pen pal.
- You must purchase an “e-stamp” to send an email, and you have the option to use two “e-stamps” and pay for your pen pal’s reply in advance. Each “e-stamp” costs $0.35.
- You have the option to attach photos or a 30-second “VideoGram” to your e-mail.
- Emails typically reach the recipient within 48 hours.
- Concerns to be aware of:
- Tablets must be purchased, otherwise people have to use kiosk machines to check and send emails through JPay. These machines are often broken. If the pen pal is not expecting an email and does not have a tablet or regularly check the kiosk, they will not know they have received an email through JPay.
- Must have a credit or debit card to purchase “e-stamps.”