“Prisons Need Newspapers for the Same Reasons That the Public Needs Newspapers”: Interview with Juan Haines of San Quentin News

Pacific Standard

By Alissa Greenberg

Juan Haines is the kind of old-school editor who’s disappearing in American newsrooms. He talks to his reporters face to face. He keeps copious, handwritten notes in an orderly notebook. He’s hard-headed when he needs to be; soft and funny when that’s called for; a dogged reporter and a thoughtful proofreader. He’s intensely familiar with his reporters’ beats and the context in which they are working—and he should be. He’s eaten, slept, lived, and worked there for 23 years.

I met Haines the first time I visited San Quentin State Prison (where, full disclosure, I am a volunteer). He has worked in various editing positions at San Quentin News, one of the country’s only prison newspapers, for almost a decade. There, he helps produce a 20-page paper every month with only a few computers and no Internet access. The results reach 30,000 incarcerated and free subscribers across the United States.

Now Haines is spearheading a new project, Wall City, a magazine of prison culture. We sat down recently at San Quentin’s media center to talk about rehabilitation, press freedom, and what journalism can and can’t do for incarcerated readers.

Since you’re also a journalist, I thought we could start this together. If you were me, trying to set the scene, how would you describe it? And how would you describe yourself?

We’re in the San Quentin News office, nestled away in the back of the lower yard. You go through a heavy steel corrugated fence, then walk into this fairly large office. There’s double-screen computers, a big desk in the middle.

Continue reading.