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Prison Toy Takes Inmates Sentence From Death to Life

A central Issue for prisoners is finding a way to stay occupied. Swintec clear plastic typewriters prove the immense power words can have, even from a prison cell.

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A central Issue for prisoners is finding a way to stay occupied. Prisoners in maximum security have exceptionally long sentences. They, in particular, are searching for ways to kill time. Kenneth Foster Jr. was nineteen when he was convicted of capital murder. He drove a getaway car in two armed robberies, one of them resulted in the death of an old man. Considering he did not kill anyone, the charges were harsh. People argue that had he not been in Texas, one of the most brutal states in the US, he would not be sentenced to death. Foster is one of the ones who got creative with his boredom. He became a writer.

Prison Toy Takes Inmates Sentence From Death to Life

Foster was determined to write down everything that he felt and everything that he saw. He described seeing an inmate taken by force to his death,“This man was gassed, wrestled down, cuffed and dragged to his fate,” he wrote. Foster’s reality check came after witnessing the horrific event. That’s when he began focusing as much time as he could writing it all down. “I have written with everything from pen, typewriter, marker, to my own blood,” he explained. “I have written on tables, floors, on walls when I only had a crack of light, in the dark, under blinding lights.” He mainly wrote letters in hopes of stopping his execution from happening.

Prison Toy Takes Inmates Sentence From Death to Life

His typewriter went from being an ordinary object to a form of comfort. Countless hours dragged on in solitary confinement; the typewriter was Foster’s friend. He explained

“Regardless that I’ve had countless of these cheap machines each one is “baby.” The receiver of my affection and attention. Without “her” I didn’t feel complete. With “her” I felt like I was on a DELL in an office somewhere in upper Manhattan. While guys spent time in these Seg cells calling out chess moves over the walkways or doing push-ups until their veins bulged from their temples, I was in my cell pecking away trying to create a different world for myself. Some kind of way I felt I could rewrite my future.”

His companionship with is typewriter saved his life. When the time came for the final review of his capital punishment, judges read his written appeals and voted to switch his sentence from the death sentence to life in prison. Foster, ecstatic about the news, went straight to the commissary to buy a typewriter. Commissary is only allowed to carry clear plastic typewriters for security reasons. Correctional officers want to be sure nothing is hidden within them. Swintec manufactured these see-through gadgets. The company targeted their marketing towards prisons when they discovered they were safe “prison-toys.” Each typewriter costs $225, which is a lot of money for an inmate to spend. Foster describes them as being easily broken and cheaply made;  “That’s a ludicrous price to pay for such junk, but for a person that produces as much material as myself it is absolutely necessary” Foster explained.

Prison Toy Takes Inmates Sentence From Death to Life

Swintec is the only manufacturer producing these clear typewriters in the USA. It’s a small company located in a one-story building in New York. Foster eventually was freed from prison, thanks to his perseverance as a writer. His story made typewriting the new fad for prisoners in maximum security.

John J. Lennon, a prisoner serving 28 years to life, also purchased a Swintec typewriter. He plans to use it and become a journalist from within the prison. Lennon reported that he traded his first typewriter for drugs, but after attending a writers workshop lead by a college professor, he adjusted his priorities. He purchased a second Swintec and used it to write about monumental moments and significant people in his life.

You can find him sitting on a bucket in his chairless cell, writing about the man he murdered, his unconditionally supportive mother, and dangerous situations he survived. The  Swintec gave Lennon an outlet for everything he bottled up inside. “You’ll hear my typewriter going all day,” he admitted. He once wrote an article addressing gun control which was published in The Atlantic magazine. Thousands of people read about the raging power Lennon felt with a gun in hand. Who knows; perhaps he influenced more than a few peoples political views on the rights to own a gun. This inmates determination won’t stop behind bars. He plans to work for a magazine upon release.  

Jefferson and Lennon are not the only prisoners to find companionship in their Swintec. Inspired inmates across the U.S. picked up on the trend as well. The things these men were able to achieve with a plastic typewriter are remarkable. Swintec clear plastic typewriters prove the immense power words can have, even from a prison cell.