Write Letters

Writing letters to prisoners is a really good way of showing solidarity. We have collected some information about writing to prisoners:

Here you will find a text that the ABC Brighton wrote about writing letters.

Here you will find a prisoner list by the ABC Vienna. It’s partly in English.

Here you will find a prisoner list by the ABC Leipzig. It’s partly in English.

And finally there’s a text by the ABC Leipzig about writing letters:

Solidarity must become practical: Write to the prisoners!

Solidarity with prisoners is very important to us and there are different ways to express it. Writing letters to prisoners is a simple, direct and personal way that has a strong impact and is especially important for the prisoners.

We show the people inside that they are not forgotten, that we are thinking of them, or that their struggles continue outside. This gives the prisoners courage and hope to continue their struggles and shows them that others outside share their ideas.

On the other hand, we can break through the isolation that is an important function of the prison. Letters are often one of the few ways to contact “outside”.

Many are happy to receive news from “Outside”, nice words and stories about everyday events or activities. For prisoners, everyday life in prison means isolation, stagnation, lethargy and wasteland. A letter can be a very pleasant change.

What keeps many people from writing letters to prisoners are often uncertainties about whether people are disturbed, what they can write and whether it is depressing for prisoners to read about experiences outside.

Therefore, here are a few tips and suggestions on how you can best write letters.

First of all: every word from outside is a welcome change, every postcard gives hope and people are not disturbed. In our experience, it does not depress anyone to read about experiences, adventures, actions or the nice weather outside. On the contrary, most prisoners are very happy because it stimulates the imagination and the power of imagination and it does them good to leave the grey everyday life of the prison and to see something different than the cell and the prison walls, at least in spirit.

If you write to someone for the first time, who you do not know personally, it is best to introduce yourself briefly, write what your motivation is to write to this person, tell them about your everyday life, hobbies, political ideas and struggles. For your own safety do not become too explicit.

Ask the person what they need, what they want to write about or what you are interested in and write about your capacities and ideas how the contact should look like. Keep the first letter short and don’t ask the person questions.

Write about what you have done or experienced recently and use mainly pictorial, descriptive language. For example, describe a walk in the forest. Prison is grey and monotonous and descriptions of colors, landscapes, etc. stimulate the imagination. Also feel free to use colors in letters.

What you should pay attention to for security reasons:
Letters to prisoners are almost all read by prison staff, some are withheld or censored. If people are in custody, the letters are read by the prosecution and can also be used for the trial against the person. Therefore do not write anything that could incriminate the person or yourselves.
It is best not to write anything about the accusation itself.
It is best to write anonymously. You must always write a sender’s name on the envelope, otherwise they will not arrive. If you want an answer, write the sender in the letter itself. Just give a pseudonym and e.g. the address of an information store that is open regularly. There you can pick up the mail.
Number the pages of the letter (page 1/5) and write a date on the letter. This way you can make sure that nothing gets lost or at least that the person notices if something is missing and how long the letter takes to get through.
Also write in the letter what you are sending (e.g. “I will send you 3 stamps, an envelope and 2 photos…”).

What is also important:
Avoid criticism of the prisoners’ behavior and blame, this is very demotivating and not helpful.
Become clear about your capacities and don’t try to raise expectations you can’t safely keep (e.g. I’ll write you every 2 weeks…).
Letters to other countries have to be written mostly in the official language. In Russia, for example, letters arrive only if they are written in Russian.
Be sure to send stamps and envelopes. The prisoners have to pay for all this themselves and they are very expensive there.
The best way to find out what is allowed is to check the websites of the respective prisons or ask the prisoners themselves.

And now we hope you are motivated. Grab a pen, a piece of paper or a nice postcard and start writing!