Christopher Zoukis is an impassioned advocate for prison education, a legal scholar, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and articles. His articles on prison education and prison law appear frequently in Prison Legal News, and have been published in The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, and Midwest Book Review, among other national, regional, and specialty publications.
Mr. Zoukis is often quoted on matters concerning prison law, criminal law, prisoners' rights, and prison education. Recently, he was the focus of an article at Salon.com concerning America's broken criminal justice system and potential solutions to the current crisis.
When not in the thick of the battle for prison reform, prison education, or prisoners' rights advocacy, Mr. Zoukis can be found blogging at PrisonLawBlog.com, PrisonEducation.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com.
His latest book is The Directory of Federal Prisons: PrisonLaw.com’s Federal Bureau of Prison Facility Directory.
Q) Thanks for letting us
interrogate interview you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut
answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
To start, I am currently incarcerated in a federal prison. As a federal prisoner, there really isn't a whole heck of a lot that I can do either for myself or for others. With this understanding came the realization that I could research my current situation, write about it, and hopefully help others through my writing. And that's exactly what I've been doing for the past several years. I've taught a number of courses in my prison's Education Department and I have written extensively on many prisoners' rights and prison education topics.
Over the years I created and developed PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com. Through my work on these three websites, an understanding grew in me of the power I had to effect meaningful change. It was this potential that led me to write and publish both Education Behind Bars (Sunbury Press, 2012) and the Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2014).
Q) Tell us (we won't tell promise!) is it all it's cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
As for the perks and demands, there are some perks -- mostly concerning seeing my name in print and being able to impact public policy decisions. And it is nice when staff here slide up to me and tell me that they read my latest posts or whatever, that I am reaching them, too. The demands are probably more pronounced and concrete. PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com all have to be fed on a regular basis. That takes a lot of time and energy. Also, I'm being called on more and more to contribute to other websites and print publications.
These certainly take a healthy amount of time.
Q) Which route did you take -- traditional or self-published -- and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what's that like?
Education Behind Bars was published by Sunbury Press and the Directory of Federal Prisons was published by Middle Street Publishing. While Sunbury Press is a traditional publisher, Middle Street Publishing is a smaller publisher, which focuses mostly on online social justice advocacy. As such, when we signed with Middle Street Publishing, we did so with the understanding that we would be a big part of the Directory of Federal Prisons' production and promotion. While this has been exhausting, we have seen much better results with this book than with others. There truly is no one more dedicated or devoted to a book than its author.
Q) What's the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry (e.g., rejections, the long wait, etc.)?
You know, I only have two true gripes: low quality publications and overpromising. It always astounds me when I buy books that just aren't top quality. You'd think that the authors -- or even their publishers -- would insist upon a quality product, but sometimes it seems as if authors and publishers emphasize quantity over quality. This is a big mistake and a plague upon the industry.
As for overpromising, I can't stand it when a promotional outlet or a publisher promises the world, then delivers next to nothing. There are so many smart, inexpensive ways to promote a book these days that there really is no excuse for someone cutting corners or worse, misleading authors.
Q) Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
I think that only a writer could understand the passion, time, attention, and effort which goes into publishing a quality product. With that being said, my family has been very supportive through my writing efforts and have done everything they can to help me along in my path. They understand that this is my passion and that with my passion for the written word that I'm trying to make the world a better place. And this they can get behind completely.
Q) What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
I'm sorry to say, but we had a contractor really drop the ball several times. They were supposed to engage in several tasks but completely failed to do so. We had to really push them to do the job they were paid for. This was quite a headache.
On the positive side, within two weeks of the Directory of Federal Prisons' publication, we had 9 five-star reviews on Amazon, including one from Alex Friedmann, the managing editor at Prison Legal News. We absolutely love those guys and the difference that they make in the lives of prisoners and their families the world over, and to have their approval, that is terrific.
Q) How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
We are on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Of all of these, we've had the best response on Facebook and Twitter, but have high hopes that the Goodreads outreach will prove to be the best investment of our time, effort, and advertising dollars. Only time will tell, but we have high hopes.
Q) Book sales. Don't you just love them (or lack of)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Sales are certainly coming along. But that isn't the primary goal of this project. The primary goal is to connect families, friends, attorneys, journalists, and others with those currently in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And I have no doubt that we will succeed in this goal.
As to how we're making this happen, we do lots of outreach through PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, and Christopher Zoukis.com. We also have low cost advertising campaigns active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and StumbleUpon. And, of course, we are currently engaging in a blog tour through Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book. So, our message is being heard loud and clear.
Q) What is one thing you'd like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
Just because the road is tough or people tell you that you can't do something, it doesn't mean that you can't. That only means that they think that you can't. When roadblocks block the road, find a way over, under, to the side of, or through. If there is a will, there is a way. The fact that I, a federal prisoner, managed to create several very popular websites, write an ebook, and effectively advocate for prisoners' rights, prison education, and social justice really show that if there is a will, that there is a way. It's all about finding the way.
Q) Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here's a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn't matter because it's all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn't have it any other way?
Life is good, I'm not going to lie. And this is even the case inside a federal prison. When I have a mission, a purpose, life is good. And when I can help others avoid the mistakes that I've made and side-step the roadblocks that I've experienced, then it is all worth it. All of the work becomes worth it in an instant. I can't wait to start working on my next text about prison survival. I think that that book will help even more people in prison.