When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them the truth: I’m an outlaw. No, I’m not on the lam from police. An outlaw is someone who’s “excluded from the benefit or protection of the law.”
That’s how I feel after what I’ve experienced. I served more than six years in maximum security prison in Connecticut. I was sentenced for non-violent crimes that remain on appeal. I’ve been home from prison for over five years and I’ve learned how little the law benefits or protects any of us. That’s right. You’re an outlaw, too.
While I sweated out whether my convictions would be overturned, I became the first incarcerated person to have a regular column in a publication outside of the facility. The column, called Prison Diaries, ran in The New Haven Independent.
And then it got canceled. That’s probably not the best advertisement for someone who’s trying to become a regular part of your news diet, but the reason why it was canned is important. I touched too many nerves writing about how security personnel have an affinity for sex workers. That is, I wrote about how the prison guards knew the women in the facility who were convicted of prostitution. And they knew them too well, if you catch what I’m saying.
When I got out of prison, I released one of each of my unpublished Prison Diaries columns every week as a blog.
I write outside of Prison Diaries as well. And much of what I say riles up people of all political persuasions. I criticized Harvey Weinstein’s perp walk, which upset the #MeToo movement. I defend prison labor which has caused people to accuse me of supporting slavery (I don’t - that’s actually why I support prison labor). While I am not a Trump supporter, I’ve called out the press for attacking the president for hiring and befriending an ex-offender.
I did time. I’m not scared of any conflict.
Justice stories and issues abound in the news. Often, there’s more guilt in a criminal courtroom than just that levied against the defendant. How do we respond to what we think a person has done? Jail time? Treatment? Letting it go? What does that person need to do to be redeemed? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we do assure that redemption happens and the law protects all of us?
I’ll wager that many people reading this have wondered about these issues themselves; one in two of you have an immediate family member who was or is incarcerated. And I bet that many of you have been victims of crime. No matter which camp you fall into - maybe both - you probably have some stories and feelings about how the law has failed to protect you.
I want to hear them. Send me your stories, your complaints, your victories. Let’s discuss them here in the Outlaw column. The sooner we realize we’re all in this together, the better the law will protect us.
Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries and is the Vice President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.