This Is How He Gets You

5 Ways Convicts Convince You They’re the Safest Bad Boys in Town


A few months ago, I hired an incarcerated double-murderer to be my research assistant. I have since fired him because he tried to scam me.

Our brief correspondence involved me sending this convict, who I’ll call Thomas, lists of questions about life in prison during the early nineties, when my upcoming serial killer groupie novel Friends to the End takes place. I’d put money on his account, and in exchange he’d answer my questions. I did not ask him for personal information. Instead, he was providing me with the sensory details involved in prison visitation.

It was a straightforward arrangement, and he had no reason to lie to me or otherwise try to scam me, yet he did anyway. I caught him lying in his very first letter.

So why had he lied to me? The answer was surprisingly, disturbingly simple—and familiar. He was marketing to me. As a professional marketer and reputation management specialist, I manipulate reality to get the desired result. What he was attempting to do to me was no different from what I do on behalf of my clients all day, every day.

Brand storytelling can be quite effective because it connects the brand with the customer on an emotional level via a carefully crafted narrative. Thomas’s brand’s sob story was designed to make me weep rivers of cash.

Not all incarcerated people are scammers, of course, but some of them are. If you’ve decided to get a prison pen pal, being aware of these warning signs can help you tell the difference.


Prison Pen Pal Warning Signs

Here are five examples of how men behind bars strategically design their letters to sell. Let this deconstructed inmate mail serve as your guide to how convicts are manipulating women into giving them money. If you’re thinking about corresponding with a killer, watch out for these signs he’s up to no good.


Dexter Complex

Thomas assured me the men he’d killed were both pedophiles, as if to paint himself as a Dexter Morgan-style killer who took lives for all the right reasons. I looked the cases up, and I was only able to verify that one of the victims was a pedophile. However, the murder had nothing to do with that. For all I knew, it was his good buddy the pedophile up until the moment he shot him.

Dexter is a fictional character. They had to make his murders justifiable to justify him as a character who can have a romantic storyline. The producers knew it, and guess who else knows it? Convicts.


Jesus Freak

I’m the only person at my gym who shows up for yoga wearing a Baphomet shirt. Showering me with the Lord’s blessings is not the way to my heart, but you’d never know that from the letters Thomas wrote to me.

Someone once let a criminal into my house while I was out of town, and that guy used my husband’s computer to commit craigslist fraud. He left his email account open, so we were able to read the emails he was sending people. Guess who else loved Jesus?

Poor Jesus, for a guy who never tried to scam anyone, he’s sure involved in a ton of shady stuff.


Mama’s Boy

All Thomas wanted was to make his mother proud. At least in the first letter. By the third, he wanted me to send her money. If he’d really been all that concerned about his mother’s feelings, he might have considered them before everyone saw her son’s name in the news.

Unless the prisoner you’re writing to is locked up because he robbed a bank to pay for his mother’s surgery, chances are his mom’s wellbeing is not a priority. He’s just telling you it is to try to make you think he’ll be that caring and devoted to you, too.


Circumstances Beyond His Control

Thomas painted a picture of life on the inside that was cruel and unfair to him. His belongings were stolen. He was unfairly placed into solitary confinement. He didn’t have a toothbrush. His cellmate snored.

After spending a couple of letters setting it up, he tried to persuade me that the Green Dot scam was the solution to his problems, only of course he didn’t refer to it as a scam. Instead, it was a really convenient way I could right the wrongs that were being done to him by giving him a hand up. It was also a convenient way for him to drain my bank account, if I’d fallen for it.


Pay It Forward

Convicts pass your letters around. I already knew this, so I wasn’t surprised when the inmate I actually reached out to didn’t respond and instead gave my letter to Thomas.  If you write to one prisoner and another one responds, beware.

Correspondence can be an important part of rehabilitation because it keeps convicts connected to their relationships on the outside. However, there are plenty of predators who use correspondence to get women to do favors for them, financial and otherwise. They understand that many of the women who write to them are driven by loneliness, and they’re ready to exploit it.

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