Frequently asked questions

Questions about pen pals & rules

No, the penpalships are independent of a membership. However, as we all know that together we are stronger, everyone who wants to get involved against the death penalty is welcome to join the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Please note: The usually spoken language among the members of the GCADP is GERMAN!

It has also been shown that during an exchange of letters with a prisoner on death row, situations can arise in which it is very helpful to be able to exchange ideas with others who are having or have had the same experiences. For this purpose, too, membership in an association that is committed against the death penalty is of course helpful.

The pen pal requests on the pages of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are updated regularly. As a rule, you will only find requests from prisoners who still want pen pals.

The date of the last update can be found at the end of each pen pal request.

Prisoners who are looking for pen pals on the pages of the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are usually seriously interested.

However, it is not possible for the GCADP to check which prisoner already has how many pen pals. We only have an overview of how often the address of a prisoner has already been requested from us.

For the address where the prisoners can be reached, please contact our secretariat by e-mail. When you write your letter, please do not forget to indicate the prisoner’s number, which is included in the addresses in the pen pal applications.

As a rule, you should give your normal address. However, if you do not want to do this for various reasons, it is possible to register a P.O. Box address at the relevant post office and enter it as your address. However, it is also necessary to give your full name in this case.

Some post offices also offer the service of accepting letters “poste restante”. This means that you do not have to give your own address, but that of the post office. The letters are then stored for 7 days at the relevant branch. There is no notification of received letters, so you have to ask for it yourself.
(For the procedure, see here: https://www.deutschepost.de/de/p/postlagernd.html)

A normal letter (up to 20 g) to the USA currently costs 1.10 euros. A heavier standard letter (up to 50g) costs 1.70 Euro. Large letters (up to 500g) cost 3.70 euros. The current prices for airmail letters to the USA can be found on the German Post Office website.

Financial support is by no means a must.

Many of the prisoners are simply looking for a pen pal, for a lively exchange with other people who enable them to contact and connect with the outside world. People who take part through their friendship and compassion.

However, there are prisoners who do not receive any financial support from family members, etc. Since there is also no possibility for the prisoners to work for pay in prison, the financing of, for example, stamps could be a conceivable support. To support the prisoner financially, money can be transferred to their account via Money Order or JPay – it depends on the state.

However, there are also prisoners who are specifically looking for financial support, e.g. in order to be able to pay for a lawyer. However, these prisoners openly turn to the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty with a request for help.

Detailed information on Money Orders in German language can be found here.

The length of the letter or a certain number of sheets may not be exceeded in some states. Also, in many states, stamps, cash, stickers, staples, paper clips or similar items may not be included in the envelope. Likewise, there may be limits on the number of photos one wishes to include.

So before contacting a prisoner, be sure to check the exact letter rules of the state in question beforehand. Often, the regulations change very quickly, so it is safest to ask your pen pal about them directly at the beginning.

To make it easier for you to make initial contact, we will send you a corresponding info sheet for the US state in question along with the prisoner’s address.

It depends on the prisoners you are writing to. It can be unproblematic, but it can also cause unrest among prisoners. We recommend that if you have multiple pen pals, it is better to write prisoners in different states.

This is not prohibited, but prisoners often cannot or do not want to provide information on this, as they are sometimes also instructed by their attorneys not to provide information on this in letters. The letters are read by prison staff, and the contents of letters can possibly be used in any appeal proceedings against the prisoner. It is understandable that any proceedings, petitions for clemency, etc. should not be jeopardized.

In some states, prisoners are prohibited from having contact with minors. Even where prisoners are allowed, many do not want to have contact with minors because it could harm their case if the prosecutor reflects negatively on them. The German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty also advises young people under the age of 18 not to become pen pals because of the stress that may be involved, even for adults.

However, we can recommend the project “Connect Death Row”, which is deliberately designed for short-term contacts with death row inmates in a protected setting – young people can also participate here.

There are many ways to become active as students. For example, one can give election speeches on the topic of the death penalty. You can also approach a teacher and ask if the topic is covered in class. The class could work together to decide how to deal with the issue and whether it could be used to launch a public campaign (for example, writing articles for the regional newspaper etc.).

More ideas on how young people could get involved can be found here.

Excluding holidays, Sundays, and weekends, it usually takes at least 6 to 10 days to deliver a letter, often longer. In most prisons in the U.S., mail is not delivered on weekends (on Saturdays and Sundays).

Unfortunately, this is not possible directly, as prisoners do not have Internet access. The only way to contact the prisoners is by letter. An alternative is Jmail – this way you can write the letter online and have it printed and sent in the USA. This saves time and postage from here.

A very fast alternative is the offer of JPay, as far as prisons are connected to this service. In this case, at a price of 20 to 60 U.S. cents per page – depending on the state – an e-mail is sent to the prisoner, which is then printed out in the prison itself. Thus, the prisoner usually receives the message within 48 hours, sometimes even on the same day. However, the prisoner can usually only respond by traditional mail.

In some states, inmates receive JPay letters electronically and can respond that way as well. A similar service is available from GTL for some states. These electronic messages are each screened before delivery.

Yes, some U.S. states have the option of phone calls or video meetings, but not everywhere. Conditions vary widely, so it is not possible to provide general information here. We have information on appropriate US states, which we can provide if needed.

This is not allowed in most states for security reasons.

However, there are ways to send books, for example, to the prisoners. But you are not allowed to send books yourself. This is only possible via the respective publisher or via the book trade (e.g. Amazon).

Also, some states offer prisoners the opportunity to receive packages several times a year. In such cases, the prisoners send their pen pals a so-called order slip on which they have marked what they need. What is ordered by the prisoner must not exceed a certain amount. Orders are then placed with an American company via the Internet and paid for online. Once the invoice amount has been received, the package is delivered to the prisoner.

Since the various states handle their regulations regarding books and other gifts very differently and sometimes change them at very short notice, we advise asking the pen pal about the current rules before ordering anything for him. Agreements are always better than unsuccessful surprises.

Information on this can be found on the homepages of the respective prisons. However, it is advisable to ask your pen pal about the specific regulations. For individual US states we have information sheets with the visiting rules.

Yes, among the approximately 2500 death row inmates in the USA, there are about 50 women. Only a few of them look for pen pals through our website – they are women in Arizona, California, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Yes, at the moment Michael Apelt is on death row in Arizona. Dieter Riechmann’s sentence, who was on Florida’s death row, was commuted to life without parole in March 2010.

Yes, there are a few German-writing death row inmates in the USA. However, these are exceptions. The inmates usually mention in their applications if they speak / write other languages besides English.

If you need linguistic support, we can recommend the free translation site “DeepL”, which is of surprisingly good quality.