Living Happily Ever After


Certified Mail Spells Trouble

“Certified mail is scary. Got one from the IRS about a month ago and my heart hit the floor. Luckily, they were just notifying me I wouldn’t get a couple of refunds that were really old.” (Alien42, online forum)

I made an appointment and met with my pastor. He was fairly new to his position and didn’t know me very well (but we certainly got to know one another well during the application process and the wait for approval!) He couldn’t have been nicer to work with, more efficient or do a better job at following up, keeping in touch with me during the wait and checking up on me as I was waiting.

We sat in his office one spring evening in May 2010 and began the application. He informed me he’d need to ask my former husband for a letter and he needed to send the request certified mail. I told him that wouldn’t be possible as my former spouse resided in jail. My pastor brainstormed about how he could do what was required and work with a former spouse in jail. He said, “Hmm. I do need a letter, maybe I could send it certified mail? Maybe to the warden?”

That panicked me. There are very specific guidelines and rules that must be followed when sending mail to jails and prisons. (Another thing I’ve learned in my unexpected life.) Envelopes have to be a certain size; specific information and ONLY that information must appear on the outside of the envelope; pages of letters are limited (at the time, no envelope could contain more than three pages inside.) When the guidelines aren’t followed, the prison inmate can get in trouble.

When my former spouse first went to jail, I received mail guidelines from his attorney. I followed them strictly, including writing “legal mail” on the outside of the envelope as the guidelines I’d received had instructed. I assumed I had to do that to show I was a law abiding citizen sending nothing illegal to a prisoner in jail!


The attorney had forwarded me the guidelines for legal mail–legal mail for an attorney. And Shawn Merriman almost got in a lot of trouble because I was following those guidelines, too, when I reported to him regarding our children through letters. I was afraid anything like certified mail would get my former husband in even more trouble with the jail staff. I told my pastor we just couldn’t do that, certified mail could be really bad.

But I had a solution.

I had my own letter.

I’m sure, especially as a new pastor, he never expected to encounter a situation like mine. I wish you could have seen the look on his face when I told him I already had a letter! He probably wanted to roll his eyes and say, “NOW what?” But he didn’t. He asked, with quite a bit of surprise, “You already have a letter? How did you do that?”

“I have received no more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

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