Prisoner Access to E-mail Makes Society Safer

By · Thursday, February 26th, 2009

J. Michaelsen wrote me a comment in response to an article I wrote suggesting that prison reform should bring email access to prisoners. The readers asked why I thought email access alone would help offenders prepare for release, and asked whether gang members would abuse such a privilege if it were offered.

I appreciate these privileges to interact with citizens. I welcome opportunities to provide a long-term prisoner’s perspective on life in prison. The effort of interacting with society, I believe, prepares me for the challenges that I expect to conform after a quarter century of confinement. I must learn what citizens expect from those of us in prison, and I have a duty to help them understand why I believe prisons condition a perpetuating cycle of failure.

In order to broaden my reach and interact with society, I invest a lot of energy. I wake before 3:00 each morning to complete my writing assignments in longhand. Then I must co-opt my beloved wife, Carole, who partners with me in transcribing and publishing my musings on the web. All of these efforts help expand my network of support, and they open opportunities that will help me transition into society upon release.

With e-mail access, however, I could increase my productivity in immeasurable ways. By writing more, I would broaden my reach. Think of a fisherman. If he casts one line from his boat he stands a chance of catching a fish. If he casts 100 lines from a boat, and various depths and distances, his chances for catching a fish increase.

I must overcome significant obstacles. I face many now as a prisoner, and I expect to face many more upon release. The burden is on me to overcome, and I know that I must prepare in every way possible. That is why I work so hard. Prison administrators, however, could facilitate my efforts–and the efforts of all prisoners–by providing us with email access.

Certainly, some prisoners would attempt to abuse the privilege. Technology exists, however, that would help administrators protect such abuses. The prisoners already have First Amendment access to the U.S. mail. Providing email would give administrators an advantage, as they could more easily detect inappropriate messages.

I am convinced that administrators ought to make more concerted efforts to prepare prisoners for law-abiding lives upon release. Providing e-mail access would help.

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