Cell coverage: How a convicted murderer found his true calling as a jailhouse reporter

From Columbia Journalism Review:

Paul Wright began his journalism career behind bars. When he was 21, Wright killed a man in Federal Way, WA, during a botched hold-up; the cocaine dealer he went to rob reached for a gun, and Wright fired first. He claimed self-defense, but was convicted of first-degree felony murder in 1987. Rather than languish, Wright began studying the law, and spent most of his time in Washington State’s prison system writing, reporting, and litigating for , a magazine he co-founded with fellow inmate Ed Mead in 1990. (He served 17 years of a 25-year sentence, and was released in 2003.) Some Washington prisons tried to ban Prison Legal NewsPLN, but Wright became an experienced jailhouse lawyer and convinced the courts to overturn those decisions—something he’s since done in nine other states, with three cases pending. What started as a 10-page newsletter is now a 56-page monthly magazine with subscribers in all 50 states and several other countries. PLN has a staff of five, and is the centerpiece of a growing nonprofit—recently renamed the Human Rights Defense Center—with a litigation arm focused on prisoners’ rights, a book-publishing operation, and a budding Web presence. Wright has written three books (two while in prison). CJR’s Alysia Santo spoke with him in PLN’s office in West Brattleboro, VT.

From killer to crusader

The worst phone call I ever made was when I was sitting in jail and called my parents to tell them that I’d been arrested on murder charges. I grew up in Lake Worth, FL. My dad worked for the post office and my mom was a housewife. I liked to read and stay up on what’s happening, but my career goals were always in the law-enforcement arena, not journalism. I graduated high school when I was 16, and then went to Mexico to teach English. I came back to the US when I was 18 and joined the Army. I was stationed in Hanau, Germany, as a military policeman. When I came back to US, I went through a military police investigator course, and I was working as a military police officer in Washington when I was arrested. In retrospect, it was really pathetic.

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