Ginsberg wrote to Magdalene (Leni) Sinclair regarding her husband John Sinclair’s imprisonment for marijuana possession. Who is John Sinclair? At the time of his arrest in 1969, Sinclair was known for his jazz poetry and for radical political activism. He and Leni helped form the White Panther Party, a militant counterpart to the Black Panthers, most active in Michigan. Like many of his contemporaries, Sinclair smoked and sold marijuana. For the possession of apparently two joints, and after repeated prior arrests, Sinclair was given a ten year prison sentence in the tumultuous year, 1969. The sentence was criticized by many as unduly harsh. Sinclair’s imprisonment incited a protest movement led by prominent figures in the arts and politics culminating in the huge “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, December 10, 1971. Shortly afterward, he was released, and he sued the federal government for illegal domestic surveillance. Sinclair’s case was successfully argued before the US Supreme Court in United States v. U.S. District Court (1972).
About three weeks after the Woodstock concert in upstate New York, where many of Sinclair’s supporters performed, Allen Ginsberg wrote this letter to Leni Sinclair. Here, he offered to “do what I can to publicize John’s usefulness to life and the bum rap he’s in...I'll send out the appeals...." He asked whether the Sinclair's phone was shut off due to non -payment of the bills then offers advice. "You should prepare weekly short news clips... Let me know what P.E.N. says...." PEN is an organization protecting writers’ rights, particularly the freedom of expression. Ginsberg drew a whimsical illustration of a fantasy animal called air mail, egg shaped, two wings on each side, eyes and the word, "airmail" drawn as if to be the mouth. Perhaps Ginsberg wanted to lift Leni’s spirits. He signed in full, "Allen Ginsberg." In pencil, he added the date and return address of Cherry Valley, NY Ginsberg wrote on the address side of the green and purple Family Dog postcard promoting the " Love Congress of Wonders concert."