Whatever benefits it holds for the world at large, Global Voices is proving to be a fascinating way for me to discover new blogs that I’m interested in keeping up with. For the most part, I’ve been encountering writers from parts of the world I know little about. This morning’s discovery, though, was the blog of a British stockbroker, Shaun Attwood, who is incarcerated in Arizona on drug and money laundering charges.
(The blog is titled “Jon’s Jail Journal”, and is maintained by Shaun’s father, Derick Atwood. The blog was initially anonymous – only in the past few months has Shaun’s identity been revealed. Shaun corresponds with his father via letter and his texts are reposted on the web.)
Shaun was initially imprisoned in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Arizona. The sheriff of Maricopa County is Joe Arpaio, the self-styled “America’s toughest sheriff”. Arpaio is notorious for his “get-tough” policies on inmates under his control, which include serving extremely cheap food to inmates, requiring inmates to wear pink underpants, housing prisoners in tent cities unprotected from the Arizona heat and organizing the “first and only” chaingang for female inmates. Arpaio’s style is clearly popular with some Maricopa County voters, as he continues to get elected, but there are a number of citizen groups organized to protest his self-aggrandizing style and his aggresive policies.
Shaun’s journal has been featured in a series in The Guardian, which ran a collection of disturbing posts about Shaun’s experiences in the county jail. His posts since July 18th, when he was moved into a state facility, have been less desperate, though still graphic and disturbing.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London, the United States leads the world in total prison population, with roughly 2.1 million inmates. 6.6% percent of those inmates are not US citizens – the 1,950,000 American citizens in custody represent 0.67% of our nation. Because so many of the prisoners – 91.6% – are male, 1.33% of American males are incarcerated. The rates can be much higher within certain demographics – one set of estimates finds that 12.9% of black men between 25-29 were in jail or prison in the US in 2002.
As we’ve tried to figure out what groups of bloggers Global Voices should focus on in its early stages, we’ve had a couple of intense conversations about prison bloggers. On the one hand, prisoners are a population whose voices are rarely heard. Charlie Nesson, our friend and collaborator, is working closely with a group of prisoners and prison reformers in Jamaica, to help Jamaica’s prisoners begin audioblogging – we’d love to feature some of these voices.
On the other hand, many of our current participants are human rights activists, who may be threatened by repressive governments. Their association with Harvard may be a factor that helps keep them out of prison… but if Global Voices is perceived as a program that focuses on prisoners and prisoner issues, the Harvard association may prove to be a minus, rather than a plus.