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Should Inmates be Allowed to Have Pen Pals?
By Judith A. Yates
Published: 05/27/2013

Mailboxes Catherine May Wood, sentenced to prison for the murder of nursing home patients and the subject of a popular true crime book, has a pen pal ad online. This is despite a law in Florida, where she is incarcerated, that forbids inmates to seek online pen pals.

On October 5, 2008, Wood posted two photographs of herself along with her physical attributes (6’0, 280 pounds, 44-38-48) on cowtowninfo.com (formerly jailbabes.com). She also included the following:

Teach me! I've been incarcerated for two decades. I go to the parole board soon and I need someone who's kind and patient to teach me about the exciting new things in the world. I'm looking for a friend, male or female, to teach me everything I forgot. Are you honest? I am honest and non-judgmental. We can talk about anything and everything. I've never done drugs and I don't smoke. I like to play and have fun. Do you have time for a good friend? Of course, Catherine Wood makes no mention of her conviction for murdering at least five elderly patients in a Michigan nursing home. Before and during the crimes, Wood had a reputation as being manipulative, childish, and “evil,” according to friends, family, and the nursing home staff. She would later confess to child abuse, theft, child molestation, drug use, molestation and abuse of elderly victims, and the murders.

In 2003 the Florida Department of Corrections created a policy prohibiting inmates from advertising for pen pals or receiving mail from pen pal groups. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger explained, "We're doing it to protect the public. Inmates can have pen pals — they just can't solicit for pen pals” (NY Daily News). The idea, officials explain, is to prevent inmates from committing mail fraud and scams, to protect innocent people from sending contraband and money to inmates, and for overall security and safety.

According to one Texas prison officer, “If an inmate is not attractive, they get photos of prettier inmates and post the picture as their own. They ask for money and tell lies about their horrible treatment (by the prison system). People believe it and send anything the inmate asks for.”

On cowtowninfo.com, the potential pen-pal is warned: When you write to any inmates in Florida state prisons, do not mention that you found their "pen pal ad"...it's against DOC policy for inmates to advertise for pen pals on the Internet. More and more institutions are adopting the law. Those who operate the online pen pal groups argue the law interferes with an inmate’s constitutional right, but courts have struck down the argument thus far. In 2011, “a federal appeals court … rejected a complaint from three pen-pal services that challenged a Florida policy banning inmates from advertising themselves on the online sites” (www.firstamendmentcenter.org).

Strangers write to inmates for many reasons: seeking love, seeking excitement, loneliness, notoriety, and pity. Some are scammed out of money and goods. Others are not. Do pen pals assist inmates in fighting feelings of isolation, and help them adjust to society? Or are inmate pen pal groups just another way for a con to be a con artist?

Corrections.com author, Judith Yates, is a criminologist who has lectured on domestic violence prevention for over 20 years. A former Correctional Officer Specialist and trainer with the Bureau of Prisons, she is now a true crime writer and a trainer available for guest speaking engagements. She can be reached at judithayates@yahoo.com

Other articles by Judith A. Yates:


  1. skittles47 on 09/01/2013:

    She is in Florida but in a federal detention center. Federal trumps state. I don't think there is a problem at all prisoners having pen pals. A support system is an important tool for the rehabilitation of offenders.

  2. MissElizabeth on 05/28/2013:

    Sites like www.writeaprisoner.com who make sure the information is accurate before posting it are doing a good thing. They also are helping ex-cons find work. This is also a really good thing. Banning this type of thing is just going to make it harder to reintegrate these people. Florida should change this.

  3. Fred Davis on 05/27/2013:

    These are State issues,

  4. Fred Davis on 05/27/2013:

    There wee no weapons of mass destruction and how a person wants to die in agreement is a personal matter that is between family members, If a law in unconstitutional it is bad law. Circumventing the Constitution empowers Court activism and can make the Supremes or another court more than equal of the three branches,DOC can make these decisions on their ow locally by state,.

  5. Fred Davis on 05/27/2013:

    One cannot con an honest individual who is discerning and mature. Looking for friends on the internet or in the mail shows that someone is already desperately in need of being a people pleaser and has little to offer in real agape love. Florida already allowed the Federal Government nose in the Terry Schaivo case which should have been a local issue but Jeb Bush was a family interventionist as much as Gearge Bush intervened in countries that had no Mfs. Both were busybodies in other individuals matters, When one is in prison one should cut off the world and work on self and leave co-dependent types alone.

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