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.
[ 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. ]