Adopt an Inmate: Veneta woman's non-profit connects prisoners with pen pals on the outside

Melissa Schmitt reads from a letter. "I am honest, caring and understanding," she reads, "seeking not only a spiritual pen pal but most importantly to establish a friendship." The writer? A prisoner on death row.

VENETA, Ore. - Melissa Schmitt reads from a letter.

"I am honest, caring and understanding," she reads, "seeking not only a spiritual pen pal but most importantly to establish a friendship."

The writer? A prisoner on death row.

Schmitt collects these letters from prisoners, convicted of crimes from minor to major, in hopes of connecting them to people on the outside who are willing to write back.

But finding those people - even at community events like this one in Veneta - can be a challenge.

"It just becomes ridiculous because I have hundreds and hundreds of these people who have sent us requests and haven't heard from us in months and months and months," Melissa says.

Her non-profit - Adopt an Inmate - started when her brother was incarcerated just over five years ago.

She mostly runs it herself, and fundraising is tough: sites like GoFundMe don't allow finances to be raised for people who are incarcerated.

And Melissa says she faces a lot of resistance from the general public.

"Sometimes they'll say, 'Adopt an Inmate - what about adopt a dog, or how about adopt a veteran.' Now I like when they say that," Melissa says, "because there's lots of veterans in prison."

But she says it's also rewarding: to date they've matched over 500 inmates with people on the outside looking to write back.

She recalls one instance of an inmate who gave up on clemency, deciding to take a second chance at life on the outside only after finding someone who cared.

"They unanimously granted him clemency," Melissa says, "so I mean it changes people."

LEARN MORE | Visit AdoptAnInmate.org

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