Idaho inmate posts TikTok video seeking pen pals. Prison officials can’t stop her
Alex Brizee, Idaho Statesman
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – In a 15-second TikTok video, a blonde woman in a white T-shirt appears. She asks for men or women to reach out to her if they’d “like to talk” and, at the end, blows a kiss to the camera.
Over the next few days, the brief social media post went viral. By Friday, it garnered roughly 3.7 million views. The video came from an unlikely source — a 43-year-old woman incarcerated within the Idaho Department of Correction’s South Idaho Correctional Institution south of Boise.
Miriah Vanlith, of Council, is serving a 10-year sentence for raping two teenage boys, one of whom she lured over the internet.
The Idaho Department of Correction told the Idaho Statesman that while it doesn’t “endorse such communication,” it can’t stop her.
Vanlith told the Statesman she made the video to meet new people, and that having a pen pal in prison helps pass the time. She declined to comment on how the videos were posted online.
“I made BIG mistakes in the past, but that doesn’t define who I am,” Vanlith wrote to the Statesman through JPay, a communication system inmates within prison facilities can use to communicate. “I’ve learned and grown a lot in the last five years. I take responsibility for what I’ve done. The past doesn’t define me, and I’ve started a new chapter of my life.”
Idaho Department of Correction spokesperson Jeff Ray told the Statesman by email the agency is familiar with the issue, but that officials don’t have any authority over third parties that might post videos on behalf of people incarcerated within a correctional facility.
“While many pen-pal-type relationships are well-intended, people who choose to engage in them — including those who are incarcerated — should be wary,” Ray told the Statesman via email.
COURT DOCUMENTS DETAIL MULTIPLE INCIDENTS
Vanlith pleaded guilty in 2019 to four felonies with the Adams County Prosecutor’s Office, according to court records obtained by the Statesman: two counts of rape, enticing children over the internet and distribution of a controlled substance to persons under 18.
In April 2018, Vanlith raped a 14-year-old boy, according to an affidavit of probable cause written by an Adams County sheriff’s deputy. Vanlith had reached out to the boy on Facebook and Snapchat.
During the 2018 incident, Vanlith had already been charged with several felonies along with the rape of a 17-year-old boy and faced an allegation that she inappropriately touched a 15-year-old boy, according to multiple court documents submitted to the Adams County District Court. The charges related to the 15-year-old were dismissed as part of Vanlith’s plea agreement, online court records show.
The 17-year-old boy told authorities in 2017 during an interview that he, at the time of the assault, thought it was cool, but afterward, “he felt horrible,” according to the affidavit. Authorities said during the interview the boy became “visibly upset” and was crying.
According to the same affidavit, at least two people told authorities that Vanlith may have victimized other underage kids, but they didn’t have any proof.
INMATES CONTINUE TO POST TIKTOK VIDEOS
Vanlith isn’t the only person incarcerated within the Idaho Department of Correction looking for pen pals.
A search by the Statesman found multiple other videos posted on TikTok. The Statesman was able to verify through online prison records that at least six of the individuals are currently incarcerated within an Idaho correctional facility, with the majority of them in prison for drug crimes.
JPay allows those incarcerated to send videos to individuals outside of prison, but inmates do not have access to the internet, Ray said. The Department of Correction denied the Statesman’s request for copies of Vanlith’s JPay messages, citing one of the exemptions for law enforcement records.
“Hey everybody — I just wanted to say thank you for the likes, thank you for the adds and thank you for the views,” Vanlith said in one of the videos posted to her TikTok account, which has over 33,000 followers. “I hope you continue to follow me and watch my videos. “
Vanlith’s first video was posted on July 8. The page has a total of seven videos from the last two weeks. In one of her most recent videos, Vanlith said she’s gotten an “overwhelming response.” Vanlith told the Statesman she has over 500 new contacts.