Christopher Zoukis, an award-winning incarcerated writer, is the author of the newly released Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. Today, he sits down to answer questions about his most recent release, the Federal Prison Handbook, a definitive guide to help individuals facing incarceration, prisoners who are already inside, and their friends and family learn everything they need to know to protect themselves and their rights.
What led you to write the Federal Prison Handbook?
The genesis of the Federal Prison Handbook is actually about a decade old. I suffered a deep feeling of foreboding and fear of the unknown while I sat in a county jail and wondered what was to come. Having no experience with the criminal justice system led me to yearn for information. I soon discovered that accurate information about the federal prison system is in short supply. So I decided to write this book.
How does your book ease these fears?
The fear here is really one of the unknown – and it is shared by family members of the incarcerated. My objective was to write a book that would provide an informational foundation for those inexperienced in federal prison life. This way, when they finally enter federal prison, they have what they need in order to make smart choices the first time around. This is particularly important in prison because small mistakes can have significant and lasting consequences.
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
My primarily goal is to provide a solid foundation of accurate information. There is too much bad, incorrect information out there. With this comprehensive work, I hope to become the go-to source for trustworthy information on federal imprisonment. This, I feel, will help not only soon-to-be and current federal prisoners, but their families and friends, too.
I also hope to help current prisoners and their attorneys better understand the federal policies and regulations that govern the federal prison experience. Again, there is too much bad information out there. With my Federal Prison Handbook in hand, prisoners and their counsel will not only understand what the practice is, but also what the rules and regulations are. This will enable prisoners to advocate on their own behalf and attorneys to advocate on their incarcerated client’s behalf.
Writing from prison has to be challenging. What types of obstacles did you have to overcome?
Writing from prison is hard. In here — a medium security federal prison — we don’t have access to true word processors, the internet or many research avenues. As such, each of these obstacles must be overcome.
I overcame the need for a word processor by relying on my prison typewriter and a monitored email system that federal inmates may access. I overcame my lack of access to the internet by relying on dedicated friends who field research inquiries for me and mail me reams of online print-offs. And I was able to overcome the obstacles to research by relying heavily on my friends to search online for me, along with many months of research in my prison’s law library.
What any successful prisoner will tell you is that where there are obstacles, you have to find routes around them. Much of the work that prison writers, and jailhouse lawyers for that matter, engage in consists primarily of complex problem solving. You learn this well from inside the belly of the beast.
Outside of this book, you’ve accomplished a lot educationally and professionally. What all have you managed to achieve from federal prison?
There is always something to work on. My guiding principle has always been: What can I do today to make tomorrow the day that I want it to be? In January I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (business administration/legal studies) from Adams State University. I’m now hard at work on my MBA, also from ASU. I hope to finish this program right before my release from custody.
Professionally, I write for The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, and the New York Daily News. I also founded and regularly contribute to PrisonerResource.com, PrisonEducation.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com. My blogging is actually quite a point of pride as my Prison Law Blog was named a 2016 Top 100 Law Blawg by the American Bar Association. I was humbled by their nod.
What do you plan to do upon your release from custody?
I should be releasing to a halfway house in Charleston, South Carolina in early 2018. After completing my stay, I plan on founding a prison consulting firm and also attending law school in order to become a federal criminal defense attorney. Of course, I hope to spend some time with my family, first. I’ve been gone since I was 20. I’ve missed a lot this last decade. I’d like to try to make up for lost time as best I can.
How can readers learn more about your books and your work?
Readers can learn more about my work by visiting the above mentioned web sites. If you or a loved one are interested in information on the Federal Bureau of Prisons, then feel free to check out my Federal Prison Handbook. Likewise, if you or a loved one are interested in learning how to engage in college correspondence classes from prison, then picking up a copy of my Prison Education Guide is a great place to start your search.