On the streets, the U.S. Postal Service is something that most people take for granted — and might even deem archaic — but in prison, it’s a lifeline for many people. Outside, most people have moved on to email and mobile texts. For a prisoner, the mail system is all he has to communicate with family, friends, and most importantly, for our future, the courts.
To litigate a case here in Ohio, this is what you go through to even get a chance to fight:
By the time you get your mail from the court, it will have taken 10 days, which means you have that much less time to make the filing deadline. You send an e-kite, an internal request to the library asking for time in the law library, hoping to God you get one of the five computers they have for 2,300 inmates. Since you’re on your own, you must understand the rules of the court. Then you must conduct research, form your response into a brief, get it printed, get the paperwork notarized, get the cash slip signed, have money deducted from your account, and send the package to the cashier. Then it gets delivered to the mailroom to be sent out.
We have little to no help in research and education on legal services. We have some access to LexisNexis, a legal research site, but no one is trained on how to use the system. “Look and learn” is the motto.
Most inmates try to use the priority mail envelopes because it is one flat rate. It should take one to two days to get to its destination, but priority mail is now taking five to seven days.
Going through the postal system is a long and tedious process, but the courts don’t care about the reason if they receive your brief late. They will dismiss the whole case, no matter how much you try to explain that the delay was outside your control. Many inmates fight their cases pro se, or without an attorney, against the state, which has at least 30 attorneys on the payroll looking to pounce and eat you alive in court.
The courts are the only hope of finding true justice for many people. How are we able to fight when we have to rely on a communication method that most of the world has moved beyond?
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.