How this works
If you fill out the Mail a Prisoner form, your letter will be forwarded along to the appropriate Black Bridge node, who will mail it into the prison. Most nodes do not have the resources to maintain back-and-forth communication — if you want a prisoner to write you back, include a valid return address. Note that if you do not include a valid return address, please indicate as much in your letter, by saying “I’m not easily able to receive mail at the moment” or something similar.
This process is not automated: a volunteer will have to print and mail the letter. This process is not secure: letters sent into prison are routinely monitored by guards. Do not discuss anything sensitive by letter. Black Bridge might refuse to mail your letter if it seems to be disrespectful or seems liable to incriminate anyone.
Some nodes are willing to go above and beyond, by doing work such as translating your letter into a language the prisoner can read or by facilitating return correspondence. This will be indicated.
What to write
(adapted from NYC Anarchist Black Cross) For many, the first line of the first letter is difficult to write – there is uncertainty and intimidation that come with it. Never fret, it’s just a letter.
For the first letter, it’s best to offer an introduction, how you heard about the prisoner, a little about yourself. Tell stories, write about anything you are passionate about – movement work and community work are great topics until you have a sense of the prisoner’s interests outside of political organizing.
And what we hear from prisoners time and time again is to include detail. Prison is so total that the details of life on the outside become distant memories. Smells, textures, sounds of the street all get grayed out behind bars. That’s not to say that you should pen a stream-of-consciousness novel.
Be careful about making promises and only commit to what you are certain you can do. This should go without saying, but it’s not a good idea to make commitments to someone you don’t have a relationship with. If you can’t maintain a correspondence, let them know up front. Conversely, if you want to maintain an ongoing correspondence, let them know that as well.
If you are writing to someone who is pre-trial, don’t ask questions about their case. Discussing what a prisoner is alleged to have done can easily come back to haunt them during their trial or negotiations leading up to it.
Don’t valorize the person you are writing. Keep in mind that these are folks coming from the same movements and communities that you are. They aren’t looking for adoration, but rather to maintain correspondence.
Finally, do not write anything you wouldn’t want Fox News, a cop, or a judge to see. Assume that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are reading your letter. On a related note, this advice goes for any snail mail, e-mail, texting, messaging, or talking that takes place in known activist spaces or homes. This is not legal advice, just basic movement survival common sense.