I would like to take a bit and tell you about something that a large number of prisoners do, and have done for a very long time, each for their own reasons. It’s something that has helped me in more ways than I can express, yet it is something so simple and pure, it’s pen paling.
I first learned about pen paling when I served my 29-month sentence in prison work camp. Mail call quickly became the highlight of my day, hoping that I would receive a letter from someone I was writing to. I’ve written to people from all over the world, and I’ve created some very special lifelong friendships with some amazing women who have stuck by my side for the past 15 to 20+ years. It’s those dear friends who have always made sure I have not been forgotten in here, and who have reminded me that I am still a human being, even though I live in such an inhumane place. One of my biggest fears has been to be forgotten in here and lose my reason to exist. I’ve seen so many people in prison over the years who have nobody out there in the free world and it’s caused their existence to be limited to the inside of the prison walls and fences. I may be in prison for a very long time, but this is not where I will stay! I have had one constant goal set since the very beginning of my sentence, and that is to reach my release date and enter the free world once again. The many different people I’ve met over the years of pen-paling have helped to always keep my goal focused and clear in my mind as they are a constant reminder of a world I’m striving to get back to.
Over the years the networking system for inmates to meet pen pals has changed in many ways. It’s gone from word of mouth, to posting ads in magazines and newspapers, to FB’s (Friendship Books), friendship sheets and things like that — to placing ads online. Now that the internet is such a daily part of everyone’s lives out there, many companies have created online pen pal sites where inmates can post profiles in the hopes of meeting someone to write to. Technology has also changed the way we are able to correspond with our pen pals. It used to be old fashion snail mail (pen, pencil, writing paper, envelopes and stamps). But now the prison systems have allowed a handful of companies, such as “Jpay.com,” to set up kiosks throughout the living units which enable us to correspond through a secure form of e-mail. We are also now able to purchase touch screen 7″ tablets that allow us to write our messages then upload and send them. We can also download any messages, photos, or 30-second videograms to our tablets so we can view them anytime we want to.
Even though technology has changed the way we are able to pen pal, the purpose for pen paling will always be the same. Instead of waiting in line for mail call now, I log on to Jpay to see if I have any new messages waiting for me and it always brightens my day when I see that one of my friends has written to me, or sent me photos, or a 30-second video to watch. Even to this day, when I read something I’ve received from someone I write to, I completely forget about where I’m at as I’m caught up in the words they’ve sent to me. It’s those small moments of not having to think about this place that help so much.
*** This was written before covid hit, since covid hit I have lost contact with everyone I had been writing to 😔
Written by: Terry Chandler WA DOC #941311