By Dr. Wendy Duprey, Former Writing Consultant
In honor and remembrance of the Pulse victims one year later, the USF Writing Studio invited participants to write letters of love and encouragement for our LGBTQ+ community. These letters were inspired by an event the Orlando Public Library organized on June 12th called “Orlando United: Letters to Strangers,” and were later shared with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to distribute to student organizations on campus.
However, writing letters of encouragement and support need not be reserved solely for times of tragedy or condolence, but can also be a means of inspiration, motivation, and meaningful connection with loved ones or strangers in daily life.
As librarian and writing consultant Paul Flagg shares, “People are getting away from writing letters, especially handwritten ones, in favor of short, quick messages through email, texting, and Facebook. But letter writing is a more personal form of communication – more meaningful, more in depth.”
Through his research on prison libraries and his personal friendship with an inmate, Flagg became interested in prison letter writing. As a librarian, he was curious about the overall operations and quality of library services in prisons, particularly inmates’ access to resources; he ultimately discovered that inmates who have connections on the outside tend to be more successful in society once they are released, thus lowering recidivism rates.
In an effort to help his friend feel less isolated in prison, Flagg began sending handwritten letters. He even joined the “Adopt an Inmate” letter writing program to serve as “a lifeline on the outside” for other inmates. The organization provides the letter writing connections, and each prison sets its own guidelines on acceptable material to send prisoners. “Particularly for a complete stranger in prison,” Flagg says, “taking the time out of your day to handwrite a half page or five page letter shows that you care. And I have a new friend – like having a pen pal – someone I get to know and identify with as a person.”
Along with Adopt an Inmate, other organizations are committed to caring and connecting with others through letter writing, so check them out and become involved!
Adopt an Inmate: https://adoptaninmate.org/
“Receiving mail from the outside world has a profound impact on an inmate’s daily life. A name called out at mail call signals to other inmates and staff that there is someone on the outside that cares for them – making them less vulnerable to violence and abuse.
Many inmates never hear their name called.
With pen, paper, and stamps, you can change that.”
Operation Gratitude: https://www.operationgratitude.com/writeletters/
“We are told again and again that the most cherished items in the packages are the personal letters of appreciation.
We want all of our nation’s heroes to know how much we care about them, and nothing says that more than your words on a piece of paper that can be saved forever.”
Cards for Hospitalized Kids: http://www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.com/
“Anyone can get involved with us, from anywhere. Individuals and groups across the United States, and world, donate time and creativity to make handmade cards and send them to us for distribution in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses across the nation.”
The World Needs More Love Letters: http://www.moreloveletters.com/
“The World Needs More Love Letters is a global organization using the power behind social media to write and mail letters to strangers all over the world. Not-for-profit and completely mission-driven, we let anyone nominate someone in need of a love letter bundle. We pick stories that resonate. You get the chance to write a letter and mail it in.”
Love Letters 2 Strangers: http://loveletters2strangers.com/
“Love Letters 2 Strangers first started in September 2011 by Ashley Green. With only a handful of blank note paper, pens and stickers, Ashley began to write words of inspiration, encouragement and love to people she had never met.
The very first time I handed a letter to a stranger I was terrified. I practically ran away from the lady but, before I could get far, she stopped me and gave me a hug and thanked me. The next thought in my head was…MAKE MORE LETTERS!”