Reason reviews controversial and oft-censored publications.
This article is part of Reason's special Burn After Reading issue, where we offer how-tos, personal stories, and guides for all kinds of activities that can and do happen at the borders of legally permissible behavior. Subscribe Now to get future issues of Reason magazine delivered to your mailbox!
Prison Legal News
Uh oh—looks like you've landed behind bars. You should pick up a copy of Prison Legal News. This monthly magazine, the oldest continual publication written by and for inmates, is an indispensable resource on prison issues, prisoner rights, and the ins and outs of civil litigation in a system seemingly designed to keep prisoners from winning their freedom.
America's 2 million incarcerated people suffer inhumane conditions and civil liberties abuses that are mostly invisible to the rest of the country. Inmates have little recourse and even fewer sources of helpful, relevant information.
Of course, many prison administrators prefer that their inmates not be civil litigation experts. As a result, Prison Legal News is possibly the most frequently banned magazine in the United States. It has brought countless First Amendment challenges, filed public records lawsuits, and submitted friend of the court briefs against censorious prisons in 29 states to get its issues into inmates' hands.
Even for those not in the clink it's a magazine worth reading, if only to absorb the magnitude of the problem. A sample of headlines from the publication's April issue: "California: Mentally Ill Jail Prisoner Dies after Two Days in Restraint Chair; $5 Million Settlement," "Louisiana Prison Officials Sued for Trying to Block Investigation into Abuse of Disabled Prisoners," and "Florida KKK Guards Convicted in Plot to Kill Former Prisoner."
It's a hell of a system, and Prison Legal News is one of the few publications dedicated to documenting it.
The Gamecock is not for casual cockers. Everything about the magazine suggests it's geared toward diehard participants of the now illicit sport of cockfighting.
The magazine's cover is decidedly understated, with most issues featuring only the title and the profile of a ring-ready rooster on a cream-colored background. Flip it open to find black-and-white photos alongside content geared not toward mass appeal but rather toward serving expert practitioners of this black art. That includes features about fighting birds, with descriptions listing the breed, price, and contact information for the seller. There are ads for performance-enhancing drugs guaranteed to improve fight performance by 10 percent as well as obits for dearly departed cockers (that is, the human owners, not the birds).
Sadly, The Gamecock is hard to come by these days. Lawsuits from animal rights groups got it pulled off Amazon, and in 2007 Congress passed a law prohibiting websites and magazines from advertising these fine fighting fowls, essentially killing The Gamecock's funding stream.
Looking at fragments of the magazine online can thus make one nostalgic for a time when watching two birds tear each other apart in the ring was a beloved pastime and not the subject of a puritanical prohibition.
Since 1980, Bert and Holly Davis have been writing issues of Dwelling Portably from a yurt in an undisclosed location in Oregon. The 'zine offers a fascinating, idiosyncratic look into do-it-yourself homesteading and living off the grid.
Written on a manual typewriter in minuscule font (to save paper), the publication is jampacked with decades' worth of know-how and gives readers the skinny on everything from how to construct a solar water heater to the legality of dumpster diving. Want to build a $20 dugout shelter using no poles or supports? Bert and Holly have got you covered, literally.
If you're a DIY enthusiast, an aspiring urban nomad, or someone who daydreams about rejecting the trappings of modernity and just living, man, Dwelling Portably is your ticket to ride. Various online 'zine distros, such as Microcosm, carry collections of it. And if you can track down the current P.O. box the Davises are using, you can send them some crisp dollar bills in exchange for an issue.
In the minds of many people, Al Qaeda is the embodiment of evil, and for good reason: The Islamic terrorist organization has killed a lot of innocent people.
Yet for such a homicidal bunch, the group's print magazine Inspire is chillingly normal. Its presentation is utterly indistinguishable from many mainstream publications found on ordinary newsstands in the West, down to the glossy pages and custom graphics. The same can be said of its format, which is a mix of features, interviews, handy how-tos, and advice columns.
Even much of the content wouldn't be out of place in some of America's more solidly left-wing magazines, provided the prose were tightened and scrubbed of its religious references. The Summer 2017 issue features articles criticizing capitalism for its heartless lack of concern for the poor and calling out the U.S. for hypocrisy when it comes to guaranteeing freedom for racial minorities. The latter is complete with a picture of the police killing Eric Garner. Inspire even shares a progressive enthusiasm for rail transit, referring to it as "the most modern and important means of transportation."
Of course, for all this uncomfortable normality, there is still plenty that is shockingly violent, including a step-by-step guide to derailing those "modern and important" trains and an editor's note explaining why violence against civilians is justifiable.
Aesthetic standards, it would appear, are more universal than moral ones.
Don Diva has been documenting gangster exploits in and out of prison since 1999. The quarterly magazine, beloved by inmates and loathed by jailers, isn't idly boasting when it refers to itself as "the original street bible."
"Don Diva is like the Wall Street Journal of gangsta lore," one inmate told the Huffington Post. "And being that they don't let [copies of the publication] in the pens, it's like reading a rare or lost book of the bible when someone manages to get one in."
Because of its sterling reputation among inmates, Don Diva regularly scoops more well-heeled publications and scores rare interviews, including one with former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is currently riding out a 28-year federal prison sentence for fraud and racketeering.
If you want the nitty gritty on who just got sentenced to hard time for hiring a hitman, thoughtful takes on the criminal justice system written from insider perspectives, or even a feature-length analysis of how "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli (who was convicted of securities fraud earlier this year) might fare behind bars, look no further than the original street bible.
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This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Outlaw Mags".