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.