Tiyo Attallah Salah-El, the founder of the Coalition for the Abolition of Prisons, was an author, scholar, teacher, and activist. He served a life sentence, spending much of it in the State Correctional Institute at Dallas in Pennsylvania. Tiyo died in 2018.

In 2004, the activist Howard Zinn introduced Tiyo to his friend, a Hollywood agent named Paul Alan Smith. Tiyo and Paul began a correspondence that lasted for nearly 15 years. Pen Pal: Prison Letters from a Free Spirit on Slow Death Row compiles 92 of the 568 letters Tiyo sent Paul, providing an intimate panorama of institutionalized racism in the US. The following excerpt includes two of these letters.

Read the excerpt here.

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