Will the person I’m writing know where I live?
All letters are sent to a PO Box which Chattanooga Endeavors manages. Letters are scanned and emailed to volunteers. We actually require this and prohibit volunteers from using any other address.
How about my name?
Just your first name. Volunteers write on behalf of their committee and attempt to form a bond between the person they’re writing and the group not themselves.
What about personal information?
All they will know about you is what you tell them. We encourage minimal self-disclosure, only when it is pertinent to an exchange, and never in a way that reveals personal details that might be manipulated.
Doesn’t this extra caution make it hard to build a relationship?
Not at all. Whereas self-disclosure can help build rapport, you will get further by being dependable, truthful, and non-judgmental.
Do you screen people before matching them with volunteers?
Yes. We screen for risk and match those with higher risk to an internal committee of seasoned volunteers with staff support.
Do you accept sex offenders?
Yes. However, they are matched with the same high risk committee.
What about murderers?
We do. In fact, many people with murder convictions are actually very low risk. This is because they tend to be older, have served much more time in prison, and have fewer prior convictions. Nevertheless, any volunteer can refuse any match at any time. Therefore, you will never be asked to write someone you are uncomfortable with.
How about someone with a life or death sentence?
Absolutely. We believe that we have a special calling to reach out to people who may never come home.
How many people will I be expected to write or visit?
No more than two — unless you have the time and really want to. We would rather you spend more time on fewer people than less time on more.
The research we are following shows that one visit a month during the last 12 months in prison improves the rate people stay out of prison by 30% — and that two letters have the same effect as one visit. Therefore, the goal is two pieces of mail or one visit a month with each person.
How long is the commitment?
Twelve months. However, you can volunteer as long as you want. We’ll invite you to renew your commitment every year as a way of managing expectation.
Does it cost anything?
Not much. We discourage spending money on the person you’re writing. Some committees may chose to provide funds for holiday programs or to support reentry kits. However, they do this as a group and not as an individual. The only direct cost you will incur is the cost of postage — both for the letters you send and for their replies — and the cost of transportation if you chose to visit the person you’re writing.
What are my responsibilities after they get out?
None. You’re responsibilities are transferred to Chattanooga Endeavors during the three months prior to their release. You will have an opportunity to reengage with them in a mentorship role after their reentry needs have been addressed. However, this is entirely up to you and your committee.