Dear Abby

Pen Pal's Story Could Change After His Release From Prison

DEAR ABBY: I am a parole officer, and while I agree with and support your response to "Smitten in New York" (Aug. 6), I would like to offer an additional comment. People can and do change their lives while incarcerated. However, when they are in a controlled environment, their changed lives on the outside are still in their imaginations.

Many inmates who make very positive plans for their future when they're released, discover life "on the outs" doesn't unfold the way they imagined it would. Some of them deal with substance abuse issues, mental illness, brain injuries and a lack of education and life skills. I would caution "Smitten" not to become too involved with her pen pal after his release until he has proven his ability to be the partner she believes and hopes he will be. -- KELLY IN WASHINGTON STATE

DEAR KELLY: Thank you for your comments. I received many letters from former pen pals of inmates, all advising -- pleading with -- "Smitten" to run as fast as she can from this man. Today, however, I'll print some from those in the know from the "inside." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Smitten" and countless other women (and men) who write and visit inmates do not fully understand the situation they're potentially putting themselves in.

Any one inmate receives numerous letters, graphic photos and visitors, and not all from the same "potential special person." Inmates live and breathe a 24/7 confined life, with nothing to do but find ways to entertain or protect themselves.

It's not far-fetched that an inmate may be under the control of a gang affiliation and need to do certain things to gain a "rep" inside the walls. They have plenty of time to consider the who, how, what and wheres of surviving in jail.

Sure, some inmates have taken a different road, but is "Smitten" ready to bring a con into her family in the hopes that he's telling the truth? I work in a maximum security prison in New York. "Smitten," I strongly urge you to reconsider communicating with this inmate. And I hope you're not sending him money or letting him know your financial situation. -- SEEN FROM THE INSIDE

DEAR ABBY: I am a retired corrections officer from the state of Florida, and this woman has fallen for the most common game played by inmates. One person writes the letter and the others pay him for it with cigarettes or other items they can buy in the canteen. Inmates will come up with amazing fictions to make people feel sorry for them, or send them money to be put in their inmate trust fund.

I can guarantee "Smitten" that this inmate has absolutely no feelings for her and is only using her. If she's that gullible -- or stupid -- she deserves to be used. If she's that lonely, she should get a dog! -- CHRIS IN FLORIDA

DEAR ABBY: I'm a paralegal who has worked for a criminal defense attorney in Florida for many years. Florida has a comprehensive Web site and its offender information search posts not only photos, but also lists prior incarcerations and case information about the crime for which inmates are presently serving. To find the state prison site, "Smitten" should input "Florida Department of Corrections" and look for the "Offender" information search.

"Smitten" is playing with fire, Abby, and if she gets burned it will be because she'd rather believe the fantasy and ignore the reality. She needs to do her homework before accepting this man's declarations as truth. -- FORMERLY BURNED IN FLORIDA

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