How does it work?
First, read the entire FAQ. When you are ready to move forward, complete and submit the adopter form. Using the information you provide (the more detail the better), we will respond with a short list of names and bios for you to look over. Once you have decided on someone to write, we will provide their contact information and everything you need to know to begin your correspondence. As an adopter, you will receive our quarterly e-newsletter with ideas and resources to support both you and your adoptee.
What is required of me?
All we ask is that you write. Please consider this a committment, and do not submit your adoption form until you are certain you are ready. A significant amount of time goes into creating a match, and we value the efforts of our volunteers, who are not compensated for their efforts.
Keep in mind that it can be very disappointing and unsettling for an inmate if correspondence is sparse or ends abruptly, as they have no way to know what the reason is. In many cases you will be their only means of contact with the outside world.
Although not required, you may choose to provide support in additional ways, such as:
- Sending books or magazines
- Talking on the phone
- Sending commissary money to offset the cost of correspondence (stamps, paper and envelopes), or so they can purchase items such as coffee, stationary supplies, and hygiene items (typically only soap, toothpaste, and a limited number of stamps are provided for indigent inmates). Prison food is notoriously meager and unpalatable. Soups, cheese, and peanut butter provide much-needed sustenance and protein that is lacking in their meals. The pandemic has exacerbated this, as many kitchen workers are in isolation or quarantine, resulting in meals similar to this dinner recently served to Washington state prisoners (grown men!): a few carrot sticks, a small cup of coleslaw, and a cookie.
- Scheduling a visit (some facilities have video visitation available)
Guidelines vary widely across states, counties, and federal institutions (and frequently change) with regard to mail, phone calls, commissary, and visits, and we are here to help you navigate those systems. You will find many organizations and resources here that support inmates with everything from resource guides, books and newsletters, to parole and re-entry. Contact us if you have questions.
What address do I use?
There are two reasons a return address must be on a letter to a prisoner. First, all institutions require a return address on incoming mail; and second, the prisoner needs to know where to send a reply. Some mailrooms deliver the contents of the envelope only, without the envelope – so be sure to include a return address in the body of your letter. Most of our adopters use their own address. If this is a concern for you, there are several options. You can use a church or work address, or a PO Box. You can also use a virtual mailbox (see below). Lastly, you can request to be connected to someone who can correspond via email – but understand that this will narrow your choice of adoptees as states and facilities with electronic messaging are limited.
Please let us know of any specific requests regarding your adoptee, such as access to email. This is information we need to know before our volunteers put together a list of potential adoptees for you to look over.
Adopt An Inmate is a Traveling Mailbox Affiliate; if you sign up using the below link, AI will receive a percentage of your monthly fee. Another easy way to help!
**Please do not use our mailing address as your return address. We receive hundreds of letters every week and don’t have the resources to forward mail to adoptees.
What do I write?
Your first letter is an introduction. Let them know that you volunteered through Adopt an Inmate so they know how you got their name. Start with the basics, and tell a little about yourself.
This is a good time to ask about mail rules, so you can be sure to avoid any violations that might cause a letter to be rejected. Until you know the rules, use only white paper and envelopes, and do not use stickers (including address labels) or colored ink. For more inspiration about what to write, look here and here. Here is an informative blog post written by an inmate, about Writing to a Prisoner.
Can I write to more than one person?
Absolutely! We have many adopters who write to two or more.
I wrote to my adoptee weeks ago but haven’t gotten a reply – why not?
There are a number of reasons a reply from an inmate could be delayed.
- Stamps and writing supplies tend to be scarce, especially for indigent inmates, and sharing property is a violation – it is actually against the rules for an inmate to give a stamp or envelope to another inmate. For that reason, many facilities require that inmates write their name and ID# on every single piece of their property, which is why you will often see their name written somewhere on each page.
- They may have been moved to a different facility. You can use the inmate locator to check, or contact us to help you if you don’t know how.
- The unit may be on lockdown.
- They may be temporarily mail-restricted.
What can I send to my adoptee?
Rules vary widely across facilities, so be sure to check the rules for your inmate’s state. In general you can only send letters (hand-written or printed), articles printed from the internet, cards, and photos. Some facilities have limits on the number of photos per envelope, or total photos in the inmate’s property. Any books or periodicals must be sent directly from the publisher or bookseller, or from a charitable organization, you will not be able to send those items directly.
Most facilities allow friends and family to order items or quarterly packages from approved vendors. When we send contact information for a selected adoptee, we will include rules for the state and facility in which they are housed.
What if things are not working out with my adoptee?
Sometimes relationships don’t work out. Do let us know so that we can put the inmate back on our waiting list. We will be happy to find another person for you to write.
I know an incarcerated person who needs to be adopted. How do I get him or her in your waiting list?
- Download the Inmate Survey here (pdf)
- Print It.
- Send it to your friend. For prisoners housed in Florida and California only, you can include a stamped envelope so they can send their completed survey to us:
PO Box 1543
Veneta, OR 97487