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Interview with Christopher Zoukis, co-author of 'Directory of Federal Prisons'

Directory of Federal Prisons
Middle Street Publishing

Today's guest is Christopher Zoukis, co-author of the reference/law book, Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLawBlog.com Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility Directory.

Thank you for this interview, Christopher. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you've been writing?

Well, my name is Christopher Zoukis. I'm the author of Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security (Sunbury Press, 2012) and the forthcoming College for Convicts (McFarland and Company, 2015). I'm also the co-author of the Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLawBlog.com's Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility Directory (Middle Street Publishing, 2014). Outside of books, I regularly contribute to national markets such as Prison Legal News, Blog Critics, AND Magazine, amongst others. I'm also the founder of http://www.prisoneducation.com/ and http://prisonlawblog.com/, where I regularly contribute.

As for how long I've been writing, that's a harder question to answer. While I've always had a talent at writing, my passion for it has grown throughout the past 5 or 6 years. During this time I have really thrown myself into the social justice advocacy realm. Much of this social justice advocacy has involved writing for various online and print publications.

Can you tell us briefly what the Directory of Federal Prisons is about?

The Directory of Federal Prisons is a resource guide for everyone who knows anyone in federal prison. This includes family members, friends, attorneys, and even journalists covering the prison or criminal justice beat. The Directory provides basic character profile information concerning every federal prison and private prison which houses federal prisoners (e.g., gender of the prisoners, security level, region, inmate population, and if there is an adjacent satellite prison camp). Also included are the official contact information of each prison (e.g., mailing address, street address, email address, fax number, and telephone number) and the inmate correspondence address.

The Directory of Federal Prisons provides verified, authoritative information which can be trusted again and again by those who need it. The text is updated as contact information and institutional missions change, so it can always be trusted. In this manner, our readers can put their worries to rest. They need not keep abreast of the various changes or developments with the Federal Bureau of Prisons because we do that for them. That's what the Directory of Federal Prisons is all about: ensuring that those who need to contact those in federal custody can.

Why did you choose your particular genre?

My career as a writer has largely revolved around America's criminal justice system because I, in fact, am a federal prisoner. I am currently incarcerated at FCI Petersburg, a medium-security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia. Due to my experiences with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a need was revealed. Prisoners are so often cut off from their families and loved ones due to restrictive correspondence policies. Likewise, it is a nightmare for journalists and reporters to obtain even basic information about the various Federal Bureau of Prisons' facilities. Thus this genre and the Directory of Federal Prisons. I aim to connect people, plain and simple.

What was your greatest challenge writing the Directory of Federal Prisons?

Obtaining the information was quite a headache. While the Federal Bureau of Prisons does make this information freely available, it doesn't do so all in one place (and the BOP does not tell the general public where this information can be found). And when changes occur, the BOP certainly doesn't make public announcements. As such, locating -- and verifying -- the contact information was quite a challenge. Likewise, obtaining information about federal prison camps (sometimes called "satellite prison camps") was very difficult since the Federal Bureau of Prisons doesn't produce a single document which shows which prisons have an adjacent satellite prison camp.

It should be noted that there are websites which purport to provide this type of basic character and contact information, but I've found the information to be largely incorrect or, at a minimum, badly outdated. The Directory of Federal Prisons was envisioned as a dynamic, constantly updated type of project. It's an ever-evolving project. As such, I anticipate a new edition being published annually. This way the information will always be up-to-date and trustworthy. No one else does this.

Are you published by a traditional house, small press, or are you self-published?

As an author, I have only been published by traditional houses. The same is true of Dr. Randal Radic, the Directory of Federal Prisons' co-author. Together we have perhaps a dozen titles under our belts.

The Directory of Federal Prisons is a bit different, though, since it was published by Middle Street Publishing -- a South Carolina not-for-profit dedicated to social justice. Middle Street Publishing (MSP) is effectively a media entity which promotes prison education, prisoners' rights, and prison law. MSP is the owner of http://www.prisoneducation.com/, http://prisonlawblog.com/ and http://christopherzoukis.com/. So, they are a traditional publisher which often focuses their publishing efforts on online news and social advocacy. The Directory of Federal Prisons is their debut title, though more social justice advocacy titles are currently in the pipeline.

Was it the right choice for you?

Absolutely! Whenever I can work with an entity which truly cares about criminal justice reform, it's a win-win because all parties only want to make a difference. This means that the publishing equation is a bit different. Middle Street Publishing and I sought to create the highest quality, most functional e-book we could. As such, we were able to find components to improve, and not have to fret over research or production costs. Likewise, the frequent updating of the Directory of Federal Prisons isn't the most economical activity, but it really makes a huge difference in the lives of federal prisoners' friends, families, attorneys, and other's ability to stay connected with them.

How are you promoting the Directory of Federal Prisons thus far?

To start with, Middle Street Publishing already has three very popular, targeted websites: http://www.prisoneducation.com/, http://prisonlawblog.com/ and http://christopherzoukis.com/. So, our various readerships are well aware of the Directory of Federal Prisons. We employ an email collection mechanism at all three websites, which allows us to stay connected with those most likely to purchase copies of the text.

Outside of our actual websites, I have author's pages at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. We have active advertising campaigns going on Goodreads and StumbleUpon. We also have the Twitter profiles @PrisonerLaw and @PrisonEduc and the Facebook Fan's pages https://www.facebook.com/PrisonersDefendingPrisoners and https://www.facebook.com/PrisonerEducation. So, we are very active in social and book-related media.

For professional assistance we signed on with Dorothy Thompson at PumpUpYourBook. Dorothy is currently managing a three month virtual author book tour for us, along with Facebook giveaways, outreach to her book reviewer and blogger network, and more. On the "more" side, we also put out a press release and have done other outreach to the media.

It should also be noted that I maintain my existing writing commitments with Prison Legal News, Blog Critics, and AND Magazine, all of which help to provide visibility to the Directory of Federal Prisons.

How is that going for you?

Extremely well. In concert, we're garnering quite a few social mentions daily, publishing articles daily on our various websites and several times a week on large news websites, and have enjoyed substantial online media attention.

Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?

Advertising on Goodreads has been very fruitful. Also, the use of our targeted email service has resulted in a number of sales. The goal of any author is to find where their readers are and connect with them there. I feel that we have done this quite well.

Do you have another job besides writing?

I do not. I spend my days engaging in social justice advocacy through the use of my pen, paper, and computer. Any day of the week I can be found toiling away on a book manuscript, article, blog post, or interview. This is what I do, and I like what I do. It makes me feel as though I am making a difference in the world, even if I am incarcerated in a federal prison.

If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?

Research the options and don't believe the hype. There are plenty of web marketers that will take your money and provide very little. The key is to learn what is being offered, what others are saying and charging for it, and to make the most educated, informed decision possible. When something fails, drop it and find something else. Bit by bit, you will be able to craft a repertoire that fits your budget and is at least moderately successful and sustainable.

What's next for you?

Lots. The big project is the College for Convicts manuscript which McFarland and Company signed me for. I'm in the process of preparing the final draft for submission to them. I also have another prison education manuscript in the works, College for the Incarcerated. This book will help prisoners obtain an education from inside prison. I'm also working on a book entitled Total Prison Fitness, intended to aid prisoners in getting fit, and staying fit in a safe and healthy manner. I'm co-authoring that one with former U.S. Field Hockey goaltender Todd Broxmeyer. Outside of that, I'm working hand-in-hand with my agent Greg Aunapu of the Salkind Literary Agency to find good, new, worthwhile projects.

Thank you for this interview, Christopher. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?

I can be found blogging at http://www.prisoneducation.com/, http://prisonlawblog.com/, and http://christopherzoukis.com/. I'm on Twitter @PrisonerLaw and @PrisonEduc, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PrisonersDefendingPrisoners and https://www.facebook.com/PrisonerEducation.

When I'm not blogging on the various Middle Street Publishing web properties, I can be found contributing to Prison Legal News, http://blogcritics.org/, and http://andmagazine.com/.