A Black man leads the longest-running prison-published newspaper in North Carolina and he uses his platform to inspire other inmates to believe there is still life after prison, even if they are serving life in prison.
Phillip Vance Smith II is the editor of “The Nash News.” He is 21 years into his life without parole sentence after being convicted of killing a drug dealer who robbed him when he was 22.
Before being elected by staff as editor in 2021, Smith worked in various capacities at Nash News, including as a graphic designer, journalist and assistant editor. He’s been with Nash News since 2015. But with limited resources, he said running the paper is not always easy.
“To write an article, a journalist needs access to a source, be it a person, event, or information. Access to information promotes accuracy and education because the journalist learns more about the researched topic by studying it,” Smith wrote in an article published by JStor Daily. “Prisons restrict such access by restricting communication. In the modern era of mass incarceration, communication is expensive.”
Despite the challenges, Smith said newspapers like his are vital to helping inmates become more educated and, ultimately, better people.
“Working with a prison newspaper may not seem prestigious, but informing the Nash Correctional population about important topics was a personal achievement worthy of the effort,” Smith wrote. “In an era when society weaponizes lack of education as punishment for incarceration, ‘The Nash News’ presents an informal learning environment where many thrive.”
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“In general, working for a prison newspaper alters the outlook of incarcerated individuals by instilling tenets of personal change: education, diligent work, and reflection through critical thinking,” Smith continued.
Among the topics Smith has covered are: dispelling rumors surrounding life without parole sentences; the school-to-prison pipeline; the two-decade struggle to get the trilogy “Dutch,” which was written by Kwame Teague while in prison, made into a movie; how the platform TextBehind makes inmates pay for mail; and more.
Smith also co-authored The Prison Resources Repurposes Act, legislation aimed at allowing people serving life without parole sentences in North Carolina to be considered for parole after 20 years based on educational and occupational accomplishments.
In addition to serving as editor of Nash News, Smith is an author, Smart Justice Fellow for the ACLU of North Carolina, spoken word artist and has made some progress towards receiving his bachelor’s degree from Southeastern College.
Self-taught in the areas of writing and journalism, Smith said his work at Nash News has not only given him great opportunities but also serves as a beacon of light to others.
“When I think about the broken, uneducated young fool who entered prison 21 years ago, I realize that many more follow in my footsteps,” Smith wrote. “For some, prison is a dungeon of hardship where negativity reigns. Those people find change difficult. For others, prison is an oasis of possibility where limitations to education and communication cannot dampen the desire to be better.”
“For us, change has already happened. As editor of The Nash News I aim to teach every prisoner that they can learn more, do more, and be more, if they work toward it through the articles we publish,” Smith continued.