Winner of the 2009 Silver Gavel Award, Writ Writer portrays the 1960s Texas prison reform movement.

Writ Writer presents an extraordinary portrait of a brave and indefatigable man who stood up to insurmountable odds. Highly recommended.

P. Hall - Video Librarian

Writ Writer portrays the historic conflict that emerged in the 1960s when Texas prisoners petitioned the courts for relief from inhumane prison conditions. Focusing on the story of self-taught jailhouse lawyer Fred Arispe Cruz, the film uncovers his legal battle, his collaboration with poverty law attorney Frances Jalet, and his successful litigation for the right of Texas prisoners to assist one another with lawsuits. His litigation paved the legal path for Ruiz v Estelle, the most comprehensive court-ordered state prison reform litigation in U.S. history.

This Silver Gavel award winner includes commentary by civil rights attorneys William Bennett Turner and Steve J. Martin, and rare on-camera interviews with former Texas prison wardens and prisoners, and illuminates a critical chapter in the contemporary history of U.S. corrections.

Archival films of Texas prison life are combined with original documentary footage to reveal a troubled prison system on the verge of historic change. Dramatic aspects of the story emerge from the courtroom testimony, correspondence and diaries of Cruz over the course of his legal battle.


"Writ Writer is a terrific film about a fascinating story in correctional history. It will be of interest to instructors and students, and will stimulate a deeper understanding of the complexities of prison law and prison reform."

Todd R. Clear, PhD - John Jay College of Criminal Justice

"Watching Writ Writer, viewers experience its seamless, methodical, gripping pace, which seems pitch perfect for the story it narrates - of human degradation, cunning and courage, triumph, and personal tragedy. The documentary should engage young people and adults alike. Writ Writer shows how one person can use the courage of his humanity and the resources of the law to make a difference."

American Bar Association

"...a profound film of sociological relevance..."

Rebecca L. Bordt, PhD - Teaching Sociology

"A gripping tale of a jailhouse lawyer who made a difference."

David Yas, Publisher - Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

"Recommended for human rights studies as well as criminal justice courses."

Veronica Maher - Educational Media Reviews Online

"Susanne Mason's Writ Writer is a remarkable, heart-breaking, and empowering triumph. Merging extensive archival footage from the Texas prison system in the late-1960s, interviews with former prison guards, TDC officials, and prisoners, and woven together with gorgeous photographs and an original score, the documentary tells the story of Fred Cruz, the crusading jailhouse lawyer who forced the TDC to finally uphold the U.S. Constitution... For those viewers interested in the history of prison brutality, or the history of the complicated relationship between state prison systems and the U.S. Constitution...Writ Writer is a must see. Not since the award-winning Mario's Story have I been so moved by a prison-based documentary."

Stephen Hartnett, PhD - University of Colorado, Denver

"Cruz's story is by turns tragic and inspiring...And Cruz became a model for subsequent jailhouse lawyers, prisoners who find the official legal system inadequate, distracted, or corrupted, and so must devise their own means to make themselves heard. As much as the film raises up Cruz's activities as heroic and his energies as frankly brilliant, the broader problems remain. When at last he was released, he found it hard to resist his past or to live with the trauma he endured in prison."

Cynthia Fuchs, PhD -

"Combining interviews with friends, associates and adversaries with a narration based on Mr. Cruz's prison journals, letters, legal writings and transcripts of his court appearances, Mason creates a detailed portrait of not just the man, but the times that shaped him."

Tom Maurstad - The Dallas Morning News

"...I watched it - mesmerized. It is truly powerful, an amazing story, both inspiring and heartbreaking."

Howard Zinn, PhD