The Perils of Prison Magazine Subscriptions by Stephen Newman

When asked what the biggest challenge is about daily life in prison, some might say keeping out of fights, getting along with cellmates, being away from women (I agree, this one sucks really bad!!), dealing with the boredom or loneliness, or feeling abandoned by the people we once thought cared about us. Few, if any, would answer: “getting the magazines I ordered.” But in reality, magazine subscriptions are a force to be reckoned with while in prison. It’s much more complicated than you might think.

Step 1: Find a print magazine that is still in business

Every year, more and more magazines go out of business. Or they have an online only version (which does us no good in here.). Print magazines have gone the way of the electric typewriter — great for inmates, impractical for most everyone else.

Most magazines used to be published monthly. Nowadays, most are published just 6 times a year, and many are only published every 3 months.

Step 2: If the magazine you want still exists in print, think about whether it will go out of business midway through your subscription.

It’s often pretty humorous when you get a letter saying, “We at Caribbean travel and Life magazine have shut our doors after 11 great years. However, we have transferred your subscription to Yachting magazine. We are confident you will love it!” Oh, really now? Just how confident are you, Mr. Form Letter?

Step 3:
Decide which company to place your order through.

This used to be much more complicated. Five years ago, dozens of companies sold discount magazine subscriptions to inmates. There was Garden State Periodicals out of New Jersey, Discount Magazine Service out of Utah, and a gaggle of others who have since gone out of business. Now, only two big players remain. They have similar names, but vastly different levels of customer service.

Inmate Magazine Service from Florida, aka IMS, is the lowest priced service around. You can get 6 subscriptions for $26.99. The downside — they have no customer service and it takes almost a year for your subscriptions to start. I ordered from them in April, 2017. It’s almost March, 2018, and I still haven’t received an order confirmation nor any replies to my numerous letters over the past year. I did finally begin receiving my subscriptions, though. A definite case of “You get what you pay for.”, out of Seattle, is the company I now use for all my magazine needs. They are more expensive, but their service is excellent and their shipping is fast. To me, it’s worth the extra money. Plus, they offer some really cool single issue magazines, often from overseas.

Step 4: Try to figure out why your magazine got confiscated by the mailroom.

Did your Maxim have an explicit article about sex? Did your Bloomberg Business Week have an article about the medical marijuana industry? Can you see part of a model’s nipple in one of the fashion ads? These are all reasons your magazine might never make it to you.

Step 5: Fill out a concern form to the mailroom officer, followed by a grievance, stating policy about what “sexually explicit” is defined as in the rulebook. This might look something like this:

Dear Mailroom,
On February 28th, you confiscated my Weight Watchers magazine, claiming there was sexually explicit material on page 83. You wrote in the confiscation sheet, “nipple was showing.” I happen to know from prior weight watchers magazines that there is sometimes an ad for Low calorie pasta, and you can see a tiny bit of the side of the areola of the brown-haired woman in the ad. IDOC policy clearly states that only a nipple, not an areola, counts as sexually explicit materials. I would request that you please let me have this magazine as it doesn’t violate any policies.”

Then you wait for weeks, and get a denial. By then, the next issue may have alreadg arrived.

Step 6: If you do get the magazine, check immediately to see if your cologne and perfume sample strips are still intact. Many inmates buy magazines solely for the cologne strips, as they rub them on their clothes prior to a visit, or rub perfume on their pillow and imagine it’s a girl. Lately, mailroom officers have concluded that we aren’t entitled to cologne strips, so they rip them out and discard them.

Step 7:
If your address changes, you are out of luck.

Ok, this isn’t really a step. It’s just a statement. Each magazine lists an address, in fine print, of where you can write to change your address. It can be quickly changed online (but we don’t have internet access) or it can be changed by calling the 800 or 888 customer service number (but calls to those numbers aren’t allowed from prisons). So, we are stuck sending snail mail to the address in fine print. The problem is that these addresses are often invalid. The editor never checks to see if the fine print snail mail address is accurate. One magazine company, either Hearst or Bonnier, has been publishing an address that has been out of service for over three years. The fact is, nobody will ever process your address change via snail mail. Even if the po box is still active, any envelope that doesn’t contain a check or money order will be discarded.

Sure, you could pay a prison services company, like Help From Outside, to go online and submit the address change for you. But at $30 per hour, it would often be cheaper just to buy a whole new subscription. Seems silly to pay $7.50 to update an address for a subscription that only cost $6.99.

My advice: stick to more expensive niche magazines with a smaller readership. Things like Writer’s Digest, Bookmarks, or Lonely Planet. These likely won’t have cologne samples, and will be less likely to contain a stray areola on page 93.

Good luck, and happy reading!

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843


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