Stephen Newman

The RazorWire: Orofino’s Prison Newspaper by Stephen Newman

Today was my big day at the school. I planned to arrive at 7 AM, and work until 4 PM. I had some catching up to do on the RazorWire, our prison newspaper, of which I am editor-in-chief.

School was closed on Monday, January 15th, to commemorate Dr. King’s birthday. On Monday night, I saw the notification on channel 60, our internal “prison info” channel, that school would be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday for “restructuring”. This scared me a little, as it was reminiscent of the restructuring done at KFRC, the legendary rock radio station I worked at in San Francisco. I woke up one morning in 2006, expecting to hear the Moody Blues or perhaps Boston, but instead was treated to Snoop Dogg. KFRC was suddenly “Movin’ 99.7 — when the music feels good, YOU feel good”…whatever that means.

Fearing that the restructuring at the Robert Janss School here at the Orofino prison meant that there may be no more RazorWire upon my return, I spoke to one of the inmate teaching assistants, walking laps on the rec yard yesterday. He clarified that they are making changes to the computer networks but plannes to re-open Thursday (today).

I awoke at 5:15, which wasn’t easy, considering I stayed up late to watch Genie Bouchard hit a few tennis balls in the Australian Open. Her match started at midnight. Pulling from my college roommate’s mantra in 1992, “sleep’s for wussies,” I rallied and dragged my ass down off of my top bunk. I cleaned the cell — I was supposed to do it yesterday, and my cellmate is a bit anal retentive. I knew if I slacked off again today, I’d have to face his passive-aggressive verbal wrath, ie: “you didn’t have a chance to clean today yet?” So I got it done before 6 AM. I made some coffee. Ate the rest of my Maria’s Cookies. Got dressed and stood at the door, waiting for them to announce “General Movement,” our cue that it’s safe to exit our housing unit and proceed to our next stop. At 7:02, they announced it. At 7:03, another announcement came over the loudspeaker: “Attention in the institution: School will be closed today. The school is closed today.” And my Native American friend and chess partner, Travis, told me that he heard yesterday that the school is closed all week. It’s funny, because back in 1990, this would have been the greatest news of my life. But in 2018, I was frustrated. I have a due date. This newspaper has to get printed on March 1st. But prior to that it has to get approved by various staff members, to ensure I’m not filling inmates’ heads with propaganda. Because of this, I like to have the final draft saved in MS Publisher by the 23rd of the prior month. I’ll still be able to make it, but barely. I realize this isn’t the New Yorker, and that our total distribution is 140 copies, but I take pride in my work, damn it! I didn’t earn my A+ Student Pizza Party for being a slacker. Or as my former boss, Roger Allen once told me during a performance review, “I didn’t hire you because you sucked.” Poetic, though perhaps gramatically incorrect (or at the very least, gramatically confusing).

I don’t believe I have discussed the RazorWire here on Last year, a flyer was posted on our bulletin board: “Have you ever wanted to write for a publication? ICI-O is looking to create a prison newspaper.” A week later, seven misfits sat in a corner office of the school, as Mr. Manley passionately described his vision. A prison newspaper actually run like a real newspaper. With real news, about the things that matter to the prison population here. In the process, he would teach us Journalism — how to write headlines and leads, hard news versus soft news, the proper use of semicolons, how to stay objective by writing facts and not opinions (which I think is unfortunate because I love writing my opinions). In the five months since the inception of the RazorWire, I’ve become a much better news writer. Nobody will ever be able to say “Newman, you lazy fuck, you spent 10 years in prison and didn’t learn a damned thing.” Well, they could say it..but it would be untrue. And mean.

I’ve learned a lot in prison. I’ve learned about the value of family and friends. I’ve learned to not be judgemental of others (and of myself). I’ve learned how to make a really good cheesecake using mayo, honey, sugar cookies, and dollar store fake mozzarella cheese. I’ve learned that my low self-esteem, growing up, led to many of my problems in adulthood. I’ve learned how to make money in the stock market. I’ve learned how to talk about uncomfortable topics (as opposed to in the past, before prison, when I did everything possible to avoid conflict and sweep things under the rug). I’ve learned that true intimacy starts with mutual trust and respect. I’ve learned that I miss women…a lot. I’ve learned that if you think you need mental health help, but you’re too ashamed to seek it out, seek it out anyway and be ashamed. And cry and feel like an idiot or a loser or a pervert or whatever the case may be. (Trust me, shame and embarassment and humiliation is a hell of a lot better than ten years on a top bunk.) I’ve learned that lots of people in their 20s have no teeth (and full dentures). I never would have known that. I’ve learned a lot, but learning how to write for a newspaper is toward the top of my list. And it makes writing blogs all the more fun, because I get to throw all the newspaper rules out the window and just write whateverbthe hell I feel like. It’s freedom, baby!

Now, I just need to figure out something to do with my day. I have a few options. I can catch up on my magazines. I have Inc, Entrepreneur, and February’s Cosmo on my shelf. I could read more of “Orphan Train.” Or I could sit, as I’m doing now, and listen to my bunkmate give me his running commentary on the weather. “It’s supposed to rain til…like….Monday.”

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843


Categories: Stephen Newman

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