U.S. District Judge Marcia S. Krieger rejected prison officials' contentions that the regulation was needed to prevent inmates from gaining notoriety among fellow prisoners because of articles they authored, to leave prison employees free to exercise control over inmates without fear their conduct and statements would be published in the press, and to prevent prisoners from starting businesses behind prison walls.This may be one of those "be careful what you ask for" victories. In Texas, the prison newspaper The Echo was shut down after an old college buddy of mine, Jorge Renaud (still serving a quite-long stretch for armed robbery, sad to say) wrote a pair of bylined investigative stories that administrators considered critical of an April 2000 system-wide lockdown.
Jorge's story makes me sad whenever I think of it. Without exaggeration, Jorge was the most innately talented Texas writer of my generation, even though he's spent most of his adult life behind bars. He authored a guide for Texas prisoners and their families published by a university press, and also this account of fatherhood behind bars. Jorge also writes poetry that's powerful but tender, humorous and often stunningly moving. More than once I've grumbled to Kathy that Jorge has a more significant writing career than I do and he's locked up in Huntsville!
We're all worse off because Jorge and other talented writers in prison can't practice their craft, or when we diminish their ability to tell their stories to the outside world. How much would our culture have been enriched were Dostoevsky allowed to write publicly about his ordeal in a Siberian prison at the time it occurred? Most prison writers aren't as good as Dostoevsky, or Jorge, but IMO just one emerging from among them now and again would make all the others' lesser work tolerable.
I'd like to see The Echo revived and published online in addition to within TDCJ's confines. And I'm glad in this case the courts are protecting inmates' rights, at least on the margins, to publish their stories and participate, to the extent they choose, in the national conversation just like every other American.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: A commenter informs me that The Echo some time ago resumed publication and is under control of the Windham School District. A quick online check confirmed that, and I'm sorry for the error. Here's subscription information for those interested:
The ECHO is a monthly censored publication compiled by inmate staff at the Windham School District's Media Center, under TDCJ guidelines for dedicated use by TDCJ offenders. Subscriptions to the Echo can be purchased for $12 (US subscription), or $15 (Outside the US.) Money orders or personal checks must be made out to the Echo/WSD. Correspondence via U.S. Mail must be addressed to the Echo, P.O. Box 40, Huntsville, TX 77342-0040.