Earlier this week, Solitary Watch announced some very exciting news with the following press release. The appointment of incarcerated journalist Juan Moreno Haines as our editor-in-chief ushers in a new era for us, in which we will deepen our longstanding commitment to supporting and publishing the work of incarcerated writers. Juan is the perfect person to help lead us into this future, and we are profoundly fortunate to have him.
Please see the press release, bio, and interview below to learn more about what a remarkable individual we are welcoming to the cause we all share. And if you would like to support this kind of work, please consider making a donation to Solitary Watch this November, when all donations will be tripled through NewsMatch. — Jean Casella
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Washington, DC — Solitary Watch today announced that award-winning journalist Juan Moreno Haines will serve as editor-in-chief of the online publication and watchdog group. With this appointment, Haines becomes one of a very few currently incarcerated individuals to hold a leadership position at a newsroom or nonprofit organization.
Haines, who has been a senior contributing writer at Solitary Watch since 2020, assumes this leadership role at a time when the publication is devoting growing attention and resources to the vital work of incarcerated writers, who are uniquely positioned to report on conditions behind bars and to envision solutions to the U.S. crisis of mass incarceration.
Haines himself has spent 27 years in the California prison system and served for 15 years as a senior writer and editor at the San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper produced entirely by incarcerated people. His work has also been widely published by outside outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, The American Prospect, Next City, and The Appeal.
In addition to conducting his own investigative reporting, Haines will foster the development of content derived from the lived experiences and ideas of incarcerated people. This includes Solitary Watch’s Ridgeway Reporting Project, which offers grants and support to incarcerated journalists, and its Voices from Solitary series, which has published more than 200 personal essays by individuals in solitary confinement, as well as new initiatives.
In a recent interview, Haines said: “I want people to understand what the prison system looks like and how it works from my perspective as someone who is incarcerated, so that the stories told are actually our stories and not just ones reported about us. For me, this is really important—to have directly impacted people control the narrative of what’s being said about them.”
On the inside perspective incarcerated writers bring to problems with the criminal legal system, Haines commented: “These are issues that we, as a society, need to know about, because when we know something, we can do something about it. When problems are hidden and tucked away by powerful people, it’s just not right. It’s unfair. It’s undemocratic. I think that giving the public this type of information exposes the failures in social policy that are happening behind bars.”
Haines’s vision strengthens that of Solitary Watch, which works to uncover the truth about solitary confinement and other harsh prison conditions in the United States by producing high-quality investigative journalism, accurate information, and authentic storytelling from both sides of prison walls.
Solitary Watch was founded by the late investigative journalist James Ridgeway, together with current director Jean Casella, in 2009. Since that time, Solitary Watch has played a pivotal role in increasing public awareness, mainstream media attention, and evidence-based policymaking in response to a once-invisible humanitarian crisis.
“Naming Juan Haines editor-in-chief is among the most important things we have ever done,” said Solitary Watch director Jean Casella. “In addition to him being an exceptional person with an incredible level of experience, talent, energy, and commitment, Juan is a leader who will help us to create an environment where people directly impacted by incarceration can tell their own stories, reveal their own truths, hold the system to account, and propose their own solutions.”
Casella noted that Solitary Watch’s original plan had been to offer the position to Haines when he was granted parole. After his second parole denial in spring 2023, the decision was made to proceed with the plan while Haines remained in prison, and make it work despite the challenges of prison communications and censorship.
“Juan is an undoubtable leader and visionary in the journalism field, showing us the fearless and impactful reporting that is possible from behind bars,” said Emily Nonko, a director of Empowerment Avenue. “His work has paved the way for so many incarcerated journalists. In this role, he again shows what is possible as a newsroom leader who happens to be incarcerated.”
Juan Moreno Haines is available for telephone interviews. To schedule an interview or for more information, contact Jean Casella at 917-974-0529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juan Moreno Haines: Full Biography
Photo: PEN America. JPEG file here.
Juan Moreno Haines is an incarcerated journalist who serves as Editor-in-Chief of Solitary Watch. In addition to conducting his own investigative reporting, Haines fosters the development of content derived from the lived experiences of incarcerated people, through the Ridgeway Reporting Project, the Voices from Solitary series, and other initiatives. Through evidence-based reporting, his work seeks to educate the public about the harms caused by solitary confinement and other harsh prison conditions, which he has witnessed firsthand during 27 years of incarceration, and about the importance of both humane prison policies and bold movement toward decarceration.
After spending fifteen years on staff of the award-winning prison newspaper the San Quentin News, Haines now serves as an adviser, collaborating on strategic planning for the newspaper as well as providing leadership training for the staff. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, The American Prospect, Next City, The Appeal, Oakland Post, LA Progressive, CalMatters, Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal, Above the Law, UCLA Law Review, and Life of the Law, among others.
While incarcerated, Haines also co-founded Humans of San Quentin, aimed at taking a moment in an incarcerated person’s life to post on social media. The process of creating the post reminds the writers that they are human and lets them know that they are seen in a dark place. He is also active with Back to the Start: Reflections from Behind Bars, an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) workshop that takes participants on a healing storytelling journey and shows the public and lawmakers that there are opportunities to redirect resources more upstream and away from downstream places like prisons. Most recently, he also served as an advisor on a project to map the impacts of climate change on people incarcerated in California’s prisons.
Since 2015, Haines has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and in 2017 he was awarded its Silver Heart for being a “voice for the voiceless.” He has held fellowships with PEN America and ShadowProof. He has won multiple awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association for reporting on Covid-19 and mental health issues in prison, and in 2023 he received a Media for a Just Society Award for reporting on how solitary confinement was being used for medical isolation.
Exposing the Hidden World Behind Bars
An Interview with Juan Moreno Haines
Juan Haines, Solitary Watch’s new editor-in-chief, speaks with Kellen Zeng in an interview conducted via phone calls from San Quentin. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
PORTIONS OF THE INTERVIEW CAN ALSO BE HEARD IN THIS VIDEO.
Can you talk about your journey and what sparked your interest in becoming a journalist at San Quentin?
What got me into journalism while incarcerated was having the opportunity to tell stories about and for incarcerated populations that would help them navigate the prison industrial complex and get them back to their families. This is one of the most important things that I do as an incarcerated journalist. I hit the ground every day, talking to people, being with them, and listening to their stories so that all of us can understand our commonalities.
Is there a particular story or project that you worked on at San Quentin that you can tell us about?
One of the stories that I worked on that I’m really proud of was regarding the San Quentin mock presidential election. It was a sophisticated survey where we went around and gave everyone the opportunity to vote in a simulation of the 2020 national election so that we could find out which way incarcerated folks are leaning. We also put major ballot initiatives that were pending in California in the survey. That story is important to me because some of the folks who voted in this mock election told me that it was the first time they had ever exercised the choice to vote in their lives.
Can you tell us more about Solitary Watch and what brought you to the organization?
Actually, [the late] James Ridgeway [then co-director of Solitary Watch] found me. Prior to COVID we had mainly connected on story ideas from an inside perspective. He listened and became excited about what we had to say about our lives while incarcerated. That excited me. It was that human connection with someone who actually cared about the lives of people who were incarcerated that drew me to Solitary Watch. When COVID hit, our relationship became vital for my survival. Solitary Watch was there every step of the way when I suffered from COVID.
At Solitary Watch, my audience is different. It’s not so much incarcerated people as it is free people. I want people to understand what the prison system looks like and how it works from my perspective as someone who is incarcerated, so that the stories told are actually our stories and not just ones reported about us. For me, this is really important—to have directly impacted people control the narrative of what’s being said about them.
And that’s what Solitary Watch, the Ridgeway Reporting Project, Voices from Solitary, and the other projects that we have, are all about. We, as an organization, can do the public good. We can make people understand our prisons and jails in a more honest and direct way.
You mentioned some projects that you’re involved in at Solitary Watch, can you elaborate on them and also share some of the challenges you’ve encountered as an incarcerated journalist doing this work?
The Ridgeway Reporting Project basically empowers incarcerated writers to tell stories about prison conditions. Currently, we have 16 writers telling these stories, but my goal is to have a writer in every state and every prison, letting the public know what prison actually is from the folks who are directly impacted by the criminal legal system.
It’s about bringing uncomfortable conversations that folks in power don’t want to discuss to the surface and asking serious questions like, why aren’t we talking about the four deaths—two by suicide—that had occurred less than a month earlier?
When we have to talk about things that are unpleasant to the operations of prisons, the folks running the prisons don’t want to talk about it. And so, it’s incumbent upon us as incarcerated journalists to do this hard work, and it’s not easy. I don’t have access to the internet. We just barely got tablets this year so that I could start making 15-minute calls to other folks in the free world and communicate what’s happening behind these bars. It’s my lifeline to the outside world.
As you stated, in your work, you hope to shed light on the uncomfortable reality of prison conditions. Can you talk more about the issues faced by those who are incarcerated and why these issues are important for the public to understand?
Here at San Quentin, I see a lot of people who struggle due to the lack of adequate medical care and mental health services. Though I’ve never been in solitary confinement, I know dozens of people who’ve survived that torture, and there are a lot of things that they have in common, like trauma and PTSD. Another contributor to this psychological destruction of human beings is the overcrowded conditions that make infectious diseases ripe. It was the major contributing factor of how fast COVID spread in San Quentin State Prison.
These are issues that we, as a society, need to know about because when we know something, we can do something about it. When problems are hidden and tucked away by powerful people, it’s just not right. It’s unfair. It’s undemocratic. I think that giving the public this type of information would expose the failures in social policy that [are happening] behind bars.
Tell us about your new role as editor-in-chief at Solitary Watch. It’s notable that you’ll become one of the few currently incarcerated individuals in a leadership position within a news organization, what do you believe this signifies for the future of journalism within the prison system?
Being editor-in-chief for Solitary Watch is the most important job I’ve ever taken. Other publications miss the opportunity to communicate what the people who are directly impacted are actually experiencing because they rely on folks who don’t understand what it’s like to be powered over.
So this opportunity is something that other publications should pay attention to, and it’s something that the public should pay attention to, because the stories that we tell at Solitary Watch are backed by the experience that I have with 27 years of incarceration and 15 years working as a journalist. It’s backed by professionalism. It’s backed by relationships that were built over a period of time in order to tell these stories.
And so I think this opportunity is humbling. It’s unique, and it’s real, and you’ll get a side of reporting that you will get from no other publication.
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