The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Relationships presented in One-Way Correspondence

Term Paper, 2015

13 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

l. Introduction

2. The author: George Jackson - a short biography

3. Letter writing in prison - social and scholastic relevance

4. Analysis
4.1 Data
4.2 General structure
4.3 Letters to his parents
4.4 Letters to his friends and comrades

5. Conclusions

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In this term paper I will analyse a corpus ofletters George Jackson wrote whilst his time in San Quentin State Prison and Soledad Prison and which have been published in an edited collection entitled Soledad Brother in 1970. I will compare some example-letters to different addressees at different times and work out some striking formal and stylistic similarities and differences. I will focus on the general structure as well as on particular aspects of Jackson’s writings in order to work out the presentation of the relationships to the addressees on the basis of a one-way correspondence corpus.

2. The author: George Jackson - a short biography

George Jackson, born in Chicago, Illinois, was an African-American left-wing activist and author (see Murrin et al. 1136). After committing several juvenile convictions (see Cummins 155) , he was sentenced to serve one year to life in prison for robbing $70 from a gas station in 1961 when he was 18 years old (see Berger). He became involved in revolutionary activity during his first years in Saint Quentin State Prison in San Francisco, California. Thus, Jackson’s incarceration was continued to an indeterminate sentence (see Cummins, 156). He used his time in solitary confinement to study political economy and also wrote many letters to his family, friends and supporters which were later edited and published (ibid 157). In January 1969, Jackson was transferred to Soledad Prison in Soledad, California, were he died in an unsuccessful escape attemptwith fellow inmates in 1971 (Andrews 158).

3. Letter writing in prison - social and scholastic relevance

People who are socially isolated may see letter writing as “one of the only channels available for contact with others” (Maybin 151). In the case of imprisoned criminals, this social isolation may reach its most extreme form, as they could be locked down for up to 24 hours a day.

Letter writing may take a central role in prisoners’ lives, as their access to the telephone is limited and they receive few, if any, visits from their friends and family (see Maybin 151). Thus many people who spent their lives or part of them in prison become very productive, as writing does not only give them the opportunity of keeping and building up social contacts to the outer world but it is also used as a way to concentrate their creativity as well as to deal with the reality of being locked up for years. Therefore, some individuals might even try to improve their style of writing and even write articles or books (see ibid 157).

There are not only a few cases in which the writings of prisoners gain popularity, either because of their political relevance, as in the case of George Jackson, or the popularity of their author. This gives literary scholars as well as linguists the access to a vast collection of Data for the analysis of prisoners’ writings. For the least, the work on correspondence, notebooks or diaries could be classified as most productive for the analysis of linguistic phenomena. Angel Rodriguez Gallardo for example uses letters as well as diaries and manuscripts for his discourse analysis of prison writings during the Spanish civil war (see Gallardo 2 f.). But it also challenges the analyst in a way that he has to consider the relevance of particular sources for their area of research. De Rycker for example critiques the relevance of letter collections of famous people for the analysis of natural private correspondence (De Rycker 621). In his opinion, these writings are “removed from the give-and-take of real correspondence” (ibid 622). As De Rycker’s critiques only refers to the data’s relevance for the work on turn-taking in correspondence I will not consider it into my implementations as I am only looking at one-way-correspondence and turn-taking is not one of the core-elements of my analysis.

4. Analysis

4.1 Data

For this essay I closely analysed a corpus of 24 letters out of Jackson’s collection, 14 addressed to his parents and 10 addressed to friends and comrades, observing and interpreting the general structure of the letters as well as some specific aspects of Jackson’s writings. Talking about the general structure of the letters I took a closer look at the length of the letters and the formulas used in order to work out the differences or similarities and some implications of the usage of particular structures.

4.2 General structure and style

The general structure of all of Jackson’s letters can be described as following: A greeting and a subject line, referring to preceding letters as well as including introducing formulas, are followed by the main body of the letter which leads to the closing. Sometimes, he adds a request or demand before the closing. This is a common letter structure which has been practised since the early twelfth century (see Murphy 1971, 224-225 in Richardson 56).

As an obvious feature of every letter one can mention the length of the writings and their well structured paragraphs. As Anita Wilson pointed out in her essay “Visuality and Prisoner’s Letters” (1999), it is a common feature of prisoner’s writings to be “inordinate” long (194). Prisoners tend to extremely personalize their letters and often mirror the excesses of their live locked up in their writings (ibid). These excesses could be expressed by concentrated writing in few paragraphs in order not to “waste good writing space” as well as by the use of “emotional poetry, excessive language and [...] decoration” (ibid). As Jackson had access to a typewriter and the purchase of paper was “[not] too much of a problem” (Jackson 77), he was able to write very long letters and in one case, he even took several days for the making of a letter (ibid 214-228). I can only speculate if he made prescripts of his letters by hand to simplify the production of his letters, but this would be a logical way of dealing with the mass of ideas and expressions he often refers to as “the things he is working on” (ibid 37) or “[his] work” (ibid 123). On the other hand, he avoids the excessive use of poetry as well as “decorative ornamentation” (Wilson 194). This could be explained by his possess of a typewriter, which made the use of handwriting unnecessary and gave Jackson the possibility of a rather effective production. There is one case in which Jackson has no access to his typewriter due to repairs (Jackson 91). At this point, he decided to write a letter by hand. This letter is obviously shorter than most of the others and contains only a few short paragraphs in which he seems to be referring to foregoing letters from his Mother and demands information about some ofhis family members (ibid).

Jackson’s language style remains consistent in most of the letters, dominated by long sentences mostly referring to his own feelings, needs and experiences. This could be seen as a way of impoliteness, referring to the Culpeper’s impoliteness strategies (Culpeper 1996 in O’Keefe et al. 72). By predominantly expressing his personal feelings, needs and experiences, Jackson intentionally or unintentionally makes use of two positive impoliteness strategies: First, he "ignores [or better] fails to acknowledge the other[...] [participants] presence" and further, he indirectly excludes them from the correspondence (ibid) in many cases.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Relationships presented in One-Way Correspondence
University of Duisburg-Essen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
George Jackson, Correspondence, Interpersonal Communication
Quote paper
Fabian Frölich (Author), 2015, The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Relationships presented in One-Way Correspondence, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Relationships presented in One-Way Correspondence

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free