There are many different ways to support a friend or family member who’s incarcerated. Here are seven different ideas and remember, if one isn’t available or doesn’t work, try another.
There is nothing that was more important to Noah in prison than visitation. We divided and conquered as a family, never once all going together.
My older brother and his family would go 1-2 times per year, I and my family would go 1-2 times per year and my mom and Noah’s daughter would go 2-4 times per year. And then there were a few of his friends that would make sure to go visit each year as well.
With a combined effort, Noah had at least one visitor come each month. That’s a lot of support! If they try to talk you out of coming and you want to go, be vocal and tell them not to be ridiculous.
2. Answer Phone Calls
Phone calls are important and the second-best way to support an inmate. You only get 15 minutes per call and 300 minutes per month in the Federal Bureau of Prison, so use the time wisely. In many state prison systems, they have more minutes and sometimes unlimited. Also, longer call durations, so if this is the case, appreciate it.
When talking to an inmate on the phone, have fun, be conscious of the attitude you are bringing to the conversation. If the inmate is feeling down, try to cheer them up.
If that doesn’t work and they want to talk or vent, then be a good listener. If they don’t want to talk tell them something positive that you have experienced in your life lately.
Don’t worry about making your incarcerated love one feel bad about what they are missing. Early on this might affect them, but as time progresses, hearing about these moments of life is important. Talk about other friends and family members that the inmate might not be in touch with, keep them updated and in the loop.
We asked Dennis to ask around in regards to phone calls and this is what he found out.
Tell it how it is, if the phone calls make you feel uncomfortable, tell the inmate that, and ask for guidance. It might be awkward, but not as awkward as 15 minutes of silence.
If you can, do not bring up things that the inmate cannot control–or the mess that they left behind. Obviously, there are going to be certain situations where the spouse at home needs to vent too, but try to focus on what your partner can do to help, and sometimes that’s going to be listening or giving you encouragement and lifting you up through phone calls. Life doesn’t stop because the inmate goes to prison, and we understand that!
Try not to be distracted. We desire your full attention, whatever is there will be there when you get off the phone–we still will not.
DO NOT TELL US TO HOLD ON !!!!! (I just did this to Dennis and he got MAD!)
Remember, we are the ones calling—there is usually a reason why—-find out what that is.
Over the years the inmates will feel like they have less and less to talk about because their world doesn’t seem to change much. Encourage them to share about their worlds in prison, such as working out, hobby craft projects, and crazy stuff that happens on the compound.
Just because they are in prison, doesn’t mean they aren’t still living life.
Not sure what to talk about, here are some good questions to ask an inmate.
- Have you tried anything different lately in your workout routine?
- Are you taking any recreation or education classes?
- Have you started any projects over at hobby craft?
- Have you read any good books?
- Have you had any cook-ups or made any good meals with your friends?
- What TV show(s) are you watching or excited about starting?
- What’s your roommate situation like right now?
3. Write Letters, Correspond through Email, and Send Photos!!!
It’s 2020, letters or “snail mail,” as most inmates call it, are a thing of the past. However, hearing your name at mail call is one of the few pleasures that inmates have to look forward to.
Some inmates love letters and some inmates prefer to email. I preferred emails because I type fast and write slow. Also, handwritten letters don’t have spell check and I realized how poor my spelling is.
Many people in the outside world don’t realize that federal inmates have access to email service. All you have to do is include your email in a letter, tell it to them over the phone, or give it to someone who’s already corresponding with them. The service is called corrlinks and once you have received the invitation in your regular email, all corresponding will take place on the corrlinks server.
Preferences aside, every single inmate in the system loves getting photos!!!
4. Send Books, Subscribe to Magazines and Newspapers, and Don’t Forget the Yearly Calendar!
As you can imagine, they have a lot of time to kill in prison. Books were one of the ways that Noah learned to pass the time. He didn’t read his second book from cover to cover until he knew he was going to prison, in 2012. During his prison time, he would go through phases where he would read non stop and phases when it was the last thing he wanted to do.
So ask if there are any books that they would like to read, or if you read one that inspires you, send it in. (Note: hardcover books must come directly from the publishing company.)
The majority of inmates enjoy magazines over books because generally, it’s mindless reading. Networks are formed, rotations are set, and magazines go down the line until they eventually end up in a pile at someone’s work (prison job) detail.
Best Magazines to send an inmate and don’t judge when they start to ask for Cosmopolitan. When you subscribe, you enter the inmate’s name, don’t forget his prison ID #, and his address into the recipient category.
- Maxim (#1 most sought after by inmates)
- US Weekly
- Readers Digest
- Men’s Health
- Men’s Fitness
- Men’s Journal
- Hot Rod
- Boating Magazines
- Muscles Magazines
- Tattoo Magazines
- Sports Illustrated
- Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar (for the guys!)
- Outside (Noah’s personal favorite)
- National Geographic
- Fast Company
- The Wall Street Journal
- USA Today
- USA Today Sports Weekly
- The New York Times
Any more magazines that are similar to these recommendations are good as gold!!! Sign them up, there are also websites dedicated to sending inmates magazine subscriptions. This one offers 10 subscriptions for $40 from Inmate Magazine Service.
(Disclaimer: InmateMagazineService.com is subject to the lead time of 10-12 weeks from their publishers, therefore, subscriptions may begin on subsequent months dependent on order date. Some magazines are NOT published monthly which increases the time the first issue is received. Publishers DO NOT allow us to check on subscription status before 120 days pass, as explained in our Terms and Conditions.)
5. Send Money (if possible)!
The easiest ways to send money to a federal inmate are through www.westernunion.com
Western Union instructions
- Follow this western union link
- In the top right corner click, Sign Up, and follow the instructions and make sure to link the preferred source of payment.
- Go back to this western union link
- Type in: Federal Bureau Of Prison
- Below boxes will appear where you type in the inmates: First and Last Name, Inmate Number, and Amount To Send.
- Click continue
Also, there is an app available on both Android and Apple systems for an easier and more convenient process.
Time in prison can be tough and when you don’t have coffee and you start to get hungry between meals, it can get even tougher. Even $25 a month means the world to an inmate, this is what my mom sent me throughout my incarceration, and I will forever be grateful.
6. Be Real
Talk about your life, tell jokes, be transparent with your loved one in prison, and ask them to do the same. Be VULNERABLE!
7. Don’t Forget…
Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and any other special occasions…
Check out our YouTube video on the topic: