How many of you worked on your school newspaper? Were you a reporter, editor, or typist? A high school newspaper was written and put together by the students and often contained jokes and other types of humor, sports, articles on whatever student did something out of the ordinary for that week, dance announcements, who’s-dating-who gossip, and maybe a crossword.

That was basically the same concept for prison newspapers. Their newspapers were written and edited by the prisoners. Aside from the usual stuff like gossip and sports, there were also inmate-written editorials, many about how deplorable conditions were and how badly they’ve been treated.

Prison newspapers was not a new concept. In 1800 attorney William Keteltas was incarcerated in debtor’s prison; while there, he started his own newspaper, New Hope, which was “a newspaper calling for prison reform and the abolition of imprisonment for debt.”

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Researching prison newspapers, many date back to the era between the end of the War of 1812 to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861– this time period was known as the Antebellum Era. As the years droned on, there was one prison newspaper that was doing very well, and getting mentions in outside periodicals: that paper was The Spectator, published by Michigan State Prison in Jackson.

The Spectator was Jackson Prison's most popular newspaper, running from 1930-1991. Other papers published in the Jackson prison were:
School News: 1930-1932
American Prisoner: 1933
New Look: 1966-1969

Aside from being entertaining, the papers gave inmates something productive to do: illustrating, printing, publishing, and writing, all good skills to hone. This creative outlet was also a good means of mental therapy.

If some of the inmate-written articles got too inflammatory toward the way the prison was being operated, the prison staff confiscated and suppressed the issues.

Some inmates who wrote articles often misspelled words which got published as they were originally written, and there were others who were excellent artists. Since they had no cameras for photos, they relied on artwork to enhance their stories.

In 1934, Jackson’s The Spectator had gained notoriety for having excellent illustrations – just as good or even better than ones in those ‘professional’ papers.

These old original copies of The Spectator are hard to find…if you have some, keep ‘em. If not, the gallery below has a few examples of how the paper looked…..

Jackson Prison's Newspaper: The Spectator


The Old Michigan State Prison's Unused Cemetery: Jackson

Old Jackson State Prison, Early 1900s

Pease Cemetery at Jackson State Penitentiary

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