Between the Bars

Almost a year ago, I blogged about Between the Bars — a project that offers a blogging platform to the 1% of the United States population that is currently incarcerated. The way it works is pretty simple: prisoners send letters through the postal mail. We scan them and put them up on the web. Visitors can transcribe letters or leave comments which are mailed back to the authors.

About a month ago, my collaborator Charlie DeTar and I finally finished planning and paperwork and opened the site to bloggers. Over the last few weeks, we’ve had a bunch of authors sign up. We now have a daily stream of blog posts going up on the site.

Please visit the site. Leave comments. Transcribe posts. If you know of prisoners who might like to use the site, let them know. If you want postcard fliers to send to prisoners, let us know.

11 Replies to “Between the Bars”

  1. Mako, this is simply fantastic. When I first read about this I thought this could be one of the projects I could pick up, and handle it via our riseup-like organisation Sindominio.

    I’m really swamped right now with work+studies, but when I’m ready to allocate some free time, this would be something I’d love to do around here. I’ll surely talk to the people involved in BTB so I can benefit from a few lessons learned.

    Rock on, Mako!

  2. This is a wonderful and commendable effort you have made.  These letters offer so much insight into the lives of people society often has forgotten.  They are human beings, just like the rest of us and without a voice to the outside.  If anyone can read the letters with an open mind, there are so many lessons to be learned.  And a reminder that no matter what, we are all residents of this world.  Thanks again for the great effort!

  3. KB: You are right. I was imprecise. Sorry about that.

    blah blah: We don’t want to censor the material on the site. In order to publish on our site, prisoners must give us informed consent after the risks to them are explained in detailed. Anyone who has given us informed consent can blog. In terms of material, we will publish anything and can’t read content before we put it online. That said, we reserve the right to moderate offensive content so that only readers who have “opted in” can see it. We will also take down any material that is illegal for us to host. We’ll publish a FAQ to make this more clear.

    Jordi: I would love to help you set this up. The code is free software, of course. Costs are really in stamps and a document scanner.

  4. Rob: We’ve thought about it but haven’t implemented it. At the moment, crowdsourcing is working pretty well. Some combination of OCR for typewritten documents and crowdsourcing for editing those and for the handwritten letters may work well enough.

    One of our goals is to keep costs down so that we can scale up. Also, transcription is a nice way for users to pitch in and build a closer connection.

  5. I read a few of the posts there.  A few had pretty insightful posts, but pretty incredible how many of them still believe they are victims and accept no responsibility for their actions.  I could see a lot of criminal justice and psychology majors being interested in this.

  6. Hi Mako,

    What do you mean  by ‘forced to’…  suspend the Between the Bars?

    What sort of ‘administrative issues’ ?

    I am disappointed to see it down.


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