Writing to prisoners as a blind man.

It’s been a few years since I’ve started writing to prisoners.

as I’m comparing the letters I get from my friends inside prisons, to the messages I’ve received on a few dating sites, I’m appreciating letters far more than I initially thought.

I began writing to prisoners because I became very tired of the dating scene. No matter what dating app I try, or no matter what dating service I try to use, I’m always going to be at a disadvantage because of the disabilities, socially and technologically. Apps won’t be accessible. People won’t reveal aspects of themselves because they always just tell me to look at pictures or to send them pictures without really communicating via text. Websites won’t be designed with accessibility in mind, even having unlabeled edit fields and unlabeled buttons.

I decided to find an avenue where we wouldn’t be starting out with pictures. I figured that people inside prisons would be the least judgmental because we had a societal commonality, even if it wasn’t apparent. Society, as a whole, looks down on both the disabled and prisoners. While things are still getting better, the initial judgment will always still be there, influencing thoughts and making people have pre conceived notions about our worth and value.

Of course, I’m not naive. I know that inmates will want to see me eventually and will eventually want to talk to me on the phone and have video visits, but we’re still starting off with letters. For once, we’re starting off from the same place. They don’t have an advantage over me, and they can’t just send me back a quick one liner about my naked body, expecting a reply. With a letter, they’re forced to put more thought into the letter. Otherwise, the pen pal relationship will fizzle out faster than you can blink.

I’ve cultivated many long lasting relationships with my pen pals in prison. By the time we get to the phone call stage, we’re already established through stories and letters. We’re not starting off from a sea of unknown profile pictures and an awkward first meeting. We’re building textual chemistry end we’re building a connection through thoughts and questions. This, I can promise you, is way more awesome than it sounds.

Also, as a cheeky aside, writing to inmates is far cheaper than paying for dating websites. It’s not free, but I can guarantee you the amount you pay to email, or write to, inmates will be far cheaper than a subscription to a dating app that could go well over $100.

Whenever I’d go on dates, the dates would be a quick, hurried, want to meet at my place, your place, or a public place? I don’t know why people want to rush and get it over with and not slow down and talk to each other for a few weeks, a month, or more before going out, but I started to see dating as a giant waste of money. Between the subscription I was paying on the dating sites, and the cab rides to and from, and, in some cases, food and tickets, I’d end up spending $150 or more per date if you count the dating service subscription. Even after telling people, I was broke, very few offered to cover the cab rides or food or tickets. Plus, with me having disabilities, my energy would be completely whipped after the date, but mister date would be hot and Horney, leaving me feeling obligated and out of place when all I want to do after a date is sleep and ruminate on it the next day, perhaps over a keyboard or a phone call with one of my close friends.

Even though all the men would tell me how hot I was, I began to wonder if I’m too disabled for normal dating. I just couldn’t keep dating the normal way, trying out people as if they were interesting slot machines. Most aggravatingly, that date money could have been spent to pay my bills or get food.

I finally just decided to jump in and write to prisoners after closing my dating accounts. I don’t know where I heard about writing to inmates, I think I just stumbled upon it, watched some very interesting YouTube videos about writing to prisoners, and then I set off to try this new text based venture.

It’s been far more rewarding than I initially thought. Some relationships are friends. Some are deeper. All lasted for many years, and I don’t foresee this stopping anytime soon.

Of course, naturally, there’ve been people that just don’t click with me, or I don’t click with them, but that’s fine. Even as we part ways, our letters have been far more detailed than a simple, hey! On an app or website.

I’ve got friends inside walls from all walks of life. Trans men and women, straight men and women, non-binary people, the list is endless. I’ve talked on the phone and have visited, virtually, with many of them. Even so, the bulk of my correspondents have been through letter writing because of my very busy schedule.

I honestly wouldn’t trade these connections for an in person connection. Is it all sunshine and roses? No. It’s definitely not all sunshine and roses, but I’m getting so much education from these letters, it’s overshadowing any education I’ve learned online about social justice and the human condition.

Many have even said they’d be more than willing to keep in touch with me after they are released. Not all people want to keep in touch after they are released, and that’s perfectly fine. The point is, we’ve made an impact on each other, and that’s far more valuable education than I could have ever thought possible.

I’ll explain how I write to prisoners as a Blind man, but first, I asked one of my pen pals if he’d be willing to briefly talk about what he gets out of these letters. He eagerly said he’d love to share.

As a black man, Robert and I conversate every month. His letters are showing me that even though he might be white, and I am black, I can learn a lot from a white man! In all seriousness, it’s taught me about intersectionality and humans. At the end of the day, we can look past the racialism of society and learn to listen to each other. Listening is the best education in the world. We’re not the best allies to each other, but it’s not about perfectly dismantling injustices. As we understand each other, those injustices will topple, little by little. I always look forward to Robert’s letters every month.

How I write to prisoners as a blind man.

Because I use a screen reader, I do this a bit differently than most people.

Most people get a PO Box and just have the letters come through there. I took a different route with sending and receiving mail.

The first step was to find a prisoner to write to. The most accessible, for me, has been Write a Prisoner.

The online services to send emails to prisoners are hit and miss when it comes to accessibility, so you can’t be a beginning screen reader user wanting to do this. you’ll need to take some time and really brush up on your screen reader training to make some of these solutions work for you.

Prisoners can email you, and that’s the most accessible way to receive messages. JPay and Corrlinks are pretty accessible, with a few hiccups. Some buttons and edit fields are not labeled, but you can kind of guess what the buttons and links do after looking at the properly labeled elements around them. Securus eMessaging isn’t very accessible on the desktop, yet. I hope that will change soon. The Securus mobile apps are better than expected but still not perfect.

When it comes to writing letters through the mail, I use a service called JMail. JMail will print and ship your letter for you if the inmate can’t email.

For receiving mail, I use US Global Mail, which is a service that scans all your snail mail and sends you a PDF of scanned items upon request. You can deposit paper checks remotely, have mail forwarded if desired, and more. I use it for all my mail needs and haven’t touched snail mail in years. It can also handle and forward packages, as well.

Once I get letters in my mailbox on US Global, I open the PDF’s in Google Docs. Google automatically does OCR on the document, and I just read it as if it were an email.

Phone calls vary by prison to prison, so ask your pen pal how they can call you. You can’t call them. Video visits also vary by prison to prison.

There are large portions of the services that could be easier to use but I don’t know if accessibility will ever be a priority for these technology companies. All the same, though,

I write to prisoners, ultimately, because it’s a far better way to get to know somebody than just trying out a bunch of dating apps. It’s broadened my horizons, and I’ve also listened to some really heartbreaking, but educational, stories. I encourage you to try it. You might be surprised at the connections you make.

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