This information is based on the personal experiences of an attender of the Orange Grove Friends Meeting while corresponding with several prisoners in the California prison system. These experiences may not necessarily be applicable in other States or later times. June 24, 2019
You may wish to give a small gift for a birthday or Christmas. I give $25, and it’s always very appreciated. You can send stationery, personal checks, or money orders in letters to the prisoner. All other gifts must be delivered by major retailers.
Send the gift at least 3 weeks in advance because gifts move slowly through prisons. I have assumed throughout this article that you wish to conceal your identity. If you don’t wish to, giving gifts is a lot simpler. Just call a retailer or go on-line and send as you would to anyone else.
Stationery and Drawing Paper. You can include with your letters limited amounts of writing paper, drawing paper (to some prisons), envelopes sized for letters, larger envelopes (to some prisons), blank greeting cards, and postage stamps. The limitations vary by prison and are not necessarily easy to find out. Your pen pal likely knows the limitations. I play it safe and include no more than 10 of any one item except stamps—I send 1 little sheet of First Class stamps.
Sending money. As far as I know, all California prisoners are eligible to receive money, at least in small amounts. Many methods of sending money will reveal your identity. However, you do not have to reveal your identity if you use a money order.
I purchase money orders with cash at a drugstore. The money is made payable to the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) with the prisoner’s name and ID number in the account line. I use my pseudonym and the return address that I always use, my Quaker Meeting House. According to the CDCR website, a hold is placed on the money order for 30 days before the prisoner receives it.
Another way to conceal your identity is to set up an account for the prisoner at Walkenhorsts, a major retailer to prison inmates. You call Walkenhorsts and put money on account for the prisoner with a credit card. The prisoner can only spend this money via the Walkenhorst catalog. The prisoner is notified and can then access your gift. Walkenhorsts says that they do not reveal the donor’s identity to the prisoner.
JPay, another retailer to prisoners, also allows money to be put on account for the prisoner. But JPay tells the prisoner the name of the donor.
I always speak with an agent of the company and confirm current policy on revealing the identity of the donor.
Books: Books can be sent only via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
- Do not use a third-party bookseller like a used bookstore that sells via Amazon. Amazon or Barnes & Noble should fulfill the order themselves.
- When I last checked in 2018, both companies reveal the name of the donor to the prisoner even if you check the box saying that it’s a gift. (Amazon policy may have changed on this—you can call Amazon and check.) To conceal your identity, set up a special account that uses a pseudonym and Meeting House address. See next step.
- This is how I set up a pseudonymous account with Amazon: I bought a pre-paid credit card from the grocery store that can be used on-line. The cheapest type at this time (Feb. 15, 2016) is a “gift card.” When I register the card on-line I use my pseudonym and Meeting House address. I buy additional pre-paid cards as needed, using the same pen name. I know of no liability of doing this.
- Send only paperbacks; no hardbacks.
Other Gifts: You can send gifts of clothes, food, electronics, and other items via the prison retailers, JPay and Walkenhorsts. They list entire catalogs of items. The easiest approach is to put money on the account of the prisoner and let the prisoner choose what he/she likes.