Monday 22nd March 2010
     
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Writing your first letter
 

One of the most important actions that we can do as Muslims is support one another. This is not the support of a group, viewpoint or ideal, but the support of one Muslim brother or sister to another.

Many of those in prison have been cast out by their families and friends, mainly due to fear. Others are foreign nationals, with no family or friends in their state or close by. As such, it is imperative that we establish friendships with those in prison, as they embark upon some of the most testing times of their lives.

When speaking to Muslim prisoners, it is very disturbing to hear how little mail some of them actually receive. Prison is a lonely and difficult place for any person, Muslim or non-Muslim. However, Muslims in Prison have specific dietary requirements that are often not met, an obligation of Friday prayers that is sometimes refused, and many other specific concerns. In addition to this, all have to suffer the humiliation of strip-searching at least once every visit. This is distressing for any prisoner, particularly for those whom modesty is a religious obligation.

However, these difficulties are compounded by the lack of compassion, represented in their minds from the number of letters they receive, by the Muslim community. This guide is designed to present to Muslim (men in particular) who want to write, but are not sure how to go about it.

There is a lot of red-tape involved, however this should not be an issue once someone takes the time to read the rules and regulations. There are hundreds of prisoners waiting for your letter and wanting your support. Below are the guidelines and some questions that you may wish to have answered.

 
Who to write to
 
You can find listings of who to write to under "prisoner listings" on the left-hand menu.
 
What do I write?
 
Write to them as you would a pen friend. In your first letter (and please note, this is just a guide), perhaps you would mention something about your background, where you’re from, your age, whether you are married, have kids, etc. Just something to give conversation fuel for a response. You might also want to mention some reminders and narrations from Islam, such as interesting quotes that you have read. Remember as well there is nothing wrong with using kunyas (e.g. Umm Mus’ab, Abdul-Alim, etc) when providing your own name. Often you will find when brothers write back (particularly converts), they do the same.
 
What Don’t I Write?
 
Remember that all mail is read, so do not write anything that would get either yourself or the prisoner in trouble. I would also perhaps not talk about the sentence or what they are in prison for, unless of course the prisoner mentions it in his reply.
 
Why Haven’t I got a Response?
 
Sadly, the life of any prisoner is rudely disrupted by the bureaucracy behind the walls. It is not unknown for mail sent in to be lost or severely delayed (i.e. Months). Sometimes the prisoners do not have the money to pay for stamps, so they may wait until they have enough saved up to respond. Also, some prisoners may be feeling depressed or feel unable to write back, though this is rare as often a letter will cheer them up immensely. Finally, remember if you live in the United Kingdom we have an extremely haphazard postal service! If you do not receive a reply, don’t give up hope but instead write to more prisoners, or again to the same one. You may also wish to send your mail recorded, to ensure it is delivered.
 
 
Guidelines for Writing
 

When writing, you should do the following:-

a. Write their prison Number as well as their name

b. If you want a reply, include a return name and postcode both on the letter and envelope

c. If you can afford it, send the mail “recorded – signed for”.

d. the envelope size should not be bigger than A5

e. Letters can be handwritten or typed

f. prisoners cannot receive any items except postal orders and letters through the post

 
Guidelines for Sending Clothes, Books and Food
 

In the UK, unless the prisoner is a low-medium category and in a low–medium prison facility, they cannot receive any of these items for now. This is possible however for Italian prisoners. However, a few rules to bear in mind:-

1. Don’t make the parcel over 1 KG.

2. Put your name and address on the back of the parcel.

3. Send recorded delivery if possible.

4. Accept the risk that some items will sometimes be seized/stolen by prison officials.

5. For food items, these cannot be containers that can potentially be turned into weapons. Also the food cannot be “fresh” (i.e. perishable fruit or vegetables).

With other countries, check with the prisoner themselves and ask for instructions, or with their families.

     
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