According to the Associated Press in a recent report, more than 1,400 counties and towns across the US have lost their local newspaper outlet over the last 15 years. This outcome is tragic to those who read them… it brings the end of local journalists serving as watchdogs to public officials, no more profiling of local school sports and academic stars, no more written obituaries celebrating beloved townsfolk. As for my purposes in writing about this, it means no more connection to vital community information for incarcerated people…

I have a friend, Gary, that lives downstairs from me who’s 79 years old. Print media is his ONLY source of connection to the town he’s from, the town he hopes to return to. A sleepy little town in central Washington called Tonasket in Okanogan county. He gets the newspaper from his town, the Okanogan Gazette, and often shares stories about locals he can recognize, places he’s been and friends he’s lost.

Just today he shared a story about a renowned open air market that people travel from all over the state to visit. Its a story he read about recently. This simple newspaper has only a few pages and it’s columns are mostly human interest writings, but to Gary this is a piece of society he can touch and feel. It is his sense of belonging to the world beyond this prison. Its a source of emotion, of home. Its the only way he gets to know the heartbeat of his community.

The Okanogan Gazette profiles stories from Tonasket and is one of those things that helps Gary dream of getting through this sentence at his age and in his joy of reading about a friend’s grandchild making Eagle Scout, it makes Gary tear up. This small town print media may not be a treasure to a lot of people, but I couldn’t imagine Gary without this piece of his home. And its value as a resource is beyond words in the digital free world of prison. If these statistics reported by the AP continue to swell to news outlets like the Gazette, my friend Gary and many others risk losing so much more than just a newspaper. They lose themselves and their futures.

by Rory Andes

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