Pen Pals and Rehabilitation: Can this Classic Form of Communication Help Keep Hope Alive for Prisoners?

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 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 those who face longer sentences, the support and communication of a pen pal helps them maintain hope and 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 his two pen pals who he had never met before kept writing.

 

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, 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

 

And 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.

 

Unfortunately Florida is one of only 3 states that prohibit prisoners from listing themselves on websites looking for pen pals. 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.


 
Adam Rossen
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South Florida Criminal & DUI Defense Attorney
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