Guide to writing letters to incarcerated survivors

 

Currently & formerly incarcerated survivors have stated again and again how important letters of support are to their well-being. Letters are also important strategies to build relationships and organizing coalitions across prison walls. Here’s a basic guide for how to send letters to incarcerated people. ​This document is adapted from a prisoner letter-writing guide created by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Thank you CCWP!

Now Available: Letter Writing Action Toolkit

S&P’s Letter Writing Action Toolkit includes tips for best practices for writing to incarcerated survivors, tips for organizing letter-writing gatherings, and dozens of addresses of incarcerated survivors who welcome your support.

Goals of letter-writing to incarcerated survivors:

  • Strengthen our connection to criminalized survivors and collectively resist their disappearance;
  • Strengthen and guide the anti-violence movement by gathering and sharing information on how survival is criminalized;
  • Respect and promote the leadership of incarcerated survivors by responding to requests for information and by asking for their input in all matters of their survival and release;
  • Connect incarcerated survivors with information, resources and support;
  • Monitor and resist abusive prison conditions;
  • Inform us of upcoming release possibilities for incarcerated survivors, including parole hearings and commutation processes, so that we can advocate with survivors for their release;
  • Resist the isolation that incarceration of all forms creates, paying particular attention to how incarcerated women and transgender people disproportionately suffer the loss of outside support systems;
  • Express our solidarity with incarcerated survivors.

Values that guide our communication with incarcerated survivors:

  • Strengthen our connection to criminalized survivors and collectively resist their disappearance;
  • Strengthen and guide the anti-violence movement by gathering and sharing information on how survival is criminalized;
  • Respect and promote the leadership of incarcerated survivors by responding to requests for information and by asking for their input in all matters of their survival and release;
  • Connect incarcerated survivors with information, resources and support;
  • Monitor and resist abusive prison conditions;
  • Inform us of upcoming release possibilities for incarcerated survivors, including parole hearings and commutation processes, so that we can advocate with survivors for their release;
  • Resist the isolation that incarceration of all forms creates, paying particular attention to how incarcerated women and transgender people disproportionately suffer the loss of outside support systems;
  • Express our solidarity with incarcerated survivors.

Other things to consider when writing incarcerated survivors:

  • Please be aware of the scarcity of resources for incarcerated survivors and the power differential that creates — do not make commitments or promises that you cannot keep.
  • Please keep in mind the mixed literacy levels among incarcerated people and try to respond appropriately — ask questions to help assess what the survivor needs and what is the most accessible way for them to receive support.
  • Remember that letters will be opened by prison staff — ask survivors to let you know what they are comfortable sharing and discussing by mail.
  • Please be aware of prison rules for mail sent to incarcerated people. For example, California Dept of Corrections mailing procedures can be found here.

Art by Bria Royal