Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Thin Line Between Love and Inmate

With the emergence of the Internet as a tool to find love, there is no wonder why online dating services are thriving even in this recession bound economy. You can find any type of online dating website for whatever your dating preference may be. If you don't believe me just Google what you like along with the word dating and I bet that you find some online dating website that offers it. I have seen advertisements for BBW (Big Beautiful Women), Interracial, Gay/Homosexual, Christian, Ebony, etc. all over the Internet. Well there is a blog soon to come about online dating but I wanted to focus this blog on a specific area of online dating. I recently I saw a disturbing advertisement in a magazine. It was an advertisement for a Prison Internet Dating website.

Now this disturbed me for a number of reasons. First, I started to think that to me the Internet, much like cable television is really a luxury item. So, I began to wonder why on earth are my tax dollars going to anything more than the basic essentials for prisoners? For instance, food, water, bed, and some books. At the time I didn't even have Internet access and was sort of appalled that someone doing time in jail could access the Internet. I was not for sure if this was true or if this ad was some sort of scam so I decided do some research and find out if prison inmates do indeed have Internet access.

Well much to my surprise the articles I came across actually did prove the advertisement to be legit. There really are some states and some prisons that allow for prison inmates to have limited access to the Internet. Apparently those prisons that do have Internet but have strict guidelines and security measures and inmates are monitored while using the Internet. But most prisons choose not to allow inmates access to the Internet. There are many reasons why prisons choose to restrict or eliminate Internet use amongst prisoners. One major reason is pretty simple let us not forget these are criminals. So, there is a greater potential for inmates to use the Internet for criminal activity. The biggest fear is probably the possibility of inmates using the Internet to threaten or harass witnesses/victims and their families.

So what do these Jail Dating websites really do? Well at inmates seek pen pals to write them. So the inmates place an ad on the site that includes details about them (some including the crime they were convicted of) and an optional picture. You can click on the inmate that interests you and there you have it their prison address. Send off your letter and then there you have it you have now made your connection with an inmate. Also, you have the option to e-mail a message and they will download and mail it directly to the prisoner. Seems like a pretty simple process. Also, and offer a very similar service. However, there are sites such as and that actually charge you a nominal fee ($5 and up) to receive the prisoners mailing address. The theory behind these websites is simply that prisoners are lonely and communication with the outside world is beneficial in the rehabilitation of the inmate. Also, we all know there isn't much to do in prison and as the old saying goes"an idle mind is the devil's playground."

The problem with some of these pay sites is that some of them are total scams. To be honest if you're really looking for a prison inmate to connect with and write most local and state corrections facilities have websites. For instance, you can search for prisoners inside any Illinois Corrections Facility simply by logging on their website. They list along with the inmate's picture, their full name, age, height, weight, types of tattoos, and the crime they are convicted of and the expected release date. Of course it also lists their inmate # and you can obtain the mailing address if you really wanted to write them. In fact, I would go as far to say that if dating inmates is your thing then this would be a better and safer route than using any of the aforementioned websites. The reason being, that on those websites you have no way to verify if the information listed is accurate. So if John Doe lists on that he is in jail for robbery serving 5 years how are you to even know if this is true? It could be that John is really serving 25 to life for murder. I would say verifying the information about the prisoner would be the way to avoid possibly being scammed.

Snail mail or mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service has dramatically decreased over the years. With the ability to E-Mail, instant message, text, and pay bills online, most don't really find a need for postage stamps anymore. Hence, the constant rate hikes on postage stamps. Also, e-mail has become the most preferred method of contact when it comes to mail. To demonstrate this fact I have 2 key examples.

First, my 4 year old son was recently talking to my aunt on the phone. And some how she mentioned she wanted him to mail her some money. Well he agreed and said I will and asked her what's your E-Mail address? No he didn't ask her physical address. At 4 years old he's up to date on technology and has no concept of postal mail.

The next example deals directly with the topic at hand. My brother was recently requested by a female friend of his that was incarcerated to write her in jail. Well he asked me if I had ever written anyone in jail and what should they even say to the person incarcerated. Well I first had to even think when was the last time I even sat down and wrote a hand written letter. To my recollection it had been probably at least 5-7 years. But much like my son was thinking, I said if the letter can't be e-mailed there's a good chance you're not getting it from me jail or no jail. LoL. Well to make a long story short he never sat down and wrote the letter. She wrote him a few times pleading him to write back but he just couldn't do it. Well when she got out of jail the first thing she asked was "Why didn't you write me?" Sadly to avoid hurting her feelings he lied and said he did write and it must have been somehow lost between the mailbox and the prison.

But I think it's safe to say that many people are like me and rarely take the time to write a letter to someone in prison. I'm sure it somewhat has to do with not knowing what to really say to them. This is probably a good reason why some inmates receive little to no mail while incarcerated. But of course when they get out of jail just like my brother's friend did they will ask "Why didn't you write me?"

However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (The Fed) has come up with a way that can maybe combat this problem. They have introduced a program called TRULINCS short for (Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System). This system allows for inmates to have limited computer access where they send and receive e-mails without having to access the Internet. The system is in a limited number of BOP facilities but is expected to be in all facilities by 2011. Basically the way the system works is this. The inmate must request to have a person added to their [prison] approved list of contacts. The system generates a request to that person advising them that the inmate wishes to communicate with them through e-mail. Once the recipient approves they can then begin sending e-mails. All correspondence is monitored, the e-mails can not exceed 13,000 characters (approximately 2 pages), and no attachments can be included. And I'm happy to report that funding for TRULINCS is not provided by tax payers. In fact, funding is provided entirely by the Inmate Trust Fund, which is maintained by profits from inmate purchases of commissary products, telephone services, and the fees inmates pay for TRULINCS.

So, one of my main questions is what is the draw to dating someone in prison? I mean it's a little bit different if you're already with that person and they happen to go to jail then and you just want to stand by your man or woman. However, I'm curious to know, has the dating pool been so depleted that we are now resorting to searching for available bachelors and bachelorettes in jail? Or is it a deeper reason why individuals will search for convicted felons to date? I recall on an episode of the sitcom "Seinfeld" the character George was dating a woman in prison. He stated that it was the perfect relationship because "he knows where she is, doesn't have to worry about the pop in, and has little competition." LoL. Regardless of the reasoning behind searching for a companion in jail I guess the main point is there is someone for everyone. This includes prison inmates. I mean everyone needs love right?


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