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'This Book is Free, The Contributors are Not:' The Penal Press in Canada

Penal Press (Intro - The Communicator Volume 6 no. 1  1977)_0 (1).jpg

Cover of The Communicator, [1977].

This exhibition showcases, for the first time, the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies Library's extensive collection of the penal press - newsletters and publications authored, printed and distributed by individuals incarcerated within Canada's prisons and penitentiaries.

With a repository encompassing over 580 issues from thirty different titles, the Criminology Library's collection spans seven provinces, from Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia to Matsqui Federal Institution in BC, and four decades, from 1953 to 1993.  These primary source resources offer a valuable and rare chronicle of the lived carceral experience in Canada.

'This Book is Free, the Contributors are Not' embraces an intersectional approach, centred on elevating diverse voices and delving into lesser-known narratives. Through personalizing first-hand accounts, this exhibition delves into issues of prisoner mistreatment, censorship, the experiences of women, the development of activist Indigenous organizations, and unique 'inside' perspectives. Unflinching in its portrayal of challenging and uncomfortable truths, this exhibition strives to amplify the voices of prisoners, allowing them to tell their own stories.

Click on the menu to the right (or at the bottom of the page if on mobile) to navigate the exhibition. 

Content Advisory: Please note that the materials included in this exhibition contain statements, articles and images that may be upsetting or triggering. This includes graphic, direct and indirect descriptions of suicide and violence, outdated terminology, mental health struggles, discrimination, neglect, and mistreatment in penal institutions. Please take care when accessing these materials.

Explore the holdings of the Criminology Library on the map below. Zoom out to see all of Canada, and zoom in for locations with multiple pins. 


Illustration of an inmate at his desk, published in Contact, December 1965, pg. 30. 


This exhibition is curated and designed by Danielle Van Wagner with research assistance from Daniel Lee, Allyson Hernandez Carillo, and Jaydon Brown. 

The Collection of the Criminology Library