June 28, 2017 – In 1987, President Ronald Reagan came clean on the Iran-Contra affairs, Wall Street suffered “Black Monday,” and “Dirty Dancing” was a box office hit. But 1987 was also the year Paul Wright went from police officer to murderer, starting a journey to one of the nation’s leading civil rights defenders.
Wright was a military policeman in 1987 when poor judgment led him to rob a drug dealer for some extra money. Guns were pulled, Wright pulled his trigger and earned himself a 25-year sentence for murder.
While on the inside, Wright learned as many crimes were being committed behind bars as were outside them. He witnessed abuses and indignities suffered by prisoners at the hands of prison officials. Prisoners were powerless to stand up for their basic human rights. Always a believer in the power of law and order, and using a bare-bones prison law library and a typewriter, he began a 30-year fight for prisoners’ rights. The Prison Legal News was born.
Over the past three decades, the Prison Legal News, now a publication of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) where Wright serves as Executive Director, has printed over 300 editions filled with court rulings, human rights abuses, and other issues related to prisoners’ rights. Nearly 240,000 people read PLN each month.
The Human Rights Defense Center is involved in numerous lawsuits across the country fighting for prisoners’ and publishers’ rights. Wright’s efforts have led to tens of millions of dollars paid by governments, corporations and prisons. He has exposed corporations like Starbucks, Boeing, and Microsoft for their use of prison labor. His fight led to new government regulations just a few years ago. The HRDC has successfully litigated lawsuits around free speech, censorship, public records and wrongful death cases in 36 states to date.
This year marks 30 years since Wright pulled the trigger. Since his release, he has established himself as a leader among civil rights champions. He has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Lawyers Guild and the Washington Coalition for Open Government, among others.
Wright’s story is one of sin, repentance, and redemption. Determined not to allow one horrible act to define him, he has dedicated the past 30 years to fighting on behalf of individuals who have few other advocates. His old typewriter may be a distant memory, but his passion to defend the defenseless is still clear and present.
Paul Wright and the Human Rights Defense Center continue their national fight for prisoners’ rights from their headquarters in South Florida.