Local Journalist Heroes: Arthur Longworth
This Q&A is part of Local Heroes: Journalists Covering COVID-19, PEN America’s series spotlighting local journalists across the country in celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2020, elevating the importance of a free, vibrant, and inclusive press.
Name: Arthur Longworth
Outlet: Independent journalist
City: Monroe, WA — Washington State Reformatory
What do you think is missing from the media’s coverage of how the coronavirus is affecting incarcerated individuals?
The media focus on how coronavirus is affecting non-incarcerated individuals centers on how hospitals outside prison are dealing with this population. However, the media is missing the story of how incapable prison medical services are of treating infected prisoners or carrying out testing. I’m in a prison where the medical director was fired last year for negligence, and 10 deaths in the medical services department are currently under investigation.
“The biggest threat to incarcerated writers covering COVID-19 in prison is retaliation by prison officials, often meted out in the form of long-term solitary confinement. It’s ironic because that’s also what they do to anyone in here who tests positive or shows symptoms of the virus.”
What do you consider to be the biggest threats to the speech rights of reporters covering COVID-19 within prisons and of incarcerated writers, reporters, and sources?
The biggest threat to incarcerated writers covering COVID-19 in prison is retaliation by prison officials, often meted out in the form of long-term solitary confinement. It’s ironic because that’s also what they do to anyone in here who tests positive or shows symptoms of the virus.
As many newsrooms turn the bulk of their focus to COVID-19, they will lose the capacity to do much of the vital watchdog, accountability, and solutions journalism they normally do. What is one story you fear may be eclipsed by the media’s focus on COVID-19?
The story that I fear will be eclipsed by coronavirus is the inhumane conditions in private for-profit immigrant detention facilities and the gross over-reliance on incarceration of the criminal justice system in the United States.
What books, poems, or other creative media have you been turning to for comfort or inspiration?
Isabel Allende, of course. In particular, El amante japonés. Enduring love can be born from crisis—we’ll get through this.
About Arthur Longworth
Arthur Longworth is a contributing writer with The Marshall Project, a 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee, a six-time PEN America Prison Writing Award winner, and a 2019–2020 PEN America Writing For Justice Fellow. He has written for Medium, VICE News, and Yes! Magazine. His work has been presented onstage by renowned literary figures Francine Prose, Junot Diaz, and rapper/poet Talib Kweli. He is the author of Zek: An American Prison Story (Gabalfa Press, 2016).
Longworth didn’t always write. He grew up in the foster care system. That is to say, Washington State raised him in its archipelago of infamous boys’ homes, including one the Seattle Time’s dubbed a “house of horrors.” The State turned him out onto the streets at 16 years old without an education, job training, or money. He has a life without parole sentence and has been incarcerated for 35 years.