My recent series on how to make the most of Twitter for workers in the criminal justice system created a decent amount of interest among police, probation and legal staff but very little from those working in prison.

This is entirely unsurprising since people inside generally don’t have access to mobile phones or the internet.

So, if prison officers can’t access Twitter, how can a prisoner tweet – and do so regularly?

There was a fascinating recent article in @insidetimeuk by Matthew Whitehead and Andy Stanford-Clark on how they helped their friend Mark Alexander continue tweeting from behind prison bars.

Mark was convicted of the murder of his father in 2010 and is currently appealing against that conviction.

Before his conviction, Mark was an avid Tweeter and Matthew and Andy worked out a way for him to continue to use Twitter from inside in order to get support from his family and friends and to publicise his appeal.
How it’s done

Essentially, Matthew and Andy wrote software which subscribes to all the tweets sent to Mark’s account (@tap_ma) and compiles them into an email message.

These tweets are then sent to Mark using the emailaprisoner service which allows anyone to write to prisoners, when the email reaches the prison, it is printed out and passed on to the prisoner.

These emails are limited to 2,500 characters, but because Tweets are famously only 140 characters long, this equates to 15-20 messages at a time.

Twitter direct messages can also be passed on in the same way.

Unfortunately, the technology (for fairly obvious prison security reasons) only works one way.

So for Mark to reply to his tweets, he has to write a traditional letter which includes a series of Tweets which Matthew and Andy then type and post online.

In the article, Mark describes how even this snailmail version of Twitter makes him feel in much closer contact with his friends and more supported as he copes with prison life.

Necessity is truly the mother of invention.

You can follow emailaprisoner on Twitter: @prisontechnolog

You might also be interested in the only legal Blog by a serving prisoner: Ben’s Prison Blog

Many thanks to @prisonerfamily for the headsup on the Inside Time article.

This article was previously published on Russell Webster’s blog.