|Should Inmates be Allowed to Have Pen Pals?|
|By Judith A. Yates|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles by Judith A. Yates:
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