What’s on a prison inmate’s reading list, asks the Seattle Weekly? Hepatitis and Liver Disease: What You Need to Know, for one. Finding the Right Lawyer, for another–though it may be a little late for that. More appropriate, perhaps, is Represent Yourself in Court. These are among the volumes for sale in the Prison Legal News Book Store. That there is such a bookstore is, if nothing else, an indication of just how well murderer and editor Paul Wright has done since leaving his Washington state prison cell in 2003. “We’re doing great, getting more ads, and adding staff,” says Wright, 42.
He co-founded the non-profit Prison Legal News in 1979, on a $50 budget, while serving 17 years for the shooting of a drug dealer. The 48-page May issue marked the 19th anniversary and the 219th consecutive issue of Wright’s publication ($17 annually), read by a mostly captive audience of 7,000 (more than two-thirds are behind bars). Besides offering prison and legal news and a library of paperbacks through its bookstore, PLN’s advertisers include lawyers, pen-pal services, innocence projects, and “1000s of Hot! Hot! Hot!” pics of girls with just enough clothing to slip past prison censors. The newspaper has won $1.3 million from the Washington corrections department in the past decade, most recently for the department’s refusal to disclose disciplinary actions taken against 14 medical-services workers involved in the deaths or injuries of 10 prisoners. PLN now has six full-time employees. Most stories in the past were rewrites of already-printed items from traditional publications, Wright now can assign original pieces. “We’re going to do more investigative stories,” he says, in part because such pieces aren’t on the mainstream media’s radar.