Lawrence Bartley Creates Print Magazine To Bring The 'News Inside' Prisons
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Lawrence Bartley was 17 when he was convicted of second-degree murder. He spent the next 27 years in New York state prison until he was granted parole last year. Now he's on the staff of the news organization The Marshall Project. He has created a criminal-justice-focused print publication to distribute in prisons around the country. It's called News Inside. Lawrence Bartley, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
LAWRENCE BARTLEY: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: Before we dive into the publication, I want to ask about your own story. A year ago, you were in Sing Sing. Now you are in New York City working for a national media organization. What's that been like for you?
BARTLEY: It's absolutely mind-blowing, you know? Learning the hustle and bustle of the city and the train system and the technology has been a challenge at first. But I gave my mind towards conquering it, and I was able to do it, you know? And it feels good to be able to find my way around the city in the subway system...
BARTLEY: ...To go to work and go back home every day. So it's cool.
SHAPIRO: News Inside is still young, but it has already distributed to 30 prisons in 19 states. Why was it important to you not just to have writing about what happens behind bars but to get that writing behind bars to the inmates?
BARTLEY: Because, well, I know what it's like to want information and not have it. And I even know what it's like to not know what you don't know 'cause people on the inside - they go about their day in a program fashion, you know? The facility sets the time for them to go eat, for the time to go to school. And usually what they can read is very limited because some of the men make a little less - 10 cents an hour. So they can't afford to get a publication and buy soap at the same time.
SHAPIRO: There are a lot of different stories in your first issue about reducing recidivism, performing Shakespeare in prison, getting a Ph.D. on the inside. Was there one story in particular that you were really happy inmates would be able to read?
BARTLEY: One that comes to mind that I like is about virtual reality. There's juveniles that were sentenced to life without parole previously, but the Supreme Court changed all that. And one facility thought, now they are going to society; what we going to do with them? How we going to prepare them? So they came up with the idea of virtual reality goggles so they can see images of what it looks like to be on the outside. And it was - one gentleman who did the grocery store virtual reality video - when he took the headset off, he had tears streaming down his face. And the first thing out his mouth was, what else in the world has changed?
BARTLEY: Many men on the inside just wish they can just have a glimpse of what the outside is.
BARTLEY: And I thought it was important to bring that to them.
SHAPIRO: When you approach prison administrators and ask them to distribute this inside their facility, what has their reaction generally been? Is there resistance?
BARTLEY: Well, initially from some there was. I mean, here is this guy. He was formerly incarcerated. He comes out in less than a year, and he wants to bring material back in...
BARTLEY: ...You know?
SHAPIRO: They're like, what are you doing? What are you up to? Who does he think he is?
BARTLEY: What is he doing? Like, what's going on? You know, so being in there for so long - I was 17. I grew up on the inside. I learned to have dialogue with administrators and understand their positions of their jobs, like why security is so important to them. And then on the other end, I understand what it's like to be a human being incarcerated and want to have things that sometimes security may say no to.
So I figured I could create News Inside that understands that very delicate balance and then articulate it to the administrators that I reached out to to get this inside the facility in a way that they can understand. And I always guaranteed them they'll only find articles that inspire hope and articles that influence education and thinking outside of the box.
SHAPIRO: You've written that News Inside is your way of not forgetting the people who you left behind when you were released. Explain what you meant by that.
BARTLEY: I always say that there's people who become who they are on the inside. They develop into real-life human beings with hopes and dreams and their visions of the world, and they love each other. And they become family even more so than their family on the outside because a person haven't seen his mom, his aunt or uncle on a consistent basis for decades.
But yet a person sees his neighbor in a cell next door on a consistent basis. So bonds are developed. And when some of those individuals eventually go home, it's like losing a family member. Like, I would actually feel pain when someone would leave me. And sometimes some of the men would go in their cell, turn their lights off, and then they were crying tears because they're going to miss the person that was leaving. And when people left me, I always hoped that they wouldn't forget, that they would write me a letter so I can live vicariously through them and dream of what it's like to be free.
So I can't reach everyone in the country with a letter, but I could reach everyone through News Inside. I can curate a particular set of articles that I believe will speak to all those desires that everyone has and hopefully sate those desires in any way that I can.
SHAPIRO: Lawrence Bartley is a staff writer at The Marshall Project and creator of News Inside. Thanks so much for talking with us.
BARTLEY: Thank you, Ari. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.