Photo by Prison Journalism Project

The Mule Creek Post, a prison news outlet based in Ione, California, is getting a new publisher to help its operations after COVID-19 shutdowns hampered the paper’s financing over the pandemic.

The January edition of the Post announced the arrival of a new publishing partner, the Davis Vanguard. The Post, which is located in Mule Creek State Prison, had been operating for four years under the auspices of the Ledger Dispatch, an Amador and Calaveras county outlet managed by publisher Jack Mitchell . When Ledger’s financing of the paper was disrupted, David Greenwald, executive director of Davis Vanguard, stepped in to help.

The Mule Creek Post follows in the footsteps of San Quentin News at San Quentin State Prison. It aims to establish an outside, non-profit arm to support business operations. It also works in tandem with Incarcerated Allied Media (IAM), which was formed in 2020 by Joan Parkin, a college English professor, writer and social justice advocate. Development of IAM with the Davis Vanguard is in progress, pending grant funding and fundraising.

LWL Enterprises Inc., a partner that publishes prisoner-written books for the paper, will provide a selection of prisoner-written works that will be presented later this year to raise money for the newspaper and local charities. Many of the selections focus on the benefits of rehabilitative programming.

Examples of this kind of programming include groups available at Mule Creek and many other prisons, where people can learn about the complexities of criminality, causes and effects, personal insights, victims’ awareness, anger management, distorted and criminal thinking and the lasting impact of abuse and trauma. The hope is that participants will be able to share this knowledge with others through their writing in order to become a part of the solution, rather than perpetuating criminality.

But in January, while the paper was finalizing its February, Black History Month edition, another COVID-19-related shutdown occurred. Incarcerated readers had been waiting for the January edition, which was an optimistic look at 2022 after a year of stress, anxiety, difficulty and death.

The omicron variant has thrown a blanket of uncertainty over what lies ahead for the newspaper, the prison system, the state and nation.

Following random COVID-19 testing in the first week of January, Mule Creek State Prison was placed in phase one quarantine in accordance with California law. Several inmates where the newspaper is located had tested positive, and were moved to segregated, quarantine housing on another yard. 

Several prisons had already been quarantined out of an abundance of caution in the shadow of last year’s disastrous outbreak throughout California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facilities. 

In phase one, no unnecessary outsiders are allowed into the prison — no contact visits, no groups, education or activities. Meals and medication are delivered straight to cells and housing units. Movement within cell blocks is also limited; only critical workers are allowed out. Currently, the entire California prison system is on quarantine status. Lawsuits surrounding prisoner COVID-19 deaths and the corrections department’s handling of the pandemic are still pending.

No one knows how long this prison quarantine will continue, but everyone is anxious to get the ball rolling on a Vanguard-Post future.

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.

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David "Razor" Babb

David “Razor” Babb is the founding editor-in-chief of “The Mule Creek Post,” a newspaper published out of Mule Creek State Prison in California and a 2008-2009 winner of the PEN Prison Writing Award in the essay category. He is also the author of numerous books including “Icicle Bill,” “Goodbye Natalie,” and “Last Lockdown.”