In last week’s forum, we had a discussion about incarceration and how it intersects and is affected by multiple other factors in a person’s life – such as income level, health, race and much more – and how COVID-19 restrictions and effects are affecting those in jail and prison. Rev. Liz Milner suggested some ways to respond, including writing letters to the incarcerated and guidelines for doing that:
St. Mark’s Guidelines for Letters to Elmwood County Jail inmates and San Quentin death row inmates
- Use plain paper or a plain card (no glitter, stickers, foil, tape etc.). You can also type and print, however the downside is this is less personal so consider adding something handwritten.
- Be clear on your personal boundaries. Never send money or offer to buy anything for them. Do not share your home address (use St. Mark’s or CIC Ministries as the return address [shared below]; we will get the letter to you).
- Provide context for why you’re writing: I am a parishioner at a local church… I’ve been thinking and praying for those in jail and wanted to reach out.
- Start with: I’m writing to share a little bit of my experience and would like to hear what life is like for you during this time.
- Say a little bit about your spiritual life, what your practices are, and maybe offer a practice—prayer, journal prompts, meditations , poem
- Talk about the world, tell them what’s going on, what you’re experiencing, what you’re observing to help them feel connected
- Offer a sense of wanting to hear what the person is experiencing
- If you have the ability to write in Spanish, please do!
- Remember the inmate you are writing to may not be a Christian, but feel free to share your own faith, or a prayer or quote. You can always ask, “Tell me about your spiritual journey?”
- If you’re feeling apprehensive, feel free to email your draft to Liz: [email protected] to look over before you send it in the mail.
What to avoid:
- Don’t ask about the person’s case
- Stay away from controversial issues (abortion, gender, sexuality)
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Potential starting paragraph:
My name is Gail and I am connected to Liz who is one of the chaplains at the Santa Clara County jail. She has encouraged us to reach out and write to you. I hope you will be able to write back but there’s no pressure! I want you to know we are thinking of you, praying for you in this really difficult time, for you to know you’re not alone. Maybe I can share a little about myself…
Life out here with Covid is challenging…
I know this can be a frightening and anxious time. Something that helps me is…..
Maybe you’d like to try it and write back about how it was?
I read a book recently which really inspired me. It was about…. Here’s a quote….