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!
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:
- Survived & Punished considers direct communication with incarcerated survivors to be a critical part of building a movement to release survivors and decriminalize survival.
- We offer non-judgmental support from a survivor empowerment perspective.
- We encourage correspondence that offers encouragement, validation, and concrete support.
- We believe that incarcerated survivors are the experts on their own lives, those of us who have not survived incarceration are not the experts.
- We recognize that the violence and control used by prison staff against incarcerated survivors mirrors the abuse that many have experienced from abusive partners.
- We recognize abusive acts of prison staff as part of a system designed to oppress and control people in prison, especially people of color, immigrants, transgender people, poor people and people with disabilities.
- We are in solidarity with and support the rights of all incarcerated people. We do not support “divide and conquer” strategies that frame domestic violence survivors as “good” prisoners in comparison with “bad” prisoners who “deserve” to be incarcerated, and thus subject to state violence/abuse.
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 California prison rules for mail sent to incarcerated people — see Visiting a Friend or Loved One in Prison pp. 20-21.
Art by Bria Royal