The Longest Bard: How a writer made it from his desk to the inside of a prison

By Jesse Mandell-McClinton.

The first step I took towards landing an interview with an inmate was learning about the environment I was headed into. Obviously a prison atmosphere can only be sniffed at with words and images, but these two articles from The New Yorker and Esquire gave me a couple decent looks into modern America’s prison system. Personally, the movie Capote gave me a good idea of how confident and determined I hoped to be.

The next step required me to take an active approach towards my goal of interviewing an inmate. Luckily, my editor’s father had spent decades working in corrections, which led to a direct line to the Department of Corrections’ Director of Communications. He explained that I couldn’t make a general inquiry for an interview because the DOC only processes those requests for specific inmates. Luckily he did agree to hook me with up with Amicus, an organization that leads small group discussions among inmates in prison.

From there, I was able to negotiate my way into sitting in on a session to talk with a couple participants…until a prison representative called me four hours before the meeting to block that plan on behalf of the group’s intentions, without their knowledge. I was not left empty-handed however as the representative agreed to set up an interview with two inmates at their choosing. Although this seemed suspect, I was finally able to conduct the interview, and surprisingly did so without any kind supervision or a request to review my recordings from the discussion. After being spun around the rolodex of incarceration, I landed at a table with two men who were able to share a story few are allowed to hear.

Read Jesse’s full story, Doing Time.