Interview with Christopher Zoukis, co-author of ‘Directory of Federal Prisons’

Christopher ZoukisChristopher Zoukis is an impassioned advocate for prison education, a legal scholar, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and articles.  His articles on prison education and prison law appear frequently in Prison Legal News, and have been published in The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, and Midwest Book Review, among other national, regional, and specialty publications.

Mr. Zoukis is often quoted on matters concerning prison law, criminal law, prisoners’ rights, and prison education.  Recently, he was the focus of an article at Salon.com concerning America’s broken criminal justice system and potential solutions to the current crisis.

When not in the thick of the battle for prison reform, prison education, or prisoners’ rights advocacy, Mr. Zoukis can be found blogging at PrisonLawBlog.com, PrisonEducation.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com.

His latest book is The Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLaw.com’s Federal Bureau of Prison Facility Directory

Directory of Federal PrisonsCan you tell us what your book is about?

The Directory of Federal Prisons profiles every federal prison and contract private prison that houses federal prisoners.  It provides the official street address, email address, phone number, fax number, and inmate correspondence address for every such facility.  The Directory of Federal Prisons also provides brief character profiles of every prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  These profiles include their security level, inmate population number, federal judicial district, BOP region, the gender of the prisoners, and if there is an adjacent satellite prison camp.

Why did you write your book?

I wrote the Directory of Federal Prisons to help connect those outside of prison with those inside federal prison.  To date, there is no easy, inexpensive, quick-reference guide out there to this type of information.  Due to this, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of federal prisoners lose contact with their incarcerated loved ones, all due to the fact that they don’t know what address to write to them at.  This is a travesty.  The directory does its part to stop this breaking apart of families.

But there is another reason for the Directory of Federal Prisons.  For many years the Federal Bureau of Prisons has engaged in an informal practice of media blackout.  Their various public information officers and offices tend to tell journalists covering the prisons and criminal justice beats to file Freedom of Information Act requests for even the most basic information about their prisons.  This is a process which can take upwards of 9 months to receive a response through.  The directory helps to alleviate the need to request information from the Federal Bureau of Prisons by presenting basic profile information for every federal prison and private contract facility.

What kind of message is your book trying to tell your readers?

That just because the Federal Bureau of Prisons makes it challenging to stay in contact with incarcerated loved ones and friends, that this doesn’t have to be accepted.  It’s up to all of us in the prisoners’ rights arena to help connect families inside and outside of prison walls.  The Directory of Federal Prisons is our attempt at this.

Who influenced you to write your book?

I’m a regular contributing writer at both PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com.  A week does not go by when we don’t receive an email from someone who has lost contact with a federal prisoner and wants to reestablish communication, but doesn’t know how.  These countless mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children desiring to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones inspired me to write the Directory of Federal Prisons.  Going to prison is the punishment, restriction in many parts of life in prison is the punishment, but being denied access to your children and parents is not a proper punishment, but something more sinister.  I aim to put a stop to this final aspect.  I plan to help keep families together, a term of incarceration standing in the way or not.

Is it hard to publish a nonfiction book?

Absolutely.  But more challenging than publishing the book is researching and writing it.  I’ve been involved in several nonfiction book projects over the past few years.  The most challenging part has always been locating the research and finding intelligent manners of incorporating it.  I truly believe that a quality, worthwhile project will find a home.  At least, that has been my experience throughout the years.

Which author(s) do you admire?

Too many to list here.  The short list would be Jon Marc Taylor, Barbara Carole, William J. Stuntz, Deborah Harkness, Earnest Drucker, Mark Levine, Jeffrey Ian Ross, Stephen C. Richards, John Boston, Daniel E. Manville, Steve Weber, Gordon Burgett, Jean Trounstine, and many more.

Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

You know, I really don’t believe in writer’s block.  I believe in being tired, I believe in being unfocused, but not in a mental block.  Often, when I sit at my desk or my computer and I get stuck, I realize it’s because I either a) haven’t put in enough research or, b) my direction isn’t clear.  If I’m not certain what I’m trying to accomplish and who my audience is, then I fall into trouble.  If not, then I’m usually fine.  When I do get stuck, I try to work on another project until inspiration hits again.

What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

As with many other writers, I’d probably spend an extra hour reading a good book.  Fiction to be exact.  I don’t seem to have nearly as much time as I’d like for pleasure reading.

Which holiday is your favorite and why?

Probably Christmas.  I really get into the Christmas cheer.  Even within the Federal Bureau of Prisons gift bags are passed out.  So, while not a Christmas at home, it’s something different and more pleasant than most days in prison.

If we were to meet for lunch to talk books, where would we go?

I really, really like Starbucks.  I know that it’s somewhat corporate — and thus, not hip — but their coffee is great and their atmosphere is calm.  If not there, then a coffee shop within this great Barnes and Noble in Santa, Monica.  They have great coffee and are nice and quiet.

What do you like to do for fun?

I play a lot of Ultimate Frisbee in my prison’s recreation yard.  Yep, as the name the Directory of Federal Prisons indicates, I am currently incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  So, while there is not a ton of fun to be had, I find my release in my working out and playing prison Frisbee.  An odd mix, I know.  Outside of this, I really love to write.  I write blog posts, articles, books, and more.  It’s simply what I do.  Writing is part of my identity.

Can you tell us about your family?

In terms of my writing, my family — and friends alike — have been extremely supportive.  The life of a writer, and even more so, a social justice advocate, is not an easy life.  It is full of strife and long periods of intense work and study.  My friends and family have stood by me through this, especially my parents.  They understand the path I’ve undertaken, and provide all of the love and support that I require.  I couldn’t ask for anything more from them.  They help to keep me focused, on track, and productive.  In short, they help me, which then allows me to help others.

What do you like the most about being an author?

Being able to help others.  The platforms I’ve built at PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com have allowed me to really spread my wings and make a difference in the world around me, even while being incarcerated in a federal prison.  When books are added to this mix, my reach and potential for changing the world for the better is greatly expanded.

What kind of advice would you give other non-fiction authors?

Find a need and fulfill it.  Almost every topic has been covered before.  The key to being a successful non-fiction author is in figuring out how to cover a topic in a new way, and to fulfill the reader’s needs better than those who have come before.

 

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