Fergus Falls woman has been a penpal with several inmates, showing them that someone cares
BY CAROL STENDER
Megan Anderson of Fergus Falls is a prolific letter writer. She writes letters to 15 people. She works on two letters each day, and sends each person three letters every month. But she isn’t sending these letters to family. She is a penpal, and each of her penpals have one commonality -- They have either been in jail or are currently in jail.
She calls her missives “letters of hope,” and the recipients would agree. One of her penpals told Megan her letters were “like getting a $1 million check.”
“For me it’s more than me sending a letter to them,” Megan said. “It’s a letter from someone who cares. They are still a human being no matter what put them there.”
Her mother influenced Megan’s interest in making the connections. Kathy Muench worked at the Becker County Jail for 15 years.
“People in the jail became like family,” Megan said. “Many didn’t have a mom or dad so they would call her ‘Mom.’”
At the time, Megan’s family lived in Detroit Lakes, where they also attended a church that had a jail ministry. Inmates would request to talk to someone from the church, and Kathy would call her daughter for the phone number.
Megan has several binders containing the letters and pictures inmates have sent, including one with letters sent to her mom. Many of the pictures are detailed drawings of people and native art worthy of framing.
Before her mother made those connections, Kathy was learning the basics of her mom’s job. One thing she had to do was to set the handcuffs and leg irons. As she practiced, a young Megan asked to have the leg irons put on her.
“That cured me of ever doing anything to wear them,” she said.
After Megan graduated from Detroit Lakes High School, she moved to Florida and, after three years, she returned to Minnesota where she met and married her husband, Brian “Bubba” Anderson. When her mom died, Megan wanted to finish her last scrapbook focusing on her work at the jail, and the connections she’d made.
Then a friend’s husband was incarcerated, followed by another friend’s son. She wrote letters to each, and soon got requests from their cellmates to add them to her penpal list.
“After a while, it went from writing to two people to four, and it grew to six, then to eight, and eventually to 15,” she said. “It was all by word of mouth.”
She writes to several penpals in Minnesota, plus some in Kentucky, Michigan, and Iowa.
Her letters focus on her two cats, dirt track racing, and fishing.
“That’s as much as I write about as far as personal information goes,” she said. “…My mom gave me the information on what I should share. How much you do share is really up to you.”
Her husband would often tell her to say ‘hi’ to whomever she was writing to, and the penpals would send a ‘hi’ back, she said.
Bubba passed away a few years ago, and her mother died shortly after Megan returned from Florida. Both were supportive of her letter writing venture. Megan said she dedicates her efforts to her mom who started it all.
She sees herself more as a sister in her letter writing to the inmates, she said.
Each letter is read by jail staff, who also hold the letter up to a light checking the papers for substances and marks. Sometimes, as letters from inmates are sent to her, jail staff may include a sticky note for requests to write to someone, or to send coloring pages. The coloring pages are detailed drawings similar to the adult coloring books. Sometimes she will get a freehand drawing from an inmate.
Megan pays close attention to where the penpal is located. One prison won’t allow closing pages while another one will, she said. The one that does gives credit for the coloring pages and word searches where the individual will get credit for the work as the inmate may work for their GED or privileges within the jail.
“It’s all a positive outcome,” she said.
There’s no e-mail or text messaging involved. She simply writes the letters long hand on a sheet of paper.
“I never ask them what they are in for,” Megan said. “If they want to tell me, that’s up to them.”
She views the exchange of letters as a ministry, she said.
“They really are letters of hope,” she said. “It shows them that someone does care.”
For Megan, writing the letters is therapeutic. She was assaulted early in her life, and was able to forgive that person. The experience has helped her as she responds to her penpals.
When one penpal said he wanted to send a letter of apology to a family, her response was helpful. Megan told the inmate -- write a letter and send it to his attorney. When the family would be ready to read it, they could. It would be their decision, she said.
Some family members don’t agree with Megan’s writing efforts.
“But this was my Mom’s dream job,” she said of Kathy’s work at the jail. “I want to keep her legacy going.”
She has talked to two individuals that her mother had helped at the Becker County Jail.
“They are thankful for the influence that she had on their personal lives,” Megan said.
Soon she will reach a special milestone- seven years of writing to inmates. And she hopes to continue this special ministry for many more years to come.
Megan welcomes others to join her in writing to people in jail. If interested, you can reach her at (218) 560-2219.