General Question

Cupcake's avatar

If you received a letter from a jailed stranger (who might be a parent of your child's friend), would you let the friend read the letter?

Asked by Cupcake (13706points) May 19th, 2011

I got a letter from a guy in Rikers Island jail. I absolutely do not know this guy. I’m assuming he writes a bunch of women daily…

My teenage son saw the envelope and wanted to know why his friend from school wrote to me. I had him read the letter (because I thought it was very funny) a couple of days ago.

Yesterday, my son told me that his friend has the exact same name as this guy, and is named exactly the same as his father. The kid doesn’t know his father, but knows that he’s from the NYC area and is currently in jail. The kid asked my son if he could read the letter.

What, in your opinion, are the ethical/developmental/psychological issues here?? Would you give your kid the letter for his friend to read?

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35 Answers

flutherother's avatar

Nope, you could be opening a can of worms here. Letters are private. I would rip it up and bin it.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I would give the kid’s mother the letter and let her do with it what she wants.

creative1's avatar

I would read the letter to see the contents, if nothing bad I would then talk to the friend’s mother and offer it to her for her to decide what to do next.

Cupcake's avatar

Geez… I barely thought of the mother (other than acknowledging that if another kid gave my kid a letter from his unknown dad I’d be livid).

I live in a city and my kid goes to a big, public, city high school. It is incredibly unlikely that I will ever meet the mother, so I don’t think discussing it with her is a realistic option (although I like and appreciate the possibility).

While I appreciate your sentiment, @flutherother, I am not at all concerned with the “privacy” aspect of the letter. I have never met this guy and never will, and I assume that he is sending the exact same thing to many, many anonymous women.

Cupcake's avatar

There is nothing bad in the contents. It is very generic and basically requests I write back to him. He seems like he’s trying to be mysteriously engaging.

creative1's avatar

@Cupcake If you don’t go through the parent I would destroy the letter and get rid of its existence, as a parent I wouldn’t want my child having a way of contacting someone I may not approve of. What if the stituation between the mom and the dad were very violent and she is where she is be away from the dad you don’t know what you are opening up here by giving the child a way of contacting him before the mom wants him be be able to do so.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What did the letter say? Why did you get it? I would give it to the child’s parent.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’d be creeped out that some random guy in Rikers had my name and address to begin with. Aside from that, I wouldn’t give it to the kid without talking to his mother first. It may or may not be the kid’s dad, but I think the mother needs to get involved in case something comes from it (like the kid tries to write the guy back or something using the return address).

Cupcake's avatar

@Seaofclouds I’m kinda creeped out by that. I have NO IDEA how he got my name and address. I’m assuming he has internet access??

How bizarre that he would (randomly?) write to someone whose kid is friends with his kid.

Do you guys think there is a worthwhile benefit to going to great lengths to find the mother to give her the letter??

wundayatta's avatar

How old is the friend?

Are you thinking that because it is essentially a form letter, it doesn’t matter who you give it to?

Is this a coincidence? You just happen to get on the prisoner’s mailing list and you just happen to be the mother of the friend of the prisoner’s son? A six degrees of separation kind of thing?

If your son gives the letter to his friend and his friend’s mother find out and doesn’t like it, it doesn’t matter how big the school is. It is possible for her to track you down and give you a piece of her mind. It is similarly possible for you to track her down.

Yes. I think you should track her down. If you don’t want to do the work, you could have your son hand over the letter to his friend, and see what happens. How does the friend know his dad is in prison, etc? Does the mother tell him? Is she in touch with the father?

As a basic principle, I think information should be freely available to all. What they do with it is their concern. I would hand it over to the son to see what he makes of it. It might be meaningless to him. But I don’t think it is your job to censor things.

If the mother harasses you, I would tell her to beat it. If she’s nice, I would tell her what you know. What this will tell the boy, I have no idea. Maybe it’ll give him an idea of what his dad is up to.

Have fun.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I completely agree with @lucillelucillelucille. You don’t say how old the writer’s child is, but it sounds as if he isn’t an adult. Your son initially assumed that it is from his friend. He would be able to confirm that the kid is not the writer because he is not in jail without showing him (your son) the letter. I vote to hand the letter over to the mother. She is in a better position to decide whether the son should read the letter or not.

As for your last post, yes, some prisoners have internet access. They also have access to an amazing amount of information through other sources as well. And yes, I think it is worthwhile to track down the mother of the child.

Cruiser's avatar

I’d also be very creeped that some inmate had your address AS @Seaofclouds points out. Doing anything more with that IMO is only an invitation for more of the same and then some. At the most give the mom the name of this person and full instructions to not disclose who gave her the name and ditch that letter.

deni's avatar

I think you should find the mom and give it to her, even though it’s weird, there is an off chance it could be very important in some way, ya know?

Bagardbilla's avatar

If the letter is addressed to you, do as you wish (in terms of writing back or not)... It should not, however, concern your sons’ friend.
My 2¥s. :)

Kardamom's avatar

The whole situation sounds creepy and wrong. Why did the letter come addressed to you? That doesn’t even make any sense. And it’s pretty creepy that you son actually knows the name of the inmate (although he really only knows his son). How did this guy get your address? You might want to inform the postmaster of this odd situation.

I would inform the other boy’s parents or guardians of this letter and let them decide if they want the boy to read the letter.

JLeslie's avatar

To the mom. If your son is his friend, how can it be difficult to find the mom?

bkcunningham's avatar

Do an inmate search. See what you can find out about him. I’m really curious if he’s a real person. I bet it is something beyond being an inmate dad with the same name as your son’s friend. It is too coincidental. I bet it is some scam from your son’s FB or something else on the Internet that has gotten into his personal information. Too weird.

Blueroses's avatar

It sounds like your son already told his friend about the letter, right? If the friend is 18, he’s an adult; give him the letter.
If he’s under 18, just have your son tell him that you aren’t comfortable handing it over to a minor and to ask his mother to give you a call.

HungryGuy's avatar

If the letter is addressed to me then it’s private between me and the sender. If I felt it contained information another person should know, I’d write back and ask if I can share the information.

augustlan's avatar

Under 18, give it to the mother. Yes, I think you should track her down.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I’m willing to bet that he found his son on Facebook, identified your son from pictures of your son tagged with his son, and googled the name. Prisoners to have internet access, and cell phones these days.

I would let the mother or custodial adult know, and ask her what they would like you to do should it happen again.

stardust's avatar

It can’t be very nice for the son to have his friend report that his estranged father has sent you a letter. Of course you’ve no control over the fact that he sent you the letter, but it could be hurtful and/or damaging to give the letter to the son. Who knows what’s going on in the father’s head? The responsible thing to do imo is to get rid of the letter or give it to the boy’s mother.

SuperMouse's avatar

Ok I’ll say it, this is one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard!

Is name of the inmate who wrote you a common name? Did he address the letter to you by name? My gut is to explain to your son what you think happened (i.e. the inmate sending tons of these letters to random women), shred the letter, and drop the whole thing. However, since the friend knows about the letter, that has to be addressed. I think some harm might come from the boy reading the letter, believing this is his father then reaching out to this man. That is probably not great for the boy and could present an issue for you because it confirms for him you received the letter and were interested enough to open it and read it – that might be enough to have him continue to reach out to you. Not to mention that folks in prison might not be the most scrupulous individuals and whether he is the boy’s father or not he might try to seize the opportunity and take advantage of this child.

I think the best option is to contact the boy’s mother and and discuss the matter with her. If the boy is not willing to introduce you to his mom and the office is unable to provide contact information for her, maybe you could leave your contact information with the office and ask if they would kindly ask her to get in touch with you. I would also be on board with explaining to your son and his friend that this is how you are handling the situation.

Oh yeah, and if this guy tries to contact you again I would get in touch with the prison and let them know what he is up to.

chyna's avatar

I’d just pitch it and tell the friend you have already thrown it away.

ShanEnri's avatar

Ask the kids mother if she wants it and then let her decide whether or not to let him read it!?

Bellatrix's avatar

I wouldn’t give it to the kid. The person in gaol may have no connection to them at all. At the most I would pass the letter to his mother. I am guessing she will know if the person is the father or not.

Cupcake's avatar

So just to clarify a few things:
– the “friend” is really just a school acquaintance of my son. Since there are 1500 students at his school, I can not possibly know all of his classmates parents. In addition, a large proportion of urban parents are not visible at the school (i.e. they do not attend parent-teacher conferences, school plays, etc.). I don’t think my son has his classmate’s phone number and I will probably never run into this woman (plus I would never be able to identify her or the classmate as I have never met either of them).
– the friend has not met his father.
– the friend is not in any mutual photographs on my son’s facebook page. They are really not that close. My son mentioned something to him because there was someone with the same exact name who sent something in the mail and my son found that ironic. That’s when he found out that the friend is named after his father.
– the boys are 14.
– the friend’s mother told him that his dad is in jail. I have no idea what other information the kid has about his father.
– the friend and the letter-writer absolutely do NOT have a common name.
– the letter was addressed to me under my maiden name and a previous address, which was forwarded through USPS. Therefore, there is no way he identified me through facebook.
– I had already looked up the letter-sender. The name shows up as an inmate at Rikers Island with the same inmate # as on the website.

I ended up telling my son that if his friend wants to see the letter (which I think might feel very important to him since he does not know his father) that he needs to have his mother call me on the phone. My son can provide his friend with my cell phone number if the friend wants to pursue this. Beyond that, I would need my son to illicit his friend’s mother’s name (which would be a different last name than the friend) to contact her, which I think might feel strange or intrusive to the friend.

Any other “safety” issues I should consider?????

Thanks everyone!

JLeslie's avatar

@cupcake The school has the moms info. I don’t know if there is some sort of privacy issue that they would not give out the address or phone number? You could probably just slip the letter into an envelope with a one sentence note explaining, and ask the school to address and send it to her.

Cupcake's avatar

@JLeslie There is no way the school would either give me her info or send her something from me.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cupcake But would they address it for you and send it in outgoing mail.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

My teenage son saw the envelope and wanted to know why his friend from school wrote to me.

My son mentioned something to him because there was someone with the same exact name who sent something in the mail and my son found that ironic. That’s when he found out that the friend is named after his father.

This is confusing. Can you clarify?

SuperMouse's avatar

@Cupcake kudos (and lurve) for the way you handled it! I think yours is a perfect solution.

Bellatrix's avatar

Can you be absolutely sure this person IS the child’s father? My concern is that it might not be and you could be opening up a very big and emotional can of worms. Hence my feeling, this should be a decision for his mother and I would follow @JLeslie‘s advice and go through the school. I feel very sure if you explain the situation to them, they could act as mediators and get this letter to the mother for her to look at and make a decision.

augustlan's avatar

@Cupcake I think you’ve handled this perfectly, and now the ball will be in their court as to whether or not to pursue getting the letter from you.

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