The following are intended to be general guidelines for writing and sending books to prisoners. It is always a good idea to check the specific facility’s website for information on mailing restrictions. When we know of a facility-specific restriction, we will do our best to add it below for future reference. Feel free to send any information that we should include here to us: opPenPal [at] tormail [dot] org.
What should I write about?
- Your day
- The weather
- General news items
- Funny stuff you found on the web
What else can I include with my letters?
- Pictures! (Many facilities don’t allow photo paper, so print these on regular computer paper.)
- Pictures of outside/landscapes. They look at jail walls all day – give them a breath of fresh air.
- Pictures from the news.
- Art (your own or otherwise).
- Pictures of cats. Everybody loves pictures of cats. (Other animals work, too, especially funny/cute/baby animals.)
- News articles. Inmates often have very limited access to outside news, so anything you send helps keep them connected with the outside world.
What should I never, ever write about?
- Never discuss their individual cases. This can hurt them legally, but it is also all they ever think about. Give them something new to discuss.
- Anything violent or sexual in nature.
- Many of the defendants on our list are being prosecuted for their perceived involvement with Anonymous and are not allowed any contact with Anons. By extension, please don’t send them photos of Guy Fawkes masks or other Anon symbols.
- Similarly, other defendants are being prosecuted for perceived political affiliations. We recommend not discussing their politics in letters.
What else should I know?
- All letters are read by law enforcement. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t gladly tell a cop.
- A full name and return address are required on the envelope.
- Prisoners generally do not get to see or keep the envelope. Make sure to include your name/nickname in the letter itself and an address they can write to if you would like a response.
- If you don’t get a response, keep writing. Sometimes mail doesn’t make it to them, or they don’t have money for stamps that week, or they just don’t feel up to writing back. Your letters are still important. If they write back, consider it a bonus.
- If you are sending news articles and other printouts, check facility restrictions. Some only allow 6 printed sheets per envelope.
- Most facilities will NOT allow you to include stamps or money in your letter. You will have to donate to commissary (see below).
- Stickers, glitter, glue, and other fun stuff is prohibited. Be creative in getting around these restrictions.
For detailed information on mailing restrictions at facilities across the US, visit the Prisonary wiki.
What can I send?
- Many facilities only accept paperback books and magazines.
- Some facilities require that books be shipped directly from a publisher or bookseller. Check that the bookseller you’re working with will ship to a prison!
- Do not send reading material that is overtly violent or sexual in nature.
- Since many of the OpPenPal prisoners are being held on political grounds, be careful about sending political books. For instance, if somebody is being held for alleged affiliation with anarchists, it is probably best to avoid sending books about anarchism.
- Other than that, anything interesting and engaging. Some prisoners want to read about social justice issues; some are looking for escapism. Some prefer series to keep them busy. If you’re not sure, write to them first and ask what they would like to read!
How do I send it?
- Package the book(s) in a bubble wrap padded envelope with BOOK written clearly on the outside.
- Different facilities allow different numbers of books per package, but most will only let a prisoner have 3-5 books in the cell at a time, so space shipments accordingly.
- DO NOT send books in cardboard envelopes. They cannot be scanned and will be returned unopened.
- Address the package to the prisoner of your choice from our mailing list.
- For cheapest shipping rates, take the package to your local post office and request that it be sent media mail.
- Donate directly to a support committee, and they will do the heavy lifting for you. Links: NATO 5, Weev, [more forthcoming as we collect them]
What is commissary?
Commissary is a discretionary fund used by prisoners to buy things the prison does not supply. This includes hygiene products; warm clothing for the winter; underwear and socks; pens, paper, envelopes and stamps; and food to supplement the awful meals they serve.
Donating to prisoners’ commissary funds assures that they will have a much more livable experience behind bars and gives them the tools they need to stay strong throughout their imprisonment.
How can I donate?
Commissary can usually be donated as a money order or moneygram. There is a high processing fee, so saving money to donate all at once is more beneficial than donating a little bit at a time. Most facilities limit commissary donations – each prisoner can receive $100/week.
If the prisoner you’re donating to has a group that is organizing support, you may wish to get in touch with them. They will likely be covering commissary out of a general support fund on a regular schedule.
Prisonary – wiki site that allows you to look up mailing restrictions for any prison or jail in the U.S.
FlikShop – quick, fun, cheap way to create custom postcards on your computer or phone that will be printed and mailed to inmates on your behalf.