In Prison, the Work of Journalism Is Challenging but Essential

by | July 14, 2022

Solitary Watch Contributing Writer Juan Moreno Haines, who is also Senior Editor at the San Quentin News, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last week about the experience and the vital importance of being an incarcerated journalist.

I am one of nearly 3,000 people in San Quentin State Prison who are paying for past mistakes. Most of us want to do the right thing so that we can earn parole or clemency and get back to our families and communities.

My “right thing” is journalism. Every day I walk the yard listening to the struggles and triumphs of fellow prisoners, gathering material to tell our story. My goal is to answer: So what?

More than 26 years behind walls have shown me that free people aren’t really paying attention to what’s happening in our society’s prisons and jails. Journalists, especially those on the inside, have a duty to show what is going on and why it matters….

There is no privacy and no access to the internet. I use a typewriter and pen to send my stories to publications. Sometimes I feel the pressure that I may offend powerful interests. As an example, since contradicting the official report regarding the 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at San Quentin, I’ve been persona non grata to some prison officials.

No wonder professional journalism about prisons and jails from an incarcerated voice is rare.

Most of the time, it feels like I’m walking a tightrope. I’m always being yelled at and also praised. Still, I’m compelled to pick up my pen, because our walled-off voices need to be heard. How else can Americans learn what’s working and what’s broken inside the prison system? It’s up to incarcerated journalists to inform those conversations.

Read the full piece on the Los Angeles Times website.

This fall, Juan Haines will be selecting the recipients of reporting grants to write about solitary confinement and other prison conditions. This will be our second round of grants, but the first to be given exclusively to reporters behind bars, and to be funded by the James Ridgeway Memorial Fund for Incarcerated Journalists. To make a donation to the fund, please click here.

Juan Moreno Haines

Juan Moreno Haines is a senior contributing writer and editor at Solitary Watch, and senior editor at the award-winning San Quentin News. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists, he was awarded its Silver Heart Award for being “a voice for the voiceless.” His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Appeal, Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal, Above the Law, UCLA Law Review, Life of the Law, The Oakland Post, LA Progressive, and CalMatters, among others. In 2020, he received the PEN Prison Writing Contest’s Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Fiction. He has been incarcerated in California for 26 years.

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