1. Do I have to use my own address?
It has been DRSP’s practice that writers exchange letters directly with the person in prison they are writing. Because some facilities now provide the option of using email for correspondence through paid online services, it is possible to correspond without using your home address. DRSP continues to encourage use of your own address as it helps establish trust with the person you’re writing.
2. Why do you need to know my age?
Many prisoners like to write to someone near their own age, which we take into consideration when assigning pen pals. The average age of persons on death row is 45.
If you are under 18, we need to know that you have the support of your parent/guardian, teacher, or pastor to participate in the project. Please ask one of those persons to e-mail or call us to let us know that you have that support at the time you fill out the form. We have found this experience is very valuable for teens and we encourage you to participate.
To read a reflection by teenage correspondents, please click here.
3. Do I have to live in the USA in order to participate in this program?
No. We welcome participants from all around the world. Some prisoners prefer overseas pen pals. If the added postage for overseas is a problem for the prisoner, we try to help with that if we can.
4. I would like to write to someone whose crime did not involve children; can you arrange that?
No. DRSP does not screen prisoners to see what their crimes were. One of the reasons we started DRSP was to give individuals the opportunity to learn to know those on death row beyond the information that is printed about them. Sometimes it’s not accurate; more often, the person sitting on death row is quite different from the person who committed the crime. If you are inclined to use Google to learn more about your pen pal, we suggest you do that before signing up to write to someone.
5. Do I need to be religious or Christian?
Our motivation for starting this organization came from our faith background, but we welcome participants of any or no religious background.
6. How long will it take to get information about a pen pal?
Approximately one week after you sign up, you will receive an email giving you current options. This email will give you an expectation of when you will get the information to begin writing.
7. Can I write to more than one person?
Once you have established a comfortable rhythm in the correspondence with your pen pal you are welcome to request another one. Three months after you start writing, you will receive a follow-up e-mail from us; that is a good time to request a second pen pal, if you are interested.
8. I would prefer to write to a woman on death row; is that possible?
There are about 50 women on death row, and 2500 men. We rarely receive requests from any of the women on death row; however, if you are only interested in writing to a woman, we will send you names and addresses of two or three. You can then write to one of them and ask if she is interested in exchanging letters with you.
9. What if the person I am writing to asks for money?
It is hard to imagine what it must be like not to be able to write because there is no money for a stamp, but with little or no family support, most of the people on death row have to fend for themselves. DRSP’s purpose is to offer support through friendship, not financial assistance. You are not expected to send money; however, some people find they can send a little, which is much appreciated by the person in prison. But please remember you are under no obligation to do so. If you do decide to send money, please ask your pen pal for instructions on how to do so.
10. Can I send things to the person I am writing?
If you want to send things like books, stamps, stationery, or food, ask first whether the person wants them, whether they will be allowed to enter the prison, and how they should be sent. Or use this link to find the regulations for the state in which your pen pal is located.
11. What if I decide I don’t want to write after I receive the information?
Please return the information to the DRSP office so that we can send the information on to someone else.
12. What if my pen pal does not respond?
If you do not receive a reply within within 6-8 weeks, please try writing again. Sometimes mail gets lost or situations keep the prisoner from responding right away. If, however, you do not receive a reply after two or three attempts, please contact us.
13. What if I write for a couple of months and decide this just isn’t for me?
Making the decision to write to someone on death row is a serious commitment. Many individuals who are on death row have experienced the loss of support from family and friends. It is important for them to know that they can count on regular letters or contact from a pen pal. Therefore, we encourage you to try to maintain the one-year commitment. However, if after two or three letter exchanges you are having difficulties or questions, please contact us.
14. I’d like to donate money for the work of Death Row Support Project; how can I do that?
DRSP is a project of the Church of the Brethren, Inc. If you are in the US and wish to write a check, it should be written to Church of the Brethren and mailed to DRSP, PO Box 600, Liberty Mills IN 46946. If you are in another country, or if it’s your preference, you can donate online with a credit card or PayPal. Look for the Give to DRSP button on DRSP’s home page.
DRSP also gratefully accepts donations of US stamps (including postcard and international stamps). They can be mailed to the above address.