Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How I Blog from Prison

Some of you may wonder how I am able to blog from prison. No, I do not have access to the internet!

The prison supplies inmates with tablets of lined paper and envelopes. I write my blog entries on the front and back to save on stamps. I have worn quite a callous on the side of my finger. In a little over 2 weeks I have probably written 80 pages [not all have been posted at this time, be patient, they are coming!] .

It is more difficult than typing, because editing is time consuming. I generally write in "stream-of-consciousness" mode, putting on paper what I am thinking. I have to scratch through errors and write corrections in the margin or squeeze between the lines. As opposed to my usual writing mode on a computer, where I can easily review and rearrange whole sections, editing large sections on paper just takes time -- but I do have lots of that.

I generally write several entries from beginning to end until my hand can't go any farther (or until I run out of time and have to retire for the evening). I try to write entries within a day or two of the event or idea to keep it fresh and accurate. I then re-read them the next day, making minor edits.

Like most writers, I am rarely satisfied with these slightly edited first drafts, but I don't have time to "tighten" them up so I let them go as is. In most cases, they are way too wordy. Given more time, I could improve them, like reducing an algebraic equation to its most efficient form. Perhaps when I get out, I will review them and make needed improvements.

The other feature of blogging that makes it different from traditional journaling is the ability to include internal and external links to phrases and references in a post. I will go back and add these when I get out.

Finally, I package all my entries and send them to my wife, who posts them for me. She has been supportive of this project and has full authority to edit or not post an entry she deems inappropriate. I can send 6 pages in each envelope for the price of one stamp. I usually send 3 or 4 letters at a time 2 or 3 times a week. That is a lot of typing for her, especially since she has to type from my handwriting!

The end result is a 7-10 day delay from when an idea strikes me to when I can write about it, mail it, and have my wife post it.

There is no shortage of ideas, although this may slow down as I settle in and start working a full five days a week, but that will mean I can write more about funny/interesting/unique incidents rather than merely describing some of the more routine aspects of life here.

I really have two audiences: friends and family who want to keep up with how I am doing and strangers who are facing prison time and looking for very specific details about prison life in general and prison camps in particular. The second audience is the reason I will post some lengthy, but perhaps dry, entries about very specific details of an aspect of prison life, such as the dormitories, commissary, food, visitation, etc.

In any case, this project is unique I believe. I don't know of another inmate who has attempted to chronicle on-line the real-time personal details of his experience in prison.

I hope you enjoy it.


Anonymous said...

There is a very small percentage of us out there that are simply interested in what prisoners write about. I intend on becoming a peace officer (once I get out of college) and the prison system fascinate me. You seem to be well spoken and able to get your opinion and the idea of prison-life out there in a very clear cut manner.

Those of us out there just peeking... thank you...

Paul Eilers said...

I have read everything you have written so far. It is all well done, informative and not the least bit boring.


Eat Well. Live Well.