A Letter from Atwater Federal Prison

Those in the self-obsessed world of journalism Twitter certainly know, or know of Matthew Keys.

Perhaps never asleep, Keys was once employed by Reuters working in social media. Without retelling the story in too much detail, Keys was fired for “providing the hacking group Anonymous with a user name and password to log in to computers owned by the Tribune Company, parent company of The [Los Angeles] Times.”

Between when he was fired and when he was sentenced to a two-year term in federal prison for hacking charges, Keys ran an extremely active Twitter empire and a website called “The Feed.” Readers should of course decide whether the degree of punishment doled out to Keys was too lenient, too harsh, or just right, but the crime committed by Keys doesn’t negate the fact that his social media work was very useful to journalists and news junkies.

During the Ferguson riots, The Feed helped keep me up to date, as my wife’s family hails from Ferguson.

When I saw the news of Keys’s sentencing and subsequent arrival at Atwater Federal Prison, I decided to send him some reading material and a very brief note. (It was a copy of The Weekly Standard and a copy of Reason, which I had sitting on my desk.)

I don’t know Keys, nor have I met him personally, but we interacted on Twitter over the years and I knew how… addicted he was to it all. The Internet is a hard drug to quit cold turkey, like any drug is. I just figured that, even if not known for being a right winger, he’d appreciate any news and reading material. Coincidentally, our cover story was on the California high speed rail project not too far from where he is currently housed.

To my surprise, Keys wrote me a very nice letter back, thanking me for the reading material. And, I was right. He really misses the Internet.

I thought I might share an excerpt from his letter that those who know of him might find interesting:

I never realized how much I’d miss interacting online—particularly on social media—until I was forced to go without. Although it seems so inconsequential, lack of online access is just one of the many resources that could prepare inmates here for success in their lives and communities beyond their sentences. We really have few resources here to prepare for life beyond prison—for people with short sentences (or hopes through community pressures and/or the appellate process, as I have), this may not be a huge obstacle. For others—well, it’s no wonder the recidivism rate is high. They don’t call it the ‘prison industry’ for nothing.

Hopefully I’ll be able to publish some thoughts and experiences from here. Maybe it’ll make some difference.

Not to say those serving time in prison deserve the right to access to, say, Twitter from prison, but the current access is indeed lacking. Those without willing friends on the outside even pay a woman to run their social media accounts for them while they’re in prison.

Bureaucratically, I suspect the beginnings of a system would likely spiral into a litigious pro se tornado of lawsuits. (Why can’t I look at/access ______?) Perhaps it’s inevitable, as more and more Millennials head to the #BigHouse, that it’ll be a debate our electeds and courts will have to have.

 

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