Testimonials about Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write

"I plan to take this book into the cells with me!"

Sister Helen (Dead Man Walking)

"Today's civil rights are human rights. This book sees inmates as humans and helps them work toward their civil rights despite incarceration."

Ramsey Clark, United States Attorney General, 1967-1969, United Nations Human Rights Prize, 2008

"...am enjoying it immensly. It's smart, accessible (are you doing one in Spanish?) and -- dare we enjoy such a grim subject --entertaining."

Mary Price, Families Against Mandatory Minimums

First, I read the entire book and workbook. Second, I thought the prison scenes in the illustrated panels were so life like as one who's visited many joints in the nation. And the dialogue between the characters captures the culture of inmates, correction officers and helpful volunteers. I look forward to discussing with you both the book and the industrial prison complex in the United States. Great creative work in the pursuit of justice.

Groundbreaking! This novel, illustrated in comic book format, depicts the culture of inmates in the joint as they learn how to write persuasive complaints to perceived injustice. Why hasn't someone used this messaging media before?

Professor John C. Brittain, UDC Law School, a veteran law professor and civil rights attorney with extensive experience in assisting jailhouse lawyers. Ex-President of the National Lawyers Guild, the only legal organization that admits jailhouse lawyers inmates as members; Advisory Board of the ACLU Prison Project for many years.

Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write
By Terri LeClercq, PhD ’77, Life Member

When a prisoner needs medical care or suffers mistreatment from a guard, what recourse does he have? Prisons have grievance procedures, but labyrinthine rules can be difficult for inmates to understand. Retired UT Law professor and legal writing expert Terri LeClercq has penned a graphic-novel guide for prisoners navigating the grievance system. Her admirable goal: to empower inmates to understand their legal rights and exercise them fairly.

by Rose Calahan, Alcade - July/August '13

"Terri LeClercq, a gifted writer and teacher who has been on the faculty at The University of Texas Law School, has written Prison Grievances, a "comic book novel" that will guide prisoners through the steps to filing and managing pro se litigation in the federal courts."

Michael Tigar, TigarBytes

Really excellent. ... Very talented!

Alan Mills, Uptown People's Law Center, Chicago, Ill

"A recommended read! Novel by Terri Leclercq.""

Reaching Behind Bars

"Brilliant! So important! A fantastic piece of work. We will be honored to support Prison Grievances."

The John Howard Society, International Penal Reform

"An important and empowering tool for incarcerated individuals to express their rights while in prison, and to seek appropriate redress for grievances. We applaud the author for giving voice to our fellow citizens behind bars. This is a wonderful book. The deepest wounds in prison come from lack of response and acknowledgement to wrongful treatment, which further dehumanizes our incarcerated citizens. Your work is empowering and will assist everyone in the process."

Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition (M-PAC) 

Prisoners rarely have attorneys to help them, and simple mistakes can be fatal.  Prison Grievances is vital to protecting prisoners’ civil rights. This is an extremely important and innovative project to help prisoners protect their rights."

Texas Civil Rights Project

"Groundbreaking! This graphic novel speaks directly to the inmates. Why hasn’t someone done this before?"

Wade Henderson, CEO & president, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund (coalition of 200 human/civil rights groups) 

I recently learned about a new book on how prisoners can write grievances complaining about their conditions in prison. The book, written by Terri LeClercq, is called “Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write.”

The reason why this book is so good for prisoners is because it is written in a simple, and easy to understand, language and because it is a graphic novel.

The Cockle Bur Blog

"It is crucial that prisoners understand the importance of writing grievances correctly. Prison Grievances is fascinating and informative, easily understandable, and it fills a much-needed gap. It is a one-of-a-kind tool for prisoners and their loved ones. Prison Grievances is a must have for those who seek justice and fair treatment behind prison walls."

Ana Yáñez-Correa, Ph.D., Texas Criminal Justice Coalition| Executive Director 

"What a wonderful project and such perseverance!"

Dr. Susan Heinzelman, Director, Women's Studies, University of Texas Austin

Reviews of Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write

New Illustrated Novel by Intrepid Prisoner Advocate to Help Inmates
What if you were in prison and needed help overcoming an unlawful prison condition?  Maybe you are sick but can’t get to see a doctor or were denied your medication.  Maybe the only property you own was lost in a midnight inmate bus transfer. Perhaps you were a victim of violence or sexual abuse by a guard.

Prisons systems require that a prisoner “exhaust administrative remedies” before asking a court to help.  What’s that mean?  Where does a prisoner turn?

A new book, Prison Grievances: when to write, how to write, will teach prisoners the rules and the ropes.  Best news: it is an illustrated novel (like a comic book) and written on the 5th-grade level.  It even has checklists at the end to help prisoners organize their facts.  Even better news: it is priced so that families can afford to send it to inmates.  ($10 through Amazon.)

Author Terri LeClercq, Ph.D., taught Legal Writing at the University of Texas School of Law for 23 years.   She had previously published texts for students and for practicing attorneys.  But this book steps outside academia to where it is needed most:  the prison systems.  During the ten years Terri researched and wrote, she collaborated with judges and clerks, grievance officers in the prison system, readability experts, and inmate family groups.

Terri has long been a friend of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a fellow traveler for justice, and an outstanding advocate for prisoners’ rights. Her interest in prison reform developed from listening to law clerks and formerly incarcerated individuals. Inmates need writing advice, she came to understand in way for which she could use her skills.

From amazon.com: “This entertaining and educational graphic novel teaches inmates how to think through a jail or prison problem and then write a grievance about it. Written with 5th-grade vocabulary and syntax, it engages readers with plot and character development. Grievances must conform to the stringent rules of the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act and the rules of particular jails or prison systems. This novel teaches those rules. It also warns against frivolous and malicious filings. Endorsed by Sister Helen (Dead Man Walking) and over 700 human and civil rights groups, this much-needed novel is priced just right -- and needed right now.”  62 pages.

A Bobcat’s novel approach to helping prison inmates help themselves


Terri LeClercq, a Texas State University alumna who became consumed with advocating for prison reform after her arrest during a protest in 1998, has penned an illustrated graphic novel intended to teach inmates how to effectively lodge complaints about their living conditions.

The 40-page novel, “Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write,” follows pro-bono attorney Mr. Dibs — an acronym for “Don’t Be Stupid” — as he dispenses no-nonsense legal advice to prison inmates while sidestepping shenanigans unleashed by a documentary filmmaker intent on inspiring eventful footage.

A scholar whose article, “The Doctrine of the Last Antecedent,” has been cited in multiple state supreme court cases, LeClercq decided to write a comic book with dialogue on a fifth-grade reading level because, “If prison inmates don’t know how to write about their problems, they can’t get help,” she said.

“When inmates write to our courts, administrators have to read boxes of complaints that are illegible or don’t even meet the guidelines. It’s a waste of the inmate’s appeal. It’s a waste of the court’s time. And it’s a waste of the taxpayer’s money,” she says in a YouTube video promoting the book as a potentially fundamental solution to substandard jails and prisons staffed by under-trained and over-worked guards.

She wants the book to be distributed in federal and state prisons beginning, perhaps, with its adoption by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Reducing the time spent by clerks and judges on illegible, incoherent and frivolous filings by inmates will result in significant savings for the judiciary and corrections systems. And it will help inmates with legitimate complaints get taken more seriously by those in a position to intervene.

Oddly reminiscent in drawing style and narrative convention of Jack Chick’s ubiquitous religious tracts that have proselytized tens of millions of people the world over, “Prison Grievances” is intended as a handbook for inmates to file formal grievances and court requests that conform to standards required by the Federal Prison Litigation Reform Act.

To be sure, “Prison Grievances” is a secular work but LeClercq approaches the subject of redressing abuse and neglect in U.S. prisons with a missionary’s fervency. Despite her ambition to help improve prisons on a national scale, the book is intended, on a more personal level, to “help these citizens get their essential medicine, get out of illegally crowded cells, get a wheelchair, get taken to the chow hall,” using Mr. Dibs as an intermediary.

Having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Southwest Texas State University in 1968 and 1970, respectively, LeClercq joined the University of Texas English faculty after earning a doctorate in American Literature there. Seven years into her career as an academic, she was assigned to teach legal writing at the UT School of Law where she was one of the first professors to introduce humanities into the law school’s curriculum and where she wrote two widely used manuals on the mechanics of legal writing and research. She was named a Distinguished Alumna by Texas State in 1996.

In 1998, she was among two dozen people arrested during a protest after they entered the grounds of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., a Department of Defense institution accused, according to the New York Times, of training Latin American military officers to torture and murder. Some of her fellow protestors were sentenced to six months in federal prisons from which they wrote to LeClercq about inmates denied access to basic medication or punished with a diet of “green loaf,” an unsavory mix of vegetables and food scraps run through a blender to meet nutritional standards while tasting as disgusting as possible.

LeClercq began research on U.S. prison conditions with the intent of publishing an academic article in a law journal. She later decided to write something to help prison inmates help themselves. She has worked on the book for a decade along with illustrators Patrick Hubik, Shawn Van Briesen and Tim Doyle and contributor Greg Sorkin.

Retired from UT since 2009, LeClercq now has a new job: Peddling “Prison Grievances,” literally, one book at a time. On her website, she asks people to buy a copy of the $10 book via Amazon and send it to the law library in local jails and prisons.

Buy it

San Marcos Mercury

LeClercq’s book on Prison Grievances

I’ve been reading an inspired and fascinating book by my friend and former colleague, Terri LeClercq. She’s a nationally known legal-writing expert, and she’s written a graphic novel that teaches inmates how to think through a jail or prison problem and then write a grievance about it. It’s called:

Prison Grievances: When to Write. How to Write

Please read it and recommend it to anyone you know who is incarcerated.
A blog from Legalwriting.net by Wayne Schiess

Prison Grievances
An effort to give inmates a voice and a pen

By Victoria Puentes

Contributing Writer

The Paisano

Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Supporters and fans can donate Terri LeClercq’s “Prison Grivances” to prison libraries around the country.

“If you can help our prison system avoid stacks of frivolous prisoner complaints, would you? If you can help our inmates get better conditions in prison, would you?” These are the questions posed by UT-Austin English Emeritaprofessor Dr. Terri LeClercq. “I would,” she says, “and I am.”

In her latest publication, LeClercq has taken the initiative to point out a fixable problem within the prison system that affects prisoners, prison workers, court officials and administrators.

According to LeClercq, one out of 12 Americans are in the prison system, and inmates do not always get the essential or special care that they need. In a recent interview, LeClercq explains that prisons are not meant to be places that merely house and feed bad people. “When someone commits a crime, they are removed from the society they hurt. Prison is a punishment.” She continues to explain that this specific punishment should not relinquish all rights of these individuals, only the rights they had as a part of society.

LeClercq has spent 10 years working on “Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write,” a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that is both entertaining and educational.LeClercq wrote “Prison Grievances” at a fifth grade reading level so inmates at any level may understand the message. The majority of the novel is through the view of a pro-bono lawyer who sees the mistreatment of prisoners. He volunteers to help inmates understand the rights they still have. Through this, LeClercq educates her readers of those same rights.

Aside from the prisoners’ rights, LeClercq also teaches about writing in her novel. “If inmates don’t know how to write about their problem,” LeClercq says, “they can’t get help.” According to LeClercq, taxpayers spend $27,000 per inmate per year, and even more if inmates are sick or injured. When prisoners write to courts about their problems, court administrators have to read through loads of letters that are illegible or do not meet guidelines.

“That’s a waste,” LeClercq says. “It’s a waste of the inmates’ appeal, it’s a waste of the courts’ time and it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The purpose of LeClercq’s “Prison Grievances” is to actually teach prisoners on how to write to the courts about their problems properly. “We want inmates to learn their rights,”LeClercq says. “We want them to either write their complaint right or don’t write it at all.”

To give an example of the real need for such education, LeClercq speaks of “Teddy Bear” cases, which are often compared to the story of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf.” In Teddy Bear cases, prisoners draw up frivolous grievances about items that the system either cannot or will not pay for. The representatives who review these grievances consider them a waste of time, and if such complaints continue long enough, the representatives eventually stop taking the prisoners’ requests seriously.

In the back pages of “Prison Grievances,” LeClercq included a checklist for prisoners to review and decide whether their specific case is something that can be taken care of. The idea is to reduce the amount of Teddy Bear cases so the representatives’ focus can remain on real issues, such as work-related incidents that need medical attention, abuse from guards or other prisoners and mental illnesses for example.

Throughout the last 10 years, prison and court administrators, attorneys and the formerly incarcerated have reviewed and approved “Prison Grievances,” and it will be available online around January 2013. Supporters of LeClercq’s cause have the option of pledging $10 for their own copy donating copies of “Prison Grievances” to prison libraries around the country.

"Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write" - Graphic Book on the Basics

JULY 13, 2013 by Matthew Clarke

In Prison Grievances: When to Write, How to Write by Terry LeClercq , you will find the basic information on how to get your grievances heard presented in an illustrated format similar to a graphic novel or comic.

Dr. LeClercq, along with artists Patrick Hubik and Shawn van Briesen and many others, including prominent people from the Texas criminal justice scene, worked together to give a presentation of the basic grievance-writing process that is accessible to all—including those who have never written a grievance before. In an interview on KPFT's Prison Show, Dr. LeClercq, a professor at the University Of Texas School Of Law, said she wrote the 55-page book aiming at a fifth-grade level of education to make it useful to almost all prisoners.

The book gives step-by-step instructions on what issues can be raised in a grievance, how to raise them and what to do if your grievance is ignored.

The literary device used in the graphic section of the book is that of a lawyer who volunteers his time to teach prisoners a class on their rights inside the prison and how to write a grievance should their "inside rights" be violated.

Although the graphic section is set in a Texas state prison and includes a prisoner seeking relief in the courts after his grievance is ignored, the 20-page workbook section includes information on the grievance system in the federal prison system and the procedures described in the book should apply to any prison system or jail. The workbook section also contains check sheets showing the necessary steps to take prior to filing a grievance on medical issues, inappropriate disciplinary sanctions, lack of due process during disciplinary proceedings, life endangerment, excessive heat or cold, exposure to environmental hazards or toxic materials, denial of mail, and restrictions on religious practices, as well as general information on prisoners' constitutional rights and the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

Dr. LeClercq generously offered to give individual assistance to prisoners having problems filing grievances on difficult issues. She may be contacted at the following address:
727 East 27th Street
Austin, TX 78725

- Interview with Terri Leclercq

by Chuck Gallagher

Buy now