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For Immediate Release

07-18-03 2:00 p.m. EST
WriteAPrisoner.com - Susan Smith

Contact:
Press at WriteAPrisoner.com
P.O. Box 10
Edgewater, FL 32132
Fax: 386-427-5958
Phone: 386-427-5857 (For members of the media)
E-mail: Contact Press Department

Dear Friends,

First, let me say thank you for the overwhelming amount of positive mail we have received and a warm welcome to the many new visitors on our site. While not everyone had something nice to say, we do respect your right to say it.

I would also like to offer my sincerest apologies to everyone for using the term "freak show" to describe recent events at WriteAPrisoner.com. I made the term in reference to the media hype, not Ms. Smith or the people writing her. Taken out of context as it was I realize the statement had a negative connotation, and for that I sincerely apologize.

While stories will continue to run about what has taken place here, this will serve as our final comment regarding the events of the past week. We have received an overwhelming amount of mail requesting that we do not ask Ms. Smith to remove her ad. After reconsideration, we do feel that it would be hypocritical to do this, and the South Carolina Department of Corrections announced Friday that the increase in her mail is not anything they can't handle.  That, of course, was our primary concern, as it remains our goal to work collaboratively with the system in everyone's best interests. However, we are still contacting her to inquire what she would like to do regarding her ad. She has received thousands of responses, and we leave it up to her to determine her ability to respond to all of the mail.

Some final thoughts:

  • Over one million people have visited our site this week.  Although we turned off the email forwarding service a few hours into the media frenzy, Ms. Smith still received thousands of email messages. Frankly, we are amazed at the sensationalized approach some members of the media have taken to this story.
  • The majority of responses have been positive and supportive ranging from forgiving to empathetic; many cited having had a friend or family member in the prison system at one time or another.
  • We were surprised to receive an overwhelming amount of responses from military personnel, most stationed overseas. They emphasized the importance of mail call and the pain of isolation, and their messages to inmates have been heartwarming and encouraging.
  • We have also had an overwhelming response from ex-convicts. Like most of you, this was the first time they had heard of our service, and all were adamant in their support. They described the despair and loneliness of the prison cell and reiterated the importance of mail call and a connection to the outside world.  Prison life is one of hope vs. despair, and letters of friendship offer hope.
  • Although we have received some hate mail, a few folks have written to retract those statements. We are grateful for this, and would like to say that your insightful suggestions are appreciated. We are here to stay, and by working together we can accomplish more good. When we resort to hating, we are no better than those we hate.
  • INMATES DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET! While most of you already realize this, an amazing number of people (thanks to misinformation conveyed by several media sources) believe inmates can sit around typing away on computers. This bizarre misconception is a myth. We print and mail the email forwards to inmates. Inmates then respond via postal mail - their only source of communication other than placing expensive collect calls.
  • We will continue to post the crimes for which inmates are convicted. We want pen pals to embark on their relationships with inmates having full disclosure.
  • The First Amendment is a tried and true tenet of the American concept of liberty. People in prison lose many rights, and this loss of rights varies from state to state. Even after they have served their sentence and paid their debt to society, many lose their right to vote; many lose their right to bear arms. However, courts in Arizona and California have upheld inmates' First Amendment rights to post personal ads via the Internet. Free speech does exist behind bars.
  • If writing to inmates is something you choose not to do, you have the right to hit your "back" button and leave this site.  However, censorship has no place in a free society, and many of your neighbors choose to visit this site in order to view inmates' stories and write to them.
  • Letter writing - any type of positive, human contact - reduces recidivism. As a society we cannot, we must not, turn our backs on these two million incarcerated men and women.  Over 80% of them will return to society one day.   We share a collective obligation - to them, to each other, to the future of this country - to reach out a hand of encouragement that they will come back and contribute to society.  The cost of incarceration is a heavy financial burden on taxpayers and a heavy social burden.  Young children travel hundreds of miles on weekends to see Mommy or Daddy in the visiting room of a state or federal institution. When they go to school on Monday morning and their teachers ask, "How was your weekend?" what do you think goes through their minds?  We MUST NOT let prisons continue to be society's dumping grounds.  The waste of human potential is incalculable, the heartache immeasurable.  Reducing recidivism should be every American's goal.
  • We are NOT insensitive to victims of crimes.  Indeed, our hearts ache for those who have suffered as victims.  Our service serves two very important purposes: 1) letter writing reduces recidivism by helping inmates build lasting relationships that have led to helping them find jobs and a place to live - something most states have been unable to do, and 2) posting inmates' personal stories may prevent other people from ending up in prison. Our ultimate goal is to prevent more pain and suffering.
  • It has been pointed out to us in the last few days that we do not specifically address victims' needs and rights on our web site.  In fact, this is conspicuous by its absence, and we are grateful to many of you for having brought it to our attention.  We are brainstorming ways we can reach out to victims, and you will see this added as a new feature to our site.

Lastly, our staff would like to thank everyone for their support through this unusual and trying time. It has been a tremendous learning and growing experience for all of us.

May all your days be happy ones...

With warmest regards,

The Staff at WriteAPrisoner.com

Some states have taken the lead in encouraging letter writing.  The State of Missouri Department of Corrections posted this message on its web site:

One of the most important ways you can communicate with an offender is through written correspondence. Encourage your family and friends to write! Even if you are coming to visit soon and have talked on the phone recently, a letter is really appreciated, especially in light of the fact that your contact with an incarcerated loved one is restricted. If you have a few free minutes, send a quick note or card!

- END PRESS RELEASE -


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