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Dispatches from The Pen

Violent, overcrowded and mismanaged, American prisons are in a state of crisis. Can another prison reform movement come out of this--one started from the inside out? Dispatches from The Pen is an occasional series of writing and reporting from the inside of American penitentiaries. For more information, contact Mark Schurmann at mschurmann [at] newamericamedia [dot] org.

News > Dispatches from The Pen

Golden Girls Behind Bars

New America Media, News Feature, Viji Sundaram, Video Cliff Parker, Feb 09, 2009

Last month, prisoner Number W 41465 passed away, her greatest wish unfulfilled: to die a free person. Eighty-eight years old, nearly blind and deaf, her mind enfeebled by Alzheimers and in the terminal stages of kidney failure, Helen Loheac was "a tiny old woman who just wanted to be released.

Immigrant Prisoners Stage Uprising in Texas

Frontera NorteSur, News Report, Staff, Feb 03, 2009

A Jan. 31 uprising at a Pecos, Tex. immigrant detention center erupted after complaints of poor medical treatment were reportedly ignored.


A Letter From Immigration Detention

Commentary, New America Media, Jan 30, 2009

The death of a German-born immigrant in a detention center in Virginia has again put the spotlight on detention conditions. A Spanish language newspaper printed this letter from an immigrant in the same detention center.

dispatches from pen kelani

How I Survived Men's Prison as a Woman

New America Media, Commentary, Kelani Key, As Told To Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen, Nov 14, 2007

Transgender women are housed in mens prisons, where they must learn to survive any way they can. One transgender woman tells how she found protection and a supportive community on the inside.

smoking convict

Black Market In Tobacco Makes Prisons More Violent

New America Media, Commentary, Dwight E. Abbott, Apr 14, 2007

The new ban on tobacco products in California state prisons has created a valuable black market commodity -- with all the dangers that go with it.

hands in bars

Dispatch from San Quentin: 'West Block Weather'

New America Media, Commentary, Pao S., Mar 07, 2007

An inmate argues that unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and neglect have created a mental and physical health crisis in San Quentin, contributing to an outbreak of the norovirus that shut down the prison last December.

juvenile hall

To Be Tried As An Adult

New America Media, Commentary, Big Vic, Feb 09, 2007

According to a poll released Feb. 7 by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a large majority of Americans (92 percent) believes that the decision to try a juvenile in an adult court should be made on a case-by-case basis, and not be governed by a blanket policy. In this personal essay, an incarcerated young man waits to find out whether he will be tried as an adult.

boy behind door

Those Unsung HomiesStupidity, Anger, Violence, Despair

The Beat Within, Youth Commentary, Jo, Dec 07, 2006

For the past two years, Jo, a 16-year-old writer, has been locked up in a San Francisco Bay Area juvenile hall behind a solid steel door on which there is a large sign stating emphatically: Do not talk with this minor. Ironically given the designation of minor on his door at the time of his crime, the 14-year-old Jo (under the terms of Californias Proposition 21) was magically designated an adult by the District Attorney for the purpose of trial and punishment.

Now More Than Ever - Q&A with Mumia Abu Jamal on The Black Panther Party

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Q&A//Audio, Interview: JR Valrey//Audio: JR Valrey and Malcolm Marshall//Photos: JR Valrey and Jocelyn Goode, Nov 01, 2006

Mumia Abu Jamal noted journalist, revolutionary and political prisoner was 17 when he founded the Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). This October marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the BBP in Oakland CA.

walking away

Who Asked Us? -- My America -- A Letter from the Left-Behind

New America Media, Commentary, Michael Cabral, Oct 10, 2006

Michael Cabral, a prisoner at Californias maximum security prison at Pelican Bay, has only just celebrated his 20th birthday. In a personal letter to Beat Within editor Michael Kroll, this man-childs moving description of the life he knew makes a mockery of the slogan, Leave no child behind.

News > Dispatches from The Pen