The San Quentin News, motto “The Pulse of San Quentin,” is one of the nation’s only inmate-produced publications, says the Los Angeles Times. Convicts write the articles and design the pages from behind the walls of the all-male lockup outside San Francisco that houses death row. It’s a community newspaper for a community of felons and the guards who keep them there. Articles mark officers’ retirements, inmates’ releases and the latest developments in the federal court battle over reducing California’s swollen prison population. The paper typically has an aspirational tone, emphasizing uplifting stories about inmates improving their lives and taking advantage of education programs.
Headlines refer to prisoners who “promise to work for peace” or go from “criminal life to positive futures.” Staffers say their work can induce soul-searching, that telling other people’s stories helps them explore their own lives. It can be a source of pride. Rahsaan Thomas, a convicted killer, mailed his mother a copy of the October issue, where he appeared in a front-page photo of a basketball game. “It was the first time I was in the paper and nobody got shot,” said Thomas, 43, the sports editor. The paper is distributed inside San Quentin and mailed to libraries at 16 other California prisons. The editors have larger plans. They’re working with graduate students at The University of California Berkeley to expand the publication, hoping to increase circulation tenfold to at least 120,000 copies and distribute them in all of the state’s 34 prisons.