Writing to prisoners is a very important part of prisoner support. It is a way to show your solidarity, as well as vital to building strong movements in which we take care of each other.
When you’re writing for the first time, keep it short – you don’t want to overwhelm someone. You can maybe send a card first, with greetings and a bit about who you are, what you like, what you do. If it’s relevant, add that you’re from such and such a group. Some people reckon it’s better to be upfront about your politics as well, to give prisoners the choice to stay in contact with you or not. You can say where you heard about them from too. If you are writing to a framed prisoner, and you believe them to be innocent, it helps to say so, as it gives people confidence to know that you believe them. If the prisoner is in for a political charge you should obviously let them know you support their actions but don’t treat them as great martyrs to the cause, but like normal people!
Remember: prison guards will certainly open post before the prisoner does and theoretically at least will read everything that’s written, so don’t send anything that could get the prisoner or anyone else in trouble; if you wouldn’t say it directly to a cops’ face then you shouldn’t include it. Recently someone sent issues of Now or Never! with a feature piece on how to make a shiv, brew hooch and make your own tattoo gun to people in various prisons. This led to disciplinary measures being taken against the prisoners and was especially bad news as the prisoners are due to be considered for home detention curfew (HDC) release soon. Explicitly political literature should only be sent if the prisoner specifically requests it. No matter what their politics, they might not want it and it could cause problems for them.
If you think you can send in other stuff like stamps or postal orders that’s great, but only offer what support you feel able to give and avoid making promises you might not be able to keep. If it’s possible, find out something about the prisoner first to enable you to relate to them better; are they are an immigration detention prisoner? Are they fighting for prisoners’ rights whilst inside? Were they arrested on one of the recent anti-cuts demos?
There’s no rules for writing to prisoners, but here are some suggestions of things to say if you’re feeling stuck when writing for the first time or signing a card.
Helpful things to say:
Best wishes/ take care/ stay strong/ we support you!
How can we best support you – can we send anything in or publicise your campaign? (If you know of a prisoner who needs things sent in then get in touch with London ABC as we can sometimes help with costs).
At a recent letter writing event some cards were signed which were not sent. this is because they included several comments that London ABC thought were, broadly speaking, ‘unhelpful’, such as:
You rock (probably)
I’m going out tonight to get drunk and laid
You should try writing about prison
god prison must be boring and shit
there’s a dog here. i’m going to pat it now.
There are lots of reasons why it might not be a good idea to try and define someone else’s prison experience (eg “prison is the best education”, “you should…”). if you’re writing on your own for the first time try to keep it simple: ask how you can help, say that you support
them and where you heard about them and maybe something about yourself (eg if you are a student, squatter, working).