This series fills 29 boxes and almost exclusively contains incoming correspondence either sent directly or forwarded to Protess and relating to the cases of prisoners claiming innocence or unjust conviction. The letters span the years 1996 to 2001. The bulk of the letters dates from the period 1999-2000. The Northwestern University Archives acquired the series in several accessions between 1998 and 2002. Some of the accessions were received with restrictions governing their access. Whether or not materials were acquired under restriction has governed, in part, their final arrangement in this series. The letters of prisoners (or their advocates) are arranged first by location of conviction or imprisonment (Illinois and non-Illinois), then typically according to a rough chronology by year, and thereafter alphabetically by name of prisoner. Restricted items may cause a bifurcation of this scheme: a given year's letters may contain two alphabetical arrangements, one restricted and the other not. Regardless of how the letters were acquired or originally classified, all materials within the series may be used only with permission of the University Archivist. Note that distinctions of geography are made because Protess and his investigative journalism students dealt only with Illinois cases. Publicity generated by their notable successes prompted out-of-state prisoners and their advocates to seek help. Not all who wrote were afforded assistance.
The vast majority of the letters contain claims of wrongful convictions. Letters from Illinois prisoners date between 1996 and 2001 and fill nearly seven boxes. They are arranged first by year and thereafter alphabetically according to prisoner surname. Letters from advocates for Illinois prisoners date between 1996 and 2001 and fill nearly four boxes. These letters are claims of innocence made by a prisoner's family members or friends. These are arranged by year and then alphabetically according to the surname of the prisoner written about. Letters from specific Illinois prisoners and materials relating to exceptional cases fill nearly three boxes and date from 1997 to 1998. The prisoners who wrote to Protess in 1997 had files devoted solely to themselves. One of the files on prisoner Tyrone Hood includes a memo from Delores Patterson containing information relating to the Aaron Patterson and Eric Caine cases. Delores Patterson (no relation) worked on the Aaron Patterson case. The Hood files should be consulted for additional material concerning the highly notable Aaron Patterson case.
Letters from non-Illinois prisoners fill roughly nine boxes and date from 1996 to 2001. They are arranged first by year and then alphabetically according to surname of the prisoner. Letters from advocates for non-Illinois prisoners fill roughly seven boxes and date between 1996 and 2001. Theses also are arranged first by year and then alphabetically by surname of the prisoner written about.
Advocate letters with inadequate information take up less than one archive box and date from 1997 to 1998. These letters either omit the state of prisoner's incarceration or the prisoner's surname.
Letters about other cases fill nearly two archive boxes and date from 1999-2001. These cases involve either claims of innocence in civil cases or criminal investigations.
General correspondence and related material fill nearly one archive box and date from 1996 to 2001. Included are crank letters, announcements of publications, offers of assistance, offers of movie and television deals, holiday cards, fan mail, and general inquiries.