I’m consolidating several tumblr drafts with links to resources for writing to prisoners and programs that send books to prisoners. In the case of navigating around a single website, I didn’t put each individual link but showed the steps in menu selection. [These drafts were compiled in late autumn/winter of 2019, so I don’t have links about releasing prisoners or Covid-19 specific prisoner support.]
Political Prisoners Birthday Crew (linked in above) >> Resources >> Other Groups. Second section ‘Other Prison Books Groups’ >> Prison Book Program’s list of similar programs >> I specifically found a program that services the state I live in [Ohio]: Athens Books to Prisoners. Based on following their FB page for updates, it also looks like they do some letter writing events, but the main goal is books.
This certainly isn’t the limit. Some programs are national (Books to Prisoners), some are regional (Appalachian Prison Book Project), others serve several states (Books Through Bars), and some focus on a particular topic like LGBTQ+ material (LGBT Books to Prisoners) or serve a particular prisoner population (SWOP Behind Bars). The Prison Book Program’s list has a few international entries, specifically for Canada and Britain, but I must admit that I didn’t keep track of much internationally aimed resources being referenced or shared.
I definitely don’t have every possible resource for this because it can depend on why you’re writing and who you want to focus on. (A whole bunch of links being referenced and going across my dash had to do with anarchists and political prisoners, so those links are being shared first.) The Certain Days Collective maintains a Calendar of political prisoners’ birthdays (and other important dates) and puts out a monthly version with prisoner updates to the Prison Break column on It’s Going Down, which also has had anonymously contributed political prisoner birthday posts like Rebel Prisoner Birthdays For January 2020, which links to Bloc Party: Everything You Need To Know About Writing To Prisoners. And here’s the last version I’ve seen of a tumblr reblog chain with international prisoner support options (not solely limited to Anarchist Black Cross chapters).
Even if you’re not an anarchist or adjacent to activist groups that include people who have been arrested during the group’s activities, some of the letter writing advice can be applicable to anyone. Granted, not everyone’s really interested in focusing on political prisoners or only sending out a letter for someone’s birthday, so, some groups I’ve seen referenced for LGBTQ+ letter writing (because I get a lot of queer content on my dash): Black and Pink (US based), the Bent Bars Project (Britain), and the Prisoner Correspondence Project (Canada based, but it sounds like they match US prisoners to pen pals as well). There are definitely other FAQs, but I personally find the Prisoner Correspondence Project’s FAQ the most helpful when it comes to getting started Qs, logistics, thinking over future scenarios, and some self-evaluation around expectations. Currently, SWOP Behind Bar’s Mentor By Mail Tips and Tricks sheet has the most about JPAY (electronic mail) that I’ve come across.
This isn’t the first time that Fenrir’s given a nudge in this direction, but honestly, as of writing this post, I haven’t started writing to anyone. I haven’t done very well with maintaining communication with online friends in the past, and I just didn’t feel I was ready to commit to prison correspondence. I also got a little bogged down in having too many options and decisions, which is why I’m not trying to present every possible program or project in this post. I do have a few notes saved from a tumblr draft that I want to tack on at the end:
~ Black and Pink: Even if you don’t live where there’s an official chapter, it’s not uncommon to find informal letter writing groups (ex. some university LGBTQ Centers). They also have the option to select from prisoners in solitary confinement.
~ Kite Line: It’s a weekly approximately half hour show that covers prison related news and a certain topic or theme for each week. I’m currently working through the archives and came upon the episode for April 7th, 2017: How to Write to Prisoners. (WFHB is based out of Indiana, so some people can tune into the applicable stations and hear the show on air. I’m in the online podcast crowd.)
~ Rebel Steps: “An independent podcast that launched in June 2018. This podcast is for anyone who wants to take political action and doesn’t know exactly where to get started. It guides listeners through actions that go beyond protesting and calling your representatives.” Season 1 Episode 3: Write A Letter (Solidarity) covers writing to prisoners. (Link includes show notes and a transcript. The podcast can also be listened to on the site, Stitcher, Spotify, and other places.)
~ Solitary Watch: “A nonprofit national watchdog group that investigates, documents, and disseminates information on the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails.” Projects to bring human connection to prisoners in solitary: Lifelines to Solitary (pen pal program) and Photo Requests From Solitary. Lifelines to Solitary can be signed up for as a group (essentially starting a chapter) or as an individual (a PO box will be provided and your mail will be forwarded to your own address).