College Studies from Prison: How I Draft My College Papers Using The Federal Bureau of Prisons' TRULINCS Computers

By Christopher Zoukis

Federal prisoners do not have access to word processors.  Instead, we have access to typewriters and Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS) computers which allow us to draft electronic messages -- like emails, but not exactly the same -- which we can send to approved contacts.  Since word processors are so handy when drafting and revising text, I often utilize the TRULINCS electronic messaging system as the next best thing to write my school papers.  By adhering to the six following steps, I can use the TRULINCS electronic messaging system to draft quality school papers.

Step one is to merely draft an electronic message containing the school paper.  I do so by logging into a TRULINCS computer in my housing unit, selecting the "Public Messaging" option, and selecting the "Draft" icon.  This allows me to draft an electronic message.  Once in the new message file, I can draft as I see fit, though this is done within the system parameters.  Two such parameters concern length of the message and time spent within the electronic messaging folio.  Messages are allowed to be a maximum of 13,000 characters and prisoners are only allowed to spend 30 minutes at a time in the public messaging folio.  As such, if I want to write a longer article or essay, I have to use multiple electronic message files.  Also, if I draft for longer periods of time, I have to log on to work, log off for the requisite 30 minute period, and log back on.  It can be expensive: using the service costs five cents a minute.

Step two is to proof and revise the electronic message.  After I have the first draft down, I then go back through it a few more times looking first for content and structure, then for consistency, spelling, and grammar.  The final run through is a mere proofread for errors and typos.  There is also a handy spell check function, though it's most certainly not as effective or thorough as the Microsoft Word one, which is a staple of most writer's work.

Step three is to print the draft electronic message.  This can easily be accomplished by selecting the message file and clicking on the print icon.  Then, I have to wait until I can get up to the Law Library, where the print stations are located.  Once up there, I again log in to the TRULINCS computer system, select the item to print, pay for the print, and retrieve the printed pages.

Step four actually doesn't even involve a computer.  This is when I retype the article on an electronic typewriter.  This step is necessary since the printed electronic message comes out looking like an email, not in the proper format for a school paper.  This requires the purchase of a typewriter ribbon, correction tape, typing wheel, and paper.  It also requires time spent in the Law Library to type the paper.

Step five concerns proofing the typed and formatted paper.  This stage involves the use of a ruler to ensure that my margins are correct, reading back through the typewritten text to ensure that there are no typos, and ensuring that the proper labels are at the top right hand of every page.  I also make copies of the work prior to submission.

The final step is to mail out the school paper to my professor for him or her to grade.  This involves a whole other series of protocols since envelopes and stamps must be purchased from the commissary, a mailing label must be sent to print from my housing unit's TRULINCS computer terminals, and the label must then be printed in the Law Library through the TRULINCS printing station located therein.  While not exactly a fun or enthralling process to endure, it is required and worth the effort.

While it is not easy to write a school paper using the TRULINCS computers, being able to revise on a system which somewhat acts like a word processor is worth the headaches.  Being able to go back through the text to revise within existing paragraphs and being able to make as many edits as I want on the electronic version of the text really is a windfall to the paper writing process.  This certainly makes up for having to log on and off every 30 minutes, pay the five cents per minute fee, and deal with all of the other steps involved.  In a word, it comes down to quality.  The use of the TRULINCS computers improves the quality of the work.  And that is what it is all about for me, and my professors, too.