By Paul Wright
Welcome to another issue of PLN. We apologize to our readers for the delays caused in recent months. Our new printer is working out quite well and as a result we are able to bring you more pages for the same amount of money. In May of 1993 we made the transition from a 10 to a 16 page publication as we had outgrown our 10 page format. With the increase to 20 pages we have doubled in size within the period of one year. Please keep sending us your news and articles, we rely on our readers to keep us up to date on issues and struggles around the world. This in turn lets us keep our readers informed. Sending typed, brief articles is the quickest way to get it into print. With more pages we hope to bring still more extensive and timely coverage of prison issues. If you have any specific questions about article submissions write and enclose an SASE.
PLN has never pretended to be "objective" or "unbiased." Our role is to be a voice for progressive prisoners and their supporters in the prison struggle. That is simple enough. I've always believed that "objectivity" is just another word for pro-government bias. The problem is with the mainstream, corporate media who pretends to be "objective" and "unbiased. " I recently had an interesting encounter with this.
A Seattle program, Northwest Afternoon, was planning a show dealing with prisoner litigation. Two of the guests were Donna and James Hamm, PLN readers from Arizona. James did 17 years in prison, becoming a jailhouse lawyer in the process and is now in law school. Donna is a former judge who met James while he was in prison. They are active in prison reform struggles in Arizona. Donna told the Seattle producers about PLN and myself after I sent her a rundown on major, recent Washington prison litigation, (i.e. the ban on cross gender pat searches at Purdy, banning of rectal digital "searches", and more) published and unpublished cases which won or expanded prisoner rights.
I was contacted by one of the show's producers, Jodi Flynn, who asked me about my views on prisoner litigation, PLN, etc. She asked me if I wanted to appear on the show and I said I did. She stated I would appear on the show as well. She also asked for some copies of PLN. Well, as they say, that was the end of that! Apparently I'm not TV material. After watching the program, which aired on May 19, 1994, I saw why. They wanted to discuss prisoners suing over peanut butter. To do that they got an AG from Nevada who told about a prisoner suing over getting chunky instead of creamy peanut butter from the commissary four years ago. The Hamms did their best to explain the realities of prison litigation but the show featured the relatives of murder victims who are now constitutional law experts of the opinion that "prisoner's don't have rights" and "what about victim rights?" The all white (at least that was shown on TV) audience was trucked in from the nearest Hitler Youth or Rush Limbaugh rally and of course expressed the appropriate level of outrage. Guess it was just as well that they didn't get to hear about any of the many successful cases litigated by prisoners as reported right here in PLN. This bias is typical of that found by FAIR in the article analyzing media crime coverage which we review in this issue of PLN.
An interesting point that most people don't seem to understand is what "rights" are. In the US system of law the Bill of Rights is intended to protect citizens from arbitrary government action. Prisoner litigation generally focuses on what the government can or cannot do to prisoners or to compel actions such as provision of medical treatment, etc. These are the same rights that all citizens have not to be overly harassed or repressed by the government. The only difference is that prisoners get the easy, lite version of these rights, with substantial deference to the government. Why prisoner's rights? Well, why citizen rights? That is why there is no such thing as "victim rights. " The state is not implicated in injuries caused by citizens preying on each other. That is the province of criminal law. The victims' right is that perpetrators be caught, prosecuted and punished by the state. What more do they want? The Supreme Court has even held that citizens have no "right" to police protection. Essentially all that so called "victim's rights laws" have done is expand the power and reach of prosecutors, i.e. the government, in being able to admit information that was previously held to be irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible. Cut out from the mainstream media, disenfranchised and poor we are easy prey.
One way you can help counteract this media barrage of disinformation is by telling friends and family members, especially those on the outside, about PLN. Encourage them to subscribe so they can be aware of the reality behind the media myth. Eventually the media will move on to other prey and the political climate will change. We'll still be here. We do need financial support from you, our readers to keep on publishing. I don't like to seem like we're always begging for money (like Public Television) but the bottom line is we have printing, postage and other expenses to pay. We rely solely on you, our readers, for funding to publish. We have no corporate or wealthy sponsors. With one paid ad to date we aren't breaking any income barriers. No one at PLN gets a salary, your money goes towards what you are holding in your hands so please donate what you can and think about the one third of our readers who are on death row or in control units and unable to make any donation at all. The more money we have the more magazine you get.
Our subscription drive continues. We would also like to ask for donations so that we can pay for the mailing of sample copies to potential subscribers: prisoners and relatives, defense attorneys, law libraries, etc. It costs us roughly $250 to mail out 1,000 sample copies. We can't afford advertising, and direct mailing to potential/likely subscribers has so far been our best means of reaching people. If you can afford a donation to help us do this please contribute. Please tell other prisoners about PLN and encourage them to subscribe. For ten 29 stamps and a mailing label we will send you 26 copies of PLN to distribute or pass along to potential readers. Bigger quantities are also available, just write me for details.
We receive frequent inquiries about back issues. We have a few complete sets available, 50 issues, for $145.00, postage paid. The reason it costs so much is because for the first few years we couldn't afford to print more than the exact number of issues we had readers for. The result is that to make complete sets now we have to pay for photocopying which is really expensive and a major time drain on our volunteers. We are in the process of indexing past issues. Another project is to make all past issues available in electronic format on Internet. While this won't directly help prisoners wanting copies we can make the information more accessible so friends on the outside can download and print out all past copies and in turn send them to prisoners. This project is moving along. Any outside folks with the necessary computer skills interested in this should contact me for more information. Enjoy this issue.
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