Excerpts from Jailhouse Lawyer Letters

Arizona Prisoners

From C.N. in Lower Buckeye Jail, Phoenix - May 1, 2016:

"My experience as a jailhouse lawyer has been a very educational one. I learn new things every day and find new ways to help people in here who are not educated in law and that don't know their constitutional rights, especially when people attempt to take advantage of them in the legal system or in the jail."


California Prisoners

From J.M. in Kern Valley State Prison, Delano - May 3, 2016

"Everything I know I learned by reading legal books, case law, and by filing papers in state and federal courts. The law is very interesting and I like the challenge of being able to accomplish something, and if I can help another prisoner, why not?"

From E.B. in CA Correctional Institution, Tehapachi - May 3, 2016

"I believe that I have a responsibility to my fellow man to be an advocate for justice. My ambition is fueled by the memory of my rights being disregarded. My experience in being a jailhouse lawyers is awesome: I have a purpose in life, I have people who count on me in different ways, and I don't want to let any of them down. It helps me experience myself as a man; as an equal American (at least in the context of citizenship) with rights. It's my calling in life! I hope to become a part of your family - not just your 'organization'. I'm going to make a change one way or another - I just chose to use the avenue of an advocate for justice."

From J.H. in Salinas Valley State Prison, Soledad - April 3, 2016

"As I write this letter I am sitting in Ad Seg because of a race riot that took place on my yard that involved one inmate being badly beaten. Seven black inmates were place in the hole because of this one inmate and I was one of them. All through these reports I am the main person beating this one inmate when this was not the truth and it's clear that the CO's are targeting me to keep me from going back to the yard. The reason is because I came to the yard in 2014 and saw the unjust yard program and laundry program and changed both for the better for the inmate population. This unjust program was like this for years here and I came and changed it within months and made these COs mad at me for doing so, more so because I do and push legal work. I am at peace with knowing that I will be transferred out of this prison because of these lies in the reports but this is what inmates go through when they push for what is right. I have been fighting for a very long time now and been through hell in here and still feel very passionate about what I do and believe that this is my divine destiny to fight for human rights."

Colorado Prisoners

From H.W. in Sterling Correctional Facility - May 9, 2016:

"I appreciate you publishing my last article in Guild Notes, and look forward to using it in other publications in the future. The prison library here at Sterling has agreed to publish it in the main library, making it accessible to inmates and staff alike. This publication has been a huge boon and blessing."

Georgia Prisoners

From M.M. in Coffee Correctional Facility, Nichols - April 19, 2016:

"Many are being over sentenced for their crimes, or flat out not guilty of them. Because CCA is under contract of the GDOC - which state that each CCA-prison must stay at minimum 90% capacity. Here, at CCF I have been in protective custody , 'double bunking' - not in a one-man-cell since June 2015 due to the warden and officer's failure to control the violence and gang activity with gross amounts of shanks and meth throughout the prison. The grievance process here is a joke as inmates don't receive receipts and on a legit complaint the grievance will be ignored, thrown away, or improperly filed by the facility counselor or will often be denied per sop not at issue with the complaint. Medical here is of not count. I have severe health problems with my legs, eye sight and body and get very minimal - if at all- treatment. This goes on continuously for all inmates here. Food? The trays have very little food on them, often times two or three slots are empty. Food is considered a privilege rather than a necessity because like medical it undermines the 'bottom-line' of the for-profit aspect of a multi-billion dollar corporation - thus leaving inmates hungry, malnourished and often causing inmates to steal food from one another which in turn causes them to get attacked. Finally, counselors here as well as officers encourage thefts, drugs, and violence as some are gang members themselves - then add in money and it makes for tremendous outside hospital costs and repeat offenders coming back many times with in turn repeats the same costs to tax payers double the costs and this doesn't even include the grief to family members outside the walls. Yes, it's time we do more! I will be back to you soon with some ideas as my part to help myself and all of my brothers and sisters and families of those behind the walls."

From D.N. in Ware State Prison, Waycross - March 3, 2016

"If the NLG is serious about its stance in favor of the abolition of prisons - which is a radical stance - the very first thing they must come to terms with is the fact that they must be ready and willing to participate in radical politics as such it is necessary if one sincerely desires to realistically bring about such radical change as the abolition of prisons. The Guild must ultimately either support the development of the anti-imperialist movement by propagation and/or prepare for revolution themselves, as the struggle to end oppression of groups over other groups is only possibly by building public opinion to seize power through armed struggle - when conditions are ripe for violent conflict, of course. The US is an imperialist country, and history has shown that the imperialists will wage war before they will allow and end to oppression. As long as the oppressor has a gun to the head of the oppressed, they cannot be free. But if the NLG is unwilling to accept these objective truths, it should, then veto its resolution calling for the abolition of prisons, as that resolution would not only be insincere but contradictory to reality as well, i.e. reformist in both substance and degree."

Florida Prisoners

From J.R. in Suwannee Correctional Institution, Live Oak - May 11, 2016

"It is my passion to help people with the law who were also wrongfully convicted and sentenced through FL". 

Illinois Prisoners

From R.C. in Cook County Jail Division 11, March 30, 2016:

"I would like to thank you for the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook. I'm a pretrial detainee and a lot of the constitutional violations addressed in the handbook are experienced here daily. The problem is the people aren't aware of the remedies available to them."

From J.H. in Menard Correctional Center - April 6, 2016

"I want to thank you for sending the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook. I haven't stopped studying since I received it. I intend to bring to light all the constitutional rights which this prison has violated and deprived me of. I also intend to help anyone else out once I'm fully knowledgable."

Indiana Prisoners

From J.N. in Pendleton Correctional Facility - May 2016:

"I was young and naive in my twenties - I thought I could trust my counsel. Sadly I was failed by my attorneys. So I strived to learn more to fight my false conviction. I found other men improperly sentenced and falsely convicted. Inspiring them to learn and to be positive became a passion."

From A.R. in Westville Correctional Facility - March 16, 2016:

"I was moved to a lower level prison because I stayed conduct free and completed a work program through Dept. of Labor working for 12 cents and hour! Basically a slave for 2000 hrs. to get a 6-month time reduction, but anyway I wanted to let you all know that I support this movement being that I am a multi-racial individual that has struggled in poverty all my life selling drugs and taking what I made and doubled my money to get what I needed to survive. I wanted to become so much more in life but this system seems like its made to make people fail and come back to prison! Prison doesn't help anyone! It makes you a better criminal, which I don't think anyone's proud to be. I think it's a choice for most of us - starve or eat situation. I want to eat so if I have to take a chance I'm taking it. 

A few weeks ago I heard about an inmate dying. What's said is that a squad slammed the guy from a top bunk, to the ground on his neck. He was taken to medical and nurses said the guy is alright and can be released back to his dorm! Two days later the guy was dead in his bunk! WOW. So I guess the prison is keeping the incident hush-hush! I hear they are gonna try to say it was K2 or spice related death or something, but this is seriously some bad stuff here in this prison! They feed you very very bad food here and make you eat like in one minute! Guards call you bad words and want you to say something back, so they can beat you and put you in seg. This is one of the biggest prisons in IN. I'm taking a chance writing this right now and praying no one reads this! It's the truth and needs to be put out there that people are dying from being beaten by guards in prison. Anyway, this is quick letter to you and I pray our system and movement works out. 

Kentucky Prisoners

From G.N. in Kentucky State Reformatory, LaGrange - May 9, 2016

"I am an openly gay inmate, and have a partner incarcerated at another institution. I just went through hell over gay rights issues a few months ago dealing with his incarceration. He entered the system and I was corresponding with him. The staff read our mail. He is listed in my corrections file as my significant other. But staff jumped the gun and placed me in Seg., and issued me disciplinary reports. I was written up for relationships with staff for requesting help with him from staff. Even after proving he was my legal significant other and I was in the right pursuant to policy. I spent 23 days in seg., and I further lost my Honor Housing. It took almost two months to get the issue addressed. And in the process we pissed off staff and Internal Affairs so much that they sent my partner to a Max Security Institution. When in fact he was a very low point score for much lower custody. This was done to stop us from being able to correspond as we would at any other institution. Now I can only send him written letters and nothing more. For example, on his birthday I cannot even send him a card. At any other institution I would be able to send anything. But we are making it through the best as we can. It's issues like this that make our time in KY hard. And when it comes to any Gay Rights issues in the state of KY we run into. KY hates gay people. As seen by the issues with the ruling by our Supreme Court on Gay Marriage. But the issues are getting betters the more we fight for the rights that the constitution gives us. As a gay inmate fighting for those rights I run into a lot issues from prison staff and the Corrections Administration. KY wants all gay inmates to leave their gay issues at the door to the prison. We have no rights to any material that promotes gay issues. A few magazines that cover legal issues around the gay area are about the limits, and that is pushing it at times. So I do all I can to change that." 

Missouri Prisoners

From W.H. in Jefferson City Correctional Center – May 11, 2016:

"I’ve been housed in Ad. Seg for more than four hundred and fifty days with little to no excuse given by prison administration. It is my belief since they also refuse me my legal books, it’s due in part to my accessing the grievance process. That, and my victim has relatives employed on both custody and classification sides of the MO Dept. of Corrections. It is Hell attempting to participate in legal work while incarcerated. I have been: assaulted by guards, threatened, coerced, thrown into strip cells, mail denied, mail destoried, frivolous conduct violations, to just list a few."

From W.L. in Southwest Central Correctional Center, Licking - May 3, 2016

"There is nothing more pleasurable than watching someone walk out the front door of these human warehouses, knowing you had helped him in some small way. Or even watch the smile on someone's face when he succeeds in a grievance you helped him file.

I have been incarcerated since 1981 and will never released from custody, due to my Capitol Murder conviction. I am self-educated and was a teacher's assistant in the truncated paralegal course they used to have at the old MO State Pen. I have been involved in several major litigations that have brought some changes to the MO prison system. Although the PLRA has drastically curtailed most of those changes."

Nebraska Prisoners

From NDCS Omaha, May 10, 2016:

"I am serving a sentence of 2-12 years in the NE state prison system for a sexual-based offense I didn't commit I was bullied into a bad plea agreement on the advice of counsel and the expectation of a sentence of six months and probation. It wasn't until I got into the prison system that I realized how corrupt the prison system truly is! After being misclassified to a max security and spending nearly a year in the state's most secure and restrictive facilities under constant threat for being a sex offender, I realized NO ONE was going to help me if I didn't help myself first.

I order a paralegal correspondence course and dedicated myself to using my 21 hours a day locked in a box to better educate myself and improve my situation. I finished the entire course in 30 days with a A+ average, earning my certificate with honors. 

Using this education, I then turned to learning prison polices. Within a month, I was able to challenge the erroneous classification and overturn it. I was transferred to the least restrictive minimum security camp a week later!

Once there, I applied to work as a law librarian for my work assignment. I was required to take this certification test, which I blew through it thanks to my paralegal certificate, and I was hired shortly thereafter. I worked in that position for four months before I was fired. I clashed with my supervisor from Day 1; she wanted to provide the least assistance possible to each inmate, especially with regard to disciplinary hearing representation. I was warned to do less, but that wasn't right, and I continued to help to the best of my ability. At one point, my boss threatened to refer me to the county attorney for prosecution for the misdemeanor charge of practicing law without a license! It was then I realized the harassment was because she was afraid of me and what I could do...which only encouraged me more!

Once I left the official job, I doubled down on helping inmates here. I took my services 'underground', working in the law library on the weekends and the librarian's days off. I've developed a partnership with another like-minded jailhouse lawyer and together we have helped more than 100 inmates in the past two years with everything from disciplinary hearings to administrative challenges of classification and programming to S1983 claims, post-convictions, appellate filings, and habeas corpus efforts. We've had some success in both state and federal court, getting at least one convictions overturned and an award of more than $250,000 for an inmate's injuries caused by negligence medical care.

The process of legal work here is very difficult. The library has limited resources, outdated manuals, and few hours which it's open. To compound this, the librarian is a former disciplinary officer and keeps the inmates at a disadvantage intentionally; she restricts her law clerks from doing more than handing out forms and logging inmates into research computers as well as keeping the 'current' information resources in her office (despite the fact she believes current means 2012...). Despite these setbacks, it is the best way I can think of to help other inmates and productivity pass my time. I enjoy what I do, in spite of the harassment from the administration, because I know the feeling of being helpless and I don't want anyone else to feel that way because of the 'bullies' who run the NE Dept. of Correctional Services.

New York Prisoners

From R.P. in Coxsackie Correctional Facility -  May 8, 2016

"We all as convicts are fighting for our lives each and everyday that we step into the law library. I have seen the biggest men or smallest men cry for their freedom. Especially for injustice that they have been through on their sentencing. We are aware of how this prison system is a political game or a money venture, but my question is that when are people on the outside of these walls especially lawyers and law makers going to sit back for a brief moment to understand that anyone can make a mistake."

Oklahoma Prisoners

From A.H. in Hamilton Correctional Center, Hodgden - May 2, 2016

"In Oklahoma, prison officials view jailhouse lawyers as trouble makes, and do everything they can to impede all legal activity. Most of the state-run prisons limit inmates to two hours per week in their so-called law libraries. Usually, you will be permitted six hours if you are on a court imposed deadline. These limitations are generally adhered to, even if there are no patrons in the library. Additionally, OK prisons no longer receive law reference books. Instead, like other states we have "kiosks" that are shared by multiple users - usually with a 30-min time limit. Also, most of our state prisons subscribe only to bare-bones resources and fail to meet federally recommended guidelines. From personal experience I know that the legal facilities at Harp and Hamilton only have one kiosk. Harp has over 1500 inmates as Hamilton has over 750. Also, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get complete court cases.

Probably the most discouraging aspect of attempting to get relief in OK courts if the court's dim view of pro se litigation. Relief is granted in less that five percent of pro se filings. I suspect that in light of the PLRA that courts in most states seldom give proper consideration to pro se litigants, which clearly is a denial of due process - but who cares?"

South Carolina Prisoners

From R.L. in Evans Correctional Institution, Bennettsville – May 4, 2016

"I spend a great deal of time helping the less fortunate who are illiterate in an institution that is not equipped to offer legal services even though they assert they have prison law clerks, but they do not have any experience other than clerical duties. I am in an institution which consistently takes advantage of those who cannot defend themselves, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act is not an instrument of justice….What I have experienced through these years of studying law is a mockery of justice. When equal justice is most necessarily called for, it is necessarily denied by the PLRA."

Texas Prisoners

From R.B. in TDCJ Wynne Unit, Huntsville  - May 9, 2016:

"If most of the population in prison would have known the laws or would have been given attorneys that knew the laws, most of us would not be in this state ran slave labor camps. It’s like fighting a beast with a blindfold on. We have access to a law library. However, if you don’t get the request just “perfect” you aren’t going. Then when you get to go, it’s a 4am-6am time, room temp is around 90 in the winter 55 in summer, no talking, only two books at a time, and the guards in the library don’t know any answers except write access to courts, and file a grievance. We have limited amounts of time to do paperwork and to study, and absolutely nobody to direct us in the direction we need. Gym rec is where you go to get advice, almost 80% of this is B.S. The NLG will hopefully publish some information that I can use to give back a life sentence without parole for a crime I did not do."

From S.S. in TDJC Coffield Unit, Tennessee Colony - May 5, 2016

"Imaging how different our justice system would be if incarcerated pro-se litigants had access to Lexis, the internet, and modern office machines while a State had to prepare its case in a restroom, by hand, with outdated case law (and coworkers prone to violence). There are many challenges but one stands out, and that is the pre-defeating stigma of the term 'Jailhouse Lawyer'. When a court is presented material from a board certified attorney and rebuttal by a 'Jailhouse Lawyer', the hurdle is automatic and difficult to overcome. Frankly, if the guild could help a transition to a more descriptive and respectful term of address - one that upholds the quality of work done behind bars - it would hasten a day where our work is judged on its merits. Such a term might be 'Incarcerated Pro-Se Litigant".

From J.F. in TDCJ Crain Unit, Gatesville - May 11, 2016

"TX has the sorriest prison system. They cover up their wrongs, don't pay us for labor, the list can go on and on. If I could change things within the judicial system I would. Even our grievance procedure, we can write up laws all day long, but in the end of the day, they'll believe their own officers and claim they investigated the matter; deny my allegations. We even had an officer here who was in the tower, who 'intentionally' fired a rifle into the incinerator, which is next to the boiler room; course if he have hit it, the whole unit be wiped out. Do you know that he is still here? I even had my ex-laundry bosses harass me, cross me out but how can we prove their wrong?If they don't put cameras and recorders in places or let us have a recorder, we will never be able to honestly catch the crooked laws. I don't expect special treatment; I understand they act and talk a way to make us have it here to do right but there's a line you just don't cross".

From L.A. in TDJC Ramsey II Unit, Rosharon - May 3, 2016:

"I would like to become an NLG member because I come from Dallas County and our criminal court system has the dubious title of being 'America's Wrongful Conviction Capital'. Dallas County leads all other counties and most all states in the number of DNA exonerations and is among the top in non-DNA exonerations. I have two friends who were victims of the Dallas criminal courts and served unjustly a total of twenty and twenty six years respectively in this TX prison system. De ju vu in 2008  following my friend's release I was wrongfully convicted for aggravated assault with deadly weapon, although it was known I did not commit the crime. 

I believe if we each do our part, or at least what is within our means we can make a significant impact on the current judiciary across America because Dallas isn't the only place in need of serious reforms"

From V.V. in TDCJ Michael Unit, Tennesse Colony - May 4, 2016:

"I have found that trying to research and litigate from behind these walls poses unique challenges. From the inadequacies of prison law libraries, to staff that cannot or will not provide assistance, or in some cases, impede one's ability to pursue legal work, it is necessary to involve myself in any and all professional organizations I can, to build a stronger network to further my legal goals."

From G.B. in TDCJ Coffield Unit, Tennessee Colony - April 30, 2016

"An issue that inmate litigators truly face is access to up-to-date case information and case history. Often, it will take 6 months before I am made aware of a significant change in case precedent or become aware of a new ruling that effects the cases I am working. The prison law library is woefully restrictive and only the most basic law materials are available. They even have take out the TX Government Code books. It would be great for an organization, like the NLG, to put together an address or representative, whom we could write to so as to ask for say the latest US Supreme Court cases or any Circuit Court case law that we would not see for about a year. Since the Federal Rules AEDPA give us a year to raise issues based on new, applicable Supreme Court law, knowing when those come out and having an idea when they exist would be a great help.

We make substantive changes in the law. Yet, we do so with few and limited resources. For example, I cannot Google an expert I might need for a case. I have to write letters and ask family to search out one for me or for my client. I can't get accurate, useful Shepard's, I have to pay an outside source to do it form me. I can't get copies of case law, I can only "look" at it and take notes. These things take time and often cause delays in working a case, or filing to a deadline. 

Thank you for acknowledging us, but for us to do what we can do, to a greater delay, we need just a little more."

Wisconsin Prisoners

From R.M. in Waupun Correctional Institution:

"I'm writing to seek assistance in creating a national record of incidents involving jailhouse lawyer persecutions in prisons so that some type of accountability can be taken in the future. We (pro se litigators) are being mistreated. I have been in solitary confinement for over 18 years continuously and my most recent persecution comes from trying to help another prisoner."