Five things I learned reading the San Quentin News


San Quentin Prison in California (Lucy Nicholson — Reuters)

The San Quentin News is an unusual newspaper. It is published each month, rather than every day, putting out a trim 20 pages at a time. While newspapers are looking to retrench and grow online, rather than in print, the News is considering expanding its relatively small print circulation of 11,500 print copies. And it is put together by inmates at San Quentin State Prison, the oldest correctional institution in California.

This newspaper — which focuses on “events within the prison and those outside that are of special interest to the inmates and correctional personnel” — was the subject of a New York Times story, which highlighted the existence of the only inmate-produced newspaper in California (and one of just a few in the world). The managing editor is serving 55 years to life for a bank robbery; the editor in chief is serving 65 years to life for burglary, robbery and a host of other crimes.

The News, which features national news stories as well as book reviews, Sudoku and poetry, is read by inmates, correction officers and staff at San Quentin. It is also distributed to 17 other prisons in California. (Outside volunteers, including journalists who worked for the Associated Press and the Miami Herald, advise the publication’s staff; since the state does not pay for printing or distribution, the print publication is paid for through donations.)

So what does this publication actually cover? I looked at the current issue — the April 2014 edition – to find out. (You can see the front page at the bottom of the post. Other back issues are available here.) Here are five interesting tidbits that caught my attention.

1. “Prison Art On Display for Good Causes”

An art show held in the lobby of the Marin Humane Society, located down the road from the prison, displayed works crafted by inmates. The centerpiece of the show was “Cowgirl,” a painting by San Quentin inmate Tommy Winfrey. Winfrey said the painting, which was priced at $956, was created when he fell in love with a woman named Angel.

2. “Santa Clara County D.A. Attends Forum With S.Q. Inmates”

The San Quentin News Forum, the fourth of its kind, featured a visit from Jeff Rosen, district attorney for Santa Clara County. “I agree that a lot of people don’t know what happens in prison, and I’m one of them,” Rosen said, according to the story by Juan Haines. “I didn’t give much thought to what happens to defendants after they are convicted.”

3. “Capital Punishment Losing Ground in Public Support”

Juan Haines wrote about the Death Penalty Information Center’s report showing that public support for the death penalty was at its lowest level in 40 years. (Public support has declined considerably over the past two decades.) Haines notes that the report showed that California sentenced 24 people to death in 2013, accounting for 30 percent of the total death sentences handed down last year (80).

4. “Historian Jeff Craemer Educates Visitors About the History of S.Q.”

Craemer, who grew up in Marin County, said he often gets requests for records from people looking into their genealogy. “People want to know about their crazy Uncle Jack that may have done time here, or one of their relatives that worked here in the past,” Craemer said, according to Tommy Winfrey, who wrote the story and is the publication’s art editor.

5. “Athletes Address The Importance Of Sports and Rehabilitation”

Sportswriter Aaron “Jeddi” Taylor asked several people at “The Q” about opportunities to play sports at the facility as well as participate in academic programs. “Being here, playing sports … it’s like a college campus all over again (without the girls!),” said Allan McIntosh, convicted of possessing a firearm and sentence to 25 years to life because it was his third strike.

Another item from this story: When asked what he would say to young people reading the article, John Windham, convicted as an accessory to second-degree murder, said: “Stay in school. … And think about the consequences of your actions before you act.”

Here is the April 2014 front page:

San Quentin News – April 2014 – Page One

Related: Inside the newscast at the Maryland Correctional Training Center.

 

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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