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From the Editor

With our recent expansion to 48 pages we will be bringing readers more information than ever before and we also hope it will be more timely than it has been in the past. Readers that send us newspaper clippings and similar information help us stay on top of what are otherwise local stories that rarely make it into the national media. We also welcome story ideas and suggestions from readers.

Increasing PLN's circulation is an ongoing objective. The more issues we print and mail, the lower our per issue costs for postage and printing. Let your friends and family know about PLN and encourage them to subscribe. No other publication has the quality and quantity on all aspects of the criminal justice system that PLN does. We are also seeking to expand our advertiser base as that allows us to increase our editorial content. Do you know of any businesses, publications or services aimed at prisoners and their supporters? If so, send us their name and contact information and PLN will contact them about advertising in PLN. Likewise, feel free to suggest they contact us.

Since getting out of prison in December I have done a fair amount of travel, meeting with PLN supporters and prisoner rights activists on the West Coast and in New York City. There are a lot of people outside prison who are concerned about the ongoing, downward spiral of prison conditions and the ever expanding, exponential growth of the nation's prison population. Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity of resources between the governments and the interests they serve who maintain and expand the prison industrial complex and those who are working against it. Tens of billions of dollars a year and unlimited resources for the former, directly and indirectly employing over a million people, versus at most a few million bucks and very finite resources on our end. In many cases it is not that people don't care about prison issues, but that they don't feel there is much they can do about them.

The flip side of the coin is that many more people have no idea about the daily realty in America's prisons and jails, the reality that PLN reports. While in San Francisco in February, I went to Alcatraz (having written about prison tourism while imprisoned, it's only fitting I engage in it if I plan to write about it again). The former federal prison is now a federal park and museum. It has quite the burgeoning tourist and souvenir trade going for it.

The tourist spiel gives a very whitewashed history of the prison, focusing on the more notorious prisoners housed there in the 1930's and `40's and the various escape attempts that were made. The daily brutality and its use against political dissidents like Morton Sobel (sent there by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover after being convicted of espionage with the Rosenburgs) is ignored. The prison was built in 1909 and the impression is given that this is ancient history. Quite the contrary. The cell structures, with the fittings and fixtures are pretty much identical to what I experienced when I first arrived at the Washington State Reformatory in 1987, a prison built in 1908, the only difference is that in 1987 the Washington prison had two bunks in the cell while Alcatraz only had one. Far from being ancient history, American prisoners in many parts of the country are still being housed in antiquated prisons built before Alcatraz under barbaric conditions. But no one would know it from the mainstream media. San Quentin, only a few miles from Alcatraz, was built in 1853 and still holds over 6,000 prisoners today.

Raising public awareness on these issues is essential for change. There can be no push for change until people realize the injustices that are occurring. After all, if no one knows there's a problem, there is no incentive to fix it. The prison and jail administrators most familiar with the problems have no incentive to disturb that status quo. Changing public opinion is a key role for media like PLN and why it is important to have a publication that focuses exclusively on the human rights of the detained.

While I'm not an armchair psychologist, San Francisco merchants sell a huge amount of Alcatraz memorabilia and souvenirs. Interestingly, it is all prisoner memorabilia: prisoner uniforms, mugs, caps, etc. No guard or Bureau of Prisons memorabilia is sold or peddled. Using the marketplace as a guide can be deceptive but one interpretation is that Americans identify with and support the underdog. Most people are decent and given the correct information will make the correct choices. The problem is that most information people receive on prison, jail and criminal justice issues is hopelessly skewed and devoid of much analysis or historic context. While PLN does a good job of setting the record straight, the reality is that we don't reach the bulk of the American population and we don't have the repetition and reach that corporate television, newspapers and radio do.

One thing we can do, however, is influence opinion makers. In March, I met with the news room and investigative journalists of the Seattle Times and gave a presentation on covering prison and jail issues, dealing with prison officials who frequently conceal or otherwise refuse to disclose the news about the facilities under their management. I received a lot of positive feedback on that. One thing readers can do is sponsor gift subscriptions of PLN to journalists in their communities. It is a targeted approach and helps shape the manner in which prison news is reported on a mass basis. As PLN's editor I field several calls each week from reporters covering prison issues who desire quotes, background information on a given story, etc.

As always, PLN's operating expenses are not covered by subscriptions and advertising alone. We rely on donations from our readers and supporters above and beyond the cost of a subscription. In 1990 a year subscription to PLN was $10 and we consisted of 10 hand typed, photocopied pages. We have increased in size by almost 500% and 14 years later a prisoner subscription is only $18. To keep PLN affordable for prisoners we have to rely on donations and advertising. There's a reason most legal publications cost hundreds of dollars a year for subscriptions. If you can afford a donation, please help support PLN now.

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