For two years, Émilie has been corresponding with prisoners, offering them, without pun intended, a “moment of escape” through her letters.
It was thanks to the association Le Courrier de Bovet, founded in 1950, that she found her correspondents. “The association connects detained persons, whatever their profile, the place of their detention or the length of their sentence, with volunteers, in order to maintain a link with the outside world, and to break the isolation to which detainees face,” she said.
Émilie, 45, was already familiar with this issue before joining Le Courrier de Bovet. “I was already a volunteer in an association which intervened in the prison environment, face-to-face. But with the Covid, it stopped for a while. And I missed the link with the prison”, she confides.
At the bend of an internet search, Émilie then discovered the action of the Courrier de Bovet, and ended up joining the association as a volunteer.
Because the volunteer correspondent is confronted, in his epistolary exercise, with delicate situations, and more broadly, with the brutality of life in prison. “There is no need to know the prison environment, but you have to be motivated”, underlines Émilie.
“Then, the association will try to ‘match’ the correspondent with the detained person, in terms of age and interests for example”, continues the forties.
Because you obviously have to have things to say to each other, by interposed letter.
With this non-negligible variable: on the other side of the correspondence, a person has been convicted and lives behind bars.
“The key point of this correspondence, insists Émilie, is anonymity. We know the name and the prison of our correspondent, but they write to a pseudonym, and their mail arrives at the premises of the association. , who then forwards the letter to us”.
But then, what do we tell a detained person? And what does she tell us in turn?
Émilie agrees: at first, she almost had the white page syndrome.
The watchword, according to her, would be rather: “talk about what you do, not about what you are”.
“We often start a first correspondence by talking about our interests, asking questions, talking to them about life outside… The goal is to make them think of something else. discussions often short, but sometimes very interesting”, she continues.
The detainees, them, “can tell us what they want”, adds Émilie, “as long as they are respectful”. Thus, she received some gardening advice from one of her correspondents, and another told her about his plan to organize a concert in prison.
Over the course of the exchanges, it is even a real bond that is woven, according to Émilie.
The forty-year-old has been talking for two years with two prisoners. “Inevitably, it creates a bond,” she whispers.
Between detainees and correspondents, visiting rooms and telephone calls are prohibited, to preserve the anonymity of volunteers. “When the detainee is released, the correspondence can continue, however, if both wish”, specifies Émilie.
For the volunteer, this activity, which only takes her a few minutes each week, is extremely rewarding.
“You can write anytime, as long as you send a letter every 15 days! So it’s compatible even with a busy schedule,” she says. Before adding: “we feel useful, there is a privileged link which we feel that they greatly need. One of my correspondents was, at the beginning of our exchanges, in very bad shape. I am his only with the outside. Following our discussions, he undertook training in prison”.
The old-fashioned and literary side of the epistolary correspondence is not to displease this Ile-de-France resident either.
To be a volunteer, she says, you have to be attentive, caring, and keep an open mind. “There is also a form of pure altruism, because the correspondence can stop overnight, for example, if the prisoner so decides. So we should not seek recognition at all costs”, nuance- she.
However, the association is inundated with requests from prisons. “Most come from word of mouth between inmates, they are so happy that they talk about it around them”, explains Émilie.
Some even come… from the United States, and are put in contact with volunteers who speak English.
So, to cope with the craze, Le Courrier de Bovet is recruiting correspondents. To register, it’s here.