Question Time

Quincy from the University of Hawaii asked the following questions:

In a Dec 2004 post you wrote “my feelings about injustice grew stronger in 2004. This blog is a platform I will continue to use to highlight injustice. To end injustice we all need to speak out.” Was this your primary motivator during the first days of your blog? Or was it less consciously politically motivated at its inception? Or was it always the goal, to expose the inhuman conditions? How did the blog’s purpose evolve over time?

From inception, the goal was to expose the conditions and human rights violations. Over time, I adopted the goal of trying to humanise prisoners in the eyes of the public. To do so, I focussed on inmates I befriended like Two Tonys, T-Bone, Frankie... The blog is still going so prisoners voices can be heard on the internet.

Regarding the logistics you had to go through to get your material online while in prison, the sending mail to help on the outside to facilitate its posting, did the fact that you were writing entries your parents would see shape the content you wrote? The material seems so candid, was it hard to open this incarcerated world up to your family? Were there some things you would have liked to tell the world, but couldn’t? Was there any degree of self-censoring at times?

These are great questions, and I probably should have addressed some of them in the book. When I was first arrested, I didn't want my parents suffering the knowledge of the full extent of the conditions and the violence. By the time I started the blog, almost 2 years after my arrest, I'd been through so much, they knew most of what was going on. There was no censorship. That would have defeated the purpose of disclosing what was really going on in there.

Describe, if you can elaborate, what it felt like when your blog started attracting an audience. What was it like to have strangers feel such a connection through your writing? What went through your mind when the Guardian first picked up your story? Did the public exposure change the nature of your writing? Or did it encourage you to keep doing what came natural?

It was amazing that all of these kind people from around the world that I'd never met suddenly started offering their support by way of comments, letters and sending books. As things progressed, it was like they were there with me in spirit, and I didn't feel so lonely. The biggest paragraph in the acknowledgements in my book is a list of blog reader’s names. When The Guardian ran excerpts from the blog, I was surprised and delighted. I couldn't believe that my written efforts had got into the media. That happened when I'd been moved from Arpaio's jail into the prison system, and my writing was beginning to focus more on the inmates. I did go through some strange writing phases after that as I experimented with various styles.

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is your active inclusion of fellow prisoners, seeming to reflect the close confines of prison life, the communal features, sometimes posting material other inmates wrote (I’m thinking of A Christmas Eve Poem from an Anonymous Inmate). How did it happen that you opened the blog up to collaboration? Was it to give a more holistic perspective to the reader?

This was in part due to the goal I adopted of humanising prisoners in the eyes of the public. I also wanted to show how the prison experience varied for each individual, so I chose a diverse group of prisoners to write about, resulting in blogs such as A Two Tonys Day, A Xena Day

Lastly, even though I haven’t gotten to your most recent posts yet, can you describe the transition you experienced after release, with regard to the blog’s continued existence? From writing your own experience to helping facilitate the dissemination other voices, of those still incarcerated? Did it give you a new perspective on this project? New aims? Where do you see the blog going?

After I was released, I contacted incarcerated women in order to get their viewpoints online and to share their experiences. Sadly, there are few female prison bloggers, and that's something I'd like to see more of. The present goals at Jon's Jail Journal are: to expose the conditions, to provide a platform for prisoners voices to be heard (and in the interests of variety that's why I opened the blog up to guest bloggers), and to document my post-release progress. I'm also hoping that the blog will enable some of our top writers like Warrior, Shane, and Polish Avenger to go on to be successful writers beyond blogging.

Click here for the previous Question Time

Two UK magazines are presently running my story: FHM (December edition) and The Word (November edition)  


Quincy said...

Thanks for the answers, Shaun. I'll let you know how the paper comes along, seeing as stumbling across your blog was one of the key influences in its inception. Definitely going to use your blog, and these responses, as a sort of case study in the drafting. As before, your help and willingness to contribute is always appreciated. Hope England is treating you well.

Much love and always mahalo.

Anonymous said...

You have certainly succeeded in your goal of humanizing those you write about. They all come across, whether in your entries or those of the guest bloggers as people, not just prisoners.

Anonymous said...

Despite what many people think, not only are prisoners people, some are not even criminals. I would refer you to recently freed Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and of course Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

Anonymous said...

Just you see a difference in other countries prison systems? I watched a documantary on an Australian prison, and the Australians really seem to get it in terms of being in prison is the punishment, that there's no need to try to punish inamtes in prison like Arpaio et al

Jon said...


There are differences. Look at the Scandanavian approach. It is far more humanitarian, and recidivism is low, eg) around 20% in Norway versus around 60-70% in the UK-US.