Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Art of Letter Writing in Prison

Remember last week when I wrote that the latest "cellphones have infiltrated our prisons!" hoopla was just that, a lot of moral panic cooked up by Big Media and dunderhead politicians?

Check out this article today on the "lost art" of letter writing in prison...Georgia prisons, no less.

In prisons across the country, with their artificial pre-Internet worlds where magazines are one of the few connections to the outside and handwritten correspondence is the primary form of communication, the art of the pen-to-paper letter to the editor is thriving. Magazine editors see so much of it that they have even coined a term for these letters: jail mail.

To the Georgia Department of Corrections he is inmate No. 544319, in prison on a five-year sentence for drug possession. But to the editors of Maxim, he is Mike Bolick, a faithful reader and regular letter writer who has loopy penmanship and an eye for beautiful cover models.
So why would these inmates spend their time writing letters to magazines when they could just pick up their supposed smartphones and send a quick text or email?
Prisoners send handwritten letters not out of any romantic attachment to the old-fashioned craft of letter writing but out of necessity. Many prisons do not allow inmates access to computers. And prisons that do hardly ever allow inmates access to the Internet or to conventional e-mail systems. In California, for example, prisoners are not permitted e-mail contact.
I'll just quote myself: "the notion that prisoners are sitting around on Facebook or Twitter, orchestrating crimes, planning riots, and instituting strikes is silly."

But read the article anyway. What it does a fine job of illustrating is the degree to which prisons go to censor incoming mail for inmates, particularly combing through issues of magazines to check for possible incendiary stories. It illustrates a point I make in 3150 every semester: despite the Constitutional mirage, when you are in prison, your rights stop at the prison gate.

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