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Hi everyone. Recently I have been exchanging handwritten letters with several prisoners across the country. I initially reached out to them through a prison pen pal website out of opposition to mass incarceration -- I wanted to express solidarity with people who were arrested for nonviolent and drug-related offenses. Although our initial letters revolved around the prison-industrial complex, I've since established a lot of rapport with my pen pals, many of whom are sharp people who just happened to be raised in pretty rough environments. I've exchanged dozens of letters with most of them. Recently, I sent one inmate a letter in which I made passing reference to the requirements for my medical school application, and he said that he would really like to submit an LOR for me.

What are your thoughts on this? The inmate in question is very well-written and intelligent; he said that he wanted to emphasize in his letter that I'm a deeply caring person who helped to shift his perspective about things like crime and human nature. It was a flattering offer but I'm not sure how admissions committees would interpret a letter from a felony drug offender with a history of heroin possession and manufacturing.

So: worth the risk or just a flat-out dumb idea? The few people I've asked seem to be split 50/50 on whether it's a good choice or an application-killer. If I shouldn't do it, any suggestions on how I ought to decline?
 
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Planes2Doc

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Here's my rule of thumb: If you have to ask on a forum, it means that the voice in your head is telling you it's a bad idea. Therefore, it's a bad idea and don't do it.
 

Kurk

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hmm...reading this thread reminded me of my backup plan if I can't get into dental school—go to law school and become a prosecutor to put drug offenders in the slammer.
 
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DV-T

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Based on your listed merits and stats thus far, I think your upcoming application can stand on its own without the need for this LOR from a prisoner. Mentioning on your upcoming application that you are part of this prison pen pal program already sets your application apart. You do not need a LOR from someone with whom you have never worked with on a professional, academic, or personal level to make yourself unique in that respect. During interviews, you have something very interesting to talk about.
 

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A letter from a prisoner will likely hurt your chances more than helping (if it helps at all). It may raise questions into your decision making: why would you get a letter from a prisoner? And why do you think a prisoner letter will help your application? Remember, medicine is still a conservative profession.

Not to mention schools don't want to be flooded with letters from each and every applicant, and given their academic setting, they strongly prefer letters from academic faculty, such as science, nonscience and research PI letters.
 

JustAPhD

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I'm struggling to think how a prisoner you've never met would be able to write a very convincing letter that would strengthen your application to medical school.

Your pen-pal experience with inmates is cool, and with your experience at needle exchanges I think brings together a good story. But I would not include that letter in your app.
 

joschar

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This sounds like a good way for a criminal to ruin your application by writing a terrible letter out of spite, just because you are on the outside having success and they are on the inside locked up. Really bad idea for numerous reasons.
 

MareNostrummm

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It would be better to get a letter from someone who is in charge of your program and can attest to your commitment.
 

Cura_te_ipsum

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Otherwise, I've got 1300 clinical hours as a scribe, 2 other (probably great) LORs so far from an MD and the PI on my research team, my GPA is a mid-3.7, and I'm applying this upcoming cycle -- mostly to schools in liberal areas as I am also gay.

you can't get a LOR from people who do not know you. Generally speaking schools, future employers, programs, etc want an LOR from individuals who can attest to knowing you, have observed you in a specific arena that is applicable to the job you are seeking, and have expertise in said area.

The prisoners have never met you and their CV will have a glaring problem. Bad idea.
 
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MareNostrummm

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did any of the prisoners send you pics to verify they are well hung?

joking.

you can't get a LOR from people who do not know you. Generally speaking schools, future employers, programs, etc want an LOR from individuals who can attest to knowing you, have observed you in a specific arena that is applicable to the job you are seeking, and have expertise in said area.

The prisoners have never met you and their CV will have a glaring problem. Bad idea. top or bottom?
Wut
 

mehc012

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Hi everyone. Recently I have been exchanging handwritten letters with several prisoners across the country. I initially reached out to them through a prison pen pal website out of opposition to mass incarceration -- I wanted to express solidarity with people who were arrested for nonviolent and drug-related offenses. Although our initial letters revolved around the prison-industrial complex, I've since established a lot of rapport with my pen pals, many of whom are sharp people who just happened to be raised in pretty rough environments. I've exchanged dozens of letters with most of them. Recently, I sent one inmate a letter in which I made passing reference to the requirements for my medical school application, and he said that he would really like to submit an LOR for me.

What are your thoughts on this? The inmate in question is very well-written and intelligent; he said that he wanted to emphasize in his letter that I'm a deeply caring person who helped to shift his perspective about things like crime and human nature. It was a flattering offer. I'm sure it would be a distinctive component of my application, but I'm not sure how admissions committees would interpret a letter from a felony drug offender with a history of heroin possession and manufacturing. For context, my volunteer history includes 500+ hours at a syringe exchange, and I'm a little worried that instead of looking like someone who cares about the underserved and stigmatized, I'll just end up coming across as sketchy. Otherwise, I've got 1300 clinical hours as a scribe, 2 other (probably great) LORs so far from an MD and the PI on my research team, my GPA is a mid-3.7, and I'm applying this upcoming cycle -- mostly to schools in liberal areas as I am also gay.

So: worth the risk or just a flat-out dumb idea? I have a few friends who are medical students and they seem to be split 50/50 on whether it's a great choice or an application-killer. If I shouldn't do it, any suggestions on how I ought to decline?
Bad idea, mostly because he's got no grounds to speak for you on a professional or academic level. If you can't decline politely, have him send you his letter, or send it to a letter collection service, if you're using one, and then...just don't send it on to the schools.
 

drmantistobbogan

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hmm...reading this thread reminded me of my backup plan if I can't get into dental school—go to law school and become a prosecutor to put drug offenders in the slammer.
Or you know, focus on rehabilitation rather than perpetuate the cycle of use and further sink funds into the exploitative prison-industrial complex. But whatever makes you happy.
 
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pyrrion89

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Seems like a high-risk high-reward situation. Probably not a good idea if you're already a strong candidate. But if your application is otherwise poor, it might be a good "Hail Mary" shot if you apply broadly. It will offend many and hurt your chances at many---if not most---programs but it could be very well received by a small number of (very socially liberal) admissions committee members.
 

gonnif

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You... you have to be a troll.
"There but for the grace of God, goes I"
--attributed to John Bradford,
in reference to a group of prisoners being led to execution
.

Why would you think that? Why would you think there couldnt be anyone who is motivated and compassionate to do the simple the task of writing a letter as a gesture of goodwill and belief that all humans, no matter their status or station in life is entitled to at least communication to another, especially those confined to an 8x6 prison cell? Why would not think that someone who is getting positive feedback from those who have nothing would not think that he/she is doing something good, having an impact on someone's life, no matter how small, may feel it is worthy of mentioning in an application to medical school, where helping people is assumed a motivation in all applicants? Are you so jaded or just narrow minded that you cant conceive of such an act or motivation as being real? Or is your own desire to help others only goes as far as promoting your own self-interest in getting into medical school? Where is your compassion? Even more so, where is you ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, such as a inmate confined to prison, which may be the most important ability of a physician in order to understand their patient. I think you owe the OP an apology.

I also think this is actually a very easy and worthwhile thing to do for anyone, especially premeds looking for an additional volunteer or community service EC. I am sure you would be shocked to find so many people your own age, with even perhaps your own dreams, locked up. While a letter from an inmate would be inappropriate for medical admissions, certainly the activity is worthy of mention and may even stand out amongst candidates. Volunteer in a prison and you may get a real education on hoe the other half lives

After turning down my acceptances to medical school and working in healthcare workforce training and policy for some time, I decided to return direct "patient" contact, by pursing a degree in Social Welfare and Research, purposely choosing a program where I could work with a population that needed it the most; namely incarcerated Vietnam Veterans. I did virtually all my clinical work within prisons and/or connected to prisoner families. Both my projects lost funding from the Reagan era of cuts as did most inmate educational and rehabilitation programs so I pursued other avenues. It has only been the last few years in retirement that I have return to that on a volunteer basis spending most Fridays as a volunteer in a social and legal clinic in a nearby large jail system. Maybe you should try it
 
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joschar

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"There but for the grace of God, goes I"
--attributed to John Bradford,
in reference to a group of prisoners being led to execution
.

Why would think that? Why would you think there couldnt be anyone who is motivated and compassionate to do the simple the task of writing a letter as a gesture of goodwill and belief that all humans, no matter their status or station in life is entitled to at least communication to another, especially those confined to an 8x6 prison cell? Why would not think that someone who is getting positive feedback from those who have nothing would not think that he/she is doing something good, having an impact on someone's life, no matter how small, may feel it is worthy of mentioning in an application to medical school, where helping people is assumed a motivation in all applicants? Are you so jaded or just narrow minded that you cant conceive of such an act or motivation as being real? Or is your own desire to help others only goes as far as promoting your own self-interest in getting into medical school? Where is your compassion? Even more so, where is you ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, such as a inmate confined to prison, which may be the most important ability of a physician in order to understand their patient. I think you owe the OP an apology.

I also think this is actually a very easy and worthwhile thing to do for anyone, especially premeds looking for an additional volunteer or community service EC. I am sure you would be shocked to find so many people your own age, with even perhaps your own dreams, locked up. While a letter from an inmate would be inappropriate for medical admissions, certainly the activity is worthy of mention and may even stand out amongst candidates. Volunteer in a prison and you may get a real education on hoe the other half lives

After turning down my acceptances to medical school and working in healthcare workforce training and policy for someone, I decided to return direct "patient" contact, by pursing a degree in Social Welfare and Research, purposely choosing a program where I could work with a population that needed the most; namely incarcerated Vietnam Veterans. I did virtually all my clinical work within prisons and/or connected to prisoner families. Both my projects lost funding from the Reagan era of cuts as did most inmate educational and rehabilitation programs so I pursued other avenues. It has only been the last few years in retirement that I have return to that on a volunteer basis spending most Fridays as a volunteer in a social and legal clinic in a nearby large jail system. Maybe you should try it
Lol? That was a psycho and immature response.

No one has questioned the great value and positive impact of OPs volunteering activities. However, asking to submit a LOR written by a prisoner that the OP has never met and has obtained only limited written correspondence with is a bad enough question to be considered trolling, although I agree that is disrespectful.

I feel that many adults use SDN as a platform to lash out and collect any impression of influence they can.
 

gonnif

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Lol? That was a psycho and immature response.

No one has questioned the great value and positive impact of OPs volunteering activities. However, asking to submit a LOR written by a prisoner that the OP has never met and has obtained only limited written correspondence with is a bad enough question to be considered trolling, although I agree that is disrespectful.

I feel that many adults use SDN as a platform to lash out and collect any impression of influence they can.
@phantomyinyang called the poster a troll: I cannot think of a clearer and more disrespectful sign that he/she didnt believe even this the scenario was real, much less respond to the OP.
 

joschar

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@phantomyinyang called the poster a troll: I cannot think of a clearer and more disrespectful sign that he/she didnt believe even this the scenario was real, much less respond to the OP.
Fair enough. It just gets tiring getting on here for advice or to gauge and interact with the rest of the applicant pool and others involved with the application process to see so much unnecessary disrespect by common users and moderators alike over minuscule offenses, such as calling someone a troll on an internet forum. I wish we could all stick to the task at hand, myself included, which is advising good and bad applicants on their paths to an extremely important career field.
 
8

814965

Lol? That was a psycho and immature response.

No one has questioned the great value and positive impact of OPs volunteering activities. However, asking to submit a LOR written by a prisoner that the OP has never met and has obtained only limited written correspondence with is a bad enough question to be considered trolling, although I agree that is disrespectful.

I feel that many adults use SDN as a platform to lash out and collect any impression of influence they can.
That was pretty much my impression of OP given the very off-the-wall nature of his question. Don't know if @gonnif's response is psycho or immature because I'm not bothering to read that giant wall of text.
 
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gonnif

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That was pretty much my impression of OP given the very off-the-wall nature of his question. Don't know if @gonnif's response is psycho or immature because I'm not bothering to read that giant wall of text.
So you are calling someone a troll and not even bothering to read the comments. oh yes quite mature on your part. Or perhaps just lazy; certainly far too lazy to pick up a pen a write a letter to a prisoner
 

Peach Newport

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This is one of those ideas that makes naive pre-meds think "it's so crazy it just might work!"

Spoiler: it won't
 

el_duderino

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So you are calling someone a troll and not even bothering to read the comments. oh yes quite mature on your part. Or perhaps just lazy; certainly far too lazy to pick up a pen a write a letter to a prisoner
Are we reading the same thread?

People called him a troll because he's asking to submit a LoR from a prisoner. Not because he's communicating with a prisoner.
 
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814965

So you are calling someone a troll and not even bothering to read the comments. oh yes quite mature on your part. Or perhaps just lazy; certainly far too lazy to pick up a pen a write a letter to a prisoner
I only didn't bother reading your specific response because from a quick glance it's excessively long, overly dramatic, and has a holier-than-thou attitude. Plus from looking at your other interactions on this site you're arrogant, quick to make assumptions, and it kind of seems like you get off to talking down to other posters and I'm not feeding into that.
 
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Hey guys, OP here. Thanks for all your input. I promise I'm not a troll although I acknowledge that this was a fairly dubious idea. I was mostly floating it here to see whether it was even worth considering. I can see that's not the case. Writing these letters has meant a lot to me but LORs aren't really the right context for that to present itself. Appreciate the feedback, even if a lot of it has been in the usual hostile SDN style.
 

jm192

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I hope that when I'm a doctor, I won't be arguing with pre-meds on the internet
I got a lot of help in my pre-med and med school years. Thought giving back would be nice.

Instead of taking our advice, most of the kiddos argue and tell us how terrible and wrong we are.

Someone posted "omfg did you read the threat?!"

But let's be real: prisoner+letter=no.

OP: if the question is should you, the answer is hell no.

If youre worried about being rude: you can just say it needs to be from one of your professors or a doctor.

Also, no appologies owed. Getting called a troll for asking such a question is part of the internet ToS.
 
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gonnif

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I only didn't bother reading your specific response because from a quick glance it's excessively long, overly dramatic, and has a holier-than-thou attitude. Plus from looking at your other interactions on this site you're arrogant, quick to make assumptions, and it kind of seems like you get off to talking down to other posters and I'm not feeding into that.
Amazing what opinions you have formed without actually reading something. Hopefully you are more attentive to a patient's chart if you get that far, but I am sure that's not really an issue anyone will have to worry about. or is this just one of my arrogant assumptions again
 

gonnif

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Are we reading the same thread?

People called him a troll because he's asking to submit a LoR from a prisoner. Not because he's communicating with a prisoner.
Only one person called the poster a troll in a manner that implied the entire scenario was put on solely for attention and responses. It was a real question from a real scenario, troll is highly insulting in this case
 

el_duderino

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Only one person called the poster a troll in a manner that implied the entire scenario was put on solely for attention and responses. It was a real question from a real scenario, troll is highly insulting in this case
The question was so ridiculous, I kinda hoped it was a troll. Your response to the "troll" post was.... staggeringly tone-deaf.
 

jm192

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Only one person called the poster a troll in a manner that implied the entire scenario was put on solely for attention and responses. It was a real question from a real scenario, troll is highly insulting in this case
Dude

If being called a troll is highly insulting, maybe the internet aint for you.
 
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joschar

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Amazing what opinions you have formed without actually reading something. Hopefully you are more attentive to a patient's chart if you get that far, but I am sure that's not really an issue anyone will have to worry about. or is this just one of my arrogant assumptions again
troll is highly insulting in this case
This is getting weird. Maybe spend Monday outside and get back on the internet on Tuesday. Might help in regaining some perspective.
 

CommyO

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If being called a troll is highly insulting, maybe the internet aint for you.
I agree with Gonnif. Too many people throwing around the word 'troll' these days and it's because of the casual internet users who lack proper forum etiquette.

When a single person in a thread throws out the word 'troll', the tone of the thread drastically changes. You would only pick up on this with many years of forum participation.

OP has a legit question for an activity that he or she is to be commended for.
 
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jm192

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I've been on SDN for around 10 years.

You can either get over being called a troll or get butt hurt because people are going to do it.

There is no forum etiquette. People tend to be rude online.
 
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workaholic181

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Hi everyone. Recently I have been exchanging handwritten letters with several prisoners across the country. I initially reached out to them through a prison pen pal website out of opposition to mass incarceration -- I wanted to express solidarity with people who were arrested for nonviolent and drug-related offenses. Although our initial letters revolved around the prison-industrial complex, I've since established a lot of rapport with my pen pals, many of whom are sharp people who just happened to be raised in pretty rough environments. I've exchanged dozens of letters with most of them. Recently, I sent one inmate a letter in which I made passing reference to the requirements for my medical school application, and he said that he would really like to submit an LOR for me.

What are your thoughts on this? The inmate in question is very well-written and intelligent; he said that he wanted to emphasize in his letter that I'm a deeply caring person who helped to shift his perspective about things like crime and human nature. It was a flattering offer. I'm sure it would be a distinctive component of my application, but I'm not sure how admissions committees would interpret a letter from a felony drug offender with a history of heroin possession and manufacturing.

So: worth the risk or just a flat-out dumb idea? My friends see, to be split 50/50 on whether it's a great choice or an application-killer. If I shouldn't do it, any suggestions on how I ought to decline?
Yea absolutely not. It's a cool EC to bring up in an interview or essay but dont have this guy write you a LOR.
 

VincentAdultman

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Asking a question you think is silly isn't the same as trolling.
 
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