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December 2006/January 2007
How to Support Political Prisoners
By Maureen C. Wyse


Due to the recent onslaught of arrests and imprisonment of environmental, animal and social justice activists, we must show our support to these individuals. Following this guide you will find various ways to help people held in our government’s prisons. One point of discretion everyone should keep in mind is that each political prisoner has different stipulations and regulations mandated by their specific location of imprisonment and their court sentencing. A key is to always check out prisoners’ support sites before acting on their behalf.

Letter Writing Guide
Rule number one, keep it simple. Always research exactly what prisoners are allowed to receive, how letters should be sent and formatted, how many books or magazines are permitted, etc.

Keep in mind, mail is often read by prison officials, the FBI, the Office of Homeland Security and other officials. Be careful when writing, anything can be used against the prisoner, yourself and your community.

Knowing the importance of letter writing is crucial. Prisons are very lonely, isolating, and disconnected places. Any sort of bridge from the outside world is greatly appreciated. With that in mind, avoid feeling intimidated, especially about writing to someone you do not know. And if possible try and be a consistent pen pal.

Suggestions for Writing:
1. Introduce yourself, what you’re involved with, where you’re from, etc. It may be helpful for you if the first letter is short, or even a postcard.

2. Let these people know what is going on in the movement, the world, the community, everything is crucial as the prison system tries to sever ties with the outside world.

3. Ask them what prison is like, what they plan to do when their time is up, and how you can help.

4. Avoid commenting on their case in general, especially avoid congratulating prisoners or implying that they’re guilty.

5. Avoid giving legal advice or saying anything about illegal activities, even if joking.

Basic Writing Rules:
1. Use only blank notebook or virgin copy paper, no larger than 8 1⁄2 x 11’’.

2. Use only pencils, or blue or black ink pens, avoid using special colored pencils or pens, especially the gel varieties.

3. Avoid decoration, anything that will draw attention, stickers or stamps.

4. Use standard sized, blank white envelopes, those without the clear plastic address windows, special decorations, or self-sealing adhesive closures.

5. Avoid writing anything on the envelope beyond what is required: the prisoner’s address, your full name and a return address. Include your name and return address on each page of the letter as well, as often letters arrive without their envelopes and missing pages. Number the pages of the letter (i.e. 1 of 5).

6. If mailing more than a letter, clearly write the contents of the envelope/package. Label it “CONTENTS” and include a full list.

7. It is suggested to send mail “certified” or with “delivery confirmation” to ensure delivery.

Other Ways to Support:
Here are a few ways to support beyond paper and pen.

1. Donate to prisoners’ legal defense. Legal fees are exorbitant and without fail, all prisoners and those on trial need a large amount of financial assistance. Look up prisoners’ defense funds and donate.

2. Donate to their Commissary Funds. Help them purchase phone cards, toothpaste, soap, socks, stamps, envelopes, etc. As little as $10 a week can cover prisoners’ postage fees. Usually funds can be sent directly to the prison and deposited into the prisoner’s account.

3. Spread the word. Tell others about the case, what’s going on and how they can help.

4. Send books. Books are always appreciated. However, in most circumstances, all books must come directly from publishers or distributors. Also, as in writing, keep discretion when choosing titles. Often, prisoners have support committees maintaining Amazon.com “wish lists” for prisoners. You can visit them online and make purchases.

5. Organize benefits. Music shows, parties, yard sales, auctions, anything you can think up. Use your creativity and you will be surprised at the results.

6. Solidarity actions. Often, the greatest action you can do, especially in the name of those locked up, is continue the struggle for human, earth and animal liberation. Leaflet, hold demonstrations, anything you can to help further the cause. While these people, so devoted to animal, social and environmental activism, are locked inside, act, speak, and teach for them.

For a list of political prisoners, and for updates check out www.spiritoffreedom.org.uk/addresses.html.


 

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