The Prison Mirror

Prison mirror (Stillwater, Minn.) 1887-1894  Browse the title

Mirror (Stillwater, Minn.) 1894-1925  Browse the title

Prison mirror (Stillwater, Minn.) 1993-current  Browse the title
Issues from this title can only be accessed from the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota History Center.

The Prison Mirror, at various times entitled just the Mirror, is the newspaper of the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Stillwater, also known as the Stillwater State Prison, and claims to be the longest, continuously published prison newspaper in the country. It was initially published weekly but is currently published monthly and is written by and for people incarcerated at the prison. The first issue was released on August 10, 1887, with the motto, "God helps those who help themselves."  A few issues later the motto changed to "It is never too late to mend." The newspaper was intended to "[shed] a ray of light upon the lives of those behind the bars" to the outside world, and it aimed to be self-sustaining in terms of funding, declaring: "The entire profits of the Mirror, above the running expenses, will be devoted solely to the purchase of books and periodicals for the prison library." 

The Prison Mirror was co-founded by brothers Cole, Robert, and James Younger, members of the James-Younger Gang who were serving life sentences after taking part in a raid in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1876. Cole Younger was particularly involved in the newspaper and was listed as the associate editor in early issues. In the second issue the editor wrote, "Cole Younger is the librarian of the prison, and as he is an inmate for life, the unfortunate fellow is making the richest atonement within his power for the errors of his past life." Robert died in prison in 1889 and in 1901 Cole and James were paroled. James committed suicide in 1902 and Cole died in 1916 in Missouri. 

The Stillwater State Prison was first established in 1853 when Minnesota was a territory.  It was located in Stillwater, Minnesota, from 1853 until 1912 when a larger facility opened in nearby Bayport, Minnesota, where it is still located today. At the time of the first issue of the Prison Mirror, the entire prison population was 387, including seven women, as the state women's prison in Shakopee, Minnesota, didn't open until 1920.  As of early 2019 the on-site population was approximately 1,500. Content for each issue is written by inmates. The first issue said it would contain "continuous contributions upon all general subjects, sketches, words of wisdom, jokes, poetry, etc., from the pens of our comrades in prison." It also featured national news items, sports updates, notices, and advertisements from local businesses.

The newspaper has served to help inmates develop their writing skills and gain experience in working on a publication. A report In the July 20, 1933 issue stated that "Most of the contributors to this paper entered prison with little or no knowledge of writing – fictionally or journalistically...The mere sight of their work in published form does more for these aspiring writers than could countless volumes." One editor said in 2017, "The population who we make the paper for, they view this as their outlet to be heard and want to see things that are important to them." Some writers for the Mirror went on to publish books, notably Frank Elli, who wrote The Riot, published in 1966 and made into a film in 1969. Author E. (Emil) Richard Johnson also served time at the prison and published several novels while incarcerated. 

Throughout its long publication history, the Prison Mirror has been recognized by other newspapers for the quality of its writing and has won awards for the best prison newspaper in the United States several times. Special commemorative issues were published at the paper's centennial in 1987 and in 2012 on 125 years of publication.