The PJP contributor with the widest range is arguably Dorothy Maraglino. Since November 2020, we’ve published poetry, personal essays, letters and journalism by Dorothy.

No matter what the form, she’s remarkably skilled at bringing us inside the felt reality of prison.

Dorothy’s writing details the emotional impact of both large- and small-scale events, from losing faith in God and losing a loved one to COVID to being the target of “prison laughter,” an occurrence that is “rarely without a victim.”

Dorothy has an ability to sit not only with her own pain but also with the pain of others. Her letter series in particular — including “Dear Mommy” and “Advice from the Dead” — helps us imagine how deep the need for forgiveness is, and what shape it could take.


Q&A with Dorothy Maraglino

As journalists, we always seek answers to the five most important questions we want our readers to know: who, what, when, where, and why. We sometimes throw in a how. We asked Dorothy these questions so our readers get to know her better.

Who are you? Tell us a little about your background and what you’d like your readers to know about you.

I am serving a life without the possibility of parole sentence under the felony-murder rule in California. This is and was my first encounter with the criminal justice machine. It has been an eye-opener to say the least. I grew up overseas, and I see this world from a unique perspective. Sometimes it makes life harder but sometimes it helps me survive.

When did you start expressing yourself through writing? Tell us about your origins as a writer.

I have been expressing myself through writing prolifically since the fifth grade. A teacher brought us composition books and encouraged us to write about the civil unrest we were living through as well as our lives in general. He taught me that simple things like a ping pong ball could be brought to life with the right words. In high school, I began to write about words I could not articulate aloud. As an adult, I started to write about the words other people could not express.

What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling? What genres do you prefer?

I prefer to tell stories that will touch people and hopefully bring change. So much is ignored in this world, which prevents change from happening. Not addressing issues also leads to suppressed emotions and actions that will later explode.

In my fiction writing, I like to mix truth with fiction. The general public is more willing to listen to controversial topics from a fictional work than to learn from nonfiction. I mix my prison reality with stories from my past life in bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM). When I write children’s books, I pick something around me and bring it to life. It can be a picture, animal, word, or a person. I write a poem when I am trying to get a message out to people who might not read an essay.

Where do you find your inspiration, or ideas for your writing?

I find inspiration from life that is happening around me. It’s more comfortable to observe than participate. So I write about what I see and feel and cannot speak to or react to.

Why do you think writing is important for incarcerated people? Why should people on the outside read your stories?

It is important for incarcerated people to have a writing outlet because the system is designed to silence us. Writing is often the only way we can speak. People should read the stories because we are the forgotten population. Laws make it easier and easier for people to be convicted and sent to prison for longer times. A single split decision could land you in prison too. It is necessary to remove the blinders and see the flaws in the system to fix them.

How would you like to be remembered and thought of as a person?

As someone who tried to make a difference for the better when I became aware of the problem.

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