His online profile might read something like this: "My name is John Gilligan. I spend my time behind bars working out and lifting weights. But that's just to bolster my hard-man image. I also enjoy literature, good conversation and am an animal lover. In a penpal, I'm looking for friendship and maybe more."

While this scenario might seem unlikely, a US entrepren­eur is preparing to replicate in Ireland the success of writeaprisoner.com in America.

The facility gives inmates the opportunity to write a short profile, which is then posted online along with a photo, giving members of the public the opportunity to write to them. The fee for registering is €29.

Interested parties can then begin a penpal relationship with the inmate by writing directly to the prison.

One man incarcerated in Northern Ireland already has a profile with writeaprisoner.com. Ronald Graham (49), from Co Antrim, was given a life sentence in 1981 for the murder of a five-year-old, Julie Cole. On his online profile he confirms that he's serving life at Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim. His profile is short: "At the present time I am looking to write to men, any women, single or married – it doesn't matter as I enjoy writing letters. I am 49 years old, single, 6 foot 2 inches in height. So until I hear from you… yours, Ronnie."

Several other Irish inmates have had accounts with writeaprisoner.com since it was established nine years ago but Graham's is the only active one at the moment, according to Adam Lovell, chief executive of the Florida-based company.

"We intend to bring this service to Ireland," he told the Sunday Tribune. "A lot of the prisoners set up profiles to seek employment. We have also had a lot of relationships started through our service. In the US, a lot of people come out of prison homeless and sometimes they have somewhere to live if they have a relationship with a penpal.

But the prisoner penpal initiative has also had its fair share of problems. There have been reports of prisoners trying to solicit money from penpals. Florida and Indiana have prohibited inmates from having pen-pals, which is being legally challenged by writeaprisoner.com.