Human Rights Pen Pal

We believe that the power of pen and paper can transcend prison walls

Our Vision

We envision a world without prisons and an end to all forms of torture, including solitary confinement in California.


Human Rights Pen Pals began in the spring of 2013 as a project of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition (PHSS).  PHSS is a Bay Area-based coalition, whose overall goals are to amplify the voices of California people imprisoned in long-term solitary confinement; and to win the Five Core demands of the hunger strikers, who have initiated three major hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, the most recent one involving 30,000 people incarcerated in California prisons.

The Pen Pal program started with two workshops in the Bay Area, with a total of about 25 community pen pals, each ‘matched’ with one or more imprisoned pen pals, all of whom were hunger strikers. After the 2013 hunger strike, we received numerous requests from community supporters throughout the country to be ‘matched’ with an imprisoned pen pal.  As of April, 2017, we now have over 300 ‘matched’ community pen pals; however we also have a waiting list of around 100 imprisoned pen pals seeking a community pen pal with whom to correspond.  In addition, although we’ve had to stop taking requests from ‘inside,’ we continue to get an average of 5 to 10 new ones every week.


Human Rights Pen Pals is a grassroots, racial justice community organization, in solidarity with people in California’s solitary confinement cells.  Through letter writing and community organizing, we promote principled, mutually educational relationships between people in solitary confinement and human rights supporters outside the prison walls.


* We believe that all human beings have human rights.

* We believe that a movement to build a world where prisons are not necessary must center the experience and expertise of those most affected by the prison system: currently incarcerated people, family members and loved ones, formerly incarcerated people, youth and young adults in communities from which most future prisoners in California come, and their long term allies.

* We believe that demonstrating love and respect for one another in our work is critical and just as important as the actual accomplishments of our work.

* We believe that the work of community pen pals may entail not only letter writing, but also political education, advocacy, community organizing, alliance building and mutual support.

* We believe that respectful, mutually educational relationship-building between imprisoned and community pen pals is a powerful motivation for inspiring community activists to become long-term organizers, committed to dismantling the prison industrial complex.

* We believe that the power of pen and paper can transcend prison walls.


* Amplify the voices of people enduring and resisting torture in solitary confinement cells, including the historic ‘Agreement to End Hostilities.’

* Support the 5 core demands of the hunger strike participants of 2011 and 2013.

* Work for an end to the systems of  ‘gang validation’ and ‘security threat group’ validation which CDCr uses to place people in indefinite solitary confinement.

* Help build a grassroots movement for the human rights of imprisoned people based on the voices of those most affected by the prison system.

* Promote community based alternatives to violence.