Usually Reason brings you stories about people who have crossed the lines of legality, the people who help draw those lines, and the people who want to erase them entirely. This month we thought we'd try something a little different. In this issue, we offer how-tos, personal stories, and step-by-step guides for all kinds of activities that can and do happen right at the borders of legally permissible behavior.
These stories are handily packaged into a removable section in the middle of the magazine. Pull it out and when you're done reading, you can decide whether to keep the pages for future reference or to follow the instructions printed on the front and burn them.
If you decide to hang out on the edges with us, a couple of notes. As we circulated early drafts of the stories in this issue, it was interesting to see how different articles struck different readers as the most risqué. One worried that Mark McDaniel's step-by-step Glock-building instructions and the accompanying video at reason.com were a bridge too far, while another homed in on Ronald Bailey's slightly sloppy dabbling in gene editing at home in his kitchen. Some found Declan McCullagh's tutorial on spousal snooping unsettling. We've tried to push our own boundaries in this issue—while not actually committing any crimes in the course of publishing it—to help you think about yours. In our view, the fact that something makes you uncomfortable isn't a good reason to ban it; it's a good reason to research it, report on it, maybe even try it, and then write about it.
Keep in mind that the legal lines we describe may well be shifting under your feet. The first draft of Maggie McNeill's story about how to hire an escort was written before the passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) this spring. It is now illegal, under federal law, to host digital content that promotes or facilitates prostitution, and the new law holds web publishers and platforms liable for doing so. As a result, this issue is being printed in a world that is more uncertain and dangerous for sex workers and their clients than the one we inhabited just a few months ago. As the story itself illustrates, human desires flow like water around the rocks of prohibition, and they always will. But do remember that the advice in this issue could quickly become outdated, and that laws might not apply or be enforced predictably in the jurisdiction where you happen to be reading.
Another reason we put together this issue is because it was fun. Many of the stories in this issue grew out of unsatisfactory Googling during office happy hours—we figured if we were wondering how to make prison hooch or really good pot brownies, our readers might be too. There are a lot of things that should be legal even though they're ridiculous. No one really needs to grow their own mushrooms, subscribe to a magazine about cockfighting, infuse bourbon with THC, or make a pipe out of an apple. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to find good information about how to try if the fancy strikes. And while you're unlikely to need to live off the grid for an extended period, when the power goes out, it's rather delightful to have the best generator in the neighborhood.
This issue is also an object lesson in the ways the First Amendment right to free speech supports and protects so many other rights. Your Second Amendment right to bear arms is reinforced by talking about how easy it is to build a totally legal, unregistered handgun using a few basic tools and parts ordered off the internet—and what it means for gun control that anyone else could do the same. Your Fourth Amendment right to privacy becomes much stronger when augmented by powerful encryption tools and bitcoin anonymization. Our tips on how to get empaneled on a jury—and information about how to nullify in the event that you are asked to deliberate about a crime committed under a law you consider unjust—go right to the heart of the due process rights and ideals embedded in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments.
By and large, speech about illicit activities is not and should not be prohibited. It's important for citizens to be able to stand just inside the legal boundaries that govern our behavior and interrogate why those lines look the way they do, who put them there, and why. And then to decide for ourselves whether occasionally crossing those lines is a virtuous act, a stupid risk, or both.
Most people spend most of their days well inside the legal green zone, working, driving, texting, and baking regular brownies. Reason salutes its legally vanilla readers. (Unless you try to put nuts in the brownies. That's just unacceptable.) Enjoy the vicarious thrill of this issue, or skip over the pullout completely. But quite a few of these helpful hints are usable by even the goodiest of two-shoes. A little extra security on your digital messaging is just plain prudent. There are a variety of innocuous reasons someone might need to get out of handcuffs. And who among us hasn't unpacked after international travel and found a forgotten contraband snack in his luggage?
Some people don't have the option of doing even those ordinary things. Ross Ulbricht, who is currently serving two concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole for his role in running the dark web marketplace Silk Road, is one of those people. In this issue we talk to his mother, Lyn Ulbricht, about his life on the inside. She told us he reads Reason and passes it around to his fellow inmates.
In fact, Reason has quite a few incarcerated subscribers and correspondents, whom we value a great deal. Which perhaps accounts for the fact that the magazine gets banned in prisons fairly often. The Arizona Department of Corrections, in particular, seems to have it out for us. Sure, every time we get a notice from them, it comes with a chunk of boilerplate promising that "all publications, including those that are part of a title or series, are reviewed on an individual basis, and rejection of one or several issues does not warrant rejection of subsequent issues unless those issues contain Unauthorized Content as defined in DO 914.07."
But ever since we published C.J. Ciaramella's cover story on "How Not to Build a Jail"—a thoughtful treatment of an issue that might be of rather significant interest to our incarcerated readers, natch—we've been getting quite a bit of email from the Office of Publication Review. (Hi Diane! Hi Randi!)
That cover story, Reason was told, "may be detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the institution." But others have been censored because they "encourage sexual or hostile behaviors" or pertain to the "sale, manufacture, concealment, or constructions of weapons."
Appeals sometimes get results. A recent ban was lifted at our request and redactions were offered instead. Censors blanked out a woodcut of a pot leaf and a paragraph of Lenore Skenazy's column about young teens landing on the sex offender registry, and suddenly we were fit for inmate consumption.
In August 2016, a Florida prison censor impounded an issue of Reason, claiming that the magazine "presents a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person." More specifically: "It depicts or describes procedures for the construction or use of weapons, ammunitions, bombs, chemical agents, or incendiary devices." That's an awfully dramatic way of describing a line drawing of an AR-15 as part of an infographic about gun accessory sales.
Our goal for this issue is not to encourage lawbreaking, or to pose a threat to anybody's security, good order, or discipline. (Be cool, guys. Don't get us in trouble.) But we consider it part of our job here at Reason to keep an eye on the frontiers of individual freedom. Some of them are expanding—a guide to homemade cannabis products will seem charmingly archaic in a few years if current trends continue—but in other places the state is encroaching, and a personal investment in holding the line on gun ownership, sexual freedom, and digital privacy could be the difference between victory and defeat.
But let me save the prison censors some trouble: You're probably going to want to go full Fahrenheit 451 on this month's magazine.
Don't forget to check out the rest of Reason's Burn After Reading content below, and SUBSCRIBE NOW to get future issues of Reason magazine delivered to your mailbox!
A beginner's guide to protecting your messages, masking online movements, and steering clear of digital snoops | Elizabeth Nolan Brown
Use software, not gadgets. | Declan McCullagh
What you do once you're there is up to you. | Mark Bennett
If you can't avoid getting into trouble, knowing how to get out of handcuffs can't hurt. | J.D. Tuccille
A guide to maintaining your own basic power, water, and supplies | J.D. Tuccille
I made antibiotic-resistant E. coli in my kitchen, and the world didn't end. | Ronald Bailey
Tips, tricks, and common sense to make hiring an escort a breeze | Maggie McNeill
Build a Glock 17 using parts from the internet | Mark McDaniel
Our video is awesome. But nothing in the First Amendment says YouTube has to run it.
His mother, Lyn Ulbricht, talks about her son's life in maximum security prison and their Supreme Court hopes for the Silk Road case. | Interview by Katherine Mangu-Ward
Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson