Corresponding with friends and family is a lifeline vital to the survival of those on the inside.  “Mail Call” can be one of the greatest parts of a prisoner’s day, as long as they are lucky enough to receive mail.  For many, mail is the only thing they have to look forward to.

If you are reading this, then the chances are you have said yes to be a prison pen pal.  On behalf of the prisoners, Thank You!

Every prison has its own rules, and they are regularly changed.  The following guidelines are for general information, but it is always best to verify specific policies that may apply based on location.

The Icebreaker

The biggest hurdle to begin a pen-pal relationship is getting started. It is much simpler than one might expect. Begin by introducing yourself. Share only what you are comfortable with. Maybe give a brief bio that includes my hobbies, pets, likes and dislikes. It is also helpful to explain how you came to hear about your pen-pal. Then, you wait…… The prison mail system can be sluggish. Sometimes it can take several weeks to get a response. But before you send that letter, keep the following in mind:

The Basics
  •  No stamps (other than postage stamp on envelope), stickers, tape, glue, glitter, staples, paper clips, fragrances, crayon, ribbon etc. on the envelope or letter. Please use white envelopes only.
  •  All ingoing and outgoing mail is subject to inspection. Never include anything you wouldn't want prison staff to read.
  •  Please realize that even if you do everything “correct” mail can be returned. Always include the prisoner’s full first name, prison ID#, institution name, and address on the envelope. 
  •  NEW RULE****No greeting cards. Plain lined or white paper only. You may photocopy a greeting card and send the copy. Check specific prison locations for individual policies. 

Joe Green #123456

Hard Knocks Correctional Institution
PO BOX 666
Behindtherazorwire, NY 96666

Sending Photographs

Prisoners love to get pictures.  They love to see nature, pets, vacation photos, etc.  Pictures help them view the world outside their cement walls and metal bars.  Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

  •  Photos should be no larger than 4" x 6" 
  •  Photos should never contain nudity or sexually suggestive material
  •  Hand gestures and tattoos may be rejected due to fears of gang implication
  •  Only 5 photos may be sent in an envelope with a single stamp and oftentimes a facility will only allow 3-5 photos
  •  Remember staff and other inmates will be inspecting all items
Sending Books, Magazines, Newspapers
Prisoners are not allowed to receive gifts directly from friends and family, but they may receive publications that come directly from the manufacturer. Simply put, they can be ordered from
  •  Send no more than 3 books at a time
  •  All books must be new and soft cover (no used, hardcover or spiral bound)
  •  Always ship USPS
  •  Use the prisoner's name and ID number with the facility mailing address
Magazines and newspapers can be ordered the same way as books. Please remember, the institution will accept magazines like Maxim, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated or Home and Garden. They will however reject magazines like Penthouse or Hustler.