Pen Pals and Rehabilitation: Can this Classic Form of Communication Help Keep Hope Alive for Prisoners? Criminal Attorney shares
Having a pen pal has always been a way to connect and learn from one another. For people in prison, a pen pal has been shown to help them keep up hope.
A pen pal is someone you correspond with via letters, usually someone who lives far enough away that the chance of meeting is unlikely. Throughout the 20th century it was common for people to have pen pals.
Back when I (Adam Rossen) was in elementary school (before the days of email and texting) we were encouraged to have pen pals to learn about foreign cultures, establish friendships with people we’ve never met, and to encourage military members abroad. They were a form of connection and learning.
It may seem an odd concept in this day and age, but what if it were the only connection you had with the outside world?
Unfortunately for many prisoners this is the case.
And according to people who face longer state prison sentences, the support and communication of a pen pal helped them maintain hope and gave a reason to try to not become institutionalized.
Take the case of Anthony Williams for example.
At just 15 years old, Anthony was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to an adult prison in Missouri.
According to Anthony, after two years in the system the support of family and friends began waning. But the two pen pals who he had never met before kept writing to him.
Anthony spent 20 years in prison, and credits his multiple pen pals with giving him hope, keeping him sane, and most importantly giving him something to look forward to — their letters.
In addition to providing a social outlet, his pen pals even expanded his horizons, introducing Anthony to philosophy, Greek mythology, and the book Dante’s Inferno.
Upon his release from prison, Anthony started a prisoner advocacy group and made sure he dedicated part of the mission to helping inmates find pen pals.
“I know first hand the rehabilitative affect pen pal writing has on
prisoners. Just as it is not advisable to cage away your animal for
long periods of time without socialization or love, so it is for human
beings, and the sooner we learn this the better off we will be.”-- Anthony Williams
Pen pals nowadays aren’t just for prisoners. There are organizations like Pen Pals For Seniors that are dedicated to finding pen pals for senior citizens who aren’t internet savvy for the exact same reasons—to help combat loneliness and isolation.
Florida, however, is one of only 3 states that prohibit prisoners from listing themselves on websites looking for penpals.
Considering it’s one of the top 10 states in the country with the greatest number of people in prison, perhaps Florida should consider rethinking its position on something that could help rehabilitate prisoners—especially before they reenter society.