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Magazines Give Prisoners a Link to World Outside

In prisons across the country, with their artificial pre-Internet worlds where magazines are one of the few connections to the outside and handwritten correspondence is the primary form of communication, the art of the pen-to-paper letter to the editor is thriving. Magazine editors see so much of it that they have even coined a term for these letters: jail mail.

At magazines like Maxim, with its male-heavy readership and sexy spreads that feature women in just enough clothing to avoid running afoul of prison standards, mail from inmates can easily make up three-quarters of the handwritten letters that come in. Maxim says it receives 10 to 30 such letters each week. Rolling Stone says it receives at least one a day. And at Esquire, editors receive about 15 to 20 a month, about a quarter of the magazine’s mailed letters. The rest come mainly from older readers.

Many letters are like the ones Mr. Bolick sends: from inmates with plenty of free time asking to meet famous people featured in profiles and photo spreads. But they take on all forms. Some are as simple as an inmate complaining about not receiving his subscription or writing with a change of address. Others are personal reflections on a recent article. Country Weekly regularly receives songs from a prisoner in Texas who has ambitions of being a country star.

The most impressive prison weapon I’ve ever seen (courtesy of Lock Up, I believe) was a spear/long shank created out newspaper

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