[Plura-list] Prisoners' Inventions

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Jun 9 13:27:07 EDT 2021

Today's links

* Prisoners' Inventions: The unmissable new edition of a maker classic
for a carceral nation.

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🕵️ Prisoners' Inventions

2003's PRISONERS INVENTIONS is an underground classic, a high-stakes
precursor to MAKE Magazine, combining ingenuity, adversarial
interoperability, and user-centered design. After 13 years out of print,
Half Letter Press published a new, expanded edition.


Prisoners' Inventions was created by Angelo, a pseudonymous,
long-serving incarcerated American who entered into a collaboration with
the Temporary Services collective, who both published Angelo's work and
staged multiple gallery showings of his work.

For these shows, museum workers followed Angelo's finely drafted,
detailed drawings and notes to recreate the inventions he'd documented,
recreating his cell from the floorplans and elevations he'd supplied.

The new edition documents these showings, and the absurd ways that
Angelo experienced them - for example, when a guard discovered a
postcard with a recreation of Angelo's cell, he was convinced that this
was evidence that someone had smuggled a digital camera into the prison.

So realistic was the reproduction - so precise and faithful were
Angelo's plans - that the warden took extensive persuading to be
convinced that the digital camera theory was a paranoid guard's fantasy.

The anaecdote illustrates the core attraction of PRISONERS' INVENTIONS:
not just that Angelo has a fine, expressive draftsman's hand, nor that
his accompanying text makes for an economical, shrewdly observed
ethnography of the tools and their users.

But rather that this ingenuity is an act of survival and resistance,
created under harsh conditions where each inventor must create the tools
to fashion the tools - under adversarial conditions where all-powerful
enemies can smash everything and set the makers back to zero.

In some regards, it's like a for-real version of those neo-neolithic
Youtubers who show how to bootstrap advanced tooling from raw materials.
In others, it's a physical version of the beloved first-person accounts
of daring feats recounted in the pages of 2600.

This is true adversarial interoperability - treating the environment as
a puzzle and a challenge, to be deconstructed and reconfigured by
toolsmiths for their users' benefit, overcoming both user-hostile
designs and policing by the original designers' armed enforcers.

Reading Angelo's accounts of his fellow toolsmiths' ingenuity, I was
forcibly reminded of the thrill and dread I experience every time I
re-read James Clavell's debut novel, KING RAT, a fictionalized account
of his incarceration in the infamous Changi death-camp.


I always lingered over Clavell's description of the POWs' ingenuity,
from the contraband radio inside hidden water-bottle compartments that
had to be clipped together when the conspirators gathered to tune into
war news, or how tailors practiced their trade behind the wire.

This is the true hacker mindset, the combination of playfulness, lateral
thinking, user-centered design, and pitting your wits against brutal
authority. It's part of a lineage that includes classics like STEAL THIS


The illustrations in Steal This Book are strikingly similar to those in
Prisoners' Inventions, though Angelo's prose is sharper and less

Equally, Prisoners' Inventions recalls wartime pamphlets like the famous
MEND AND MAKE DO, with their emphasis on thrift and finding creature
comforts under conditions of indefinite hardship and privation.


Many of the inventions Angelo catalogues are about creating space for
comfort out of miserable conditions. The prisoners who make
greeting-card pigments by scraping ink off magazine ads and mixing it
with body-lotion embrace the Mend and Make Do ethos as much as anyone.

Prisoners' Inventions deserves a spot on your shelf between your MAKE
Magazines and your copy of PRISON RAMEN, a bridge between those two world.


I long treasured my 2003 copy of the original. Last year, my office
flooded and I lost my whole bottom shelf of books. I salvaged just two:
that 2003 edition and the illustrated history of Dachau my parents gave
me when we visited the camp when I was 12.

Both books recorded prisoners' resistance, the humanity of caged people
in inhumane circumstances - and both do so from the perspective of the
incarcerated, just as King Rat does. These are powerful stories that
shaped my view of the world and are never far from my mind.

As the new edition's introduction notes, Angelo died in Dec 2016 in LA,
three years after his release from more than two decades of
incarceration. He was days away from his 73rd birthday.


He spent his brief years of freedom watching and cataloging films he
sourced from thrift stores and other secondary sources, living a quiet
and mostly solitary life.

The new edition is a tribute to Angelo. America continues to incarcerate
more people than any nation in human history.


🕵️ This day in history

#15yrsago Coupland’s JPod: the Anti-Microserfs

#15ysago EFF co-founder Barlow debates MPAA prez Glickman

#10yrsago Lisa Goldstein’s The Uncertain Places: Grimm fairytale in
California vibrates with believable unreality

#10yrsago American right upset at report that Thatcher won’t meet Palin

#10yrsago AT&T lobbies Wisconsin GOP to nuke Wisconsin’s best-of-breed
co-op ISP for educational institutions

#5yrsago UK Parliament votes in Snoopers Charter, now it goes to the
House of Lords

#5yrsago How we will keep the Decentralized Web decentralized: my talk
from the Decentralized Web Summit

#5yrsago Internet elders and upstarts gather to redecentralize the

#5yrsago Banks confront negative interest rates with plans to store
titanic bundles of money on-site

#5yrsago New York Attorney General to Time Warner: your Internet is
“abysmal” and “troubling”

#5yrsago Hard times for judge who sued dry-cleaner for $65M over missing
pants https://loweringthebar.net/2016/06/pants-chapter-28.html

#1yrago Auditing Omniballot, a terrible e-voting system

#1yrago Police budgets are out of control

#1yrago Paramount's Unproduced Screenplays


🕵️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Boing Boing (https://boingboing.net/).

Currently writing:

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests.
Yesterday's progress: 264 words (4715 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06)

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

* Fireside Chat with Beatriz Busaniche (Rightscon)

* Genre Talk:

* Get Your News On With Ron/Ron Placone:

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
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