Censorship Battle Waged in Minnesota
I’m not sure if any of you have heard of my recent censorship battles, but let me catch you up on this ongoing and illegal censorship being perpetuated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, or what we inside refer to as the Minnesota Department of Corruption.
While I was housed in Minnesota’s only Maximum Custody Prison, Oak Park Heights, I had been subjected to a bit of censorship. First it was censorship of my outgoing legal mail to national organizations for legal assistance in my Federal Suit. I had sent mail out in sealed envelopes, clearly marked “Legal Mail” to The Exoneration Project, The Innocence Project, The Equal Justice Project, The Legal Aid Society, The Lewisburg Prison Project, The Constitutional Rights Center for Prisoners and every envelope was opened outside of my presence by mailroom staff member “S. Henry” and sent back to me with a notice of non-delivery in which it said I had “sealed it in violation NOT Legal/Special as addressed.”
This is actually a violation of the mailroom’s own policy. DOC Policy 302.020 Procedure L.3 states that “An incoming or outgoing item purporting to be special/legal mail that fails to meet the policy requirements for designation as special/legal mail, or is otherwise questionable, is opened in the presence of offender by a supervisor.”
Yet, more than 10 “outgoing item[s] purporting to be special/legal mail” were opened outside of my presence and refused to be sent in a sealed envelope.
It gets worse though. After being forced to send these letters in unsealed envelopes, when these organizations replied, even when stamped with “LEGAL CORRESPONDENCE OPEN ONLY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ADDRESSEE” i.e., me, the mailroom still opened all of this mail outside of my presence.
And when I had to file internal grievances to exhaust all remedies due to the PLRA, of course the DOC said that staff did not act in violation of anything, and of course the mailroom staff opened this mail outside of my presence again violating their own policy and court decisions. And so I filed in the Tenth Judicial District Court, only for the judge, Gregory G. Galler, to dismiss it as frivolous or malicious.
And then I was given disciplinary segregation for allegedly “lying and/or misrepresentation.” Which is illegal retaliation, but what does the Department of Corruptions care? None. Next came the censorship of publications I had been receiving from Critical Resistance “The Abolitionist”, this publication “ULK” and other mail from MIM(Prisons) including over 10 different mailings, News & Letters – all of which are political publications geared towards enlightening people on real world issues and express anti-Prison ideology.
When fighting the censorship, according to our “policy” we have to send an appeal to the Correspondence Review Authority(CRA). Yet when I did, the mailroom staff, Nancy Leseman responded instead. I had included the disclaimer that MIM(Prisons) affixes to ULK only for Leseman to state “All publications are reviewed on an individual basis & can at any time be denied for violating policy. An article advocates to organized disturbances within prison walls, activities in violation of facility rules.”
So, not only does she violate her own policy by not forwarding the appeal to the CRA, she violates the law when censoring publications as well.
But it only gets better from here.
Being as N. Leseman didn’t follow policy I was forced to send the appeal to her supervisor, Lt. Jason R. Hills, in which he replied, “The publication has contents that are not allowed per DOC Policy. Appeal Denied. You may appeal to the CRA.” Again clearly he violates law for censorship, and policy.
So I was forced to send the appeal directly to the CRA, which was comprised of Cris Pawelk the Associate Warden of Operations, Sherlinda Wheeler the Associate Warden of Administration, and Byron Matthews the Captain.
In their reply they said, “We have read the material and determined the content should be denied for violating MN DOC Division Directive 301.030 Contraband. One of the articles advocates for organized disturbances within prison walls and activities in violation of facility rules. All issues are reviewed on an individual basis. Any issue can be denied if any part of the publication violates policy. Publications that [sic] doesn’t violate policy is allowed. Therefore the Correspondence Review Authority is in agreement with the Mail Room’s decision and your appeal is denied.”
The next step was to appeal to the Assistant Commissioner of Corrections Nate Knutson. His reply was, “This newspaper contains graphic depiction of violence that pose a threat to facility security in violation of DOC Division Directive 301.030 Contraband. Appeal denied.”
But that’s not the end, after that I filed suit in the Tenth Judicial District Court, only for the order to be dismissed as “frivolous or malicious” because it “has no arguable basis in fact or in law.”
Now the next step is Federal Court, and and will involve even more defendants and more evidence of censorship illegally conducted. As MIM(Prisons) can accede, more than 10 of their mailings to me have been met with censorship, causing loss of money, and all with absolutely no notice or reason given by the DOC.
Censorship is this country’s way of blinding the people to only seeing what is “favorable” to them. Freedom of speech is only true if you don’t speak out against the regime. Any advocacy critical of the standard is demonized and made to look as extremist and insane. And no wonder, when 90% of the population lives only to work, the power rests upon the sweating, bleeding, starving faces of those that toil in the dirt beneath their polished shoes. Take comfort in this: If you’re being censored, it’s because they fear the truth and its power. If you’re being retaliated against, it’s because they fear you and your truth and power. People only get mad at the truth, so go piss off those pigs!
MIM(Prisons) adds: We can confirm that we received no notification of censorship as required by law for at least 10 pieces of mail sent to this comrade in 2019 that ey reported not receiving. One of these items was our guide for dealing with censorship in prison.
We commend this comrade’s persistence and eir attitude. These battles are small ones. As our regular readers know, we win some and lose some. But either way we win when we use these battles to inspire others and expose those set on oppression.