Frequently Asked Questions

Please also see the community guidelines for commenting and transcribing posts.

Who is behind this?

Since the summer 2011, Between the Bars has been operated by Charlie DeTar, Carl McLaren, and Benjamin Sugar. The site would not be possible without the generous contributions of transcribers, commenters, and everyone at the Center for Civic Media.

How did it begin?

Between the Bars was founded by Charlie DeTar and Benjamin Mako Hill in the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT in October of 2010.

Why blogging?

"It's his lifeline really. He gets printouts back. The other inmates get copies as well and they're quite pleased. It's a link, not just for him to the outside world, but for his inmate friends as well; a lifeline to the outside world."
– Derick Attwood, father of imprisoned Shaun Attwood, speaking about his son's blog, Jon's Jail Journal.

I think what it really has to do is being listened to.... These people are saying 'please don't presume to speak for me'. We have a fascinating backdoor open with blogs... it really is diverse and complicated.
– Ethan Zuckerman, speaking about "bridge blogs" that service communities without access to other forms broadcast media. (source)

Blogging can not only let people in prison tell their stories and report on their conditions, but it can also provide an instrumental role in maintaining "weak-tie" social networks (acquaintances and friends of friends), which are important for helping people to find jobs and communities in which to live. This can reduce recidivism.

How often do prisoners receive comments that I leave?

We currently print and mail new comments about once per week.

What does it cost?

Aside from the postage to send us letters, the service is free. Maintenance expenses are handled through donations and grants, and time to scan letters is donated by volunteers. It is very important to us that this service always be free.

How long will this last?

We will keep the service running as long as we are able to secure the funding and volunteer energy necessary for it to continue.

How do I join?

Unfortunately we are currently at capacity and are not accepting any new writers at this time. We hope that one day we can make the service available to more people.

Isn't this dangerous?

We don't believe so. People in prison already have the ability to send letters, which are read and censored by prison officials on the way in and out. Prisoners blogging is not new – it is something many people have been doing for a long time. However, it has previously only been accessible to people who have tech-savvy friends or family with enough time on their hands to transcribe letters. Prison blogging has been widely discussed, challenged in court (and found legal), and is fundamentally no more risky than prison penpal services which abound.

I'd like to republish a prisoner's writing. Can I do that?

Prisoners maintain the copyrights to all of their writing. If you'd like to republish it, you should ask them for permission. You can do so by leaving a comment or, if they have provided an address, contacting them directly.

I want to run Between the Bars in another country. Can you help?

We'd love to talk to you. Please contact us.

Have a question that isn't answered here? Feel free to ask us.