Ways to facilitate and support prisoner access to media (with working links)

At the workshop on Prisoner Access to Media at this year’s Allied Media Conference, we discussed ways that media activists and alternative media makers can facilitate and support prisoners' access to media.

  • Start a zine!
  • Make room in your print publication for prisoner voices and stories.
  • start a website: Prisoners don't have access to the Internet. Setting up a website allows them to reach a whole new audience than they could just by writing letters:
    • Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance

    • Cell Door Magazine (this website appears to not have been updated for a long time, but it's still an example of getting prisoners' words and stories out onto the 'net)

    • website for Efren Paredes Jr

      • Keep in mind that there are risks in such a publicly accessible medium. Anyone can come across this information, including prison staff who may subject the prisoner to even more harassment and punishment. On the other hand, the web has even greater potential to build contacts and support than most other forms of media. Make sure that the prisoner(s) you are working with understands this before you start posting.
  • start a blog: Don’t have html skills or the time/energy to learn them? Blogs don't require finding server space, domain names or much technical knowhow, but still have the ability to draw attention (and keep others updated) about prison issues. Here are two examples:
  • start a myspace page: Yes, myspace is owned by Newscorp. BUT, it's also a way that people network and exchange information on-line. People have created myspace pages to both draw attention and educate about prisoners' cases:

    Outside supporters have also started myspace pages for prisoners trying to get their words and experiences out:

  • post stories on open newswires: While she was incarcerated, Oregon prisoner Barrilee Bannister often sent me reports about events and conditions inside prison and asked that I post them on the Portland Indymedia site to raise awareness among local activists. Here's an an example of one of Bannister's stories and the responses it provoked. Again, make sure that the prisoner(s) you are working with understand that anyone, including prison staff, can access their writings and that he/she may be subject to retaliatory harassment and abuse.
  • Got a radio show? Allow prisoners (and their families) to call in:
    • Fed Up, the Pittsburgh chapter of The Human Rights Coalition hosts a weekly segment on the prison industrial complex on Rustbelt Radio. They allow prisoners to call in and leave messages on their voice mail and then re-broadcast these messages on air to a wider audience of listeners.
    • Appal Shop in Kentucky has a weekly call-in radio show called Holler to the Hood that reaches 11 prisons in the area. Family members can call in and send messages to their loved ones listening inside. Why is that important? Because there is no way to ever call a prisoner; a person on the outside can only accept an exorbitantly-expensive (think $20 for five minutes in some areas) collect call from an incarcerated loved one.
  • Raising visibility via the arts: Several groups also use visual arts to both give prisoners a voice and raise public awareness about incarceration issues:
    • the Prison Poster Project in Pittsburgh is working with incarcerated artists to create a portable mural to raise awareness about prison issues
    • the Building Bloc Collective in the Bay Area (California) facilitates a penpal/artist collaboration project, linking artists on the outside with artists on the inside.
    • Prison Creative Arts Project in Michigan operates under the auspices of the University of Michigan to facilitate Theater of the Oppressed and other art and writing workshops inside several of Michigan's prisons. The group also raises public awareness through its annual art exhibitions by Michigan prisoners and incarcerated youth. The exhibitions receive coverage from local and larger (non-radical) media, thus drawing attention to prisoners and prison issues.
  • Before the discussion ended, we reiterated that, although our overarching goal is the dismantling of the prison system, we need to recognize that over 2 million people are currently trapped within that system. Facilitating prisoner access to media allows them a voice and a way to be part of the struggle to abolish the prison-industrial complex.