Help me make sure this inmate contacts the right person
January 23, 2013 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I've been contacted by an inmate of a federal prison. I do not know this person, I think they've entered the wrong email address. Unlike many automatic services, there's no way to report an misdirected email. What do I do?

I received the following by email.

This is a system generated message informing you that the above-named person is a federal prisoner who seeks to add you to his/her contact list for exchanging electronic messages. There is no message from the prisoner at this time.

You can ACCEPT this prisoner's request or BLOCK this individual or all federal prisoners from contacting you via electronic messaging at To register with CorrLinks you must enter the email address that received this notice along with the identification code below.

Email Address: [my email]
Identification Code: [a code]

This identification code will expire in 10 days.

By approving electronic correspondence with federal prisoners, you consent to have the Bureau of Prisons staff monitor the content of all electronic messages exchanged.

Once you have registered with CorrLinks and approved the prisoner for correspondence, the prisoner will be notified electronically.

For additional information related to this program, please visit the FAQ page.

The FAQ and Corrlinks say nothing about what to do if you are not the person the inmate wants to contact. The inmate's name was in the subject line. Though the name was not familiar at all, I googled the name to make sure. I definitely have no connection to this person.

I don't feel right just ignoring this, what if the inmate is trying to reach their mom or something?
posted by troika to Law & Government (10 answers total)
The last item in the FAQ is this:

What can I do if I accidentally blocked or removed the inmate from my contact list but actually want to correspond? (top)

If a member of the public accidentally blocks an inmate from corresponding, they must submit a request to the local institution's Trust Fund Office to request the block be removed. Requests must include the contact's name, physical address, email address, and telephone number. Once the block is removed the public will get a new system generated message.

It would seem to me that this means the Trust Fund Office has people actually reading messages; I'd suggest blocking this contact and sending a letter/phone call to the institution the inmate is at, informing them. There are humans in the loop in this; you aren't dependent entirely on automated systems.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:48 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A person's inability, inmate or not, to enter a correct email address is not your problem. They could be trying to reach their mom (who they could CALL), or they could be phishing.

Block it.
posted by matty at 7:51 PM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

Contact BOP. "For comments and questions regarding information found (or not found) on this website, please call (202) 307-3198 or e-mail" You want to contact them about information not found on the website: how to deal with this email.
posted by John Cohen at 7:55 PM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

If you don't know this person whatsoever, I'd block them. It is not your responsibility to tell someone to tell him "wrong number," and you are not obligated to talk to some total stranger in prison you don't know. He could be phishing, which seems likely if you don't know him. I wouldn't talk to someone in prison unless I knew them and knew they were not that bad of a person, or they were really well vetted by someone I knew.

Also, I had no idea people in prison could e-mail folks legally. Whoa.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would contact them by phone; they should have a procedure for this kind of thing. People aren't even that great at spelling their own email addresses correctly half the time, and we don't know what the interface is like on the other end (or the literacy/language/computer skills) for the person who sent it. If you can afford the five minutes to fix it, I would do it. (And if it is somehow a phishing scheme, better to alert the authorities now?)
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:21 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would feel a moral obligation to this person, who has only a very limited number of ways to reach out to the outside world, and whose ability to communicate is controlled by a tight web of bureaucracy, any member of which could have easily mistyped an email address. This guy will never know whether someone he loves blocked him or whether the messages aren't getting through, and when you have literally nothing else to do all day except stare at the wall (prison is mind-numbingly boring nearly all the time), you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

All that is to say, call BOP. Call the Trust Funds Office. Spend 20 minutes of your life helping someone who is in a really terrible position maintain relationships with his friends and family. It's the least we can do, both for the inmates themselves and for the larger society into which they will someday be released and expected to reintegrate.
posted by decathecting at 8:38 PM on January 23, 2013 [44 favorites]

I got a similar email about a year ago. I ignored it and never got another communication again.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 9:43 PM on January 23, 2013

I got a similar email about a year ago. I ignored it and never got another communication again.

Happened to me, too, with the same results (I never responded and never heard about it again). In retrospect really I wish I'd let someone know the request had been mis-sent, so my vote would be to try decathecting, Tomorrowful, and John Cohen's suggestions - but again, FWIW you probably won't hear back again if you end up doing nothing.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:15 PM on January 23, 2013

I wouldn't. It's like getting the Cook County Corrections Collect Call scam.
posted by scruss at 4:59 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a friend in Federal prison for a while with whom I corresponded frequently via email.

You can accept the message and then go to the special website that allows you to write messages from inmates and reply that you aren't the person s/he's looking for. Any other way, you can't be 100% sure that it makes it through the bureaucracy.

I have also participated in the Alternatives to Violence project with prisoners. Decathecting is right, prison is mind-numbingly boring and prisoners are desperate for human contact. Not getting replies from loved ones can be very hurtful and painful for them - let them know that their loved one isn't ignoring you.
posted by zug at 5:57 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

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