Staying Connected to Your Inmate

Whether it is your spouse, family member or friend in prison, staying connected is important. Letters are great, phone calls are too, but you may be running out of things to say. Here are several ideas to stay connected with your inmate while having some fun in the process.

Book discussions: You two can read the same book and then discuss it. Decide ahead of time whether you will discuss each chapter or wait and discuss the entire book. Another entertaining approach is for one of you to read the first chapter and tell the other about it. Then, the second person reads the next chapter and relays it back. Book discussions can be done through the mail or on the phone. Let your inmate choose the book the two of you will read together as he or she has more limited choices unless the prison allows you to send one in from the publisher.

Write a story: Start off with a simple paragraph and have your inmate decide where the story goes for the next three pages. He or she mails it back to you and you have to build on it with three pages of your own. The game continues until you have 30 pages and then you each write a three-page story conclusion and let the family vote on who wrote the best ending for the story.

Photo Journal: Have your inmate send you a list of things he or she would love to have photos of. Keep it clean; remember, the guards are watching! Go out and snap photos, get them printed, and send them in. Keep identical copies for yourself. Ask your inmate to choose one each week and on the phone tell you why he or she wanted that photo. What meaning does it have? Then share how you got it, what the weather was like, who the people were who were involved, how you made the photo come alive in a particular way. Photographs of nature can be especially helpful to an inmate, as their environment will be totally lacking that beauty.

Throw a Surprise Party: Gather friends and relatives together for an appointed phone call time. Make cake and finger foods. Decorate the house and take lots of photos of the party. When your inmate calls, have each relative or friend get on the phone for a minute and name a quality about the inmate that person enjoys or admires. After the call, have each person write on a note card what was said, and have them sign it. Then send the photos and note cards in a few at a time until your inmate has seen the entire party in his or her honor. The positive feelings from this experience can be very lasting.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.