News Literacy

Sending news behind bars

News Inside is a free print magazine specifically made for incarcerated people.

Sending news behind bars
Scripps News
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Lawrence Bartley has accomplished a lot: multiple degrees, a couple of kids — and he's the director of a national news publication. 

But on his way there, he served 27 years behind bars. 

"People in there, are just like people out here. They laugh, they cry, some people are very honorable, some people are dishonorable," said Bartley. 

But Bartley says one of the most startling differences between life before and after prison is access to information. 

"On the inside, there's no internet, there's no streaming, everything has to be approved," said Bartley. "We have old texts, antiquated stuff. It's akin to being a mechanic that can only work on a 1973 Buick, but then you get out in the free world, and they have Teslas. You feel inadequate." 

Bartley joined The Marshall Project when he was released in 2018. The Marshall Project is a grant and donation funded news publication specifically focused on criminal justice. It won a Pulitzer in 2021. 

As he was making his way through the articles online, he considered how much more helpful the information would've been before his release. 

"I knew that I wasn't able to get it because there was no news inside when I was on inside. But if I could create it, if I could curate all our articles, and package it in a way that prison administrators would accept it into the institutions, then I can be helpful to people who are still in. That's exactly what I did," said Bartley. 

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How do you make a news story? Here's our step-by-step process

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News Inside is a free print magazine specifically made for incarcerated people. 

In the four years since Lawrence Bartley printed his first magazine, he's managed to get it circulated in 44 states and more than a thousand prison facilities across the country. 

"People reach out to me saying 'I didn't know that I could vote in my state when I get out,'" said Bartley. "There are individuals who say 'I love this 'Case in Point' that you all publish. I used some of that language in order to move the court on my behalf on appeal.'" 

The magazine includes the Marshall Project's work, a peer-to-peer column and even a comic strip. 

"My father was in prison for a while, my brother was in prison for a while, it's very personal for me," said Ben Passmore.

Passmore is a professional cartoonist who works on News Inside's comic strip, "The Peeps." 

"What I see as my job is how to use the language of comics to really sort of show the sort of story that Lawrence is trying to tell," said Passmore. 

Bartley writes the comics himself and believes having alternatives to traditional print articles is especially important for the prison population

"I know that a lot of people have literacy issues. So, some people can get news through comic strips," said Bartley. "It always deals with real issues that incarcerated people face. And it always has a twist of humor." 

Prison Policy Initiative

According to the Prison Policy Initiative prisoners are far more likely to struggle with literacy

"I feel honored to make this, you know, silly little comic that that goes, that goes inside," said Passmore. 

The Marshall Project has plans to print News Inside in different languages and expand to all 50 states. 

"From being a young kid inside of a prison way north of the state, tucked into solitary confinement, which is a prison in the prison — to be where I am now is a humbling experience and a blessing that I do not take for granted," said Bartley.