During the past two centuries a vibrant prison press has chronicled life behind bars in American prisons, championed inmate causes, and challenged those in authority who sought to silence it. At its apex, several hundred periodicals were published by and for inmates. Unlike their peers who passed their sentences stamping out license plates, these convicts spent their days like reporters in any community-looking for the story. Yet their own story, the lengthy history of their unique brand of journalism, has remained largely unknown. In "Jailhouse Journalism," James McGrath Morris presents the history of this medium, the lives of the men and women who brought it to life, and the controversies that often surround it.
The dramatic history of prison journalism has included many famous, notorious, and unique personalities such as Robert Morris, the "financier of the America Revolution"; the Younger Brothers of the Jesse James gang; Julian Hawthorne, the only son of Nathaniel Hawthorne; men of the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); Charles Chapin, famed city editor of New York's "Evening World" until he murdered his wife; Dr. Frederick Cook, North Pole explorer whose claim to have been the first to reach the pole is still debated today; Tom Runyon, who won a place for himself in history with an Underwood; and Wilbert Rideau, an illiterate teenaged murderer who raised prison journalism to the pinnacle of achievement.
In his new introduction Morris addresses the spread of prison journalism into other forms of media, such as radio and the Internet. He discusses the conflicts between those who publish jailhouse news and those who would wish to control, or eliminate it altogether.