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By  , Source : the Guardian

Eric McGraw, editor of Inside Time, which now has a print circulation of 60,000 and several hundred thousand unique visitors to its website a month talks to the Guardian on 25 years at the helm of the independent prison newspaper he founded.Inside Time was born out of the 1990 riot at Strangeways prison in Manchester.Inside Time’s first editorial assistant was a prisoner called John Bowers.

founded Inside Time, the first national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales, a quarter of a century ago. He has edited the paper ever since. As he prepares to step down, we meet to discuss his editorship and his paper’s impact since 1990.

“Without doubt, the main thing we have achieved is to establish a place for the voice of the prisoner to be expressed and to be heard,” he says.

Inside Time was born out of the 1990 riot at Strangeways prison in Manchester. As director insidetimes.editorof the New Bridge Foundation, the charity co-founded by prison reformer Lord Longford to provide supportive links between prisoners and the community, McGraw attended the subsequent Woolf inquiry into the riot almost every day. “I was just listening and learning and straight away it occurred to me that one of the reasons this had happened was that the prisoners had no voice,” he recalls.

After the inquiry, he contacted the Prison Service and asked if it would be interested in him setting up a newspaper for prisoners, to which the answer was yes. But its funding came from charitable grant-giving trusts, ensuring Inside Time remained independent from the Prison Service.

At first the paper was put together in a very rudimentary manner. Article ideas came from letters from prisoners in contact with New Bridge and selected items of interest from mainstream papers and magazines. McGraw added some puzzles and stuck the whole lot down with sticky tape on to several sheets of A3 paper. The print shop manager of Kingston prison in Portsmouth agreed to print the paper, initially simply called Time, and the first 12,000 copies rolled off the press and were distributed to prisons, young offender institutions and special hospitals around the country.

The first issue carried a cover photograph of the rioters on the roof of Strangeways, causing one prison governor to ban Inside Time from his prison, and urge other governors to do the same. But this was counter productive. “When the POA (Prison Officers Association) banned the paper from one of their conferences – it did us a huge favour,” McGraw says. “Prisoners who had been sceptical of the paper at first [thinking it was a Prison Service contrivance], now eagerly welcomed it. The fact that prison officials were so against it gave it immediate acceptance and respect from the general prisoner population.”

More controversy followed when US weekly news magazine, Time, threatened to sue for breach of copyright on the title, so McGraw changed the name. “I thought they were joking at first,” he says. “Perhaps they thought we might steal a few of their readers.”

Born in Blyth, in Northumberland, McGraw, 70, was placed into care aged one and adopted aged two. His childhood became even more precarious when his adoptive parents separated when he was 12 and he was sent to a children’s home in North Wales. Only many years later, when the law changed so he could apply for his birth certificate, McGraw discovered he was born Derek Campbell. He met his mother for the first time aged 30, and discovered he had eight sisters and brothers, one of whom, his mother told him, “dabbled in politics”. It was another 30 years before he came across the MP for Blyth, Ronnie Campbell, while listening to questions in parliament. He looked him up and, sure enough, the MP was his brother. A letter to him led at last to a full and happy family reunion.

Was it this uncertain early life that attracted him to work supporting prisoners, many of whom have also experienced difficult family circumstances? “Perhaps it was, although to be honest most of what I’ve done in my career was never planned,” he replies.

Inside Time’s first editorial assistant was a prisoner called John Bowers. “John was really impressive. He wrote for us and, probably more importantly, he had great proofreading skills.” He chuckles as he recalls a letter from a prisoner asking if he could be sent “the English language version, please”. “That’s how badly we needed a proofreader.” After his release, Bowers never returned to prison and still proofreads the paper today.


Lord Longford’s daughter, novelist Rachel Billington, was recruited early as a co-editor and contributor. “She did a terrific interview with Tony Blair for us early on. He promised all sorts of remarkable things for prisons in that interview, but never really delivered.” Billington now writes a monthly column for the paper and sits on the board of trustees, alongside former Sunday Telegraph editor Trevor Grove and publisher John Roberts.

Initially, Inside Time comprised just eight pages, printed four times a year in black and white. It was a bold concept. As a prisoner, just six years into a life sentence at the time, I remember the storm that surrounded its introduction. As McGraw discovered, giving prisoners a source of shared information and a voice was for many in the system a radical idea. One prison I’d been in earlier had as good as banned The Guardian because, an officer told me, there was “too much stuff in there about prisons”.

Eventually, Inside Time became a monthly and for the past 12 years it has contained more than 50 colour pages. Today, it boasts a print circulation of 60,000 and several hundred thousand unique visitors to its website a month. One of the most popular sections is the Mailbag, which can sometimes run to nine pages. For anyone interested, the letters pages provide a pretty accurate measure of the temperature of the prison system as a whole at any time. Issues raised, such as homophobia in the prison system, euthanasia for life prisoners, and most recently sex offenders making children’s toys in prison workshops are often picked up by the national press. One tabloid refers to the paper as the “Lags Mag.” Terry Waite, the former hostage and hostage negotiator, is a columnist. So is Jonathan King, the music impresario jailed for seven years in 2001 on sexual abuse charges.

Another section, Jailbreak, makes for a balanced read of information and entertainment, although when a cartoon appeared depicting a bearded sneezing pig wearing a turban next to a satirical article suggesting that swine flu was the result of a failed plot by Osama Bin Laden to “eradicate every pig in Christendom”, the whole month’s issue had to be pulped and reprinted without the cartoon after complaints from Prison Service diversity officers. “We have to be sensitive to everyone in our prisons, but we also owe it to our readers to be challenging and honest,” says McGraw. “Inside Time is an inclusive paper – everyone in our prisons deserves to have their voice heard.”

Original Link to this story : http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/27/inside-time-newspaper-prisoners-independent-editor-eric-mcgraw