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What to Send to Inmates

If you have a loved one in prison, or perhaps a pen pal, communication can be quite limited and there are also restrictions to what to send to inmates. One of the best things to do is to buy books for inmates. There are several platforms where you can order them from and which deliver directly to prisons. Besides books, there are also other items you could send.

Especially now, during this pandemic, most prisoners are kept in lockdown (more than they were before). My pen pals have been spending days in their cells with no chance of ever getting some yard time or even a little stroll in the hallway, and it can’t be easy being locked in a small room for days on end …

what to send to inmates

At the end of January 2021 I became pen pal with people who are imprisoned in various states in the US, and over these last months my eyes have been opened wide and my perceptions have changed. I don’t see things the way I used to. I have learned a lot and I know that I haven’t even learned half of it. Friendships are forming, we are getting to know each other.

I sent two of my pen pals a book, a gesture they really appreciated. They devoured the books in a few days, so I guess that I picked the right ones 😉 I sent Rising Tide to one of them and About a Boy to my other pen pal.

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What are the most accepted items you can send an inmate?

  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Letters (either via normal postal service or email – if the facility allows email)
  • Photos
  • Cards (for birthdays or other celebrations)
  • Commissary money

The list is short and there are also restrictions, based on each facility.


You cannot send books, newspapers, and magazines directly, since most correctional facilities stipulate that the books must be sent by the publisher. So, you should order a book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and have it sent from there. Make sure you send softcover books.

When you select a book, pick a genre your loved one enjoys or a book that can help with rehabilitation. Books are a wonderful way to spend the time, especially if they are locked in their cells for days. By diving into a book they’ll get the chance to escape into another world, at least for a little while.

Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble ship to prisons.



Sending letters and/or emails makes an inmate feel connected to the outside world. Emails are sent via internet-based services you have to sign up for. There is a small cost for each email you send (around 0,25 cent).

Letters and emails can be the highlight of the day, so if you are interested in learning more about being a pen pal to an inmate, check out this article here: writing to an inmate.


Needless to say that photos definitely help an inmate feel connected to the outside world. You can send pictures of yourself, your dogs, cats, neighborhood, friends, and family, in summary, everything you talk about. I have sent my pen pals photos of the arroyo near my house where I take my dogs for a walk, my land, the sunset, the moon in a dramatic pink sky, and more.

Make sure to check with the facility how many photos are allowed to come in one letter.


A celebratory card is always a nice surprise, especially to someone who is cut off from the outside world. For a birthday, Christmas, Easter, or just because, cards always bring a smile to someone’s face.

There are certain rules to follow before you send a card, though. (source: connectnetwork)

  • They can’t have any glitter, stickers, or anything else decorative
  • No electronics (singing cards, definitely not)
  • No pop ups or multiple layers
  • They can’t be suggestive. The cards must be appropriate.

birthday cards

Money for Commissary

You can also send money, if you’d like to. It can make all the difference and improve their quality of life. Commissary money can get them the bare essentials such as snacks (to supplement meals), funds to communicate with loved ones and pen pals (remember, there is a cost per each email), and other basic things they need.

Although prisons provide them with three meals a day, the time to eat is very short, and the food isn’t that good. Having commissary money to buy additional snacks and perhaps even vitamins will help them stay healthy.


You might wonder if their loved ones don’t send money. In many cases, I think they do, but there are also others who are on their own, with no relatives to deposit funds. As a pen pal you do not have to send money; and be wary of people who are asking you to send money right away, but in general, it is a great gesture that will go a long way. It is entirely up to you.

Final Thoughts

So, even if the list of items you can send is short, they will make your beloved’s day. Next week I am sending one of my pen pals the sequels of Rising Tide, because he said he enjoyed it so much and my other pen pal will get Aurélie – Survival, a book I wrote (he told me he wants to read it 🙂 ).

If you have a loved one in prison, a letter, a card, a magazine, photos, or commissary money will be a great gift. You could also send a care package from Amazon, but remember that it should only have the items I mentioned in this article.

Do you have a loved one or a pen pal in prison or would you like to become a pen pal? Let me know in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “What to Send to Inmates

  1. Hello, Oh! this is a Good Idea for a pen pal I didn’t know about this. This is something new for me. It can be a great way to socialize with Inmates and give them a little kindness and show the outside life with pictures.
    Thank you for sharing

  2. Hey Christine, these are some great ideas! Your post made me realize how much worse the inmates must be feeling with this whole lockdown situation. It is so heartwarming that you care enough to keep in touch and send thoughtful gifts. I was just wondering why you specified the books to be sent to be paperback only. Any specific reason for this?

    1. Hi Sasha,

      Every prison has its own policies, but in general only paperbacks seem to be allowed. Hard cover books are usually returned or the covers are ripped of.

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