“I am the Penal Press. I attempt to speak to the masses on behalf of the man and the youth locked up in prison. I am their appointed agent. I am their messenger. I am the Penal Press. It might be that, if one were to read into, between and beyond the lines of my working parts and chassis, one could detect a story of pluck and firm resolve. It might just be. For, even in a segregated and unavoidable environment of degradation, punishment, bitter hates, friction, deterioration, and curtailment, I have managed, somehow, to survive and to hold sway. Even despite these frustrations. In undertones and in overtones, abstractly, absurdly, satirically, clumsily, dexterously, and brusquely, I exude shortcomings, weaknesses, inconsistencies and censorship… I am the Penal Press, and it is my duty to percolate, to infiltrate, to exhort, to improve, to impart, and to deprecate. I am the servant of the prisoner. I am his mouthpiece.”
(from “The Sharp and Bright Sword” in the Collins Bay Diamond, July 1955)
The penal press is a primary source of prison history from within. Written and produced by prisoners, it provides insight into how convicts viewed the penal justice apparatus, its policies and its practices.
According to criminologist Prof. Robert Gaucher (1989) “the penal press is a world-wide phenomenon which reached the height of its achievement in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in North America. A survey taken in the United States in 1959 found that there were more than 250 penal press publications in Canada and the United States, reaching an estimated readership of two million (Collins Bay Diamond, January, 1959)…. The Canadian penal press officially came into being on September 1, 1950 with the publication of Kingston Penitentiary’s Telescope. Since then there have been more than one hundred separate penal publications produced and published by prisoners in Canada’s federal penitentiaries.” (Full Article “The Canadian Penal Press: A Documentation and Analysis” is available at http://www.jpp.org/documents/forms/JPP2_1/PenalPress.pdf)
This website is dedicated to providing an open-access archive of these important materials. While focusing on Canadian publications, we welcome newsletters from other parts of the world; we will digitize and make them available. New/old editions will be added to the site as they are scanned and coded by college students and by Prof. Melissa Munn.
Acknowledgment: This site, and indeed the collection from which it is built, would not exist without the years of dedication and cataloguing of Dr. Robert Gaucher. Thank you to him for his foresight in preserving these historical records.