Monday, May 19, 2003

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO CAN'T MAKE IT TO THE UPPER WEST SIDE, maybe you can help this way. The Miami Herald has an article on "inmates seeking love and friendship beyond prison walls."


Inmates may be barred from seeking pen pals

TALLAHASSEE - Florida inmates seeking love and friendship beyond prison walls may be in for some heartbreak.

Frustrated by the proliferation of websites that post personal ads for convicts -- from jail and jail to ladiesofthe -- the Department of Corrections is seeking to prevent its 75,000 inmates from soliciting for pen pals, accusing some would-be Lotharios of scamming their prey.

''There is just so much of it out there, there is no way for us to monitor it all,'' said DOC spokeswoman Debbie Buchanan, who said the agency constantly fields complaints from pen pals who believe they've been conned by a convict. ``We're not prohibiting people from writing; we're prohibiting inmates from going out there and soliciting people.''

Under a proposed rule change that is drawing fire from prisoners' advocates, inmates would be barred from advertising for pen pals -- either by sending their pleas for companionship to one of the dozens of websites that post prison personals, or by sending the information to magazines that carry such personal ads.

...Prisoners who persist could receive up to 30 days in solitary confinement or lose up to 60 days of gain time.

...''These boys are just happy to have someone to talk to,'' said Bernice Hickey, 65, a Hollywood grandmother who writes to about 30 Florida prisoners. ``They get there, their parents have disowned them and they're lonely. What's so wrong with looking for people to write to?''

The Florida Justice Institute in Miami, a prisoners' rights group, plans to protest the rules change on the grounds that it violates inmates' rights to free speech.

''All they're asking is for people to write to them to relieve the burden of the Florida prison system,'' said Randall Berg, an institute attorney. ``All we do is warehouse these people. We've taken away all sorts of things from them. Do we really have to cut them off entirely?''

Prisons officials say they're protecting the public, not silencing inmates. Two weeks ago, Buchanan said, a woman wrote to DOC asking for details on a $750 prison class her inmate pen pal was taking. There was no class, Buchanan said, and DOC fears the woman was conned into sending the cash.

''They ask for money, people send them money, and when it all blows up, they want us to give them their money back,'' Buchanan said.

....''Jail Babe'' Tiffany, 28, serving a life sentence, lists her ''occupation'' as a model and says she enjoys ``skiing, horseback riding, poetry, camping, books, opera, sex, and romance.''

She adds this disclaimer: ``I am locked up and lonely!''

Now this, good Reverend, is a true crime of the state. That these jailbabes and jaildudes might be deprived of their god-given postal rights is a travesty. Where is my bell? I feel 33 rings coming on.