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

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.

1. Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I don't know about you, but in my life there is no such thing as being only one or the other.  In my work with PrisonEducation.com, PrisonLawBlog.com, ChristopherZoukis.com, and Prison Legal News, I write when writing needs to be
done.  This usually means both researching and writing throughout the day and night depending on the project at hand.

2. Do you outline or are you a pantster?

It really depends.  On academic and legal projects, researching certainly has to come first.  For example, with my ebook the Directory of Federal Prisons, I first had to obtain all of the required research materials, then I was able to start the writing process.  But, when I wrote my novel Hamish -- which we are currently in discussions with Zharmae Publishers concerning its publication -- I wrote the first draft by the seat of my pants.  So, a mix of the two.

3. Which comes first -- plot or character?

Certainly plot.  While characters bring life to the plot, it is the plot that acts like a roadmap to the story.  This certainly doesn't discount the characters' development.  After all, your characters change throughout the story.  They grow as the plot unfolds.

4. Noise or quiet when working on your manuscript?

Quiet.  I'm very ADD, so I need quiet.  Since I work in fits and bursts throughout the day, this isn't often too hard to manage, even though prison is a very loud place.

5. Favorite TV show?

Right now I'm in love with The Americans on FX.  It's terrific, great writing.  Also very good is Walking Dead and Suits.  I have to watch these shows through the window of my prison cell at nights, because the cell doors are locked at 9:00 PM each night, and most of these shows come on at 10:00 PM.

6. Favorite type of music?

I'm fairly eclectic in my listening preferences.  When I work, I prefer classical music or meditation music, without any words.  But when working out, I can be found listening to Dubstep, alternative rock, and heavy rock.  I love Yellowcard, a New Found Glory, Blink 182, and Three Days Grace.

7. Favorite craft besides writing?

I do a lot of legal work and I also play in a prison Ultimate Frisbee League.  So, as far as crafts go, I'd say post-conviction litigation.  But as far as favorite activities, probably Ultimate Frisbee.

8. Do you play a musical instrument?

I do.  I play the bass guitar, although I was better years ago when I used to play more often.  For that matter, I used to play regular guitar, too.  Sadly, I've forgotten more than I've learned in recent years, but I can remember enough to pick up a bass and surprise my musician friends! 

9. Single or married?

I'm single, but don't plan on being forever.  I've been incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the past 8 years.  So, being single in here is a very good thing.  But upon release -- in 4 more years -- I plan to start thinking about setting down some roots.

10. Children or not?

I do not have any children.  This is largely due to the fact that I've been in prison since I was a senior in high school.  But perhaps one day.

11. Pets?

While I've had cats and dogs throughout the years, these days I take care of a feral pigeon flock at my prison.  I consider these prison pigeons to be my pets, and many of them have names and like to be hand-fed.  You can read about my experiences with the prison pigeons of FCI Petersburg at PrisonLawBlog.com's FCI Petersburg Pigeon Project.  Just click on the large pigeon.

12. Favorite place to write?

Again, this depends on the type of writing.  If I'm doing legal writing, then I'm usually doing so in my prison's law library.  Academic and other research-based writing usually starts in my prison cell, but then is completed at a computer terminal in my housing unit.  For blogging and articles and such, I often draft right on the computer terminal in my housing unit.

13. Favorite restaurant?

I've been in prison for 8 years now.  And the chow hall is nothing to write home about, but perhaps something to write to the local health inspector over.  With that being said, I eat a lot of food made outside of the chow hall.  Most days I can find someone selling fried wraps containing chicken, beef, broccoli, cheeses, and other ingredients.  But the best cook around is my good friend T.J..  For our birthdays, he really goes out of his way and creates amazing dishes and desserts, all from food available for purchase in our prison's commissary.  His cheesecake is as good as any I have ever tasted outside of prison.  In fact, I didn't even like cheesecake before I came to prison.  Now, I can't get enough of it.

14. Do you work outside the home?

While I have a prison work detail -- I am assigned to work in my prison's recreation department on weekends -- I consider my prison education, prisoners' rights, and social justice advocacy to be my work.  I spend most of my waking hours writing for prisoneducation.com, prisonlawblog.com, and christopherzoukis.com, along with Prison Legal News.  While not a conventional job, it certainly is a lot of work.

15. What was the name of the last movie you saw?

I watched Gladiator the other day on the television.  Does that count?  Considering that I'm in prison, I can't get out much to catch a new flick in theaters.

16. Favorite outdoor activity?

I love playing Ultimate Frisbee.  We have a whole crew here at FCI Petersburg who play many evenings from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.  While we often have a league each year, we mostly play "free rec" games where everyone shows up, gets picked for a team, and plays until the 8:00 PM activities move is called, when the internal prison gates are unlocked and we can return to our housing units.

17. Pet peeve?

I hate loud noise.  Prison is such a loud place.  People scream, beat on things, and slam things all day long.  It really can get on one's nerves very quickly.  Hence, my MP3 player and classical tunes are never far away.  They help to block out all of the useless, pointless noise.

18. Your goal in life?

To make a difference.  In my writing, social justice advocacy, and personal interactions, I aim to make the world a better place.  When I find problems, I craft solutions for them.  And if my writing can impact public policy, and thus countless prisoners' and their family's lives, then I will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

19. Your most exciting moment?

There have been many, good and bad.  It is always a thrill to sign a book contract.  So, too, it is enthralling to hold the first copy off the press.  And still, I get an excited tingling whenever I land a particularly big article or assignment.  My life is made up of lots of these exciting moments.  May they never stop to reach deep into my soul and stir me to action.

 20. Who is the love of your life?

While I love to write and agitate for good, I long for a love of one's life as being a partner, a significant other.  And I don't think that I've found her yet.  Maybe one day.  I imagine that in 4 years my real chance will start to find whoever it might be.
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