We try to match people in accordance with the preferences stated by both inside and outside penpals. However, there are often significant differences between inside and outside penpals, particularly with respect to personal experiences, levels of privilege, and areas of interest. The reality is that you may be matched with someone who is different from you in lots of ways. From our experience, this is a positive thing, and most people (both inside and out)have made great connections through both similarities and differences. We hope that you will too.
The Bent Bars Collective is committed to supporting all prisoners, regardless of their charges or convictions. We take this approach because we recognise that the reasons why people end up in prison are complex and we are not in a position to judge. We also recognise that the prison system disproportionately targets people who already face high levels of inequality, discrimination and oppression.
This is not to excuse the serious harms that some prisoners may have committed; rather, it is to recognise that giving up on people or reducing them to their conviction is not a successful strategy for accountability and healing. The Bent Bars Collective is committed to anti-violence work and believes that such work requires us to break cycles of violence rather than perpetuate them through isolation and marginalisation.
Outside penpals sometimes request not to be matched with someone charged or convicted of a particular offence. We always try to meet people's requests as much as possible, based on the information we have, as the Bent Bars Collective feels it is important to respect penpals' boundaries and comfort levels. At the same time, it is important to be aware that we do not ask prisoners to disclose what they are in prison for (justas we do not ask outside penpals to tell us the worst thing they have ever done). We also have no direct access to prisoners’ records, so we can never fully guarantee the background of the person you are matched with (just as we don’t/can’t guarantee the background of outside penpals either).
Because of the stigma associated with certain kinds of offences, prisoners with convictions for violence sometimes wait along time for a penpal. Prisoners with such convictions are often people who have experienced high levels of violence, trauma and discrimination in their own lives. If you are willing to write to someone regardless of charge or conviction its helpful if you state that on your penpal questionnaire form.