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"Why Journalism Exists"

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"Am I really going to become a prison guard? Now that it might actually happen, it feels scary and a bit extreme."

So starts Shane Bauer's groundbreaking investigation into America's private prison industry that we published last week. (If you haven't read "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard" yet, please do—then come back to this email because I have more to say about why, and how, we sent a staff reporter to work in a private prison in Louisiana).

It's the biggest investigation we've ever published—and it's making a huge splash. The morning after the story went online, I was in our elevator when a guy stopped me and said: "You work at Mother Jones? That prison story was amazing, thank you."

On social media the kudos have been nonstop. Here are a few highlights:

"Epic, essential work by Shane Bauer and Mother Jones."

"Shane Bauer's Mother Jones exposé on the private prison system is a great, chilling read."

"Investigative journalism at its best from Mother Jones."

"Holy cow. Work like this is why I donate to Mother Jones. Take a look and see if you don't feel the same way."

You should, because Shane's eyewitness account of the inner workings of a prison system that has long been shrouded in secrecy would not have been possible without the support of readers like you—and we're seeing a lot of our donors bragging on social media about how they had a part in making it happen. I hope you'll join them and make a tax-deductible donation to Mother Jones today to help underwrite our reporting.

Investigations like this are incredibly rare, for a couple of reasons. First, they're damn expensive—and since advertising pays for most journalism, a lot of newsrooms focus on churning out a firehose of fast, cheap content to maximize pageviews and advertising revenue.

Second, there are concerns over the ethics: When is it okay for reporters not to announce themselves as such? You can read more on that topic, and why we felt this approach was necessary here, but I want to be absolutely clear on one thing: Shane applied for work with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) under his own name and Social Security number, and noted his employment with the Foundation for National Progress—which publishes Mother Jones. He did not lie, and he carefully documented what he saw while inside.

Now here's the third reason firsthand accounts like this are so rare: litigation. When CCA learned about our investigation, it sent us a four-page letter warning that Shane had "knowingly and deliberately breached his duty to CCA by violating its policies," and that there could be all manner of legal consequences.

Despite these risks, we mounted this investigation because the only way to see what truly happens in private prisons is to go inside. Press access has been dramatically reduced in recent decades, and inmates have had their ability to sue prisons—and thus make their complaints known—vastly curtailed. What happens inside corporate-run prisons, which house 8 percent of the nation's inmates, has remained largely hidden from public scrutiny.

Until now.

If you think stories like this are worth your support, I'd like to ask you to consider becoming a monthly, sustaining donor. Monthly donations give us the reliable revenue to invest in big stories like Shane's—a story that took 18 months of nonstop work, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (but was worth every penny). Plus, if you donate $5 or more each month, you'll get a free subscription to our magazine so you can read our investigation—and those that follow—in print.

If you're not ready to commit to a monthly gift yet, we'd be grateful for a one-time donation, too.

Investing in a huge story that takes time—and an unbelievable amount of bravery—to do right, and not backing down from the threat of legal action is the sort of thing we can only do because we know readers like you will have our back when we publish hard-hitting reporting you won't find anywhere else.

So, will you? Read Shane's investigation and consider becoming a monthly donor or make a one-time gift to help underwrite our reporting today—and please do brag about it on social media after you have.

Thanks for reading, and for making Mother Jones what it is.


Clara Jeffery Headshot

Clara Jeffery
Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief
Mother Jones

P.S.: If you've donated to Mother Jones in the last several hours, please accept our apologies for sending this email—we do our best not to send these to people who have pitched in, but it's increasingly hard to keep up with right now!

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