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Vocational Printing, and Art


Photograph of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary Print Shop, published in Pathfinder, September 1965, pg. 35

The physical quality of issues of the penal press runs the full spectrum,  ranging from professionally printed materials complete with reproduced photographs and silk-screen covers, to mimeographed typewritten articles accompanied by photocopied hand-drawn cartoons. This diversity in quality can be attributed primarily to financial constraints and, more significantly, the printing facilities available at the producing institution. 

According to the annual report of the Commissioner of Penitentiaries, the production of inmate publications fell under the category of 'hobbycraft'—a spare time activity predominantly undertaken by prisoners within their cells. Hobbycraft was unpaid and distinct from vocational, educational, or occupational training. However, in certain institutions, individuals engaged in vocational training, particularly those trained in print shops - including the areas of compositing, typesetting, and printing, contributed their skills and expertise to the production of their institution's publication. Consequently, publications such as Telescope (from Kingston Penitentiary) and Mountain Echoes (from Manitoba Penitentiary)—both housed in facilities equipped with vocational printing facilities—exhibited a more professional appearance. These establishments could incorporate reproduced photographs, lino and woodcuts, silk-screen printing, and, in the case of Mountain Echoes, professional engravings donated to them by the Winnipeg Tribune. Saskatchewan Penitentiary, publisher of Pathfinder, also had a print shop and their publication includes printed covers, reproduced photographs and engravings but with mimeographed text.  

The Diamond, published by the inmates of Collins Bay, is remarkably similar in look, size and style to Telescope. The reason for this is that it was actually sent across town to the Kingston Penitentiary to be printed. While Collins Bay had an extensive vocational training program, including mechanics, electrical, sheet metal, machine shop, masonry, plumbing, carpentry and welding, it did not have a print shop.


Cover image from Telescope, on vocational and academic training, January 1964. 

Printing on the Inside

Vocational training was a prominent topic of discussion in the early years of the penal press, serving dual purposes: demonstrating that prisoners were obtaining useful and transferable skills to their outsider subscriber base, and to inform fellow inmates in other institutions of available vocational opportunities. In the January 1964 issue of Telescope, author J.S.B provided readers with an overview of the academic and vocational offerings. He noted, "Kingston Penitentiary holds a doubtful and unenviable position among Ontario prisons. All changes of a radical nature are ruled out in Kingston, partly by the age and design of the prison and partly by the established practice of transferring the more reformable cases to lesser security institutions." The print shop had been a mainstay at the Kingston Penitentiary since 1898, likely due to large scale government contracts and the long training period for these particular professions that correlates well with long sentences. Regarding the print shop, J.S.B observed, “In the Print Shop there are opportunities for acquiring skills in three distinct trades. Considerable time is required to train a finished compositor or a linotyper. Somewhat less time on-the-job training will turn out a highly skilled pressman." The skills honed in the print shop were deemed more adaptable to external employment compared to other vocational workshops, such as the sewing of mail bags—a significant industry within Canadian penitentiaries. 

Mr. Cook, the print shop instructor interviewed in Telescope, reported that he "has turned out twenty or more skilled men ... thirteen to fifteen are still employed in the printing trade [outside]."


Image for "The Shop Tour," published in Pathfinder, September 1965, pg. 35

Similarly, Pathfinder, at the Saskatchewan Penitentiaryincluded an ongoing series of articles in the shops and vocational training available, called "The Shop Tour." For the September/October 1965 issue, they took their readers on a tour of the print shop summarizing the skills, training and job potential. Similar to the Kingston print shop, the Saskatchewan print shop printed all the stationary needs for the penitentiary, as well as all penitentiaries in BC, Alberta and Manitoba. "We also do custom printing for the John Howard Society, Department of Natural resources, Salvation Army and other approved organizations." Interviewing the print shop instructor, he spoke highly of the work, "our work is comparable and, in some cases, better than work produced by job shops outside the penitentiary."

In June 1967, The Telescope introduced a drastic new look, a completely mimeographed issue with no photographs, engravings or prints. “We were informed last November at the Annual Warden’s Conference it was decided all Canadian penal magazines were to be mimeographed. Warden H.F Smith told us that since there are only two print shops operating in Federal Penitentiaries in this country, and a fast-growing number of penal magazine editors who wanted to get their mimeographed books printed, it was decided not to allow any to be printed from then on." The tone of the article is terse, "those who accused us of becoming too professional, of printing too many pictures, of having too many pages, and even of having too many subscribers now can be happy.” This change proved to be the death knell for Telescope. The Criminology Library seemingly cancelled their subscription, it holds only three mimeographed issues - June, July and August 1967. Telescope would cease publication entirely in 1968. 


Cover of The Outlook, April 1976.

The second generation of penal press publications that began in the 1970s never returned to the style of professional printing and remained mimeographed, photocopied, or in the case of issues of Tightwire from the 1990s, computer processed. However, certain titles, including Tarpaper (Matsqui Federal Institution), Outlook (Warkworth Institution) and The Advance (Joyceville Institution) joined earlier publications, such as Horizons (Centre Federal de Formation) and Contact (Institution Leclerc,) in the production of silkscreen covers. Outlook debuted their first silkscreen cover in April 1976 with the disclaimer, "[we] would like to beg your indulgence for the poor quality of our new front cover. We are in the process of learning a new silk-screening technik that we hope in the future will produce a permanent professional front-cover for the magazine."


Notice regarding the cover, published in Tarpaper, September 1973, pg. 1

Art and Silk Screen Covers

Silk screening, which requires only stencils, a mesh screen, ink and a squeegee, made for an ideal art technique for those behind bars. However, as indicated by the notice provided by Tarpaper for their first silk screen cover, "it is tedious and time consuming," as each colour needs to be added by hand separately.  The Criminology Library's May 1956 issue of Horizons provides some insight into their silk-screening process, when they included a discarded print of the first run of their cover on the backcover. This particular cover would have needed to be inked five times, once for each colour. The draft below shows the result of the first round using only grey. This was quite an accomplishment, as some penal press publications had upwards of 400 subscribers, in addition to sending copies to other prisons and penitentiaries. Contact, the only full bilingual publication, printed their cover twice for each issue, once for the English side and once for the French side. 

Click through below to explore some of the silk-screen covers held in the Criminology Library's collection. 

Vocational Printing, and Art