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by Abigail Van Buren

Prisoners' Pen Pals Get Letters Filled With Fraud

DEAR ABBY: I work for the Department of Corrections in Arizona, and I have seen a practice started by many well-meaning ministers who encourage their congregations to write to prisoners. I understand their intentions are good, but they are unaware of how dangerous this could be to their parishioners.

One teen-age girl started writing to an inmate. He told her he was 23 and in on drug charges. A suspicious adult called our information center and was told that he was 48 and a child molester! He was also coming up for parole.

Another lady started writing a prisoner. He told her what she wanted to hear, so when he came up for early release she offered him a place to stay. (Convicts need a place to live for any type of early release.) He immediately started selling drugs from her house, stole several thousand dollars from her, and her house was even raided.

These men are cons. They have the time to devote much attention to the person they are writing to. They can and will tell people what they want to hear, and someone who is lonely and has a good heart can be deeply hurt.

Please, Abby, warn your readers not to engage in this practice. I'm signing my name -- but please do not print it. -- CONCERNED IN ARIZONA

DEAR CONCERNED: Thank you for the graphic warning. I hope that those individuals who need it will heed your message.

I don't believe that anyone who has ever spent time in prison is beyond rehabilitation. However, those who are considering correspondence would be well advised to proceed with caution. Well-intentioned people tend to accept without skepticism information that seems to parallel their hopes and beliefs. Felons are often skilled manipulators who bring their skills to prison with them -- and have many years to sharpen them.

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing about the man who wrote to say that his wife verbally abused their child. You must tell him to stand up to that woman and insist that it stop, or he is taking the child and leaving her. If she were beating or sexually abusing the boy, that is what he would say. Verbal abuse is all the more dangerous because people let it happen.

The man said that he had received counseling to deal with his wife's verbal abuse. Well, that counseling has not worked if he is still afraid to stand up to her. Abuse happens because people are afraid to do what is necessary to put an end to it.

I would bet this man had angry parents, and that's why he has a deep fear of doing what it takes to stop his wife's abusive behavior. -- MELINDA STENGEL, LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER, EVANSTON, ILL.

DEAR MS. STENGEL: And I'm willing to bet you're correct. However, there's no excuse for permitting the abuse to continue or to put off getting whatever help is necessary to end it.

DEAR ABBY: "I'll bet you don't remember me, do you?" I dread hearing that question, and I'm sure other schoolteachers do, too.

After 34 years (so far) in the classroom, I simply can't remember the names of all my former students. Answering "No" diminishes the initial joy we both should feel in recalling that relationship.

This deflating situation could be avoided if one would say, "I'm John Smith. Do you remember me?"

Any advice on how to handle this awkward but all-too-common predicament? -- LONGTIME SCHOOLTEACHER

DEAR LONGTIME TEACHER: The answer to your question is one that could apply to anyone who is asked this embarrassing question. Simply say, "Your face is very familiar, but I'm sorry, your name escapes me. What is it?"

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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