By Jim Ridgeway
With more and more older people going to prison there is a growing demand for educational materials to keep their minds alive and well amid the deadening atmosphere of the American correctional system—created in large part by government and supervised and informed by the judiciary. Not to mention the thousands upon thousands of young and middle-aged people whose “rehabilitation” has been cut short by the cruel sentencing laws. There are all sorts of projects afoot in this area, but one is of special interest. It is called the Real Cost of Prisons, and is run by Lois Ahrens of Northampton, Mass., on a shoestring. You can get a feel for her work by obtaining the Real Cost of Prisons Comix book which includes three comics: Prison Town about the financing and placement of prisons and their effect on rural communities; Prisoners of the war on Drugs, a history of the war on drugs; and Prisoners of a hard Life,which includes stories of women trapped by mandatory sentencing. To me, this last book is the most telling. PM Press publishes the book at $12.95 a copy.
Ahrens got the idea of doing comic books,partly because she wanted to find a way of communicating with prisoners in a simple,direct way providing them especially up to date information and new research. She hit on the idea,in part from years of going to Mexico, and watching women engrossed in photo novellas while tending market stalls or sitting on park benches. Then trade unionists from South Africa gave her publications chock full of graphics, pictures and text that they were using to educate people in their campaign to stop privatization and in the fight against globalization. She also got ideas from “A Field Guide to the US Economy” by James Heintz and Nancy Foibre which also uses graphs, cartoons and ordinary language to explain the economy.
Because prisoners can’t ordinarily take advantage of the information that currently proliferates on the internet, comic books which speak to their lives and needs, are available and free, she says.
Comic books have been received by prisoners in every state prison system,every federal prison and numerous jails. Thousands more have been sent to prisoners through 13 Books through Bars organizations. We know that comic books are passed hand to hand by prisoners,since as soon as a set is sent to one prisoner,not a week passes before we begin receiving requests from other prisoners at that prison..One prisoner wrotethat he found one on a pew in the prison
Ahrens web site is an up to date resource on prison news.