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From the Editor

Over the years some readers have said they find Prison Legal News depressing because we don’t report any good news, or not much anyway. One reason for that, of course, is because there has been precious little “good news” emanating from the American criminal justice system over the past several decades. But amid the overall picture of gloom and doom there are the occasional bright spots of people who not only survive imprisonment in the American gulag but who are very successful either because of – or in spite of – their incarceration.

As a former prisoner myself, I have long observed that despite a little rhetoric to the contrary, most politicians and many citizens in this country really do not like the idea of former prisoners becoming successful. They don’t want ex-convicts to commit new crimes and want them to stay out of jail so as not to drain the public treasury even further, but the mainstream idea of success is for former prisoners to work menial jobs for low wages. It really upsets people when former prisoners do well socially and economically, and most notably, no one in a position of power is stepping forward to claim any credit for the occasional outstanding success story than they are for the pyrrhic failure of our criminal justice system as a whole.

Having millions of ex-prisoners means that while many have become success stories after their release from prison, a certain number have become very successful. One such success story is Danny Trejo, who I interviewed for this issue of PLN. This is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with former prisoners about overcoming adversity – often before, during and after imprisonment – and “making it” in American society, often spectacularly.

In the 17 years I spent in prison I noted that low self-esteem is pervasive among American prisoners. For a long time people in prison have been told they are losers, pathetic, failures, etc. Fortunately, not everyone buys it. I found Danny Trejo’s life story to be inspiring in the adversity he has overcome and the simple advice he has for people who are imprisoned, and how he became successful in a very competitive industry. We will print more such interviews in the future.

This month marks the 40th anniversary since George Jackson was murdered by California prison guards in Black August, and next month marks the 40th anniversary of the Attica uprising, which ushered in the modern era of American penal reform. As this issue of PLN goes to press, hundreds of California prisoners remain on a hunger strike that began July 1, 2011 to protest conditions of confinement in control units and their placement in such units, among other issues. We will report on these matters in next month’s PLN.
As a monthly magazine, we are constrained by how timely our news coverage can be. In addition to our print publication, we also offer a free Prison Legal News listserv for those with computer access. It is available on our website at: We send out 5-10 prison and jail-related news articles every few days.

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