Adopt an Inmate Provides Support & Connection to Incarcerated Individuals

VENETA, Ore. — Adopt an Inmate (AI) is a nonprofit volunteer organization in Veneta that seeks to create extended family for prison inmates. The organization does this in part by matching inmates with volunteers who write letters and maintain correspondence with the inmates while incarcerated. The volunteer letter-writers are known as “adopters.”

Adopt an Inmate was started in 2013 by a family whose loved one/family member was arrested and taken to jail for a crime he did not commit. Since then, the family members not only had to learn how to navigate a system that they did not understand, they had to find ways to support their brother/son/friend who they were suddenly separated from. In working through their own struggles in supporting their incarcerated family member, it occurred to them that there are many more people in a similar situation. The inmate’s family became acutely aware of the loneliness and isolation that incarceration creates for prison inmates.

Volunteers have the option of sending books, money for commissary and other items.

With that said, the nonprofit is not just designed to help those wrongly accused of crimes, it is also intended to offer support and compassion for any inmate in prison. Based on statistics that show inmates who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates, the family dedicated themselves to offering this type of support to inmates who may or may not have family supporting them while in prison.

The particulars of the mail correspondence between volunteer and inmate are left to the adopter(s) and adoptee in terms of length and frequency of correspondence. Correspondence can take place through the postal system, or email is also an option, and volunteers have the option of sending books, money for commissary and other items as long as they are pre-approved by the prison system in question — information which the “adopted” inmate can provide to their volunteer adopter.

In addition to helping an inmate to feel more supported and less isolated, the program can also offer more benefits to inmates within the prison walls — such as signaling to other inmates and staff that there is someone on the outside that cares for them, which can make inmates less vulnerable to violence and abuse, according to the AI website.

In addition to explaining the process of how to become a volunteer adopter, the Adopt an Inmate website is a comprehensive source of tools and resources offered to inmates to help them to advocate for themselves as well as to share their experiences while incarcerated.

AI also welcomes stories, poems, artwork and book reviews by both inmates and their advocates, and makes them accessible to all on its website. An entire webpage on the site serves as a dedicated “inmate art gallery,” where inmate art is displayed for the public to see. In this way, there is a lifeline of communication for inmates as well as a platform to create awareness to the outside world what it is like to be in prison.

Friends and loved ones can submit information for an incarcerated loved one to be connected to a volunteer adopter.

Rachel Leber

Rachel Leber is a freelance writer at Emlen Media. She can be reached directly at rachel@emlenmedia.com.

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