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The Paths of the Paahao Press: Hawaiʻi’s Prison Newspaper and the Circulation of Penal Journalism

Sat, November 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Hawai'i Convention Center, Mtg Rm 301 A

Abstract

For over twenty years in the 1940s and 1950s, the men of Hawaiʻi’s Oʻahu Prison published a newspaper titled the Paahao Press. Such newspapers were common across the United States and Canada in the mid-twentieth century, so much so that there were over one hundred prisoner-edited newspapers in circulation in the 1950s in a franchise called the Penal Press. One of the most surprising features of these newspapers was that they were traded across the North American continent, allowing imprisoned men and women at many institutions to read the journalism, fiction, poetry, and gossip from their peers at institutions from far away.

Within the Penal Press circuit, the Paahao Press was unique in a number of ways. Firstly, although all prison newspapers were separated by great geographic distances, Oʻahu Prison was located in the Pacific Ocean, far from the journalists working for other prison newspapers in the United States and Canada. This contributed to the popularity of Paahao Press, which garnered a large readership among imprisoned people on the continent who reported enjoying its recitations of Hawaiian history and rudimentary lessons in the Hawaiian language. Additionally, although nearly all Penal Press newspapers in the midcentury United States were headed by white editors—many of whom expressed white supremacist attitudes regarding the racial segregation of their institutions and who dismissed black prisoners’ political organizing—Paahao Press was edited by various Asian American prisoners, such as the popular editor Pat Yim. These combined features made the Paahao Press a unique and widely read newspaper throughout the continental Penal Press, leading to its articles being reprinted in many other papers. Newspapers as diverse as Arizona State Prison’s Cactus Blossom, Wisconsin State Prison’s Candle, and Manitoba Penitentiary’s Mountain Echoes cited material from Paahao Press and circulated it for response among their institutions’ own readers.

This paper will chart the travels of Paahao Press among its various readerships to argue that it was a primary method through which implicit discourses of settler colonialism and American nationalism were distributed and negotiated throughout the Penal Press. To accomplish this, this paper will analyze articles in both the Paahao Press itself, as well as newspapers on the North American continent, which reprinted and responded to material published in the Oʻahu Prison newspaper. I will show how Paahao Press ambivalently represented discourses of race, nation, war, and belonging for readers imprisoned in both Hawaiʻi and the North American continent.

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