Author Chris Hoke, a friend of Crossroads, once described a letter as a “hello.” When you are writing to someone you don’t know, this is so true. Sometimes we try to complicate it. But it really is that simple.
Simple . . . but powerful. When you write a letter to a Crossroads student, a piece of yourself travels—sometimes great distances and beyond prison walls—to be with that student. And by extending a simple greeting, you are sending a powerful reminder to that student:
“You are not alone. You are remembered.”
Just the act of writing a letter to a stranger communicates to them, “You are important to me, and I want to share myself with you!”
I’ve talked with many mentors who feel great anxiety about what to write in their letters. When I talk with someone who doesn’t even know where to begin, I first point them to page 16 of the mentor training handbook.
I truly believe that following the letter writing guidelines on that page can lead to a meaningful experience for both you and your student. The guidelines offer these suggestions:
This is an opportunity to begin your “hello” and set the tone for your letter. You can share a bit about who you are and what may be going on in your life and the world around you. You can also share why you decided to become a mentor. Even sharing simple reflections about the weather or what you did over the weekend can be refreshing for a student to read. Remember, many students may not have the opportunity to go outside often, and they can’t go on family vacations, so they may enjoy experiencing those vicariously through you.
Reflect on the lesson.
This is your opportunity to share what the lesson the student has completed means to you. It is not unusual for students to struggle to connect biblical principles to their lives, so consider sharing an application from your own life.
Encourage and engage your student.
Respond to any comments, questions and prayer requests they wrote in their lesson. Encourage your student and compliment them on the work they have done. Praise your student generously. Your words might be the only positive comments they receive until the next completed lesson comes back to them.
Remind the student that God loves them.
Speaking a blessing over someone’s life is powerful. Consider sharing a blessing or a prayer in your letter. Perhaps you will feel led to share a Scripture verse the student may find uplifting. Try to remember to personalize this part by using their name. God has known them by name since before they were born, even though it may feel like prison is trying to take it away from them.
Sign the letter.
We encourage you to use your first name only. If you are in Tier 1, please add “your mentor for this lesson” below your first name. This helps students understand that they will have a different mentor for each lesson in Tier 1.
Serving alongside you,
Church Mobilization Director
Crossroads Prison Ministries
NEWS & NOTES
Looking up student information on Department of Corrections websites:
We encourage mentors not to look up their students on DOC websites. It can be tempting to search for information about their past as a way of getting to know them or in response to your own curiosity. However, in our opinion, this can do more harm than good. When you learn about their crime (of which they may be guilty or innocent), it’s easy to judge or label them, even if you are only doing so subconsciously. We don’t want anything to stand in your way of loving and accepting your student. It is best to focus on your student’s true identity in Christ and calling them to live into that new identity.