State prisons are very secretive places. No one really knows what happens beyond the visiting rooms (besides prisoners and guards) and prison administrators have every intention of keeping it that way. Even when the occasional television crew or local politician is given a tour, it’s usually a highly-orchestrated, sanitized version of reality.
That’s where Prison Writers comes in. We give incarcerated people a voice, a chance to be heard and a platform for telling us what is really happening to the most forgotten segment of our population.
Our prison system is a joke. It’s mismanaged, notoriously corrupt and resoundingly ineffective — and it’s never going to change because prison officials are never going to allow outside oversight of what goes on inside. It’s no longer an objective to rehabilitate prisoners. Now prisons are just warehouses for criminals, the mentally ill and the innocent.
More than 95% of inmates will walk out of prison one day, but there is virtually nothing — nothing — offered by prisons to prepare them for life on the outside. And that might never change because the business model for prisons only succeeds if prisoners keep coming back.
Our goal is to show people how fucked up this system is in hopes it’ll inspire change.
Our Valuable Team Members
What We’ve Learned
Our first surprise when we started Prison Writers, was the caliber of writing. But it wasn’t long before the bigger surprise became the passionate and positive feedback we got from our writers, thanking us for giving all prisoners a voice.
We had no idea Prison Writers would become a lifeline to so many of our writers. They tell us that we’ve given them a feeling of pride again, something they thought they would never be able to feel again. They like having goals worth striving for, a sense of purpose and hope, new things to think about and new worlds to explore. And many feel buoyed knowing they’re part of a greater good, in a community of their peers, working together to change prison policies.
We pay our writers $10 per published article, which is a fortune to some of the indigent inmates and a blessing to the rest. I pay them because I think all writers deserve to be paid for their published work. And nothing is more rehabilitative for them than having someone believe that their work, their voice and their writing has value out in the real world.
If a story needs heavy editing, we give writers some suggestions and ask them to try again. In some cases, we ask writers to rewrite certain sections; in other cases, we only fix a typo or two. Sometimes we move a paragraph or two around. But in all cases, we never do more than very light editing. Where necessary, we “translated” prison lingo for our readers. When possible, we fact-check any verifiable information.