Hate Mail – “No Stamps”

Written by Melissa Bee

June 21, 2018

See the post that launched this series here.

We receive returned mail almost daily, refused due to various mail violations. Postage is one of our biggest expenses, so because postcards stamps are cheaper than regular first class stamps, we have an assortment of postcards that we mail for various standard purposes. The first postcard we created and started mailing is an adoption notice, letting an inmate know that someone has selected them as an adoptee and will be writing to them. We’ve received some very touching letters in response to these notices, when a prisoner gets the news that he or she has a new friend.

With Florida being one of the states that does not allow prisoners to have a penpal, mail rejections from Florida are common – they often will not allow our inmate surveys into the prison.

We’ve become aware of a new violation in Michigan, when the following was returned in yesterday’s mail:

(Note – the prisoner’s name was redacted by us for this post, all other markings are from the prison mailroom.)

It is common for prison mailrooms to reject mail with stickers or tape on the envelope or letter, including address labels. (The explanation for this is that drugs can be smuggled in on the adhesive.) We purposely print all our postcards with the return address, and hand address each one for this very reason – which takes a considerable amount of time versus printing out labels.

I had to call the mailroom of the Ojibway Correctional Facility to find out what the problem was with this postcard, because the address label was affixed by their mailroom, not us. I’ve never understood why mailrooms use black markers to cover over what is written on the envelope or card – and it makes it challenging for us to know who it was sent to, since we send out so much mail.

First, they inked out out our (correct) hand-written address, then affixed their own address label with the same address over the top of that, stamped it RETURN TO SENDER (x2) with the notation “No Stamps,” and returned it. Wtf, Ojibwe?

And if it doesn’t seem at worst malicious, and at best obnoxious already, take a look at what is commonly done to the other side of our adoption notices when they are returned (note – the adopter name was redacted by us for this post):

Curious what they felt was necessary to black out there at the bottom?

The call to the mailroom enlighted me to the reason for the rejection. No postage stamps are allowed on postcards. Friends and loved ones are allowed to send letters with postage stamps affixed, because the prisoner is not given the envelope. Instead, the contents are removed, scanned for contraband, and put into a new envelope provided by the mailroom. I didn’t think to ask if the inmate is charged for the envelope (I looked it up later*). Because they “can’t” remove the stamp from postcards, they refuse the entire card and return to sender. I asked if they could cut the stamps off postcards. “No.” I checked their website regarding mail rules (short version, long version), and this rule specific to postage stamps on post cards was nowhere to be found.

Yep, you heard it here. Michigan DOC does not permit postcards with postage stamps affixed. If you want to send a postcard to an inmate in Michigan, you must purchase metered postcards from the post office.

Here are some other interesting bits from MI DOC’s mail policy:

*Here’s the bit about envelopes:

PBF = Prisoner Benefit Funds*

Also not permitted:

Meaning, no handmade cards from children.

The clerk I spoke with checked to see if the intended recipient of the adoption notice had received a rejection notice. He had not. It appears they are not adhering to their own stated policy.

If you have your own hate mail stories of rejected mail, share them here.

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  1. Xero Spector

    Weeks after sending a letter to an inmate in Pennsylvania the letter was returned to me, apparently because my return address label was an adhesive “sticker.” But isn’t the stamp also a “sticker”? Do I have to send all mail from the post office so they run it through a mail meter?

    • Melissa Schmitt

      Is this a Federal (BOP) prisoner housed in Pennsylvania, or a PA state prisoner? The Bureau of Prisons does not allow labels or stickers of any kind on the envelope. Some will allow stamps but it’s safer to use envelopes printed with prepaid postage. Pennsylvania state prisons do not allow incoming paper mail of any kind – all mail is processed through a relay service (Smart Communications in Florida), scanned in, and printed. The printed scans are then forwarded to the prisoner, and the originals destroyed.

  2. Stephanie Hasman-Knotter

    Im facing a similar issue with Pima County Jail in Arizona which no longer allows enveloped mail. Only metered 4×6 postcards which aren’t even given to the inmate, they are scanned and then delivered either through a tablet or printed and dispersed. What I don’t understand is, if the person recieving the mail never comes in contact with the actual piece of mail why is there this extra barrier for loved ones?

    • Melissa Schmitt

      It makes no sense. This is a trend and becoming the norm in many states. We recently started getting rejections from a federal prison for double-sided printing. The claim for these increasingly restrictive policies is, as always, security, to keep drugs from getting inside. Every bit of research I’ve seen shows it has not reduced contraband, and the drug problem has only gotten worse, despite mail scanning. Visitation and programming stopped for 2+ years and contraband actually increased in most institutions yet they continue to blame visitors and loved ones.


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