For most prison inmates, regular communication with friends and family in the free world is essential to surviving their segregation from society. Thanks to modern technology, inmates no longer have to rely on handwritten letters and phone calls to communicate with their loved ones.
These days, friends and family can communicate with their incarcerated loved one through emails, video messages, and video visits. However, anytime someone communicates with a prison inmate, the facility will monitor and/or record the correspondence.
There are numerous rules when it comes to inmate communication, and they vary by facility. When it comes to inmate mail, the rules don’t just cover what you send and how you send it. They also restrict the content of the communication.
Letters discussing details of crimes, plans to escape, and explicit sexual content will all be flagged by prison staff and the inmate will never receive them. But, are prison officials so strict that they would ban specific words in inmate mail? Can you swear in prison letters?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
The answer to today’s question is yes, you can swear in prison letters. It is one of the few ways that an inmate’s constitutional right to free speech has been preserved in the institutional setting.
Swearing in other situations – such as swearing at an officer who has given you a directive – is strictly prohibited. In fact, it may end in an all-expense paid trip to the pokey (better known as the hole).
In many ways the content of prison mail is closely monitored. All incoming or outgoing mail is read to insure that safety and security of the individuals and institution are upheld. Obviously, an inmate should never send threatening mail to a victim or their family, or anyone else for that matter, and inmates shouldn’t have to worry about receiving mail containing threats of any kind.
Another thing that is monitored closely in offender mail is sexual content. A certain level of flirtation and sexual wordplay is acceptable. However, if a letter is deemed explicit it won’t be sent or accepted by the institution.
If an offender receives mail that has been determined to be sexually explicit, they will be called back to see their case manager and asked if they wish to send the letter back to the sender or have it destroyed.
Offender mail is also checked to make sure that it doesn’t contain contraband of any kind. Not only would drugs, and obviously illegal items not be allowed in the institution, but many other things are not allowed as well, depending on the prison.
For example, in the prison where inmate Mistie Vance has spent the last ten years, she says that pictures cannot be sent with letters. Instead, they must be sent separately, and only a certain number of pictures can be in each envelope.
Other things mail can be rejected for include stickers, book marks, too many enclosures, and certain types of cards. It is always best to check with the institution you are sending mail to concerning their regulations before attempting to send mail containing anything other than letters.
Sending and receiving mail is one of the ways that inmates are able to still be a part of the world outside the prison, and stay connected with friends and family, so content should be as honest and natural as possible.
The way you talked to your loved one when they were on the outside (besides the sexually explicit conversations) is how you should talk in your prison letters. Prison can be a very lonely place and it is so important for inmates to have emotional support from outside of the prison.
Knowing that they aren’t forgotten about and that they are loved is added motivation. Letters from friends and family help inmates to use their time to improve themselves so that they can be better equipped to give those they love the kind of lives they deserve.
Even though prison mail is monitored, for the most part it is accepted as is. Whether or not your letter contains swear words, make sure your letters contain the things that truly matter. Never let an opportunity pass without letting those you love know that they are loved, valued, and believed in.
“No matter what mistakes a person has made, it is not our mistakes that define us. Who we are in life is who we choose to be each morning when we wake up, and the more love and support a person has, the easier that decision will be. Always remember, love changes things,” says inmate Mistie Vance.
Do you regularly write to someone in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Interview with inmate Mistie Vance, Chillicothe Correctional Center
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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