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STEM Pen Pal Program

The STEMCAP Pen Pal program offers one-on-one connections between Youth-In-Custody and community partners, offering YIC peer and mentor support and pathways to community engagement.

The goal of the program is to demonstrate that scientists and those studying science at the university level have overlapping interests and common ground with YIC. This connection will help each group better understand and connect with the other through individual correspondence.

In future iterations of this program, we hope to give our students more input into who they would like to talk to – whether it is a scientist, other educators, or University students!

For Participants in the STEM Pen Pal Program

If you are writing to one of our students, please consider the following.

  • We encourage you to set boundaries that are meaningful and important to you and to share information as it feels appropriate.
  • Your first letter doesn’t need to be long – we’d recommend around one page.
  • Think of your first letter the same way you might approach any get-to-know-you conversation. You might consider writing about:
    • Your favorite activities to do (work, hobbies, activities, etc.)
    • Your favorite things to consume and/or create (favorite books, food, art, etc.)
    • Your favorite people to be with (family, friends, etc.
    • Questions about themselves and what they enjoy.
    • Logistical questions – what their facility’s outdoor spaces are like, or what they are learning about in school.
  • Do not ask about their conviction history.

Additional Considerations

This project intends to create meaningful connections between YIC and scientists. However, we want to acknowledge that the students we work with have complex lives and experiences that are beyond the scope of STEMCAP’s faculties and experiences. We hope to keep correspondence tied to a level of engagement that will help students express themselves and ask questions, but not use letters to divulge sensitive information that may be better attended to by school staff.

  • Letters from YIC students will be anonymous (maybe first name, initials), and asking students for their last names or personal/identifiable information is prohibited.
  • IMPORTANT: Our ability to facilitate correspondence will be tethered to the students’ duration at the center. We cannot facilitate correspondence afterward, as we are not permitted to have students’ personal information – including any “outside” contact information.
  • Please be aware of the scarcity of resources for your pen pal – and the power differential that creates — do not make commitments or promises that you cannot keep.
  • Please keep in mind the mixed literacy levels among incarcerated people and try to respond appropriately — ask questions to help assess what is the most accessible way for them to receive support.
  • Remember that letters will be opened by STEMCAP or by facility staff — ask students to let you know what they are comfortable sharing and discussing by mail.
  • Again, please do not ask about conviction history.

Other Resources

Liberation Library: Pen Pal Quick Start Guide

Sick of It! A Disability Inside/Outside Project: Resource Page*

Black & Pink: How to be an Awesome Pen Pal!**

Survived and Punished: Letter Writing Action Center***

*with attention paid to incarcerated folks who are disabled

**with attention paid to incarcerated folks who are LGBTQIA2S+

***with attention paid to incarcerated folks who are survivors of sexual violence