Q..I'm concerned about giving inmates my address - is that a problem ?
A.= Most Jewish inmates are in prisons for non-violent offenses, some are, and those were usually not street crimes but youthful family disputes. Should you feel that it is undesirable for an inmate pen pal to know your home address we suggest that you use a business address...or a pen-name and a P.O.Box. The Aleph Institute also operates a secure anonymous mail system. You use a pen name and our POB address and we will then forward the prisoner's mail to you. Those that use this facility usually revert to their normal address once they have established a rapport with their inmate pen pal.
Q.Can I send Emails ?
A.= Most often No. Inmates in the USA very seldom have access to the internet. However, occasionaly the inmate, after first contact, could advise you if they have email access.
Q.Must a civilian pen pal have an email address ?
A.= No. We have many pen pals who do not have email facilities and we communicate with them by ordinary "snail" mail.
Q.I am not Jewish. Can I be a pen pal?
A.= Yes. We welcome your interest. There are many non-Jewish inmates who have asked us to find them a pen pal. The Aleph Institute provides social services to all who reach out to us, regardless of race, creed, sex or religion.
Q. Can I write to more than one inmate?
A.= Of course you can. Some pen pals have as many as three or four inmates they write to regularly. Others are content with just one. Initially we suggest you write to one inmate, and once that writing relationship is established you can then extend your kindness to others....we have so many waiting for a pen pal.
Q. How often do I have to write?
A.= Just as often as it suits you and your pen pal. Some write as often as once a week, others only once a month. Every writing relationship is different. To the inmate Pal...it is important receiving mail from the outside world, therefore a greeting card...or a short note with some magazine clippings...is as welcome as a long letter.
Q.Where are these inmates?
A.= Currently they are all in US prisons. Over 6000+ Jewish inmates have registered to receive our weekly Parsha mailings, Jewish calendars, and the "Liberator" newsletter. Only those inmates without family ties have asked for a pen pal...about 10% of those inmates we serve are in need of a Pen Pal.
Q. I do not live in the USA. Is that a problem?
A.= No. Many inmates ask to have a pen pal in another part of the world. We now have civilian pen pals from 15+ countries. Also there are Jewish inmates that prefer to correspond in another language...Spanish, Hebrew, French, Russian, etc. or in English.
Q. Am I allowed to send books, CD's, magazines, etc. ?
A.= No. Each prison has very specific mail rules. Your Pal will know his or her mail rules, so before sending anything but letters, check with the inmate first. Once a request has been made, sometimes books etc. may be sent c/o a Prison Chaplain, for example. We suggest that you never volunteer to send money, or respond to a request for money.
Q. If I receive an inmate letter that is quite inappropriate, what should I do?
A.= Tell us, and discontinue writing that inmate. All inmates have signed a declaration stating they agree that our program is not a dating service, nor an avenue to solicit money or legal advice. If the situation is irreconcilable we will let the inmate know, remove him or her from our pen pal list...and offer you an alternative pen pal.
Q. I wrote a letter and I have never received a reply. What's wrong?
A.= Nothing is usually wrong. Letters to inmates sometimes experience quite unjustifiable delays. Others get "lost" or "mislaid" taking weeks and months to reach the inmate. Some inmates are transferred, and their mail that should be forwarded but is not. The same is true with occasional returned mail. Just let us know and we will look into it and advise you.
Q. The inmate I write to wants some religious material. What do I do?
A.= Let us know. The Aleph Institute has a wide range of religious books and material we make available to inmates. That is part of our service and we know how, and what to send to a particular institution.
Q.The inmate I write to has told me of some terrible things that happen inside. What should I do?
A.= Prisons are not places that we in the free world can easily understand. Things do happen on the inside, and sometimes the inmate wishes to unburden these things to their pen pal. Let us know about any serious problem. If there is a genuine incident of anti-Semitic behavior, or abuse, we have an active legal department that will deal appropriately with these problems.
Q. This is a new experience. What help can I get ?
A. = We are available to help and answer any questions you have. We also send out a newsletter every 4-6 weeks to every pen pal. This gives news and views plus invaluable tips on how to communicate with your inmate friend.
Q. Am I expected to do any more than be a pen pal?
A.= No. But many civilian pen pals have developed a wonderful rapport and have gone on to teach Hebrew, discuss Talmud and enter into educational and informative discussions about gardening, cooking, and culture by mail. If this is your forte then go for it! Remember all of our Jewish inmates have had real lives and professions in the free world...they, like you, are real people.
Q. I am a young person. Am I allowed to write to an inmate?
A.= We are very cautious about young people writing without supervision. We do have some young people who write on behalf of their family and are the "scribes" and their letters are read by, and include replies from, adult members of the family. In such cases we ask for prior parental consent before assigning a pen pal.
Q.My Synagogue/church/organization wants to know more about the Pen Pal Program. What's the procedure?
A.= We would ask you to take responsibility to accept and distribute information. Refer interested people to this web site http://www.jewishpenpals.org/ and give them my Email. The most important thing is to provide the name of the person we can be in contact with in your organization.
Q.I want to put an article about the Pen Pal Program in the local newspaper or newsletter.
A.= That's great. Let us know the details and we will supply you with all the pre-written material you need.
Q.Can our Youth Group/Men's groups/ Women's Fellowship write as group?
A.= Of course. This already happens in some cases. A group can take responsibility to write to several inmates, and share the responses within the group. All we ask is for one person to be the coordinator and keep us in touch.
Q. It is terrible to think there are Jews in prison. What is the problem?
A.= Jews are human, with human failings. We estimate there are some 8,000 Jews in US prisons, a very small percentage of the over 2,500,000 inmates held in US prisons. Being such a small minority makes for a very lonely life in a prison population that can be rough, callous and very anti-Semitic ... from both authorities and other inmates. This is an important reason that caring pen pals are sorely needed.
Q.Don't family, friends and synagogues write to them?
A. Sadly, no. Many inmates are forgotten as a busy society and time moves on. Friends get involved in careers, family members die or drift away, and synagogues attend to problems of their active congregations. Jewish people are mistakenly embarrassed by brethren in prisons...and abandon them.
Q. Can I have an inmate that has not committed a violent act ?
A.= Yes. Most Jewish inmates have been imprisoned for white collar crime like tax evasion and financial problems. Some professionals are imprisoned because of violations of fraud statutes. These inmates need your support too...and we will try to honor your request in matching you with a Pal.
Q.Why should people bother to write inmates? Is there any value in this?
A.= All of us err at times and a friendly, kind gesture is always appreciated at such times. Friendship in any form is a great healer. A friendly word from you to another person could be the beginning of a rehabilitation miracle and of great value to a " forgotten person ". Never underestimate the value of Mitzvot..and reconnecting any forgotten Jew back to his roots.