I've just joined this network, and have questions, well only one right now... Roughly how long should I wait to expect a response from a prisoner that I have sent out a letter to? It's been over two weeks. I know it could take time, I'm not being impatient, but wondering how long do I wait and if he doesn't respond when do I try writing to another? I am really new to this and want to do it right so you're help is appreciated. Thank you!
Some facilities it may take 3 weeks for delivery. The reasons vary. In California...if you do not have the dorm/building and tier/cell number on the envelope, it waits in the mailroom for a slower day for them to track the person.
Lets say the person transferred to another prison the same week you mailed the letter. By the time it got there, it got placed into another bin....then forwarded on to the new prison....then waits there till they locate him in the system and send the mail to the new cell.
So sometimes...it will take a month or more.
If you want...simply write a nother short letter, stating you had sent one letter before and wanted to know if he/she had received it, and this time put in a self addressed stamped envelope.
There is no one right way to be a pen pal. We all have various styles, hopes, and expectations about being a pen pal, and there are also external influences that make a difference in how often people write. So I wouldn't worry too much about "getting it right". It's more a matter of finding a way that works for both you and the specific person you're writing.
I'm new to PDN but have been writing prisoners for around 15 years. In that time I've found that some write really frequently, and others write very infrequently -- just like my friends outside who I correspond with. The difference for me is that when I'm doing pen pal work as a commitment to support someone (in prison, in a refugee camp, etc.), the support I offer isn't conditional on a response. So, when I'm starting to write a prisoner I usually figure out what frequency I can fit within my schedule, tell the prisoner how often I'll write (e.g., once a month for six months) and then stick to that, whether they write me back or not. I always say to the prisoner "If you ever want me to stop writing, you can let me know at any point" so if it's not working for them they can say so. If it's important to you to receive a letter back before sending another one out, then you could lay that expectation out and see if the prisoner feels OK making the commitment you're looking for. Even in those situations you will have to be flexible as situations will come up that are beyond prisoners' control -- just like they do for those of us in the outside world.
I am sure there are other people in PDN who approach this differently, and who'd give you opposite advice. I really don't think there is any one way to do this, or that the way I've suggested above is "right". It may be that writing with no expectation of response is damaging in that it's not the same expectations as I'd have in a friendship (although with some of my friends it's not 100% reciprocal each time either -- there are times when one of us is offering more than the other person). But many of the folks I've written to over the years have said they've appreciated knowing they can expect a letter from me even when they can't write back, that having something to look forward to is helpful. It also helps me be clear that even if they wrote every day, I can't reply more than I'm already doing. So, for now, I continue to approach it this way.
Mark gave you good advice about holdups in letters getting delivered. There can also be various reasons why prisoners can't respond right away even when the correspondence isn't lost or delayed. These are the most common ones I've heard from the prisoners I've written over the years.
1. Money is sometimes an issue. If a prisoner is reliant on family/friends for money, they may just get funds sporadically and not have enough money to buy envelopes or stamps at the time that you wrote (so Mark's suggestion to include a SASE if you live in the same country as the prisoner is a great one).
2. Time is sometimes an issue. Many prisoners work full time and may be too tired at the end of the day to write. I've had quite a few prisoners write just a tiny bit to me each day over the course of a couple weeks, then send the letter when it's a couple pages long.
3. Seizure of mail/writing supplies. Belongings can be seized during a search, or if a prisoner gets locked down or put in the hole (for a threat to their safety, an infraction, etc.) they may lose access to their writing supplies, or letters that aren't from a lawyer may be confiscated -- so your address may have been lost. (Mark's advice to write again is a good one).
4. Mental or physical health is sometimes an issue. Just like in the outside world, a prisoner may be too sick to write.
5. Some of the prisoners I've written have felt that they don't know what to write because their lives are "too boring" -- there is no "news" to report.
I hope this is helpful. It would be interesting to hear what other people's experience is on this issue.
I recently heard from a prisoner to whom I'd written. His reply was delayed because he had run out of stamps and money in his account, and had to wait till the next month began. This is someone who really wants us to help him start a meditation program in his prison. Now I'm waiting for the chaplain there, who's the person with whom we'll need to work to get things going. He hasn't responded yet, even though he told the inmate he'd call us.
I think it could take some time depending given circumstances. There are several reasons for not responding, the first is they don't have writing paper and have to wait until they go to commissary to acquire some. I don't know this to be the case, so, if the state has a corrections web site and you have the information go on line and see where he is located, He may have been transfered, they don't know when that will happen, and has a new address. In that case it could take a loooong time to get there. I work in NY and this is not unlikely here. If he is in keep lock or special housing mail could be restricted, in NY we just do packages, but different states have different rules. How did you come to write him/her, maybe they aren't interested because they don't know who you are????? I would start with checking the web site and go from there. Mail is painfully slow getting into jails everything is inspected for everything, it is slow in and slow out. Could be several days each way. If the cell location on the envelope is incorrect it puts another kink in the system.
Just wanted to update everyone... I got a response to the person I wrote. It seems his source of stamps and extra money had dried up and he was unable to write back as soon as he liked. From now on I'll add in a self addressed stamped envelope to make it easier for him. We are hopefully going to get into a study/discussion soon. Thanks for the advice from the respondents to this message.