Editor’s note: Check out 9 Ways to Help Moms Jailed for Cannabis for incarcerated mothers and get involved in your community.
As of 2014, 92 percent of incarcerated parents were fathers. Although it’s safe to say not all of America’s imprisoned fathers are serving time for cannabis, it’s also true that American prisons are full of men who were caught selling and using small amounts of cannabis illegally. A study published in 2016 revealed that cannabis arrests in the U.S. outnumber those of violent crimes.
However, according to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans favor legalization—so it’s highly likely that we’ll start to see more and more cannabis convictions expunged.
Until then, check out the many ways you can help cannabis prisoners with kids this Father’s Day.
1. Support Organizations That Connect Jailed Dads With Their Kids
Everything from financial concerns to internalized shame to a lack of support from the prison system can keep jailed dads from connecting with their kids, but lots of amazing organizations are working to change that. Parenting Inside Out (PIO) offers an evidence-based parenting skills training program developed for criminal justice involved parents, and the National Fatherhood Initiative lists dozens of helpful resources for incarcerated dads on their website. Also, the Fathers and Children Together program helps men serving time at Graterford—a maximum security prison near Philadelphia—be active fathers from behind bars.
2. Put Money in a Commissary Account
If you can afford it, depositing funds directly into a commissary account is just about the most helpful thing you can do. Although the practice is not strictly enforced, American prisoners can be charged a “pay to stay” fee in 43 states. Inmates held in Florida can be charged $50 a day to cover the cost of their incarceration, and in Arizona, an inmate’s loved ones can be charged $25 just to visit them. Additionally, the Prison Policy Initiative reports that prisons are paying inmates even less than they were in 2001. Prison wages generally vary by state, but the average maximum daily wage for most prison jobs has dropped from $4.73 to a measly $3.45.
If you’d like to put money in a commissary account, you can send a postal money order directly to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. You can also use MoneyGram, Trust Fund, or Western Union’s send money to an inmate service. Freedom Grow, a non-profit organization dedicated to making the lives of non-violent cannabis prisoners as comfortable as possible, can help you boost someone’s commissary account as well.
Here’s a couple more things you should know:
- Money for all federal prisoners gets sent to the same central clearing house in Des Moines, Iowa.
- You MUST send a postal money order; otherwise, the Bureau of Prisons won’t accept your gift.
3. Send Cards, Postcards, Letters, and Photos
A postcard might not seem like much, but receiving mail can lift someone up. If you know a father in prison for cannabis, but you’re not sure where he’s being held, you can look him up by name through the BOP Inmate Locator website.
Here’s a few other things you should know about sending mail to prisons:
- Prison staff reads all mail.
- Nudity is not allowed, period.
- You can’t send more than 25 photos at once.
- Only ink and paper are allowed, no staples or paper clips.
- You should always include the inmate ID number along with his name and address.
4. Send Books or Magazines
Reading is a healthy way to escape, and it’s one of the few prison-approved hobbies that can help incarcerated men combat anxiety, depression, frustration, and boredom.
If you know an inmate’s name and ID number, you can order books from Amazon and have them shipped directly to a prison. You can also donate books to Books Through Bars, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that seeks to reverse the devastating effects that injustice and incarceration can have on individuals, families, and communities. If you’re not sure which books to gift, this article lists 11 frequently requested books in American prisons.
Here’s a few more things you should know if you’re planning to send the books yourself:
- Books have to be new. Used books will be sent back.
- Books have to be shipped from a major bookstore, such as Amazon.
- Books should contain zero nudity.
- Books should not contain any inflammatory material.
- Hardback books are often returned, so stick with paperbacks.
- Books must be sent via USPS.
- Books should be addressed to the inmate, and his inmate ID number should be clearly printed.
- You can ship only one package per month, and only 10 books at a time.
5. Help Kids of Incarcerated Dads
One way to show support for dads who are serving time for cannabis is by helping their children. Forever Family, an Atlanta-based non-profit, has been providing services to children with incarcerated parents for 30 years. Parents for Pot provides support to parents and kids who have been affected by anti-cannabis legislation, and they also conduct an annual holiday drive where they try to fulfill the holiday wish lists of kids whose parents are serving time for cannabis.
6. Send a Care Package
Unfortunately, prisons typically won’t allow you to send your own personalized care package to prisoners. To prevent unregulated weapons and illegal substances from entering prisons, most correctional facilities require that care packages be sent through private vendors. It won’t be cheap, but if you do decide to go the care package route, check out Pigeonly, iCare, or Access Securepak.
7. Support Organizations Dedicated to Prison Reform
The Center for Prison Reform website hosts an extensive list of organizations dedicated to confronting mass incarceration in the United States, and all of them are worth checking out. Most of them aren’t cannabis-specific, but they all aim to help incarcerated individuals.
Here are our top picks:
- The NAACP’s Criminal Justice Program: The NAACP’s Criminal Justice Program advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies, including treatment for addiction and mental health problems, judicial discretion in sentencing, and an end to racial disparities at all levels of the system.
- Just Detention International: Just Detention is a health and human rights organization that works to end sexual abuse in all forms of incarceration.
8. Support Arts & Crafts in Prisons
Countless studies suggest that prison arts and crafts programs can help decrease violence, improve interracial tensions, and bolster self-esteem among incarcerated individuals. On top of that, activities like painting and journaling can decrease anxiety and boost wellbeing. You can find out how to purchase a prisoner’s art through the Prison Arts Coalition, an independent space and national network providing information and resources for people creating art in and around the American prison system. Or, check out Hawaii’s CARE project, a prison program that empowers inmates to create and sell their art. If you live in or near Kansas, Arts in Prison offers several volunteer opportunities. You can also contact your representative and ask them to take prisoner arts and crafts programs more seriously.
9. Write a Clemency Support Letter
Writing a letter in support of a cannabis prisoner’s clemency petition is a great way to show that you care, and all it will cost you is your time. Each clemency support letter is logged and recorded, and the more times a cannabis prisoner’s name comes up in a positive way, the better. If you need help getting started, here’s a guide.
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