What does it mean to ‘adopt’ an inmate?

The particulars are left to the adopter(s) and adoptee, and there are a number of ways to provide support, but most inmates are merely looking for friendship, which generally begins by exchanging letters.

Receiving mail from the outside world has a profound impact on an inmate’s daily life. It affords a certain status, and lets other inmates and staff know that there is someone on the outside that cares for them – which makes them less vulnerable to violence and abuse.

How does it work?

Complete and submit this form. Using the information you provide (the more detail the better), we will respond with a short list of names 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. This doesn’t have to be an intense time commitment; letters can be as long or as short as you want them to be. There are many facilities that have prison email services, so you may have the option of either electronic or hand-written communication. Please keep in mind that it can be very disappointing 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 buy some items from commissary, such as coffee, stationary supplies, and hygiene items (typically only soap, toothpaste, and a limited number of stamps are provided for indigent inmates, no shampoo, no lotion, no deodorant, etc.)

Scheduling a visit (some facilities have video visitation available)

Guidelines vary widely from facility to facility with regard to mail, phone calls, 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. Do call or email if you have questions not addressed on our website.

What address do I use?

Most of our adopters use their own address, but some use their church or work address, or a PO Box, it is your choice. If using any address is a concern for you, do let us know so that we can match you with someone who can correspond via email. You may also choose to write someone serving a life sentence.

Also, be aware there are many (fee-based) services available for establishing a virtual mailbox. 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. What a great additional way to help!

*Traveling Mailbox

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 your 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. 1) 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. 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. 2) 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. 3) The unit may be on lockdown. 4) 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 magazines must be sent directly from the publisher or bookseller, or from a charitable organization. In other words, you can order a magazine subscription or a book and have it sent to your adoptee, but you will not be able to send those items directly to the inmate.

Most facilities allow friends and family to order items or quarterly packages from approved vendors that will be delivered to the inmate. When we send contact information for an inmate, 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 inmate for you to write.