Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Prisoner's Best Friend: Prison Legal News.

Over the course of the past several months, I've been hearing from a number of survivors of the Arizona state prison system - particularly the loved ones of prisoners who suicided or had been murdered. Unable to get the AZ Department of Corrections to work with me - or even talk with me - around concerns about the high homicide and suicide rate in recent years, I've been focusing my energy on trying to organize these families to take both legal and political action. I don't see any better way to bring about change; if we just wait for the DOJ or ACLU to come riding in to the rescue, more will just die.

That's not to say that the ADC hasn't been scrambling to reduce their exposure to lawsuits by re-evaluating and supplementing their mental health programs. They're in a pitched PR battle with former Eyman Deputy Warden Carl Toersbijns, trying to discredit his work while making the rest of the community think they're really treating mental illness appropriately in the prisons. More on that soon.

I'm sure many of the ADC's staff actually do care and do good work - Carl is evidence of that, and thank god for those folks - but the state just defends their employees' neglect and abuse of prisoners in court; you should see some of the lawsuits that prisoners have brought. So many of the really good ones get dismissed, though, because they "failed to exhaust their administrative remedies" (prisoners MUST file grievances on anything they want to litigate, and appeal them all the way to the director and back - leaving them op
en to retaliation in the process. Even my buddy Davon won't file grievances on being denied treatment for his Hep C, after a year of fighting, because he's afraid he'll lose his good time - he's almost home).

Anyway, here are some guidelines all prisoners need to know about the Prison Litigation Reform Act so they can protect their rights t
o sue the state. This is one of the guides the judiciary uses.

Here are the instructions for filing a complaint with the
ACLU of Arizona; just keep in mind that their interest is in patterns and practices
of neglect and abuse, not litigating individual cases. Arizona prisoners can litigate their own civil rights cases, if they've exhausted all their administrative remedies, by filing this form in the Arizona District Court.

Friends and family members of seriously mentally ill prisoners unable to grieve issues themselves should file written letters of grievance on their behalf, explicitly noting that their psychiatric disability
prevents them from utilizing the grievance system independently. You'll need a written note of consent from the prisoner for the ADC to release medical information to you, or they'll just stonewall - if they have to answer to you, they're more likely to follow up on your concerns. Ask them to accommodate the prisoner's disability by processing your complaint as if it were a grievance. I haven't tried this yet, so I don't know what they'll say - but it can't hurt to have it in the file if the prisoner isn't grieving mistreatment and ends up getting harmed.

Anyway, in the course of my adventures these past few months I've needed to try to help a few families find an attorney to file suit against the state. Our friends Paul Wright and Lance Weber at Prison Legal News have been instrumental in doing just that - Duron Cunningham's mom is the latest to retain a lawyer to file a notice of claim (it should be out any day now). This is a little bit about who they are. I finally just bought a subscription myself this week - it's well worth it.


The History of Prison Legal News

by Paul Wright

In May 1990, the first issue of Prisoners’ Legal News (PLN) was published. It was hand-typed, photocopied and ten pages long. The first issue was mailed to 75 potential subscribers. Its budget was $50. The first 3 issues were banned in all Washington prisons, the first 18 in all Texas prisons. Since then we have published 244 consecutive issues, grown to offset printing of 56-page issues, and now have almost 7,000 paid subscribers in all 50 states as well as numerous other countries. This is how it happened.

In 1987 I entered the Washington state prison system with a 304-month prison sentence. In 1988 I met Ed Mead, a political prisoner and veteran prison activist, at the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe, Washington. Ed had been imprisoned since 1976. In that period he had been involved in organizing and litigating around prison conditions and issues. He had also started and published several newsletters, including The Chill Factor, The Red Dragon and The Abolitionist. By late 1988, Ed and I were jointly involved in class action prison conditions litigation and other political work.

As the 1980s ended it became readily apparent that collectively prisoners were in a downhill spiral. Prisoners were suffering serious setbacks on the legislative, political, judicial and media fronts. Prisoners and their families were the people most affected by criminal justice policies, but were also the ones almost entirely absent from what passed as debate. There was a lack of political consciousness and awareness among prisoners, and widespread ignorance about the realities of the prison system among those not incarcerated.

Ed and I decided to republish The Red Dragon as a means of raising political consciousness among social prisoners in the U.S. We planned to model the new Red Dragon on the old one: a 50-60 page Marxist quarterly magazine that Ed had previously published. We eventually put together a draft copy, but it was never printed for distribution. The main reason was the lack of political and financial support on the outside. We lacked the money to print a large quarterly magazine, and were unable to find volunteers outside prison willing to commit the time involved in laying out, printing and mailing a big publication. Additionally, in 1989 I was subjected to a retaliatory transfer to the Penitentiary at Walla Walla, due to success in the WSR overcrowding litigation. Prison officials also wanted to ensure that the Red Dragon never got published. The transfer meant that Ed and I were relegated to communicating by heavily censored mail.

We scaled back our ambitions and instead decided to publish a small, monthly newsletter focusing on prison issues in Washington. If the support was there it would grow. Originally named Prisoners’ Legal News, we set out with the goal of publishing real, timely news that activist prisoners could use.

With the social movements that had traditionally supported the prison movement in this country at a low ebb (i.e., civil rights, women’s liberation and anti-war movements), we saw PLN’s objective as one that would emphasize prisoner organizing and self-reliance. Like previous political journalists who had continued publishing during the dark times of the 1920s and 1950s, we saw PLN’s role as being similar. From the outset, PLN has striven to be an organizing tool as much as we are an information source. When we started we had no idea that things would get as bad as they have in our nation’s criminal justice system.

In 1990 I was transferred to the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, a then-new Washington prison. In May 1990, the first issue of PLN appeared. Ed and I each typed up five pages of PLN in our respective cells. Columns were carefully laid out with blue pencils and graphics applied with a glue stick. We sent the proof copy to Richard Mote, a volunteer in Seattle, who copied and mailed it. Ed contributed PLN’s start-up budget of $50.

The first three issues of PLN were banned in all Washington prisons on spurious grounds. Ed was infracted by WSR officials for allegedly violating copyright laws for writing law articles. Officials at Clallam Bay ransacked my cell and confiscated my writing materials, background information and anything that was PLN-related. Ed’s infraction was eventually dismissed and my materials were later returned.

Just as we were on the verge of filing a civil rights lawsuit challenging the censorship of PLN, the Washington DOC capitulated and allowed PLN into its prisons. Jim Blodgett, then the warden at the Penitentiary in Walla Walla, told me that PLN would never last because its politics were “harmless and outmoded,” and prisoners were too “young and immature to be influenced” by our ideas. The reprisals had been fully expected, given prison officials’ historic hostility to the concept of free speech.

Then disaster struck: Richard Mote turned out to be mentally unstable. He refused to print and mail PLN’s second issue because he took offense to an article by Ed calling for an end to the ostracization of sex offenders. Mote took off with all of PLN’s money that contributors had sent, about $50, the master copy of the second issue and our mailing list. For several weeks it looked like there would be no second issue of PLN. Fortunately we located a second volunteer, Janie Pulsifer, who was willing to print and mail PLN. Ed and I sent Janie another copy of the issue, which she copied and mailed. We were back on track.

The Presses Keep Rolling

Ed’s then-partner, Carey Catherine, had agreed to handle PLN’s finances and accounting, such as they were, after Mote jumped ship. This was short-lived, because by August 1990 she was preparing to go to China to study. The only person we knew who had a post office box who might be able to take care of PLN’s mail, mainly to process donations, was my father, Rollin Wright. He lived in Florida but generously agreed to handle PLN’s mail for what Ed and I thought would be a few months at most, until we found someone in Seattle.

PLN’s support and circulation slowly began to grow. In January 1991, PLN switched to desktop publishing. Ed and I would send our typed articles to Judy Bass and Carrie Roth, who would retype them and lay them out. Ed and I would then proof each issue before it was printed and mailed. In 1991 PLN also obtained 501(c)(3) status from the IRS so we could use lower postage rates. PLN’s circulation had stabilized at around 300 subscribers. We purposely did not seek further growth because we did not have the infrastructure to sustain it. Once we had non-profit status and postal permits from the post office, we were ready to grow.

In the summer of 1992 we did our first sample mailing to prison law libraries. Since PLN’s reader base had grown, and changed, we decided to reflect this change by renaming the magazine Prison Legal News, as PLN wasn’t just for prisoners anymore. PLN was now being photocopied and mailed each month by a group of volunteers in Seattle.

When PLN started out in 1990, Ed and I had decided it would be a magazine of struggle, whether in the courts or elsewhere, and everything would be chronicled. At a time when the prisoner movement was overcome by defeatism and demoralization, we thought it important to report the struggles and the victories as they occurred to let activists know theirs was not a solitary struggle.

A mainstay of PLN’s coverage from the beginning has been the issue of prison slave labor. This is where the interests of prisoners and free world workers intersect at their most obvious. If people outside prison didn’t think criminal justice policies affected them, PLN would make prisons relevant by showing how prison slave labor took their jobs and undermined their wages. This coverage was helped by the fact that Washington was a national leader in the exploitation of prison slave labor by private businesses.

PLN has broken stories on how corporations like Boeing, Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, Planet Hollywood, Starbucks and Nintendo, plus U.S. congressman Jack Metcalf, have all used prison slave labor to advance their interests. These stories were picked up by other media, increasing PLN’s exposure. While PLN continues to be the leader in reporting on prison slavery, my own views on the subject have changed. Influenced by the writings of Bruce Western, I came to realize the big story wasn’t the 5,000 prisoners who work for private companies or the 60,000 who work for prison industries – and those only because of the massive government subsidies that prison industries receive – but the 2.3 million prisoners who have been removed from the U.S. labor market completely.

In June 1992, I was transferred back to WSR where Ed and I could collaborate on PLN in person for the first time since the magazine started. I had been infracted by Clallam Bay prison officials in 1991 for reporting in PLN the racist beatings of prisoners by gangs of white guards. Unable to generate attention for the beatings themselves, my punishment for reporting the attacks generated front-page news in the Seattle Times. Eventually the disciplinary charges were dropped, but not before I had spent a month in a control unit for reporting the abuses. The presses kept rolling.

PLN Becomes a Magazine

On PLN’s third anniversary in May 1993, we made the big leap. We switched to offset printing instead of photocopying, and permanently expanded our size to 16 pages. PLN was no longer a newsletter; we were now a magazine. PLN had 600 subscribers.

In October 1993, Ed was finally paroled after spending 18 years in prison. The state parole board, no doubt unhappy at PLN’s critical coverage of their activities, imposed a “no felon contact” order on Ed. This meant Ed could have no contact, by mail or phone, with me or any other felon. The parole board made it very clear that this was for the purpose of preventing Ed’s involvement with PLN. If Ed were involved in publishing PLN in any way, he would be thrown back in prison.

The ACLU of Washington filed suit on our behalf to challenge the rule as violating Ed’s right to free speech as well as my own. In an unpublished ruling, Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma dismissed our lawsuit, holding that it was permissible for the state to imprison someone for publishing a magazine while they were on parole. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would eventually dismiss our suit as moot when, after three years on state parole, Ed was finally discharged from the parole board’s custody. In the meantime, Ed had tired of PLN as he had with his previous publishing efforts, and got on with his life and moved to California. Washington state prisoner Dan Pens was PLN’s co-editor from 1994 to 2001.

PLN switched to an East coast printer that offered significant savings over Seattle printers. This allowed PLN to expand to 20 pages. Within the year PLN was no longer being mailed by volunteers; our printer did the mailing for us.

In January 1996, PLN hired its first staff person, Sandy Judd. PLN’s needs and circulation had grown to the point that volunteers were simply unable to do all the work that needed to be done. With some 1,600 subscribers, data entry, layout, accounting and other tasks required full-time attention. In 2001, former Washington prisoner Don Miniken became PLN’s executive director. Sandy also returned as PLN’s data manager and layout person, and PLN began its employment of work study students and local volunteers for office tasks. Hans Sherrer, a former prisoner and expert on wrongful convictions, became PLN’s circulation manager until October 2004, when he went to work full-time for Justice Denied, a magazine specializing in wrongful convictions.

Our May 2010 issue marks PLN’s 20-year anniversary and 244th issue of publishing. We now have around 7,000 subscribers in all 50 states.

PLN goes into every medium and maximum security prison in the U.S. and many of the minimum security facilities and jails as well. PLN’s subscribers include prisoners, judges, lawyers, journalists, academics, prison and jail officials, activists and concerned citizens.

The bulk of each issue of PLN is still written by prisoners and former prisoners. In 1999, the Washington DOC banned correspondence between prisoners. The resulting breakdown in communication made coordinating PLN difficult, to say the least, between myself and PLN’s imprisoned contributing writers.

Upon my release in 2003, I was able to do a lot more in the way of research and advocacy as PLN’s editor than I had while imprisoned. In 2005 we were able to hire Alex Friedmann as PLN’s associate editor. Alex had been imprisoned in Tennessee when he first began writing for PLN in 1996 as a volunteer contributing writer. Alex’s invaluable skills as a researcher and editor vastly improved the content of PLN and the depth and breadth of our coverage.

My first day out of prison illustrates the transition from prisoner editor to non-prisoner editor. I was picked up at the Monroe Correctional Complex at 8:30 AM on December 16, 2003 by Don Miniken and Hans Sherrer, PLN’s executive director and circulation manager, respectively. By 10:30 AM we were in PLN’s Seattle office and I was learning to use the Internet and e-mail, my first experience with both. At noon we had lunch with Jesse Wing and Carrie Wilkinson, part of the McDonald, Hogue and Bayless legal team that successfully represented PLN in PLN v. Lehman, a censorship suit against the Washington DOC. At 2:30 PM I was back in PLN’s office doing a television interview with Fox News on prison slave labor. It hasn’t stopped since.

We would also like to thank all those people who have served on our board as first Prisoners’ Legal News and now as the Human Rights Defense Center over the years. Our current and former directors are: Dan Axtell, Rick Best, Bell Chevigny, Scott Dionne, Judy Greene, Tara Herivel, Sandy Judd, Ed Mead, Janie Pulsifer, Sheila Rule, Ellen Spertus, Peter Sussman, Silja Talvi, Bill Trine, Josephine Wigginton and Rollin Wright.

Over the years we have had a number of contributing writers across the country who contribute articles and reporting to PLN. Our first contributing writer was James Quigley, then a Florida prisoner, who began writing for PLN in 1995. James killed himself in a Vermont prison control unit in 2003. Our other contributing writers have included, in no particular order: Willie Wisely, Alex Friedmann, Matt Clarke, Mark Wilson, Julia Lutsky, Daniel Burton-Rose, Ronald Young, Mark Cook, Dan Pens, Rick Card, Bob Williams, Mike Rigby, Roger Smith, Lonnie Burton, Rabih Aboul Hosn, Floyd Spruyte, Gary Hunter, Rex Bagley, Roger Hummel, David Reutter, Robert Woodman, Sam Rutherford, Jimmie Franks, Brandon Sample, Justin Miller, Derik Limberg, John Dannenberg, Mike Brodheim and others. Our quarterly columnists have included attorneys John Midgley, Walter Reaves, Kent Russell and Dan Manville, and political prisoners Laura Whitehorn, Linda Evans, Marilyn Buck and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Denise Johnston contributed a column on incarcerated parents. Michael Cohen contributes a medical column. For stories that have required investigative follow-up, PLN has been able to count on excellent investigative reporters like Ken Silverstein, Jennifer Vogel, Daniel Burton-Rose, Silja Talvi, Ian Urbina, Leah Caldwell, Mark Dow, Peter Wagner, Anne Marie Cusac, Beau Hodai, Terry Allen, Christian Parenti, Alan Prendergast, Greg Dober, Lance Tapley, Jim Ridgeway and Todd Matthews, among others. This has helped PLN provide a wider spectrum of voices and deeper and better coverage of criminal justice issues, and helped us expand in size while continuously improving our quality.

Then there is the design of the magazine itself. Since we went to computerized layout in 1991 the magazine has been designed and laid out by: Ed Mead, Judy Bass, Dan Axtell, Sandy Judd, Thomas Sellman, Don Miniken and Lance Scott. Our printers have been Consolidated Printing in Seattle, Prompt Press in Camden, New Jersey and Oregon Lithograph in McMinnville, Oregon.

In 1998 Common Courage Press published our first book, The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry. Edited by Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens and myself, the book is a PLN anthology. Celling of America lays out in one place the reality and politics of the prison industrial complex in the mid 1990s. Now in its third printing, the book has received critical acclaim and helped boost PLN’s profile. Between 1998 and 2000, I did a weekly radio show on KPFA’s Flashpoints program called “This Week Behind Bars.” The show aired on Fridays and consisted of news reports from PLN about what was happening in American prisons and jails. Hans Sherrer, Alex Friedmann and I have done hundreds of radio interviews on PLN’s behalf advocating for the rights of prisoners. In addition, PLN is frequently quoted on prison issues by other publications.

In 2003, Routledge Press published Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor, a book edited by attorney Tara Herivel and myself that made the connection between mass imprisonment and under-funded indigent defense systems. Now in its third printing and winner of the 2003 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book award, it has been well received.

In 2008, the New Press published Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration. An anthology edited by Tara Herivel and myself, in this volume we set out to explore who benefits from the U.S. policies of mass imprisonment that make the U.S. the world’s leader in putting people in prison.

This trilogy of PLN anthologies, spanning a decade, does an impressive job of laying out the political landscape of the 1990s that cemented the most repressive policies of mass imprisonment, the conveyor-belt judiciary that ensures poor people accused of a crime are more likely to wind up in prison than their wealthy counterparts accused of crimes, and the economic and political beneficiaries of these policies and who is harmed by them.

The Prison Legal News website,, is now the largest prison and jail news site on the Internet, with all PLN back issues in PDF format as they appeared when published, a searchable database with over 22,000 articles and 10,000 court cases, and a publications library and brief bank. It is the premier prison news and litigation research site. Our website receives over 100,000 visitors a month and is frequently cited as a resource and source of information by journalists, lawyers and courts, among others.

In addition to our printed and online publications, PLN has provided an extensive source of advocacy in the media, legislatures and the courts. Alex Friedmann and I regularly speak on the topic of prisoners’ rights at conferences, conventions and law schools. We do dozens of media interviews a year and provide background information on prison and jail topics to journalists and producers. Alex has testified before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures on prison-related topics. We have submitted comments to public agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission and the Civil Rights Commission.

PLN remains unique in many respects. First, PLN is the only independent, uncensored nationally-circulated magazine edited and produced largely by prisoners and ex-prisoners anywhere in the U.S., if not the world. It is also the longest lived in U.S. history. Second, PLN is one of the few publications that offers a class-based analysis of the criminal justice system. No other publication has the depth and breadth of coverage of detention facility litigation and news that PLN does.

For the past twenty years PLN has relied almost exclusively on donations sent by subscribers. In recent years, advertising income has helped offset PLN’s costs as well. In 1998 PLN began distributing books with the release of our first anthology, The Celling of America. Our book list has expanded as a way to both augment our public education mission and provide prisoners with the means to help themselves, and to help contribute to PLN’s continued existence. Until PLN had to hire a staff person we operated on a break-even basis. As late as 1995, we were giving away up to 48% of our subscriptions to prisoners who could not, or claimed they couldn’t, afford to subscribe. With the expense of a staff person we had to dramatically limit the number of free subscriptions. Over the years PLN has received generous support from the Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Sonya Staff Foundation, the Art Appreciation Foundation, the Solidago Foundation, Resist, AFSCME, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Funding Exchange, all of which enabled PLN to grow and professionalize.

A free press doesn’t come cheap. Neither does free speech. From the very first issue to this day, PLN has been censored in prisons and jails across the country. In many cases we have been able to resolve censorship issues administratively. In cases where that was not possible, we filed suit and resolved the matter in court. The sidebar to this article gives a rundown on PLN’s extensive litigation history. Whether as a reflection of the times or a comment on PLN’s effectiveness, we are facing more attempts at censorship nationally than at any time in the past twenty years. PLN may well be the most censored publication in America.

PLN in the Next Decade

A question I have been asked is whether PLN is “successful.” Success is a relative term. When a French journalist asked Mao Tse-Tung in the 1960s if he thought the French Revolution in 1789 had been successful, Mao reportedly replied “It’s too soon to tell.” So too with PLN. The prison and jail population in the U.S. has more than doubled to well over 2.3 million people just in the time we have been publishing, and it continues to grow. By any objective standard, prison conditions, overcrowding and brutality are now far worse than at any time in the past 40 years. Draconian laws criminalize more behavior and impose harsher punishment in worse conditions of confinement than at any time in modern world history.

With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prisoners. The legal rights of American prisoners are diminishing daily under coordinated attacks from conservative courts, yellow journalists and reactionary politicians. The corporate media and politicians alike thrive on a daily diet of sensationalized crime and prisoner bashing, while prisons and jails consume ever-increasing portions of the government budget to the detriment of everything else. The economic downturn has led some states to diminish their prison populations but nationally the number of prisoners continues to grow.

PLN has duly chronicled each spiral in this downward cycle of repression and violence. We have provided a critique and analysis of the growth of the prison industrial complex and have exposed the human rights abuses which are the daily reality of the American gulag at the beginning of this century. When some people purported to be shocked when the American torture chambers in Iraq were first exposed in the Abu Ghraib pictures, we could sadly point out that PLN had been reporting similar occurrences in American prisons since our inception in 1990, and still do. In that sense, I believe PLN has been successful. Even if we didn’t stop the evils of our time, at least we struggled against them and did the best we could under the circumstances. That we have managed to publish at all under these circumstances is a remarkable success. When I started PLN, I never thought I would be writing this retrospective twenty years later in the same magazine after being released from prison.

But not all is gloom and doom. PLN has helped stop some of the abuses that are legion in the American gulag. We have also borne witness to what is happening and duly documented it. Recent years have seen an increase in interest and support for prison issues and human rights in the United States. Many of PLN’s critiques of prison slave labor and other issues have been picked up and adopted by labor groups and even some elements of the corporate media. Our censorship litigation has helped secure the rights of prisoners and publishers alike in many states, and our public records litigation has helped to ensure government transparency.

I believe that ultimately PLN’s success will be measured by its usefulness to the prisoners, activists, journalists, attorneys and citizens who tried to make a difference for the better. We have tried our best to provide timely, accurate, helpful information that people can use in their daily struggle for justice. PLN also serves as a useful, contemporaneous account of prison issues for later historians.

The main obstacles that PLN faces are those faced by all alternative media in the U.S.: under-funding and the corresponding inability to reach more people with our message. Absent relatively (for PLN) large-scale funding from outside sources to do outreach work, this will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. The other primary problems facing PLN are prisoner illiteracy (depending on the state, between 40 to 70% of the prison population is functionally illiterate), and political apathy. Despite that situation, PLN has survived and steadily grown. The need that led to PLN’s creation has only increased.

Corporate media coverage of prison and criminal justice issues tends to be abysmal. Most media coverage is little more than press-release journalism. Input from prisoners or activists is rarely sought. Since its inception, PLN has ensured that the voices of class conscious prisoners are heard. We are proud of the fact that over the years many stories originally broken or developed by PLN have been picked up by other news sources, including the corporate media. We are heartened by the fact that prisoners in other states started similar publications to deal with their local issues. This includes Florida Prison Legal Perspectives, Southland News and Prison Information Network, among others.

After two decades of publishing it must be emphasized that PLN has always been very much a collective effort. PLN has had editors who bore the brunt of our captor’s displeasure for speaking truth to power, but the reality is that PLN would never have been possible if it were not for the many volunteers and supporters who have so generously donated their time, energy, skills, labor, advice and money. The cause of prisoner and human rights has never been very popular in this country. In today’s political climate it takes extraordinary courage and commitment to support a project like PLN.

The volunteers and employees, without whose support PLN would not exist today, include, in no particular order: Dan Axtell, Dan Tenenbaum, Rollin Wright, Zuraya Wright, Allan Parmelee, Judy Bass, Carrie Roth, Janie Pulsifer, Jim Smith, Jim McMahon, Scott Dione, Cathy Wiley, Ellen Spertus, Sandy Judd, Wesley Duran, the late Michael Misrok, Shannon Hall, the late Thomas Sellman, Linda Novenski, Jo Wigginton, Jennifer Umbehocker, Zina Antoskow, Martin and Rebecca Chaney, Bob Fischer, Latoya Anderson, Sue Hartman, Susan Schwartzkopf, Samual Schwartzkopf, Don Miniken, Mel Motel, Ryan Barnett, Sam Phillips, Sam Rutherford, Danielle Fuskerud, Christine McManich, Ron Podlaski, Zachary Phillips, Chris St. Pierre and many others.

The lawyers who have advised and represented PLN on matters as diverse as Internet law and censorship litigation over the years include, in no particular order: Bob Cumbow, Mickey Gendler, Bob Kaplan, Joe Bringman, Leonard Schroeter, Dan Manville, Rhonda Brownstein and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Washington ACLU and the Oregon, Kansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Kansas & Western Missouri, Arizona and Nevada ACLUs, Mac Scott, Darren Nitz, David Fathi and the ACLU National Prison Project, Lee Tien and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, J. Patrick Sullivan, Randy Berg, Peter Siegel, Cullin O’Brien, Jognwon Yi, Darrell Cochran, Bruce Plenk, Max Kautsch, Alison Howard, Andy Mar, David Bowman, Jesse Wing, Tim Ford, Carrie Wilkinson, Sandy Rosen, Janet Tung, Janet Stanton, Susan Seager, Bill Trine, Alison Hardy, Marc Blackman, Frank Cuthbertson, Mike Kipling, Brian Barnard, Peter Schmidt, David Bowman, Don Evans, Michelle Earl Hubbard, Frank Kriedler, Andy Clarke, Hank Balson, Sarah Duran, Ernest Galvan, Ken Walczak, Amy Whelan, Blake Thompson, Elizabeth Eng, Steven Bonney, Ed Elder, Mara Verheyden Hilliard, Carl Messineo, Radhika Miller, Jeff Fogel, Steve Rosenfield, Scott Medlock, Elizabeth Cummings, Mary Howell, Brian Spears, Gerry Weber, Robert McDuff, Dan Pachoda, Howard Friedman, David Milton, Mary Catherine Roper, Denny Wong, Ari Krichevner, Najeeb Khoury, Andy Foster, Alicia Hickok, Rick Coe, and Sam Stiltner. I apologize if I have left anyone off this list of exceptional and dedicated attorneys.

Ultimately, the people who have contributed articles, donated money and subscribed are those who have made PLN possible today. Without all of these contributions to PLN’s collective effort – and there are far too many to name here – we would have met the fate of the vast majority of alternative publications: we would have folded within a year. Instead, we have lasted two decades.

In 2009 we changed the name of our non-profit to the Human Rights Defense Center to better reflect our activities. This includes book publishing. We published our first book last year, The Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada. Written by Missouri prisoner Jon Marc Taylor and edited by PLN staff member Susan Schwartzkopf, it reflects our desire to publish and distribute self-help, non-fiction reference books that prisoners can use to help themselves. Our next book, The Habeas Citebook, by federal prisoner Brandon Sample, is in production now. We also added a staff attorney position and hired Dan Manville as our first general counsel to represent PLN in censorship litigation and selected catastrophic injury cases around the country. Prison Legal News the magazine is published as an HRDC project.

In March 2010 we closed our Seattle office and moved all HRDC operations to Brattleboro, Vermont, where I have been based since I was released from prison in 2003. We did this to cut costs and improve efficiency by consolidating our employees and operations in one location. Don Miniken, our executive director since 2001, stepped down and I have assumed that position.

Continued advocacy on behalf of prisoners and their families on all fronts and ensuring the right of prisoners to receive PLN are all daily projects for us. Expanding PLN’s book distribution list, further increasing PLN’s size to bring readers more news and information, and expanding our circulation are all goals for the immediate future. Going into the next decade, 21st century PLN will still be here, giving voice to the voiceless and providing the best news and analysis on prison and jail-related issues around.

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