Dear Tinny

By Anthony Tinsman

The Irony is a nice break.

While editing my manuscript about how to build a writing career in prison, letters keep coming from aspiring authors asking for advice. Each one is special. Several have forced me to review my book and broaden topics like Book Design, Promotion, and Freelance opportunities for incarcerated writers. 

Today's mail arrived with yet another important voice. Adrian Cook serves time in FPC Beckley. He is a writer with minimal resources. And it's understandable.

Bootstrapping To Publication

Prison is best described like this: we receive daily care packages from a wealthy nation (clothes, electricity, chow, etc.) and the rest is a third world (.17 cents an hour wages, sleeping in a bathroom with another man, and depressing cable, etc.) The life-lines connecting prisoners to their families are sawed by the gremlins CCA, Corrlinks and Telecom charging one-dollar per minute for phone calls, and 5 cents a minute for e-mail.

Price gouging is well documented inside the Prison Industrial Complex. Unfortunately, prisoners’ families are the victims.

"I come from a poverty stricken background." Adrian says, "My mom and dad were both drug addicts. I was given my first package from my parents at the age of 11 and have been engulfed in this whirlwind of drugs and prison ever since!" Sadly reading the blue-ink letter, I was reminded that over 90% of offenders are convicted of drug related crimes.

Two-thirds are non-violent.

Adrian Cook has hope. "Writing has been therapeutic for me but also could be a means to build a foundation." He has written several manuscripts and needs advice about getting them published, publicized and profitable.

A father, and future ex-offender, Cook has to bootstrap, but he barely has a boot lace to work with. With that in mind I folded his letter, flipped through my research and took down some notes. As I have told many students, "Come, sit, we need to talk."

Getting Yourself Ready

Cook hired another prisoner to edit his manuscripts. This is usually a questionable practice, since few prisoners have a creative writing background. Most do not know what they are doing. Review previous work and get samples from "vendors" before hiring them. Shop around.

Publishers and Author Service Companies have editors. If they like your work, or if you hire them, then you'll get good editing assistance. 

Seldom do writers consider how they themselves look on paper. Your biography gets an editor’s attention as quickly as well-written submissions. A good bio shows you are a promotable author.

You can kill two birds with one stone by requesting a free copy of PENs Handbook For Writers In Prison. PEN American Center, 588 Broadway, Suite 303, New York, NY 10012. The book contains tips on style, format, and genres. Study it.

PEN has distributed 20,000 copies since 1971 and offers a Contest and Mentor program.

You should list "qualifiers" like mentorship, contest placement, or other accomplishments in your bio. This will become more important after publication. A compelling bio breathes life into sales copy, social media and publishers’ websites.

"Now" is the time to work on it.  

Bootstrapping

The least expensive route is to submit your typed manuscript to a publisher. Tell them, compellingly, that it is a match for their audience and keep submitting to publishers until one says YES.

Cook writes Urban Literature, with crime, mystery, suspense, and romance but also a message. So ask yourself, "What makes my/your book unique?"

Practice cross-referencing the competition, look for duplication or trends in the market. Develop a one-word pitch that describes the effect your book has on readers: "warmth," "truth," "anarchy," etc., and develop a two or three sentence pitch that sells your story.

Of course you could just be egotistical. One author, William Allen sold his book to Triple Crown with this opening line, "When I write, my pen flows gold onto paper. You would be crazy not to publish this book." That kind of arrogance rarely works. But it shows something important: There really isn't a RIGHT way to sell your book.

Just keep pitching it.

Locate publishers in your market. Nikki Turner Presents, PO BOX 28694, Richmond, VA 23228;  www.nikkiturner.com, is an Urban Literature publisher. There are many, many others: G Street Chronicles, RJ Publications, Black Pearl (find more addresses inside books and in the magazines where they are advertised.)  

Write them and request their Submission Guidelines. These tell you exactly how to submit your book.

These publishers offer an established catalog of books, authors and readers. If you are published through one, your book will be publicized through their order forms, fliers and word of mouth.  

 It’s still a good idea to come up with some marketing of your own. Tell them about it. It could help sell it.

Who is your specific audience? Skim magazines that your readers are likely to buy. Essence has 1 million readers. XXL has 100,000.

Don't let these numbers make your head spin. The standard marketing formula for potential buyers is 1%, those are your prospects. You have to reach them with book reviews, new releases, advertisements, and direct mail to convert them into buyers. Selling it to publishers is just the first step. 

If you want to be successful in a writing career start getting business-minded. Quick.

Urban Literature publishers will require you to sign a license for ALL RIGHTS to your book. This is oaky for first-time writers, since you will not likely be printing a back-list anytime soon. Since incarceration limits your ability to promote, the typical issues of free copies and author discount purchases aren't really a concern.

Don't TRANSFER the RIGHTS to the publisher. This gives them complete ownership. Remember: licenses only.

In return you don't pay anything. You are partners with the publisher. You receive royalties on sales (10% to 15%) and enjoy the time to write another book. However, there are viable alternatives with just a little investment.

Independent Publishing

Many authors have had success switching from Urban Literature publishers to self -publishing. They gain exposure through the publishers’ ads and fliers and books and then self-publish their next book, taking their readers with them. Kevin Bullock and Cordell Sims are among the most successful.

Other writers simply want to own 100% of their books, earn 100% of the profit (after the cost of sale, including production, delivery, online book retailers commission – usually 30%) and take on all the risk. They are entrepreneurs. Andre Dupree, Mike Enemigo, and Rhonda Turpin are all successful self-publishers.

From a cell.

Contact prisoner-friendly vendors and request information: Midnight Express Books, PO BOX 69, Berryville, AR, 72616, MEBooks1@yahoo.com; and Freebird Publishers Attn: Book Project Dept., North Dighton, MA, 027764, Diane@freebirdpublishers.com.

There are many, many more.

Expect to pay a thousand dollars and up to get the full package: Book design consultation, ISBN & Barcode, Cover design, editing, Print On Demand & e-book formatting.

Other services are available, but you will need an outside point of contact with Power Of Attorney (POA).

Marketing and Promotion

Publicity and visibility sell books. You will need to make a plan for both whether you are traditionally published or independently published.

Ads, endorsements, reviews, news-releases, direct mail and social media are subjects you need to study as a freelance writer. Start by reviewing ads and articles about competitive books. How & where did you read them? What angle did they use? Why would readers respond to it? Who are the editors, companies and advertising directors that helped them?

Your responsibility is to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Weigh the cost of promotion options against realistic prospective buyers’ conversion. Are there enough sales to make a profit?

One option is to start reliably updating a blog or social media profile with articles, stories, pictures, poetry, WHATEVER. It has attracted readers for Zachary A. Smith, Razor D. Babb, and a dozens of authors. It takes time, but is an affordable starting position.

Companies like Freebird Publishers offer publicity assistance. They reach about 20,000 prisoners through their publications Inmate Shopper and Corcoran Sun, websites, social media, and quarterly mailings. Authors can choose from the Bronze: $75, Silver: $150 and Gold: $250 packages for one year of co-op promotion.

End Game

Adrian Cook shares more in common with other business-minded prisoners than just trying to create value with his time. At thirty-five and a father of five, he has taken a new direction. "It's made a difference," he says.

Hopefully this information stretches that shoe string. As for everyone else, I'll be waiting at mail-call.

Sincerely,

Tinny

_____

Send letters to: Mr O (Att: Tinny) 649 N. Rupple Rd., Fayetteville, AR  72704.

_____

Author:  Anthony Tinsman is a PEN award-winning author and the designer of Take a Load Off, an evidence based prisoner re-entry program taught in federal prison. He is an advisory Board Member to the ICBRP (International Board of Recovery Professionals).

He is serving a mandatory minimum 35-year sentence for Armed Bank Robbery. He is a first time offender.

Tinsman's published work includes Hungry Robot, a children's bed-time story. His next book – Book Of Prosper – is a collaboration with Michael Collins and will be available later this year.

Contact Tinny at:  04276-063, FCC PO BOX 3000, Forrest City, AR, 72336.


Missouri Prisoner Exonerated in 1983 Prison Murder; Brady Violations Cited

Image courtesy bigstory.ap.org

Image courtesy bigstory.ap.org

By Christopher Zoukis

Reginald “Reggie” Griffin, 53, was sentenced to death for the July 12, 1983 stabbing of James Bausley in a yard at the Moberly Correctional Center (then known as the Missouri Training Center for Men). In August 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court vacated Griffin’s conviction after finding the state had withheld evidence related to another prisoner who was likely involved in the murder.

That prisoner, Jeffrey Smith, was found with a sharpened screwdriver while attempting to leave the yard shortly after Bausley was killed; Smith was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon. The state Supreme Court found the prosecution had violated its Brady obligations by failing to disclose that information to Griffin, which would have bolstered his “alternate perpetrator” defense at trial. See: State ex rel. Griffin v. Denney, 347 S.W.3d 73 (Mo. 2011), cert. denied.

The 2011 vacatur of Griffin’s conviction was not the first time the Missouri Supreme Court had ruled in the case; it had previously vacated Griffin’s death sentence after finding the state wrongly relied on the criminal record of another prisoner with the same name as Griffin during the penalty phase of the trial. Griffin then received a life sentence and was removed from death row.

Another prisoner, Doyle Franks, was also convicted in connection with Bausley’s death; he admitted that he had killed Bausley and Griffin was not involved. A second co-defendant acquitted at trial had likewise denied that Griffin was involved.

In 2006, Paul Curtis, a prisoner who testified that he saw Griffin kill Bausley, admitted to state investigators that his testimony was false. He did not see Griffin commit the stabbing, but lied at trial in exchange for benefits such as a transfer to another prison, money and a TV set.

Remarkably, state prosecutors made no mention of Curtis’ recantation during Griffin’s habeas corpus proceedings in 2011. When questioned about that non-disclosure at a November 2012 hearing, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke told a judge that since the habeas proceedings were of a civil nature rather than criminal, the rules requiring pre-trial disclosure of exculpatory evidence did not apply. He said the state was “under no obligation to disclose” the evidence.

Although the state initially indicated it would retry Griffin for Bausley’s murder, the charges were dropped in October 2013 after prosecutors indicated they did not have sufficient evidence to convict him. Griffin had previously been released from prison on bond pending the state’s decision to retry him.

“Thirty years of life – essentially stolen by shoddy investigation and prosecution – cannot be returned to Reggie,” said Rita Linhardt with Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “Restitution is in order. At least he is alive and finally truly free.”

_____

Sources: Associated Press, www.huffingtonpost.com, www.sfgate.com, www.moberlymonitor.com

Prison Censorship in America: The Ashley Jean Arnold Case

Image courtesy youtube.com

Image courtesy youtube.com

By Christopher Zoukis

When Americans think of prison censorship, images of prison guards throwing away letters come to mind. So too do images of books and publications like Prison legal News being rejected for being a “threat to the good order, orderly operation, and security of the institution,” which covers about any number of theoretical penological objectives. And for serious prison writers, such as myself, images of retaliatory incident reports, delayed or destroyed mail, ever-constant shakedowns, complete monitoring, and prison transfers come to mind. All of these images are true at times. Prison censorship in America is alive and well.

My Personal Experience with Prison Censorship

As someone who regularly writes for online and print publications from the confines of my prison cell, I am no stranger to censorship or retaliation for my writings. Usually there is a trend. When I write about vanilla stories, nothing much occurs. When I write about Federal Bureau of Prisons officials — even worse, when I write about prison officials here at Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg — I can expect some harassment. This usually takes the form of the above-mentioned censorship. But when I write books, I inevitably receive a few incident reports for writings surrounding the promotion of books, not to mention manuscripts becoming “lost” in the mail. Needless to say, my publishers now send all manuscripts via certified mail so we can track them.

The long of the short of my experiences with prison censorship is that I’ve had my fair share. I’ve collected some seven incident reports, five months in the hole, several years of lost privileges like telephone and email (of which I’m still on), and the seizure of 10 copies of my own books, all as a result of retaliation for my writing efforts. The pattern is clear. After I receive a few meritless incident reports, my attorneys — Alan Ellis, Todd Bussert, Jeff Fogel, and Steven Rosenfield — come in and fight the FBOP until they leave me alone. Of the last seven incident reports, three have been expunged upon appeal, and of the other four, which we are currently appealing, there have so far been four initial hearings, one partial expungement, and four ordered remands for rehearings. It’s a dance, one that is designed on one side to dissuade me from writing and on the other side to enable me to write.

To this point in my career as an incarcerated writer, I have only been afraid a few times. I’m rather stubborn, after all. The first was when they locked me in solitary in 2012. The second was when my unit team artificially inflated my custody and classification points and attempted to transfer me to a maximum security federal prison from my current medium (the attorneys stopped it). And the final time is now, as I share the story of Ashley Jean Arnold.

Ashley Jean Arnold

For the past few years I have worked hard to help a transgender inmate named Ashley Jean Arnold. Along with another prison litigator (whom I won’t name here due to the threat of retaliation), we have pushed the FBOP and, in particular, FCI Petersburg to provide Ashley, and her transgender sisters here, meaningful treatment for their gender dysphoria. The process has not been an easy one. It has included filing grievances, a state lawsuit, and a federal lawsuit (Arnold v. Wilson, EDVA 1:13cv900). Over the years we had a few successes, but almost all tempered by either severe delays in care or failures.

During this process, Ashley was subjected to harassment and retaliation not by inmates, which would be expected, but by prison officials. They lodged four incident reports against her (three of which were obviously retaliatory and one of those was administratively thrown out), locked her in the hole for a month, took several privileges for months on end, fired her from her job, and filed false treatment notes in her Psychology Department file. These were the tangibles. The intangibles include gender-based harassment from virtually all levels of the administration. She reported harassment on the part of the FCI Petersburg Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Compliance Officer, a unit manager, a case manager coordinator, drug treatment specialist, and a treatment specialist. These are in addition to the “regular” harassment by line cops. It was ugly, and when we filed administrative remedies concerning this abuse, they were largely ignored by prison officials.

Ashley’s Suicide; My Call to Action

While I worked hard on Ashley’s case, it wasn’t until Tuesday, February 24, 2015, that I decided to pull out all the stops. This was the day that she hung herself in her prison cell, the day that the calculus changed. From that point on, and as I told a senior prison official shortly after her death, I was going to hold each and every one of Ashley’s abusers accountable for their actions. They killed my friend, what more could they possibly do to me? Well, as it turns out, a lot, at least mentally.

As the war machine heated up, I, along with several others, started to pump out articles, letters to our representatives, attorneys, fellow activists and friends, and even a Department of Justice complaint. Prison administrators at FCI Petersburg were not amused. They quickly administratively cut off Sangye Rinchen’s email, Ashley’s best friend and fellow transgender prisoner. They followed this with an incident report and within 24 hours, a quick disciplinary hearing which found Ms. Rinchen guilty and sanctioned her to 90 days loss of email. The meaning was clear: write about Ashley and we’re coming for you.

The issue is that Ashley’s supporters, including me, are alleging hefty misconduct on the part of FCI Petersburg prison officials, some of which might constitute criminal activity. Needless to say, prison officials aren’t pleased with this narrative getting out. It would be more convenient to simply silence those who are trying to expose the manifest injustice in Ashley’s plight. This is exactly what they are trying to do. I have personally been told by a lieutenant that we are not permitted to tell anyone outside of the prison about Ashley Arnold’s suicide. Another prison official told a friend that the word from on high was that anyone who speaks with the media will be issued an incident report. The battle lines have been drawn.

Waiting for the Gestapo to Arrive

Those of us who knew Ashley best refuse to back down and capitulate to these illegal and unconstitutional tactics and demands. To do so would be to allow Ashley’s abusers to win. That would soil her legacy. That we are not willing to do.

For me, I’m going to keep on writing and advocating until it is literally impossible for me to continue. These days that means when my hand gives out from writing, but the day is coming when they will snap my pen, shred my pages, and throw me in some dark hole to serve my final three years in custody. That is a cost that I’m willing to pay.

Last night at around 11:00pm three prison guards came to my cell. They unlocked my door and escorted me into the unit team offices area. As we walked I wondered when the cuffs would go on, and if this was the fabled beating for those who dare to speak out. The whole time I was waiting to be pulled into a tile cell and stomped for my offenses. It never happened. After leaving the Lieutenant’s Office, the story was they grabbed the wrong guy. But then again, perhaps it was really a dry run, a sign of things to come.

(Published by blackandpink.org; used by permission)

_____

Note: Christopher Zoukis can be reached for comment, interview, or supporting documentation at: Christopher Zoukis (#22132-058), FCI Petersburg, P.O. Box 1000, Petersburg, VA 23804

Transgender Prisoner Denied Adequate Treatment Hangs Herself

By Christopher Zoukis

Petersburg, Virginia: At approximately 2:30 PM on February 24, 2015, Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg Medium inmate Ashley Jean Arnold (given name: Steven Roy Arnold), 32, ended her life by hanging herself in her prison cell. Arnold had sought medical and psychological care for her gender dysphoria in the two years leading up to her death, but prison officials repeatedly delayed care rendered and denied additional treatment components requested.

Born a biological male, Arnold served in the U.S. Navy as a fighter jet mechanic and even won an award for being sailor of the year for her squadron prior to being indicted and convicted of federal criminal charges related to child pornography. She was sentenced to a term of 300 months in federal prison and housed at FCI Petersburg.

For several years Arnold sought expanded access to medical and psychological care for her gender dysphoria (which the Federal Bureau of Prisons calls gender identity disorder). She sought treatment in line with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the only such standards of care for the treatment of transgender individuals, which includes hormone replacement therapy, real-life experience, counseling and other treatment methodologies designed to help transgender individuals transition from their biological gender to their chosen gender. The Federal Bureau of Prisons repeatedly rebuffed Arnold’s efforts at seeking help.

In July 2013, Arnold filed suit against prison officials in the Eastern District of Virginia (Arnold v. Wilson, Case No. 1:13cv900), alleging deliberate indifference and violations of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. On December 23, 2014, United States District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema granted the government  summary judgment, deciding that prison officials were not deliberately indifferent to Arnold’s serious medical needs and had not subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment. While Special Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin T. Hickman represented the Federal Bureau of Prisons, jailhouse lawyers Sangye Rinchen and Christopher Zoukis assisted Arnold from their prison’s law library. While Ashley filed a notice of appeal, she took her life before the appeal could proceed.

Arnold’s cause is currently being advanced by jailhouse lawyers Rinchen and Zoukis, who are actively petitioning the Department of Justice to open a criminal inquiry into the sexual harassment and retaliation that specific prison officials exerted against Arnold leading up to her tragic death.

Zoukis can be reached for comment, interviews and supporting documentation at the following address:

Christopher Zoukis

FCI Petersburg

P.O. Box 1000, #22132-058

Petersburg, VA 23804

Out of Control Norovirus at The Low Institution, Butner, North Carolina

Image courtesy wsj.com

Image courtesy wsj.com

By C. Clagett

It has been about five weeks since the original Norovirus started in Wake Unit and then spread entirely through the Low Custody Institution, as well as the FCI 1.

This infectious virus was very poorly handled by the institution. The evidence of contamination was there from the outset, but there was no effort at quarantine, thus all the units became infected, including mine.

We in Vance B, in fact, became the worst hit.

The institution remained open for some weeks, with UNICOR as a contagion focal point, and the intermingling of other parts of the yard, dining hall, education, etc. allowed a firmly rooted virus to get a serious hold on the institution. The virus was brought under control after (after the horses got out of the barn) the unused SHU at the Low was finally re-opened to segregate and quarantine those who were showing symptoms.

This was oh so late, and the warden said that it was opened so late because they did not perceive this to be such a serious epidemic, and they thought it would "burn itself out;" it clearly did not do so.

For a time at the start there were inter-complex transfers to the Federal Medical Center (FMC), and it was there the FCI 1 became infected, along with the FMC.

There are fragile health patients there, as well as at the Low, and this virus has a stunning rate of transfer. Alcohol does not eradicate it, or so we are told, and the stuff that does is hard to use because it is sprayed; it takes some time to work, so applying it after using the phone is somewhat useless.

Continual washing of hands is the best preventative measure. But that limited the healthy to one bathroom, as the sick were relegated to the other. Unfortunately, the virus has a gestation period so that one did not know if one had caught it for a day or two, and had used the "well" bathroom in that period of time.

By the time everyone realized how serious the problem was, the problem was intensified by those who refused to admit they were sick because they didn’t want to be quarantined.  Thus the virus was passed along to others.

Finally, they opened the SHU this last weekend, using it to quarantine the ill.  It probably should have occurred much sooner, but at least it finally happened. The quarantine seems to be stopping the spread of the virus, as there are so many snitches here that are keeping notes on the persons using the "sick" bathroom.

I was one of the sick that owned up; I felt a responsibility to preclude others from suffering through the twelve hours of vomiting associated with the virus.  This was not a pleasant experience.  

In future, it might be better to segregate those sick much, much, much quicker.