Metro. Prison Correspondence

So over six month since I put my pen down to finish my university project I’d been contacted by the Metro to comment on a piece as an ‘expert’ on prison pen pals.

I can’t say I necessarily agree that I am an expert but I certainly offered my opinion on the piece and here’s the article on a couple who met through their letters to one another.

It’s crazy to think I started this project over a year ago but I think the topic is something that is going to intrigue people for years and years.

Metro. Prison Pen Pals

[ Notorious serial killer Charles Manson, currently serving a life sentence in California’s Corcoran State Prison for nine murders committed by his cult in 1969, recently announced he will marry 25-year-old Star, who started writing letters to him when she was just 19.

With a penchant for murder and a fairly high wall between him and the rest of the world, the 79-year-old is not obvious husband material.

However, prison sentences and chequered pasts don’t deter the men and women who devote hours writing to inmates, obtaining their details through websites such as Exclusive Prisoner, Meet An Inmate and Prison Pen Pals. The prisoners don’t have to reveal their conviction, just their age, interests and how long they have to serve.

Kimberly (not her real name) lives with her prison pen pal, who she started writing to five years ago. He was incarcerated for a suspended sentence for violating his probation after breaking and entering.

‘I chose three inmates at random, wrote to each and waited. I mostly wrote about my hobbies and asked them about theirs,’ says the 40-year-old radiographer. Her first ‘date’ with her partner was in prison. ‘I flew 2,000 miles to meet a stranger I’d been writing to for seven months and we played cards in the visiting room.’

Her reason for writing? ‘My children were living their own lives, I was lonely and I’ve always had a soft spot for those who need help – dogs, wayward teens or inmates.’

Last year, broadcast journalist Charlotte Gay received a letter from a prisoner in Manchester who saw her on television. She felt too uncomfortable to reply, instead choosing to investigate the curious relationship between prisoners and their pen pals.

‘These men have more time to write back with great detail and they show an interest in these women’s lives – perhaps more attention than they receive in the outside world,’ she says.

There is also the celebrity factor. While Manson’s lucky lady told Rolling Stone magazine she was fascinated with Manson’s environmental writing, cynics would say his status as one of America’s favourite sadists probably featured heavily in her motivation.

Exclusive Prisoner, started by Kimberly to provide her partner with a job when he was released, says mail sent to high-profile prisoners sends understaffed prison mailrooms into paroxysms – so much so, she has been forced to delete some inmates’ profiles.

Prison psychotherapist Lee Partis, featured on Gay’s blog My Prison Pen Pal, says the catalyst will vary: ‘There could be a slightly unsavoury side to it. The attraction may be some sort of altruism or an interest in the darker side of human nature; or just that they think some criminals are interesting.’

Other theories include hybristophilia (sexual excitement from being with a violent person) and low self-esteem (if your beloved is behind bars, they won’t run off with anyone else) but the advocates say pen pals stop inmates feeling isolated and that forging relationships after release can deter reoffending.

Given Manson won’t be released until he is at least 92, that’s not much use to Star but, for others, this can only be a good thing. ]

Radio and television interviews about the project

Since fully publishing the project online at BUzz, our course journalism site, it has caught people’s attentions.

Nerve Radio hosts a news hour once a week holding debates and discussions on current affairs and I last week they asked me on to talk about the project.

Later in the week I was then asked by Jump TV to talk about the project on one of their Newslab episodes.

The interview begins 9 minutes into the episode.

Prison pen pal investigation

As I mentioned before this prison pen pal blog ran along my final major project of my degree.

The project is produced in the style of BBC Newsbeat but due to copyright law all the work was created for our journalism course site called BUzz.

BUzz Journalism and news

This is the main radio feature made for broadcast.

 

No Reply.

No Reply

As the project draws to a close, I am yet to have a reply from the two women I wrote to in the hope of writing to somebody behind bars.

I’m not going to lie it is disappointing not to have a reply, I was hoping to be doing a few blog posts about the letters I was sending back and forth.

However when I consider the fact that I only sent two letters there are probably several reasons for a lack of response.

Here are my speculations:

  • They may not have wanted to write to somebody in the UK. The pair of women were based in California, perhaps they wanted to write close to home.
  • Maybe they already have a few pen friends on the go.
  • They might have wanted a man to write to them, perhaps romantically. When choosing who to write to I did check what each woman was looking for but maybe this was to appear more open to all correspondence.

It could be any of these ideas and more.

As I am coming to the end of my degree, the dissertation and job hunt have to take priority so prison pen pal writing will take a back seat.

This said I would like to try and contact someone to write to in the future.

I’ll post up here when I take pen to paper once again.

In the meantime here’s a snazzy photo of all the months of hard work rolled into two folders.

Prison pen pal project hand in

 

Project update.

Back in November this project was officially pitched, it was well received but since people like Billy Bragg were unable to be a part of the project and Howard Marks was only available over the phone, this meant some changes.

I’ve attached an updated pitch sheet to show the changes to the project plan. Not an awful lot has changed but as Billy Bragg is not involved in the project I felt the changes should be clear.

pitch sheet

The motives of a prison pen pal site owner

President and owner of  Write a Prisoner.com, Adam Lovell, spoke to me over Skype about the his prison pen pal website. The pen pal profile site was set up to allow prisoners in America to be contacted by adults all over the world during their incarceration.
Adam chatted to me about why he set up the site, what the site offers to prisoners as well as contact with people outside of prison walls, and his thoughts on why some sites are associated with dating sites for those in prison.

Click below to listen to the interview.

Adam Lovell Write a Prisoner

A letter to murderer Charles Manson

During my visit to Birmingham to meet prison writer, Kristy Hall, she revealed her pen pal Miguel shares his prison with murderer Charles Manson.

Apparently Charles Manson regularly gives away the letters he receives from people trying to contact him from around the world.

She regularly writes to Miguel in California and so Miguel sent one of these fan’s letter to Kristy.