If you’re a woman who’s tackled writing an ad to become a prison pen pal, seeking to meet (through correspondence) a new friend on the outside, this open letter is for you.
In earlier years, I’ve written several posts aimed to help those “civilians” gearing up from the other side as they prepared to write their first letters to female prison inmates. Topics included such things as learning how to read between the lines of a prison pen pal ad when choosing a prisoner, what to include in a first letter, and–just as crucial–what not to include.
However, none of those posts were designed to assist the inmate in writing her original ad, the tidbit with photo that the individual woman behind bars hopes will reach out and touch someone. I’ve realized that omission needs to be corrected.
True, few inmates may ever have the opportunity to find this page. It’s not like you’re all equipped with laptop computers and satellite connections that enable you to roam the Internet at will.
On the other hand, you never know. A friend or family member may see this and mail you a copy. That copy may speak to certain readers who have been down for a while. They may share it, and someone may one day realize it helped.
With that said, why am I writing this letter at all?
Simply put, dear ones, some of your online prison pen pal ads are really good and some suck rather badly. It’s a prickly proposition, trying to figure out how to present yourself in a positive light to total strangers. Based on the evidence, a few of you could use a little help with the wording.
I may or may not be able to provide that help, but I can tell you how certain ads impact me, a guy who’s been writing to women in prison for more than 17 years. My wife and I have corresponded with somewhere around 200 inmates, one of whom will be joining our household when her obligation to the State is completed in 2017.
Bad News First
Let’s take a look at a few lines from ads that really don’t cut the mustard. If you recognize yours, please don’t be offended. There are hundreds out there just like it, the basics obviously being copied and passed on from inmate to inmate as “the way to do it”.
Note: The “turnoff” words are emphasized by me.
–I am a stunning brunette who enjoys all that life has to offer. I am tall and lean with beautiful green eyes and olive skin.
–I am xx years old and absolutely gorgeous. Everything you could ever want and more.
–I have an intelligence to match my appearance….
–Yes, yes, I know what you might be thinking, brains and beauty all in one!
–…love to be spoiled, adored, and treated like a princess.
Okay, here’s the deal: If a man wants a woman who wants to be put on a pedestal and worshiped, there are plenty to choose from in the civilian population at large. And if he wants a woman who’s so into herself that she can’t wait to say, “Look at me! Aren’t I beauty incarnate?” Well, yes, there are plenty of those out here in the world, too.
In my opinion, the girl who labels herself as stunning, gorgeous, beautiful, etc., is simply shooting herself in the foot. If you have a photo posted with your ad, any potential pen pal will draw his own initial conclusions. If you’re dog ugly, homely as a mud fence, so hideous the doctor slapped you Mom when you were born, tooting your own horn in print is not going to change that. In fact, the reader of your ad will conclude you are, at best, vision impaired and can’t see what’s staring out at you from the mirror.
Conversely, if you are generally attractive, the average male is likely to think, “Wow. She really thinks she’s all that.” And then he’ll go on to the next ad because you just turned him completely off.
No matter where you live–i.e. inside a prison or out in the world–there are certain things it is unwise to advertise, to wit:
1. Wow, I’m good looking.
2. Trust me.
3. I’m a totally honest person.
You may be the loveliest creature ever born, chock full of integrity, without a duplicitous bone in your body–but claiming you are any of these things will send up warning signals. Good people will shy away from you if you make those claims. If they’ve been working for you, fine and dandy–but I know I personally avoid those three “ship sinkers” with a passion.
Good News Next
Obviously, not all prison pen pal ads by inmates fall into the same category. Admittedly, even a smattering of I’m gorgeous listings have the effect of poisoning the entire pool, but there are some genuinely attractive postings by prisoners seeking friends. Here are a few of those:
–I need someone who pops into my head knowing they will be interested in the good news I just received or the joke I just heard. I want to ask questions and get to know someone. I want to be reminded of what’s going on outside of here.
–To whoever would write me, I’m probably the most understanding woman you’ll ever meet. I must say, I have been through a lot, made many mistakes, and I have a past. However, it’s served to make me a better person.
–I am very open minded about new ideas in my relationship. I am incarcerated for resale.
“I am incarcerated for resale.” In that one, the woman is telling readers, “Hey, I bought drugs and resold them, got caught, and now here I am.” If you’re in for getting busted on a drug deal, it’s a positive thing to let any interested parties know about it up front. There are more people down for drug related offenses than all the rest of the prison population put together, but at least a potential correspondent doesn’t have to wonder if you’re a serial killer or a child rapist.
On the other hand, it’s sometimes a tricky thing, dealing with those who may not be familiar with the system. I’m no greenhorn, but when I first read that, I thought for a moment it was written by a female inmate who does not go around saying she has a sense of humor. Instead, she illustrates that sense of humor by listing herself as “incarcerated for resale”, a girl ready to go to the highest bidder upon release from prison.
It is so easy to be misunderstood.
Basically, the rules my wife and I follow when surfing the ads for a new prison pen pal are simple: Does the way she wrote her ad sound real, or is she simply blowing smoke? We’ve been fooled a few times, but you’ve got to start somewhere–and from your side of the bars, it’s a good idea to make your ad as sincere and authentic as possible. If you’re a scammer (you know who you are), it may not make much difference, but if you’re in it to win it, every turn of phrase is important.
Because, as Frank Herbert wrote in his science fiction classic, Dune, beginnings are such fragile things.