We are proud to announce the publication this month of Boston Woodard’s first book, Inside the Broken California Prison System, which is based on a series of articles written for the Community Alliance newspaper. When Maria Telesco, a local prisoner rights activist, asked me to consider printing articles by Boston, who was in Solano State prison at the time, I told her that I would love to see his writing. That was about six years ago. Within weeks, Boston started sending me this amazing series of articles that described the appalling conditions inside California’s prisons.
While I have never meet Boston, I feel like I have gotten to know him very well over the last six years. Our correspondence by mail and the few conversations I have had with him over the phone have revealed a person that is relentlessly striving to tell the story about what is going on inside the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), to do so as honestly and completely as possible and to do so with amazingly limited resources.
I’m impressed at how he is able to research his stories, interview the people involved and quote the participants in meticulous detail. These are stories he tells at great personal risk to his own safety and security, articles that prison officials absolutely do not want told, and that ultimately led to his being put in solitary confinement (which I consider to be a form of torture). While we were able to get him out of “The Hole,” Boston still writes under some of the most difficult conditions of any journalist in this country.
You never really know what will happen when you publish an author like Boston, but you do know that you will shake some things up. We have received our share of hate mail and phone calls, which I suspect are from correctional officers and their allies, but what has impressed me the most are the number of letters and articles from prisoners.
We have never received a letter or call from a prisoner suggesting that anything Boston says is not true. In fact, we get hundreds of letters and subscriptions (we give a free sub to any prisoner who asks) thanking us for the courage to tell the truth. But I say it is Boston who has the courage to tell the truth, and it is he who suffers the consequences of letting the rest of us know what is going on inside the prisons.
The articles Boston has written have inspired others in the CDCR to send us articles of their own. One of those writers is Sara Jane Olson, who was at the women’s prison in Chowchilla. Chowchilla is the largest women’s prison in the world. Olson was doing time there as a political prisoner, having been arrested and sentenced for her time in the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). She wrote incredible stories for us, based on her experience at Chowchilla. She has since been released.
I believe it was Boston’s articles that encouraged her to pick up a pen and tell the world about the horrors that take place inside the Prison Industrial Complex. Boston’s writing has that effect on a lot of people. Prisoners read what he has to say and it resonates with what they know to be true and they want to share their own stories. Over the years, we have received many letters from prisoners agreeing with what Boston has written, amazed that this information is being published. They sometimes send stamps to pay help defray the cost of their free subscription.
I sometimes get stopped on the streets of Fresno by readers who thank me for publishing Boston. Maybe they have been in prison or they have a loved one who is there, but they are sincerely grateful that there is a voice of reason and honesty reaching them from the other side of the prison walls. One reason I believe so many readers are excited about Boston’s insights is because there is an almost complete blackout of news and information about what is going on inside the prison system, particularly from the inmates’ point of view..
The prisoners’ rights movement is so far off the radar screen of the mainstream media that most people know nothing about what happens inside state prisons. As a journalist, I have found it is practically impossible to report on the subject, because prisons do not give you access to interview inmates. You are not allowed to take in a pen and paper, a recorder or any other tool to document what is going on inside prisons.
It has not been easy for Boston to write about what is going on around him either. In 2009, he was put in solitary confinement, I believe, because he wrote an article critical of the prison where he was incarcerated. His typewriter was taken away and he was not able to send us another story for eight months.
His next articles, starting in April 2010, were handwritten on paper from a legal pad. The significance of that is that Boston has had several operations on his hands and it is excruciatingly painful for him to write. This could easily be remedied by the prison returning his typewriter, but that would not serve their goals of suppressing the information about what is going on inside the prisons.
Boston’s articles chronicle widespread corruption, incompetence and misuse of tax dollars within the CDCR. It is not surprising that they have used every tool in their arsenal to silence this brave journalist, who continues, to this day, to write articles exposing the greed and corruption within the CDCR.
His reporting is in the finest tradition of investigative journalism that uncovered abuses in mental asylums, revealed the torture of prisoners in Iraq and released the Pentagon Papers. Boston gives us a view into a world few of us will ever see firsthand and provides us with the gift of an accurate historical account of what is happening in the prisons of California today.
The articles in this book cover a six-year period. All of the articles appeared in the Community Alliance newspaper, but until this book was published it is likely that only a handful of people ever read them and saw how they all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to tell the amazing story, from Boston’s unique point of view, about what is going on inside the Prison Industrial Complex.
Inside the Broken California Prison System is available from the Community Alliance newspaper, P.O. Box 5077, Fresno, CA 93755. Send me $20 and I will send you a copy.