Help me draft a message for the incarcerated
December 2, 2019 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I work with a church group that's sending packages to men in a prison in our state. The packages include basic toiletries along with Christmas cards with stamps for them to send to loved ones. We want to include a message to the inmates, and I'm not sure what to say. The previous post Book recommendations for an inmate is helpful but doesn't really cover the question for me. Oh compassionate hive mind folk, please help me draft a greeting for these guys.
posted by conscious matter to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hope this package makes your holiday a little brighter? Any normal kind message you would put on a gift for someone you don't know well.
posted by agregoli at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would imagine people tend to feel forgotten and also aren't respected as much. So maybe: We're thinking of you this season. Hope these help you reach out to loved ones and brighten the holiday a bit for you.
posted by WCityMike at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're not already connected with an organization led by/for formerly incarcerated folks, definitely go find one and ask their staff and volunteers. This might be groups who assist with re-entry after release, groups that focus on parents with children, etc. There are also universities and colleges that run educational programs inside prisons and their staff and volunteers might have good suggestions on what to write.

Depending where you are, there might also be active prison abolitionist organizers, who will also include formerly incarcerated people. Critical Resistance is the biggest network, and many local/state chapters will hold postcard writing solidarity events at this time of year (my local chapter's is this Saturday!).

Apologies that I can't give you exact wording, it's been over a decade since I've volunteered regularly with a prison educational program, so at this point I would be time traveling / straight-up guessing what message would be appropriate and/or appreciated.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:14 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

"We're thinking of you this season" and "Hope this package makes your holiday a little brighter" both sound good.

Quite a few people get sad around the holidays if they are missing loved ones, or if they have few or no living family members or strong social ties. I would think this would be especially true for inmates, who may no longer have contact with anyone on the outside that cares about them. I question whether holiday cards and stamps are really the best thing to include. It may hurt some people that they have no one to send the cards to.

If you're sure you want to include them, unless your group is ony sending these packages to Christians, it would be better to use cards with a general "Happy Holidays" message, rather than "Merry Christmas".
posted by nirblegee at 11:04 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dear Friend,

We would be grateful if you could please share this gift with those around you who are less fortunate.

posted by parmanparman at 4:18 AM on December 3, 2019

Hello! Thank you for sending packages—these items are surely sorely needed!

We have experience volunteering with an abolitionist organization that sends holiday cards every year; our local chapter also sends solidarity packages. Your question is a good one, as sometimes it may feel awkward to write to someone you haven’t met and who you know is in a not great situation. You don’t want to come off as totally ignorant of their situation, so standard greetings about being with loved ones for the holidays and celebrating with gifts don’t necessarily apply, but you don’t want to say anything that may elicit guilt or regret (nothing like “I’m sorry you’re in jail”). Overall, keep your messages uplifting and looking toward better days.

Does your church group already know these individuals, whether on a one-by-one basis or through some sort of membership or subscription? If the former, consider giving a more personal touch by tailoring messages to their bios or preferences, e.g., something like “Hope you have some time to relax and draw” to an artist, or “Wishing you the chance to listen to some fantastic jazz in the new year” to a music enthusiast, or “Thanks for the advice you gave us on our last feedback question!” If the latter, it’s always nice to say things along the lines of “Thanks for being part of our family” or “We’re so glad you’re a part of our group.” If they share the same faith as your church group and there’s a relevant winter holiday, of course wishing them a happy one would be appropriate. If (and only if) your group is open to it, encouraging them to write back to you can strengthen the connection. If you won't/can't reply to correspondence (and you need to include a return address on the package for it to be accepted), be gently clear about that.

If this is your first time contacting the recipients, then introduce who you are, how you got their information, and why you are sending them packages—out of care and solidarity, rather than patronizing charity.

Please note that many people who are in prisons do not prefer the term “inmates” for themselves, as that's how they are referred to by guards/correctional officers (C.O.s), often in a dehumanizing way. Of course opinions vary, but “incarcerated people” and “prisoners” (which connects to the political reality of incarceration and the prisoner rights movement) are generally better alternatives. Please also note that just because someone is in a “men’s prison” doesn’t mean that person is necessarily a man, so avoid assumptions, depending on the level of information you have about the recipients.

Sample language:
• Sending you warmth this season and beyond
• Hope you are as well as possible. Please enjoy this package!
• Our best wishes to you. May you have some time to relax and reflect for the year ahead
• We’re thinking of you. [Holiday greeting] from the bottom of our hearts!
• May the new year bring peace to you and yours
• We wanted to send you a few useful items this winter. Also enclosed in this package is our love!
• Find joy wherever you can. We appreciate you
• We’re with you in spirit, and we wish you peace, hope, and love
• Always believe in yourself
• Take care, with love, in solidarity
• Some lines of thematic poetry or, if you know they would appreciate it, some relevant religious passages
• One thing we sometimes like to do is to describe where we are and who’s with us as we write our messages. It helps bring them in the room with you, and gives sensory details that people behind bars are typically deprived of. Maybe even a quick story of how your church group got these packages together

A few other tips:
• An image will help fill up space in the message if you’re at a loss for words
• No crayon, glitter, Sharpie, stickers, or foil
• Call ahead to make sure each person can receive the package; sometimes they can’t because they’ve been put in the torture of solitary confinement or have already received a package that month so are already at the (absurd) limit

Overall, no need to overthink it! Your compassion will show through even with just a few words.
posted by ohkay at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

You did say the gifts are from a church and this is the giving season because of the gospel. Why not a few words of Scripture along with a way for them to get in touch if they'd like to hear more? Words from Luke 2--For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Or from Isaiah 53--All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Doesn't have to be a sermon. Just enough to shine a light of hope and an avenue to reach back to you if they so desire.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2019

Thanks to all for the thoughtful answers.
posted by conscious matter at 2:09 PM on January 1

« Older Guided hikes on Vancouver Island   |   Books to beat the holiday blues Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments