This article was first published by Reynolds Journalism Institute on Dec. 9, 2021.
Journalism today requires reporters to respond, report and file stories quickly. The assumption is that they have access to cell phones, computers, email, and the internet to do their work. But incarcerated people have none of that.
So how do we work with them?
Our primary method is through postal mail. In the digital age, some people might consider the U.S. Postal Service on its way to obsolescence, but it is an essential mode of communication for anyone working with incarcerated individuals.
The bulk of writers who submit stories to the Prison Journalism Project send them to us handwritten via post. A fraction, who are able to afford typewriters, will submit typed work, but either way, publications must transcribe them before they can edit them, which takes time.
This also means that publications must have a designated postal address to receive the stories. Pre-pandemic, this might have been less of an issue because most organizations had offices. But now, editing teams tend to be dispersed throughout the country, and almost everyone is still spending substantial time working from home. Because writers are not easily reachable, the address cannot change with each assignment. There are safety considerations too — we wouldn’t recommend designating a home address to receive submissions.
Stories must also be sent to a location that is prepared to receive them and can forward them to the appropriate editor regardless of where they are.
The Prison Journalism Project primarily uses Virtual Post Mail, an online mail scanning service that has an address in Delaware which we provide to our writers. A volunteer downloads the scanned mail once a week and drops them into a folder that an editor sifts through to prioritize submissions. It’s not a perfect solution because submissions can get lost, and the service shreds the original mail after two weeks. But it’s the best solution we have found so far.
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.