Prison Writers is the first outlet to publish stories written exclusively by prisoners. We launched in 2015 to give prisoners a voice.
Maximum-security state prisons are very secretive places. Besides prison staff, no one gets past the visiting rooms. There is no oversight over the cell blocks where prisoners are caged, the cafeterias where they’re served mostly watered-down slop or the Corrections Officers — not all, but there are some in every prison in the country — who humiliate and abuse the inmates for pleasure. And for that reason, very little information gets out. Until now.
But, you may ask, who cares? They’re criminals!
And we don’t hide that. That’s why we urge our contributors to write about their crimes, and many have. That’s why we add a line or two at the end of every article describing the writer’s crime and his/her sentence.
But here’s the deal. Between 90 and 95% of prisoners are going to get out of prison, eventually. That’s surprising, right? Roughly 700-thousand men and women are released every single year from jails and prisons across America. And what are we doing to prepare these people?
The business model for prisons across the country incentivizes prison officials to keep their beds full.
How could we be spending $80 billion a year in taxpayers’ money on an institution that is failing so miserably in fulfilling its supposed goal of rehabilitation — when everyone knows there are proven ways to reduce recidivism right now. (And not by a little, by a lot. Education is the best way to stop a life of crime. $1 spent on education saves $4 in incarceration.)
The answer is simple. Follow the money. The prison business is like the hotel and airline business. The more beds and chairs filled, the more money.
So there’s a reason they don’t want anyone — or any information — getting out to the public because the more people are informed about the way prisons operate, the more they believe the system needs an overhaul.
That’s where Prison Writers comes in. We give incarcerated people a voice, a chance to be heard and a platform for telling the outside world what is really happening behind those bars.
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, a small fortune to prisoners who work for hourly wages of $1 an hour or less (some Texas prisons pay 10-cents an hour). And nothing is more rehabilitative and inspiring for someone living in caged isolation than having someone from the outside world care about their well-being and believe in their efforts to rehabilitate themselves.
A note on editing: If a story needs to be rewritten or restructured, we give writers our suggestions and ask them to try again. For other stories, we might move a paragraph or two around or fix typos. But in all cases, we never do more than very light editing. Where necessary, we “translate” prison lingo for our readers. When possible, we fact-check any verifiable information.
Helpful Information For New Writers
If you know of an incarcerated writer who might be interested in contributing to Prison Writers, please have them send stories to me via Jpay. If Jpay isn’t available in their state, they can send stories (preferably typed!!) to me: Loen Kelley at PO Box 334 in NY, NY 10002. And if they’d like more information, please send them Helpful Information for New Writers.