The first issue of Prisoners’ Legal News (PLN) was published in May 1990. It was hand-typed, photocopied and ten pages long, and mailed to 75 potential subscribers with a budget of $50. The first three issues were banned in all Washington state prisons, the first 18 in all Texas prisons. Since then we have published 301 consecutive issues, grown to 72 pages with offset printing and now have approximately 9,000 subscribers in all 50 states.
This is how it happened.
Started in a Prison Cell
In 1987 I entered the Washington state prison system with a 304-month sentence. The following year I met Ed Mead, a political prisoner and veteran prison activist, at the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe, Washington. Ed had been incarcerated since 1976. During that period of time 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 DragonandThe 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 apparent that collectively prisoners were in a downhill spiral – they 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 Dragonas a means of raising political consciousness among prisoners in the U.S. We planned to model the new publication 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 a lack of political and financial support on the outside. We lacked the money to produce a large quarterly magazine, and were unable to find volunteers outside prison willing to commit the time involved in laying out, printing and mailing such a 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 focused on prison issues in Washington state. 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 and their supporters could use.
With the social movements that had traditionally supported prison reform efforts in this country at a low ebb (i.e., the 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, PLNhas striven to be an organizing tool as much as 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. Nor that they would continue to be as bad as they have for as long as they have.
In 1990 I was transferred to the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, a then-new Washington prison. The first issue of PLN appeared in May 1990. 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 by 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 concepts of free speech and due process.
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 written by Ed that called 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 another volunteer, Janie Pulsifer, who was willing to print the publication. 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 with 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. Those few months became six years as he served as PLN’s office manager, publisher and board member.
Support for PLN slowly began to grow, as did our circulation. In January 1991 we switched to desktop publishing. Ed and I sent our typed articles to Judy Bass and Carrie Roth, who would retype them and lay them out. We would then proof each issue before it was printed and mailed. In 1991, PLNalso 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 expand.
In the summer of 1992 we did our first sample mailing to prison law libraries. Since PLN’s reader base had increased and changed, we decided to reflect that change by renaming the publication 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 prisoners’ rights movement was overcome by defeatism and demoralization, we thought it important to report the struggles and victories as they occurred to let activists know that theirs was not a solitary fight.
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 state 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 then-U.S. Representative Jack Metcalf, 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 slave labor, 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 in PIECP programs or the estimated 80,000 who work in state 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 officials for reporting in PLN the racist beatings of prisoners by gangs of white prison guards. Unable to generate attention for the beatings themselves, my punishment for reporting the attacks received front-page news coverage in theSeattle Times. Eventually the disciplinary charges were dropped, but not before I had spent a month in a control unit for reporting the abuses. The PLN 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 expanded to 16 pages. PLN was no longer a newsletter; we were now a magazine with 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 he 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 he 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 eventually dismissed our appeal as moot when, after three years on 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 us to expand to 20 pages. Within the year PLN was no longer being mailed by volunteers; our printer did the mailing for us.
We hired our first staff person, Sandy Judd, in January 1996. 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.
The bulk of each issue of PLN is written by current 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 incarcerated 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 serving a 20-year sentence in Tennessee when he first began writing for PLN in 1996 as a volunteer contributing writer. His invaluable skills as a researcher and editor vastly improved the content of PLN and the depth and breadth of our coverage; he is now PLN’s managing editor.
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 a.m. on December 16, 2003 by Don Miniken and Hans Sherrer, PLN’s executive director and circulation manager, respectively. By 10:30 a.m. 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, Hoague and Bayless legal team that successfully represented us in PLN v. Lehman, a censorship suit against the Washington DOC. By 2:30 p.m. I was back in PLN’s office doing a television interview with Fox News on prison slave labor. It hasn’t stopped since then.
Today, the May 2015 issue of PLN marks our 25-year anniversary and 301st consecutive published issue. We now have around 9,000 subscribers in all 50 states. PLN goes into every medium- and maximum-security prison in the U.S. and many minimum-security facilities and jails as well. PLN’s subscribers include prisoners and their family members, judges, attorneys, journalists, academics, prison and jail officials, activists and concerned citizens.
More Than a Monthly Publication
PLN’s website, www.prisonlegalnews.org, is the largest online resource for prison and jail news and case law; it includes all PLN back issues in .pdf format as they appeared when published, a searchable database with over 18,000 articles and 13,000 court rulings, plus a library of more than 5,600 publications and a brief bank with 7,500 pleadings. Our site receives over 100,000 visitors a month and is frequently used as a source of information by journalists, criminal justice activists and attorneys, among others.
In addition to our print and online publications, PLN has engaged in extensive advocacy efforts involving the media, lawmakers and government agencies. Alex Friedmann and I regularly speak on the topic of prisoners’ rights at conferences, conventions and law schools. We do dozens of media interviews each year and provide background information on prison, jail and criminal justice issues to journalists and researchers. Alex and I have testified before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures on prison-related topics, and have submitted comments to numerous public agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, the Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Common Courage Press published PLN’s first book, The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry, in 1998. Edited by Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens and myself, the book is an anthology of PLN articles. Celling of America lays out 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, while incarcerated, 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 and media interviews on PLN’s behalf advocating for the rights of prisoners. Further, PLN is frequently quoted on criminal justice issues by other publications, ranging from the Associated Press and USA Today to CNN, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
In 2003, Routledge Press published Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor, a PLN anthology edited by attorney Tara Herivel and myself that made the connection between mass imprisonment and under-funded indigent defense systems. Winner of the 2003 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Prison Nation has been well-received.
The New Press published Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration in 2008. An anthology edited by Tara Herivel and myself, in this volume we explored who benefits from the 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 incarceration, the conveyor-belt judiciary that ensures poor people accused of crimes 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.
In addition to PLN’s monthly magazine, online resources and anthologies, our many other projects – including media and advocacy work – are detailed in our annual reports posted on our website. In 2013, we received the First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
PLN remains unique in many respects. First, it is the only independent, uncensored nationally-circulated magazine edited and produced largely by prisoners and former prisoners anywhere in the U.S., if not the world. PLN is also the longest lived in U.S. history. Second, it 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.
Since its inception PLN has largely relied on donations from our subscribers and supporters. In recent years, advertising income has helped offset our costs and allowed us to expand the size of the magazine. PLN began distributing books with the release of our first anthology, The Celling of America, in 1998. Our bookstore list has expanded as a way to both augment our public education mission and provide prisoners with the means to help themselves, and to contribute to PLN’s continued existence by generating revenue.
Until PLN had to hire a staff person we operated on a break-even basis. As late as 1995, we were giving away almost half of our subscriptions to prisoners who could not, or claimed they couldn’t, afford to subscribe. With the expense of an employee 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 Proteus Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Jewish Community Fund, the Irvin Stern Foundation, Youth Emergency Services and the Funding Exchange, all of which enabled PLN to grow and professionalize. We currently receive no foundation funding; we have never accepted government funding.
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 some cases we have been able to resolve censorship issues administratively. In cases where that was not possible, we filed suit and addressed the matter in court. The article following this cover story provides a summary of PLN’s extensive litigation history. Whether as a reflection of the times or a comment on PLN’s effectiveness, we are currently facing more attempts at censorship than at any time in the past 25 years. PLN is the most censored publication in America.
What Have We Accomplished?
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 1789 French Revolution 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. doubled to 2.3 million people just in the time we have been publishing. By any objective standard, prison conditions, overcrowding and brutality are now far worse than at any time in the past 50 years. Draconian laws criminalize more behavior and impose harsher punishments in worse conditions of confinement than at any other point in modern world history. While some lip service has been paid about changing this state of affairs, no one in a position of power is even talking about the brutal conditions prisoners are subjected to on a daily basis in the U.S., or providing any type of accountability or oversight of the criminal justice system, or repealing the thousands of harsh laws that have led the U.S. to become the world’s leading carceral state.
With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners. The legal rights of American prisoners are diminishing daily under coordinated attacks by conservative courts, yellow journalism and reactionary politicians. The corporate media and lawmakers alike thrive on a daily diet of sensationalized crime and prisoner bashing, while prisons and jails consume ever-increasing portions of government budgets to the detriment of everything else – such as education, affordable housing and social services. The economic downturn has led some states to temporarily reduce their prison populations, but nationally the number of prisoners remains at an extremely high level.
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 that are the grim reality of the American gulag. While some people purported to be shocked when the American military torture chambers in Iraq were first exposed by the photos taken at Abu Ghraib, we could sadly point out that PLN had been reporting similar incidents in American prisons since 1990, and still do.
Even if we didn’t end the evils of our time, we at least struggled against them and did the best we could under the circumstances. That we have managed to publish PLN at all given the relentless opposition by prison and jail officials is a remarkable success. When I started PLN in my prison cell, I never thought I would be writing this retrospective 25 years later in the same magazine. In this sense I believe PLN has been successful.
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 documented it for future generations. Recent years have seen an increase in interest and support for criminal justice and human rights issues 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 First Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and publishers alike in many states, and our public records cases have helped ensure government transparency. We have done this with remarkably little in the way of funding and resources.
Ultimately, I believe that PLN’s success will be measured by its usefulness to the prisoners, activists, journalists, attorneys and citizens who are working 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.
The main obstacles that PLN faces are those faced by all alternative media: a lack of sufficient funds 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. The other primary issues facing PLN are censorship by government officials, prisoner illiteracy – various studies have found that 40 to 70% of the prison population is functionally illiterate – and political apathy. Despite these difficulties, PLN has persevered and steadily grown. The need that led to PLN’s creation has only increased.
Mainstream 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 and former 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 also heartened that prisoners in other states have started similar publications to deal with local issues, such as Florida Prison Legal Perspectives, Southland News and the Prison Information Network, among others.
After a quarter-century of publishing it must be emphasized that PLN has always been very much a cooperative effort. PLN has had editors who bore the brunt of prison officials’ displeasure for speaking truth to power, but the reality is that PLN would never have been possible were it not for the many volunteers and supporters who have so generously donated their time, energy, skills, labor, advice and money. Prisoners’ rights and human rights have never been very popular causes in this country, and in today’s political climate it takes extraordinary courage and commitment to support a project like PLN.
A Collective Effort
We would like to thank all those people who have served on our board of directors over the years, first as Prisoners’ Legal News and now as the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization. Our current and former board members include Dan Axtell, Rick Best, Bell Chevigny, Scott Dionne, Howard Friedman, Mike Godwin, Judy Greene, Tara Herivel, Sandy Judd, Ed Mead, Janie Pulsifer, Sheila Rule, Ellen Spertus, Peter Sussman, Silja J.A. Talvi, Bill Trine and Rollin Wright.
A number of regular contributing writers have supplied articles and reporting for PLN. Our first contributing writer was James Quigley, then a Florida prisoner, who began writing for PLN in 1995. James killed himself in a prison control unit in Vermont 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, Adrian Lomax, 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, Derek Gilna, Christopher Zoukis, Joe Watson 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, while Michael Cohen provided a medical column.
For stories that have required investigative reporting, PLN has been able to count on excellent investigative journalists like Ken Silverstein, Jennifer Vogel, 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, James Kilgore, Victoria Law and Todd Matthews, among others. This has helped PLN provide a wider spectrum of voices and more comprehensive coverage of criminal justice issues, and allowed us to expand in size while continuously improving the quality of our content.
Then there is the design of PLN itself. Since we moved to computerized layout, the magazine has been designed and laid out by Ed Mead, Judy Bass, Dan Axtell, Sandy Judd, Thomas Sellman, Don Miniken and Lansing Scott. Our printers have included Consolidated Printing in Seattle, Prompt Press in Camden, New Jersey and Oregon Lithograph in McMinnville, Oregon.
PLN’s employees and volunteers, without whose support we would not exist, include in no particular order: Dan Axtell, Dan Tenenbaum, the late Rollin Wright, Zuraya Wright, the late 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, Jennifer Umbehocker, Zina Antoskow, Martin and Rebecca Chaney, Bob Fischer, Latoya Anderson, Barbara Belen, Kristin Herman, Amanda Henry, Christine McAninch, David Ganim, Sue Hartman, Susan Schwartzkopf, Samual Schwartzkopf, Mel Motel, Ryan Barrett, Sam Phillips, Sam Rutherford, Danielle Fuskerud, Christine McManich, Ron Podlaski, Zachary Phillips, Chris St. Pierre, Dennis Curran, Julie Etter, Judy Cohen, Francis Sauceda, Mari Garcia, Rachel Stevens, Gina Manko, Carrie Wilkinson, Alex Friedmann, Panagioti Tsolkas, Lance Weber, Sabarish Neelakanta, Alissa Hull, Dan Manville, Robert Jack, Monte McCoin, Will Van Atta, Adam Cook, Monique Roberts, Christy Thornton, Bailey Riley, Jeff Kashton, Ann Kelley and many others.
The attorneys who have advised and represented PLN on matters as diverse as Internet law, public records requests, wrongful death cases and First Amendment censorship litigation include, in no particular order: Bob Cumbow, Mickey Gendler, Bob Kaplan, Joe Bringman, Leonard Feldman, Leonard Schroeter, Dan Manville, Rhonda Brownstein and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Washington ACLU and the Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, Florida, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Kansas & Western Missouri, Arizona and Nevada ACLU chapters, 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, Dante Trevisani, Jognwon Yi, Darrell Cochran, Bruce Plenk, Max Kautsch, Alison Howard, Andy Mar, David Bowman, Jesse Wing, Tim Ford, Sandy Rosen, Janet Tung, Janet Stanton, Susan Seager, Bill Trine, Alison Hardy, the late Marc Blackman, Frank Cuthbertson, Mike Kipling, the late Brian Barnard, Peter Schmidt, David Bowman, Don Evans, Michelle Earl Hubbard, Frank Kreidler, Andy Clarke, Hank Balson, Sarah Duran, Ernest Galvan, Ken Walczak, Amy Whelan, Blake Thompson, Elizabeth Eng, Doug 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 Pochoda, Howard Friedman, David Milton, Mary Catherine Roper, John Adcock, Elizabeth Cumming, Denny Wong, Ari Krichevner, Najeeb Khoury, Andy Foster, David Shapiro, Alicia Hickok, Richard Coe, Julia Yoo, Albert Wan, Jeff Filipovits, Brian McGiverin, Jim Harrington, Bruce Johnson, Ronnie London, Katie Chamberlain, Angela Galloway, Eric Stahl, Gail K. Johnson, Susan Dunne, Tricia Herzfeld, Will York, Bob Keach, Tom Loeb, Brian Prain, Jon Loevy, Matt Topic, Sara Rose, Sam Stiltner, Michael Bien, Gay Grunfeld, Luther Sutter, Cindy Saiter, Josh Glickman, Thomas S. Leatherbury, Sean W. Kelly, Kimberly R. McCoy, Marissa A. Wilson, Fred Slough, James Jenkins, Paul Clement, Zachary Tripp, Neil Siegel, Brett Dignam, Sean McElligott, Lauren Izzo, David Randolph Smith, Jonathan Feinberg, Padraic Glaspy, Lisa Zycherman, Sibyl C. Byrd, Laura Ives, Mike Timm, Arthur Loevy, Jenny Yelin, Allen Lichtenstein, Staci Pratt, Robert Dalton, Thomas B. Schmidt III, Amy Ginesky, Eli Segal, Tucker Hull, Seth Kreimer, Brian Vogel, Catherine Smith, Dan Gluck, Bill Sharp and Shelley Hall. I apologize if I have left anyone off this list of exceptional and dedicated attorneys.
Ultimately, the people who have contributed articles, subscribed and donated their time, energy and money are those who have made PLN possible. 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: PLN would have quickly folded. Instead, we have lasted a quarter-century and look forward to another 25 years of publishing and advocacy.
PLN: Then and Now
In 2009 we changed the name of our parent non-profit organization to the Human Rights Defense Center (www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org), to better reflect our diverse activities. Those activities include book publishing. The first title produced by PLN Publishing was The Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada, third edition. Written by Missouri prisoner Jon Marc Taylor and edited by PLN staff member Susan Schwartzkopf, it reflected our desire to publish and distribute self-help, non-fiction reference books that prisoners can use to help themselves. Our next title, The Habeas Citebook, by federal prisoner Brandon Sample, was published in 2011. In 2015 we produced our third book, the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, second edition, by Dan Manville.
We started HRDC’s litigation project in 2010. We also added a part-time staff attorney position and hired Dan Manville as our first general counsel. When the position became a full-time job, Lance Weber joined us as our general counsel and litigation director.
In March 2010, we closed our Seattle office and moved all HRDC/PLN operations to Brattleboro, Vermont, where I had been living following my release from prison. Don Miniken, PLN’s executive director since 2001, stepped down and I assumed that position. In 2013 we relocated our office to Florida for what should be our final move, and last year we were able to reopen our Seattle office, staffed by our Prison Phone Justice director, Carrie Wilkinson.
Since our inception PLN has been involved in advocacy campaigns. In the 1990s we successfully led the struggle for Washington state prisoners to keep family visits, law libraries and weight lifting. Nationally we are one of the few opponents of the private prison industry. In 2011 we co-founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice (www.prisonphonejustice.org and www.phonejustice.org) to lower the cost of prison and jail phone calls. We successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to cap the cost of interstate prison phone rates, and the FCC is currently considering similar reforms for in-state rates. We were able to prevent the state of Vermont from enacting a civil commitment statute for sex offenders, and successfully advocated to amend a Vermont law to allow attorney fees for prevailing parties in public records litigation. We were part of coalitions that succeeded in preventing prison privatization initiatives in New Hampshire and Florida. Most recently, in 2015 we launched the Stop Prison Profiteering campaign to oppose the longstanding practice of financially exploiting prisoners and their families.
PLN has grown from being an all-volunteer project to having 13 full-time employees in three offices (Lake Worth, Florida; Seattle, Washington and Nashville, Tennessee). The magazine has expanded from ten to 72 pages, and from 75 prospective subscribers to about 9,000 nationwide. Since the very beginning the only thing that has held us back in terms of what can accomplish has been a lack of funding; the more money we have had, the more we have been able to do with respect to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice reform.
Continued advocacy on behalf of prisoners and their families on all fronts, and ensuring the ability of prisoners to receive their PLN subscriptions, are daily struggles for us. Expanding PLN’s bookstore list, publishing more self-help books, further increasing PLN’s size to provide more news and information for our readers, and expanding our circulation are all goals for the immediate future. Going forward, PLN will still be here, giving a voice to the voiceless and publishing the best news and analysis on criminal justice-related issues that we can.
Spread the word.
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