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I originally posted this on the Zine World site, but haven't gotten much response yet, so I thought I'd go to where the people are and post it here! I am specifically looking for comments I can print in an upcoming Zine World, so if you're uncomfortable with me using your name, please say so. Otherwise, I will assume your response to this post means you're ok with me printing your response. (You're also welcome to respond over at ZW, or email me your comments.)

We recently received the following note from a prisoner:

I have sent off and requested a large number of zines from people who stated ‘ftp’ [free to prisoners] and haven’t received many. Do people lose interest or are times so bad that they become way too busy with just surviving? With each and every request, I have included postage on average of $1.26 (3 $.42 stamps). What am I doing wrong? Please advise me when you can get to it, what am I doing wrong and how can I improve my odds of receiving zines?

We’ve gotten a few other notes like this recently. We ask publishers who send in their zines for review to tell us whether they will send their zine to prisoners for free. If they are willing, we include the notation ‘ftp’ in the review. If a publisher says s/he won’t send their zine for free, we put ‘not ftp.’ And if a publisher says s/he won’t take prisoner orders at all (paid or free), we put ‘no prisoners.’ Unfortunately, many publishers do not indicate their preference.

So we’d like to ask you, our faithful readers, for feedback on dealing with prisoner requests. What can this prisoner do to improve his chances of a reply? What can we at ZW do to help the situation?

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I never quite understood the idea of "free to prisoners." I know some people like to assume anyone requesting a zine is probably some harmless drug addict or a cool anarchist or something, but the odds are just as good that it's a muderer or a rapist or a pedophile. If you're happy providing entertainment to the dregs of humanity that's fine, but it's not my thing. The other day I got a request from a guy in prison for giving a blow job to a 13 year old and I've gotta say that the idea of anyone giving this guy anything for free kinda makes me sick.

Having said that, if you do declare that you're "free to prisoners" then you have no business not sending it to any prisoner who asks. You don't get to say "Eww, this guy is creepy." I think it's just a matter of irresponsibility on the part of the zinesters and there's probably not much that can be done.
Eric- The undeground and small press communities have supported education and reading material in prisons since the '60s, back when prisoners were often draft dodgers, civil rights activists, and war protesters. The prison population has changed over the years, but I think it's hard to call them the dregs of humanity when over 50% are in because of the drug war... and even the dregs of humanity deserve access to information, education and the chance to better themselves. Left Bank Books here in Seattle, which is the main place in my city to buy zines, runs Books for Prisoners, which I think is awesome. I always offered my zine free to prisoners and sent out quite a few. Prisoners write back and are totally thankful. Shane, columnist from Flipside zine, AKA the Rock'n'roll Bankrobber, was one person that wrote a lot of zines (although he had horrible handwriting and it was often illegible).

Anyway, for Zine World, I'd make the default not free to prisoners if people don't say. A lot of people are creeped out about sending their zine to prisoners... I'm not, but I understand their reasoning, I'm the moron that had their apartment address printed in their zine for a year or two and had all kinds of weirdos stop by.
I'm sort of neutral on the issue of sending free stuff to prisoners, although talk about a captive audience! OK, now that my obligatory bad joke is out of the way, I think it'd be a fine idea to have some third party collect various publications from random zine folk and send them off to prisoners as they see fit. In fact, I'd be stunned if there weren't already an organization doing just that. Face it, most freebirds feel awkward even acknowledging the reality of the prison system even without taking into consideration the crimes of the jailbirds. And a lot (I'd say most) self-publishers are deeply anti-authoritarian, so the idea of dealing with prison protocol (what can and can't be sent, etc.) is a fairly repellent concept.

I know that there are champions for this cause out there -- I'd be happy to donate some zines for them to pass along.
Dr. Danny Swank said:
although talk about a captive audience!

I totally wish I had said this.

And yes, there is prison protocol to deal with and it varies, but the prisoner will generally tell you what it is in their letter (there is a form sometimes). I had one zine sent back from a prison that didn't make it through the screening process. The pisser was the page they had put a sticky note on and said was offensive was an interview with Bliss Blood from the Pain Teens talking about RU-486. Apparently some prison guard in Alabama can refuse a prisoner a zine if it talks about the "abortion pill."
I sent zines to one prisoner in Oregon only to have the packet rejected by the guards. I can't remember their excuse. I tried again, and my zines were rejected again, this time because the packet was more than a quarter of an inch thick (I measured--it wasn't). At this point I was fed up and didn't want to pay postage again. This was a prisoner who had not sent me any postage, just a nice note. If he had sent me postage, I would have kept trying. Other than this instance, I have had only good experiences sending ftp. Well, some of the notes have been cold and businesslike as if I were a business--maybe they didn't understand that I'm just a person. But most have been warm and seemed like really pleasant people. We've all made mistakes, and there's no one more in need of what zines have to offer.
So is it possible that most of the zinesters in question are sending the zines but the guards are just being hard asses and not letting anything through? Would they at least let the prisoner know he got mail that was rejected or would they just send it back to the sender without a word?
That is a really good point, Eric. I think it's definitely something to look into.

Ericfishlegs said:
So is it possible that most of the zinesters in question are sending the zines but the guards are just being hard asses and not letting anything through? Would they at least let the prisoner know he got mail that was rejected or would they just send it back to the sender without a word?
Presumably some of them are just tardy. I'm sure it seems an awful long time when you're waiting for something in there.
ERIC: I saw your post on Zine Geeks. I was going to write a lengthy response to it and crosspost that to a libertarian forum, but, hoping not to open up a can of worms in a discussion where it may not belong....

1. Pedophelia and the larger question of sexual morality is a huge and complicated when you look at it critically and objectively. Interracial and oral sex, between heterosexual adults, prior to the late sixties, were considered by many, maybe most of society, horrible perversions and even illegal. In some states, oral sex still is. No. That doesn't mean I'm condoning pedophelia. I don't think adults should be seducing or having sex with children, but even accepting that premise, there are still all sorts of variables that complicate the issue. What the "proper" age of consent is, is just one.

2. Why do I want to send my zine to prisoners? I'm a bleeding heart. Okay. So murderers, rapists, pedophiles (and animal torturers) are monsters. Personally, and from my religion, as a Buddhist, I have compassion, even for "monsters", or people who've made some evil decisions or bad mistakes. Some Christians have similar tenets, and I guess there are secular versions as well. Not trying to preach. You asked. I've answered.

3. We can totally agree that if somebody says they'll send "ftp", then they ought to follow through on their promise.

DAN10THINGS: About 10, maybe 15 years ago, I sent a few sporadic boxes of books to a "books to prisoners" organization. I sent all kinds of books----fiction, Xian, Dhamma....I tried to send a variety, with multiple viewpoints, not just for "education", but entertainment too. Why shouldn't a prisoner have some pleasure reading? I believe it was to somebody with a German name---Aldo Leopold???----something like that, but that's a rough guess. He had a bookshop in San Fran.

Some time later, I wrote up a general letter and sent copies to several of these BTP orgs. asking if there were any sort of books they didn't accept. I only remember "Aldo's" response. He ticked off and commented on all kinds of books he didn't accept. No religion. It's ignorant and superstitious. No fiction. It distracts you from the class struggle. Only socialism. And communism. And dictionaries. My God. He seemed like a worse censor and control freak than the gulagcrats. This has soured me on BTP orgs. and made me hesitant to spend too much time on them. How many have agendas that try to control the prisoners' reading material? Maybe someday when I have more time I'll do some research and see if I can't find a good BTP org to donate to.

This is one reason I started a thread about prisoner support. I'd like something flexible and tolerant, not encumbered by religious or ideological agendas, or follow-the-manual "social assistance" agencies.

PRISON REVIEW: This may indeed be a major factor in prisoners not receiving zines. Many or most zines offered ftp are anarchist or politically radical, or sexually explicit. Gulagcrats are usually conservative. Even if they eventually pass any of these, they hold onto them for maybe months before they do. Believe it or not, I once had a zine rejected because I had white out---"a foreign substance"---on the envelope. There are some mean, small-minded peoole in the gulag bureaucracy.

WORDS BREAK BARS: A ZINE PRISON RESOURCE GUIDE (2ND EDITION, JAN. 2002), Cutlass Proper Gander, Janice Flux, P.O. Box 1607, Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1607. That's the contact info of the zine before me. As you can see it's 7 years old, but it's packed with info. I've tried to track down current info on it on the Net, but either there's not much there, or it's my research skills again.

JERRIANE: Prisoners aren't the only ones who don't get zines they order. It's pretty common with me too. I suspect I know who it is you've quoted, and I have a feeling he MAY be exaggerating a little, but I can't say for sure. If there are "delinquent zinesters" who aren't following through out there, I hope this will prod them to get their act together.

Hey, what about an FTP index page/section in ZW. It'd just be a list of FTP zines with basic contact info---maybe a short capsule "review"---that prison support zinesters could xerox and send to prisoners in their mailings to them.
Oh wow! I have soooo much to say on this topic. I helped run the Lawrence ABC lit distro for several years and my partner who is in prison loves to get zines, so I think I know a few things. Unfortunately I am on the way out the door. I will try to write lots soon.
A couple of days ago I posted the following comment on the ZW blog post and I repost it here just for the heck of it:

Perhaps there are publishers who don’t feel comfortable stating “no prisoners” on the review form. Or some publishers may feel that it’s a case-by-case kind of thing so they don’t indicate one way or another.

Rather than a “no prisoners” notation, what about some sort of “prisoners okay” notation? That way the prisoner knows explicitly that it should be worth the effort to send postage or a letter. And if those orders then go unanswered the problem is probably not prisoner-related.



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