Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, is not allowed to speak to reporters on the phone or in person, and is forbidden from using the internet as part of her 35-year sentence. But she’s managed a way around all of the restrictions, having given her first public interview to the press by mailing letters to Cosmo, and has begun communicating directly with the public via Twitter.

The social media account surfaced on Friday, April 3 and quickly amassed thousands of followers. Though Manning’s Twitter account has not yet been verified, ANIMAL confirmed with Manning’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander, that PR company FitzGibbon Media is writing the tweets on behalf of Manning via phone calls.

The idea for the Twitter account was Manning’s, according to a source at FitzGibbon Media who wished to remain anonymous. Manning apparently reached out to founder Trevor FitzGibbon, who has worked with Manning since she was detained at the Quantico marine base in Virginia before her trial.

“She picked the Twitter handle. We merely set it up to her specifications, we’re on her call list, and when she decides what she wants to tweet, we communicate that over the phone and we post the tweet for her,” said a representative from the firm. Employees at FitzGibbon Media also keep Manning informed of press requests, news and Twitter followers.

Formerly Bradley Manning, the whistleblower exposed torture, abuse and killing of innocent civilians at the hands of the U.S. government. She is regarded as a hero by activists and free speech advocates, but is seen as a traitor by the U.S. government. After her conviction, Manning came out as a transgender woman and became the first active member approved for gender-reassignment hormone therapy (a right earned only after the ACLU came to her aid in a legal battle). She is now serving time in an all-male federal prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Her recent communications provide a rare glimpse into what her life behind prison walls is like. In a letter Amnesty International published on Wednesday, Manning wrote:

My days here are busy and very routine. I work at a vocational wood shop during the week – about the same number of hours as a full-time job. I am taking college correspondence courses for a bachelor’s degree. I also work out a lot to stay fit, and read newspapers, magazines and books to keep up-to-date on current events around the world and learn new things.

I am now preparing for my court-martial appeal before the first appeals court. The appeal team, with my attorneys Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward, are hoping to file our brief before the court in the next six months. We have already had success in getting the court to respect my gender identity by using feminine pronouns in the court filings (she, her, etc).

Manning also opened up about her gender transition to Cosmo in an exclusive interview:

She says she hasn’t faced harassment from inmates and has found some confidantes. “The guys here are adults … There are some very smart and sophisticated people in prisons all across America — I don’t think television and the media give them credit,” she says. She gets visits from friends and relatives, including regular visits from her sister. The prison forbids visits from people Manning did not know prior to her confinement.

Manning is hoping to verify her Twitter account in the coming weeks with a handwritten note which FitzGibbon will post to the account. According to the FitzGibbon Media employee, Manning hopes that her Twitter account will be “interactive, warm and human.”

(Photo: Garry Knight)