IOTI Guidelines



Against the Stream Insight on the Inside Project







Once you have a pen pal, we ask that you NOT SHARE the name or other personal information regarding your pen pal or his/her family with anyone other than Against The Stream staff or teachers.




Insight on the Inside is meant to benefit you and your pen pal. To ensure this, please maintain strong, practical boundaries. Consult with your mentor if you have any doubts about what may or may not be appropriate. Some general considerations are:

  • Only offer what you know you can provide. Be mindful when making promises to your pen pal. The last thing you want to be is yet another person who has let your pen pal down.
  • Compassion over comfort. Sometimes the most compassionate action may not be the easiest.  
  • It’s okay to say “no”. It will be part of our practice to draw clear boundaries about what we do and do not provide, in a skillful and compassionate way. Our experience is that writing a respectful and kind “no” has always been well received. Many inmates are used to receiving no response at all. So please work with any reluctance to say “no” as part of your own practice.
  • Don’t speak beyond your own experience. Don’t assume you’re now in a role as a spiritual teacher to your prison friend.  You both have much to learn from each other.  If your pen pal asks for specific advice about their spiritual path that feels beyond your experience, you can simply let them know that. Also, be sure to use your mentor and other volunteers for support.
  • Don’t ask about the crime. If your pen pal offers information about what she or he is “in for”, know that this is coming out of a place of deep trust in you.





We ask that your have pen pal send correspondence to you via Against The Stream. We will have “mailboxes” set up at both the Santa Monica & Melrose locations. Indicate in parentheses after your name where you would like to pick up your mail (see below). Please also use this as a return address.

Your Name (SM or Melrose)

C/O Against the Stream

4300 Melrose Ave.

Los Angeles CA 90029





It’s a good idea to review with the inmate mail policy of the institution where your pen pal is located. Until you get familiar with the mail regulations, sending a simple letter on plain white paper may be your best bet. The following are links to some helpful information about sending mail to prisoners in CA.


Sending books: Most prisons have strict regulations about sending reading materials to inmates. They often require that books be sent directly from the publisher, or other reputable bookseller (eg, Amazon). PLEASE INQUIRE ABOUT BOOK GUIDELINES FOR THE PRISON WHERE YOUR PEN PAL IS LOCATED. You are not expected to provide reading material to your pen pal. However, if you choose to do so, you may consider collecting dana from your fellow sangha members to cover the expenses.