Prisons are the bottom line in the state's control
over us. Resisting the prison system is part of challenging the
status quo, but supporting those who get caught and imprisoned
for their beliefs should be a vital part of any movement, too.
Writing to Prisoners
Prison is designed to grind you down, and it
isolates people from the outside world. Writing to prisoners helps
break this down. It might be intimidating to sit down and write
a letter to a stranger, but you can keep it short the first time.
Just sending a card with a few well wishes and some words about
who you are can brighten up someone's day and make them feel remembered.
It can also possibly lead on to a correspondence.
Some people, when they write to prisoners are
afraid of talking about their lives, what they're up to, thinking
this might depress someone locked up or just not be of interest.
But prison life is dead boring, and any news that livens it up
is generally welcome. Use your sense, don't write about things
that are likely to get the prisoner into trouble with the screws
or get you or anyone else into trouble.
Remember to include a return address, also on
the envelope. Don't necessarily expect an answer - some prisons
restrict the number of letters a prisoner can write or receive,
or the person may be out of stationery/stamps, or just not be
very good at writing letters.
Passing cards round meetings, the pub or among
your friends for people to sign with messages of support is an
easy thing to do to brighten up a prisoner's mailtime. Or maybe
you have the time to start up regular letter writing sessions
with your friends, with the purpose of motivating each other to
If you are up for it - don't offer your help
if you aren't - ask what items the prisoner can receive in the
post, or give the prison a ring, as this varies from prison to
prison. It also often depends on which screw handles your post
and what mood they're in!
Stamps: You can usually include a couple in a
letter without problems - mention that you have in your letter
(they might just disappear otherwise). If writing to someone outside
the UK, you can include some International Reply Coupons (IRC's)
that are available at any post office and can be used in place
Stationery: Remand prisoners are normally allowed
to use writing paper (not wire bound) and envelopes sent in to
them. Ask convicted prisoners what they're allowed.
Books: There are different regulations on this
too, so ask. More than often a prisoner can only receive books
directly from the publisher - this goes for alternative magazines
as well - or via a recognised distributor or bookshop. A friendly
bookshop will usually oblige if you buy the book and pay for the
Pamphlets/Zines: These seem to get through to
most prisons in the UK okay if they're not too big and folded
up inside a normal sized envelope, for some reason. They are often
counted as photocopies which are, up to a certain amount, usually
Tapes: Home-recorded tapes are often allowed,
but ask. Use see-through ones.
If you are up for travelling to visit a prisoner,
mention this to them. But bear in mind that convicted prisoners
are only entitled to a limited number of visits (remand prisoners
to much more), usually about 2-3 a month lasting up to 2 hours
with 2-3 people. The prisoner will then have to send out a visiting
order (V.O.) to the persons wanting to visit them, fully naming
each visitor. You will need to identify yourself at the gate,
so take along sufficient I.D., and 'clean up' before you go -
getting caught with even the tiniest bit of drug residue or anything
else dodgy can have serious consequences for the prisoner.
Ask whether the prisoner you are in touch with wants publicity
for their case, or protest letters written. If you can raise money,
ask where it's needed.
There are a number of prisoner support groups
around. Get in touch to find out more and to read about some of
the prisoners that shouldn't be forgotten.
Brighton Anarchist Black Cross, c/o 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton
BN2 2GY email@example.com
check out www.brightonabc.org.uk
Earth Liberation Prisoners, BM Box 2407, London WC1N 3XX
check out www.geocities.com/earthlibprisoner
Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group, BCM 1160, London
Miscarriages of Justice UK, justiceUK@appleonline.net
check out www.ncadc.org.uk
Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, firstname.lastname@example.org
Haven Distribution (books to prisoners), BM Haven, London