In fall 2018, Joan Parkin and I had a heated debate about the Mule Creek Post, Mule Creek State Prison’s official newspaper.
I was a participant in Feather River College’s incarcerated student program, where Parkin was unequivocally my favorite professor and an indispensable mentor for my writing. Nonetheless, we found ourselves in total disagreement.
Parkin’s humanities lecture had just ended, and she was heading up the hill to visit the Post. I snarled at the idea of her visiting a “miserable bunch of inmate juice-card holders, parading themselves around as actual journalists.”
“Juice card” meant having influence with guards. And from where I sat, the people who staffed the Post had juice cards. A lot of them.
Perhaps, I was bitter at the time, at least more than I would like to admit. Soon Parkin and I were in a heated debate over what the Post was, what it stood for and what possible good it could serve as a California Department of Corrections-censored publication.
“It is better to have a censored voice than no voice at all,” Parkin said, and I challenged her immediately and defiantly.
“A censored voice is worse than having no voice because it distorts reality,” I said. “It misrepresents the struggle inmates go through to be heard, and it transforms our voices into those of line-toting agents for the carceral state!”
(I tend to remember my arguments as being more eloquent than they may have been.)
Before Parkin left, though, she asked, “What on earth has the Post done to you?”
I shamefully admitted it had rejected me. I had sent an article and a resume, but my submission was never used, even though I had thought it deserving and had expected it to be published. Parkin huffed out of the room, dismissing my argument as no more than sour grapes.
A few years went by, and month after month, with every new issue of the Post, my rants against it increased. I became obsessed, like Ahab and Moby Dick, but instead of chasing a whale, I was spewing arrogant invective and dripping in cynicism.
Then, out of the blue, I received a letter from an editor at the Post. It was a short note telling me that Parkin had passed along my name, along with a glowing recommendation, to the editorial board. “Would you be willing to submit something?” the letter asked.
Of course I was still indignant and dismissive, but I was too desperate to be published to completely write off my newspaper nemesis. I submitted an article, and began the long, nervous wait for a response. Finally, I received word that the Post intended to print my story.
To stay true to my disdain, I thought, “Placating jerks!” even while I secretly celebrated my publication. I continued to rant about the Post but, over time, my rants adjusted to accommodate the “one good decision” the Post had made.
Then, I got transferred to Facility E because of my participation in California State University, Sacramento’s bachelor’s program. One day, a mask-clad man tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you Angie Gordon?” I said yes. He told me he worked at the Post and invited me to come into the newsroom.
At that moment, writing for the Post was the last thing on my mind; I was back in disdain mode. I decided to go by the newsroom but only to feel superior to the people who worked there.
That didn’t last long.
The next day, I walked into the Post’s office and found a magical place: the room where it happens. I was standing in the center of the newsroom, where the juice-card holding titans of censored mediocrity held court, where the chosen ones made the big and important editorial decisions. As soon as I met the people behind the page, my hostility melted away, leaving one question in its place: What had been MY problem all that time? There was a heady feeling of excitement in a newsroom that every journalist feels deep in their bones even in a censored prison newsroom.
I joined the paper, and soon found myself a member of the editor’s board. A few weeks later, I was going through some old files and happened to stumble across the article and resume I had submitted those years before. I took them out, scoffed at my prose of the time, and, on a lark, tossed them onto the editor-in-chief’s desk before I left for the weekend.
The next Monday I came in and started my work, not giving the resume another thought. The day went on, the clicking of keys and scribbling of pens filled the air. Conversations about content and the sorry sorts trying to get their work in the paper buzzed. Then, Razor, the editor-in-chief, called me from across the room.
“Hey, Angie,” he said, “I looked over your resume, and it looks good. You’re hired.”
I can’t wait until I tell Professor Parkin. I’ve gone over to the “other side” and I couldn’t be happier. Bring on the assignments, most esteemed Mule Creek Post!
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.