By Paul Wright
Welcome to another issue of PLN. Recently the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Prison Law Project (PLP) held elections in order to elect five prisoners to its steering committee board. I was nominated for one of the slots and asked if I would run. I accepted and set doing public outreach and education on prison and criminal justice issues as a priority. I was both pleased and surprised to see the number of quality prison activists running for the slots, many of whom are PLN readers. Jailhouse lawyer members of the PLP across the country voted and I was elected along with Marcia Bunny, Beverly Seymour, James McGourty and Joseph Everroad. Many PLN readers have written and said they voted for me. I would like to thank all the PLN readers who did. I'll do my best to ensure that prisoners' interests are well represented. This is the first time I have held an "elected office" as it were. It also goes to show that people can openly campaign as a Marxist-Leninist and get elected; it's all about representing people's interests. Anyone interested in learning more about the NLG / PLP can see their ad on page 20 of this issue. Needless to say, I encourage jailhouse lawyers to consider joining the NLG if they agree with its principles.
The stepped up attacks on prisoners across the country and Washington (both of them) have resulted m a flurry of activity at PLN. This includes Dan and I having to work on local struggle issues in addition to PLN related stuff. The result is that between trying to keep up on writing articles for PLN and other publications, answer both PLN and personal mail, maintain relationships, etc., we're feeling a little overwhelmed, at least I am. From the looks of things it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. To help us keep on top of things it helps if article submissions come to us already written and typed. It is a lot easier and quicker to run a finished article that only has to be re-typed or scanned in than it is to read through a lot of newspaper clippings, legislation, etc., and write the article ourselves. So keep the clippings and article submissions coming. One of the things we are especially interested in is news of struggle by prisoners, especially the stuff that the mainstream media does not cover. If there is a strike or similar struggle, let us know. Tell us why it took place, the results, demands and the details of the drama.
One thing folks can do to lighten our load is cut down on the frivolous mail. Periodically we have to state that Dan and I aren't here to do people's legal research or play one hundred legal questions. You need to do that on your own. PLN is a tool to help you help yourself (which is why you should always read the cited cases yourself). The other thing to realize is that we are in the same boat as other prisoners across the country. When you write and ask that we do this or that it simply doesn't take into account the fact that there isn't a whole hell of a lot I can do from my prison cell to help. This is especially true from those who claim they are unjustly imprisoned, have been mistreated by their captors, etc. Our goal is to help prisoners help themselves because all too frequently no one else is. If you write and you absolutely must have a reply send an SASE. When we first started out Ed and I used to answer every letter received. We stopped doing that a while back because both the volume of mail increased and so has the junk mail. If we answered all the junk mail (especially from those seeking pen pals, their personal legal assistant, etc.) nothing else would get done.
Also, when you do write letters to us please make sure that your name and address is on the letter. Letters and envelopes usually get separated during processing which means that we sometimes don't know who wrote what. There has also been an occasional problem of folks sending donations from prison accounts and all we get is a check with a name on it and no indication of where the PLN is supposed to go (the BOP is especially bad on this). If your captors require that your number be on your address then please be sure to include it. While most prisoners detest using their DOC numbers, especially if it is not required, it actually helps us process and deliver your issues of PLN. You would be surprised how many people have the same or similar names. The DOC numbers help us keep track of readers and tell them apart. Each subscriber also has their own subscriber code (the four digit number on your label) so if you write about your subscription, i.e. change of address, not getting issues, etc. it helps if you refer to your subscriber number when you write.
We often get requests to endorse or advertise various products and services. In general we have never been too keen on running ads, for a variety of reasons. But we don't review- or plug products such as books, magazines, etc., unless we have actually seen it for ourselves. The reason we do this is to ensure that readers aren't being ripped off (we ask ourselves if we would pay "x" amount for a given product and if we'd feel ripped off if we did) and that we only use our limited space to plug products worth using. That is why you never see a negative review in PLN if it sucks we won't waste our space telling you.
I'll wind up this particular tirade by mentioning something that I find especially annoying. That is the people, quite a few of late, who write and want PLN to plug this, plug that, send them this information, or do that for them, and they aren't even subscribers! Given the fact that we are solely reader supported, and rely on that support to continue publishing, it is galling that freeloaders want to exploit a non-profit resource. Of course, it doesn't help when I ask people why they don't subscribe when they can well afford to do so and they respond with "I read my neighbor's issue" or "We just want to market product X." Well, if they aren't willing to support PLN's viability as a prison resource then PLN shouldn't support them.
When we started PLN we had high expenses because we were photocopied and mailed first class. Over the years we progressively cut those expenses by going to offset press printing as a 16 page magazine, getting a bulk mail permit, and other cost cutting measures. Lately, as we grow, our costs are starting to creep back up. We moved our printing to the East coast in order to bring you 20 pages at the same cost we were bringing you 16 from the west coast. Growth meant that PLN was too unwieldy to continue using volunteers to mail us, so we have a mailing service now that tacks on 6 cents an issue. The printer folds PLN for mailing which adds a penny. We have now started inserting fly cards which we hope will increase our subscription and donation rates, which costs a little more. So as we get more paid readers we are able to bring you more. We would like to ask you to donate what you can when you can in order to help us keep up with our expansion plans. The only way we can keep our costs down is to increase our readership so we can increase our print run. The more issues we print the lower our per issue cost.
Here are some interesting PLN factoids, as of March 6, 1995, we had 1,419 readers in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (plus another 150 or so in 26 other countries). Of these 1,419 readers, 860 were prisoners (61 %), 417 were non-prisoners (30%) and 129 were institutional subscribers (9%). For the first time, California has surpassed Washington as the state with the most PLN readers, 188 compared to 182 readers in Washington. What is interesting is that over half the California readers are locked up in Pelican Bay and Corcoran control units. The only states we have more than 50 readers in are: TX, NY, PA, WI, FL and MA. In some states our entire readership is prisoners. In others, the non-prisoners outnumber the prisoners. If you can encourage others to subscribe to PLN please do so, we rely on your efforts to reach more people. We can send a bundle of 25 PLN's if you can help out by sending 10 stamps to cover postage. Likewise, we can send sample copies to folks on request, just send $1 to help us cover our costs. In addition to cutting down our printing costs, more readers translates into faster mail service. When we have more than 125 readers in a given state, our mailer can send those issues directly to that state which cuts about three steps of mail sorting out of the process.
As PLN has grown we are also becoming better known and increasingly relied upon as a resource. Starting with our January, 1995, issue we are being indexed by the Criminal Justice Periodical Index and by the Department of Justice's publications database. This means that when researchers, scholars, etc. are seeking literature on a given issue or area, PLN will be among the sources they can consult and refer to. This is extremely important in terms of the longevity of our impact. All too often prisoners' voices are excluded, suppressed or forgotten. So when historians go back to write, or rewrite, history they wind up relying on contemporary sources that belong(ed) to the ruling class. This is why we try to encourage library subscriptions too. That's all for this issue. Enjoy PLN and pass it along to others so they can subscribe too!
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