I write this to inform you that the COINTELPRO is still alive and active today under another name, and is used to continue their tactics of divide and conquer. If you are a Black Panther or have a tattoo of a panther, or if you are interested in the history of our beloved fallen comrades, you are now considered a security threat group (STG) [in Texas]. So now they are targeting the majority of Black prisoners as "gang members." After 14 years on the same unit under many different officers, now all of a sudden I'm labeled as an STG. This is based on books one reads and notation that one might write for a broader understanding. In other words our freedom of expression of political beliefs is now viewed as inflammatory and a security threat.
MIM(Prisons) held a congress in June where we addressed some important theoretical and practical questions for our organizing. We began congress with some study and discussion on the principal contradiction as applied to our work fighting the criminal injustice system. This discussion led to some clarifications and unity as well as an agreement to do more study to develop a position paper on this subject. The congress itself was left with the unifying understanding that the principal task overall is to create public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed to seize power. All congress discussion strove to apply this principal task.
A discussion of finances and goals led to a re-affirmation that Under Lock & Key is our most important organizing tool. That thought informed discussions about potentially expanding the size and frequency of ULK and tradeoffs with producing and/or mailing other revolutionary literature in to prisoners. With limited time and money, it's important that we make the best use of our resources by carefully considering these decisions.
We changed the distribution policy for ULK this year, sending new people only one sample issue before removing them from the mailing list if we do not hear back from them saying that they want to stay on. This led to an artificial drop in people on our mailing list, and our theory at the time of developing this new policy was that these people were mostly not receiving ULK and/or not interested in it. However, we've had a decline in the rate of new subscribers in the past year that we think might be associated with this changed policy. To test out this theory, we will be re-instating the policy of allowing all people to stay on our mailing list for 6 months before they get cut off if we have not heard from them.
On the positive side, we have had a big increase in regular writers, and the folks contributing solid, high quality articles and art to Under Lock & Key has gone up. We have also become more selective about which articles/letters get typed for posting on the website and consideration for inclusion in ULK. With an excess of good potential articles, we are focusing on the best submissions and trying to work with writers to improve their articles and writing skills when we don't accept something for publication. We are not as strong in this second area as we would like; more should be done to send comrades responses to their article submissions when they are not making the cut for print. We also need to give people more guidance about what we are and are not looking for to print.
Although MIM(Prisons) focuses on work with prisoners, we know that in order to build public opinion we must also reach people on the outside. Our main tool for this work is our website www.prisoncensorship.info, which was relaunched in January 2011 with a new look and added features to bring in more readers. Our web traffic doubled in the past year and we are seeing a very strong growth in interest in our online work. To this end we are going to do some web-based outreach to continue to expand the voices of our comrades behind bars. This will include putting the many art submissions we receive but can't fit into ULK online for people to see.
Anti-Censorship and PLC
Since our winter congress, we have been focusing our anti-censorship efforts on trying to recruit lawyers on the outside to help us take some select prison administrations to court. This is a slow-going process, and we recently decided to refocus back on writing directly to administrators on behalf of prisoners who can't receive mail from us. This has proven to be a fruitful investment in the past, leading to both victories over censorship, and recruiting new comrades to work with MIM(Prisons) and the United Struggle from Within. For MIM(Prisons)'s 2011 annual censorship report, click here.
In other legal work, many of you know that MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC), picking up a project that MIM used to run. This incarnation has been going since November 2009 and has strayed from its original path of working on issues that are intimately related to our anti-imperialist struggle, and had degraded into a more broad legal strategy discussion group with contributors showing limited initiative to pick up tasks outlined by MIM(Prisons). In upcoming PLC mailings we will be refocusing on our goals and tasks, and referring comrades out for general legal discussion. A PLC mailing went out in June 2011, so PLC contributors should let us know if they haven't gotten theirs yet.
MIM(Prisons)-led Study Groups
Last year we separated our introductory study course into two different levels. The first level is short (only two assignments) and studies two articles written by MIM(Prisons). The second level studies more advanced material and lasts much longer (about one year). We have recently recruited advanced USW members as study group responders, which helps relieve MIM(Prisons) to do other work that can only be done by someone on the outside, and is a great task for someone to do who can't run a study group where they're at due to isolation restrictions. We encourage all prisoners, advanced or beginner, to get together and study revolutionary material. You will get so much more out of it than if you just read something once by yourself!
More advanced study group participants have created a number of study guides over the last year, and comrades are actively working to build the MIM(Prisons) glossary, which should be available for distribution in the next year. Study group coordinators have worked to improve structure and set clear schedules and expectations at all levels over the last year.
United Struggle from Within
Of the hundreds of new people we've had requesting to be put on our mailing list in the last year, 50% of them were recruited by people with various levels of activity within United Struggle from Within (USW); 32% wrote in because they had seen some MIM or MIM(Prisons) literature, and 17% were referred by resource guides or non-prisoners, such as lawyers or family members on the outside. This shows that the USW is successfully completing the task of multiplying subscribers to Under Lock & Key as outlined in the USW Intro Letter and the Second Introductory Letter About MIM(Prisons).
Another USW task is to expand the grievance petition campaign that was initiated in California and spread to Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. MIM(Prisons) was able to post these petitions online in February 2011 so family members and activists on the outside can print them and mail them to their people experiencing grievance issues. In California the campaign came to a head in February 2011, and the CDCR granted the prisoners a partial victory by slightly reforming their grievance process. Comrades in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri are still requesting the grievance campaign from us and are submitting them to administrators. For more information on active USW campaigns, click here.
Several new policies were passed related to working with prison-based organizations and facilitating correspondence between imprisoned groups/individuals.
Policy on Prisoner-to-Prisoner Correspondence
MIM(Prisons) provides Under Lock & Key as a general forum for public discussion of developments within the prison movement.
MIM(Prisons) provides small group forums for specific projects, involving those prisoners who have done work on, or have a special interest in said project. The principle example of this is the ULK Writers group. But our ability to run such groups is limited.
We do not want to hold the key to all work being done in the anti-imperialist prison movement, because this is not good leadership. Good comrades are rare, so it is in our interest that prisoners develop independent networks of communication with those they want to build with. This is also a positive thing in the case that MIM(Prisons) may be repressed or somehow put to an end.
With this in mind, the following is our policy for facilitating such developments without violating the role and purpose of MIM(Prisons) or jeopardizing the greater movement:
If comrades have outside addresses or are allowed to correspond with other prisoners we will forward their info to another prisoner per request of the persyn whose info is being sent ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. We will make the determination to do this based on the political value of aiding this connection, with careful consideration to the time and money this costs our very resource-limited program. Every piece of mail we send is less stamps and time we have available to send something else.
Comrades who have demonstrated a certain level of ideological unity with MIM(Prisons) may be assigned as theoretical corresponders. They will be sent correspondence from other comrades through us for response. The response will either be printed in ULK or sent privately to the original writer. In either case, neither persyn's identity is revealed to the other.
These assignments are to expand the work of MIM(Prisons), and primarily to improve the depth and breadth of our correspondence. Secondarily, this is an important way for our comrades in prison to develop their political line and debate skills, especially those who are in isolation.
We will not serve as a dropbox for third party correspondence. Not only does this set us up for censorship, it takes up limited resources. Theoretical struggle between those not upholding MIM line should be able to be conducted through ULK or within MIM(Prisons)-led study groups. When necessary, one-on-one correspondence with recruits will be assigned to a comrade in MIM(Prisons) or a theoretically advanced USW leader.
Building New Groups Vs. Working with USW and MIM(Prisons)
We only work to build two organizations at this time: MIM(Prisons) and USW. The only organizing group we run for prisoners is the USW leaders group, and even that is mostly done through Under Lock & Key for efficiency and to reach the masses with info on USW work.
We do not think that we, or any other group, serves as the end-all-be-all vanguard organization for North America at this time. There are many roles to be played and more groups to be built. But for security reasons, and this is doubly true in prisons, organizational cells should be primarily location-based. Mass organizations like USW are countrywide because of coordination work through the vanguard organization MIM(Prisons).
Because of security concerns in prisons, and the very stringent restrictions on contact between prisoners, even within the same cell block, MIM(Prisons) encourages those who have unity with our cardinal principles to become USW leaders. We do not recruit prisoners directly into MIM(Prisons) because of the restrictions of the prison system, but we afford these comrades the opportunity to contribute and participate at the level of full comrade in every aspect of organizing work feasible, including encouraging them to help us develop new political line and move forward our organizing strategies.
There are only a few conditions that would merit launching a new prison-based organization:
Comrades launching the organization disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles. If you agree with our cardinal principles, why not work with the established group led by MIM(Prisons): USW? If you think you disagree, it is important to clearly articulate the cardinal principles of your new organization if you hope to organize people around common goals.
A disagreement with MIM(Prisons)'s policy of not recruiting prisoners into MIM(Prisons) while they are behind bars. These comrades may wish to establish a vanguard organization in their location, whose members are subject to democratic centralism and can focus on cell-based organizing.
The case of an LO or other existing mass organization that develops into a revolutionary party and adopts cardinal principles affirming their communist ideology. While we would consider this a very positive development, we caution comrades that this has been tried more than once by the most advanced comrades in an LO, and the limitations of communication with a countrywide group from within prison have always led to insurmountable obstacles in attempts to bring the whole organization together behind communist principles. Further, we maintain that if the members of such a group are not overwhelmingly supporting a move to communist organizing, the advanced elements would be better to leave the group and join or form another, rather than wrecking the existing group from within. The reason we talk about vanguards versus mass organizations is that there are too many contradictions among the masses for everyone to take the leap of forming a scientific communist organization all at once. Existing groups that take up anti-imperialism play a very valuable role in the United Front without becoming communist organizations, often accomplishing things the communists could not.
Comrades who wish to build a new nation-based vanguard. MIM(Prisons) is not a single-nation organization, but we affirm the value of such groups to the revolutionary movement within U.$. borders. However, we caution prisoners looking to form these organizations from scratch that the difficulties in organizing outside of your own prison (or even within your prison when your group is targeted for lock-up in control units, or transfers, and other repression) are significant.
Revolutionary organizations representing different nations, lumpen groups, or regions require self-sufficiency. If comrades trying to launch such organizations continue to fail for lack of resources and support they should be working within USW and MIM(Prisons) on other projects until their conditions change.
USW is a mass organization, and therefore comrades can join USW while maintaining membership in another organization if that organization allows dual membership and that organization does not openly disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles.
On Relations with Prison-Based Organizations
MIM(Prisons) frequently receives statements of support and principles, as well as other contributions of work, from representatives of LOs and other groups that span states. Many of these individuals want their organization name printed with their article. We will always do our best to confirm that those submitting statements can speak for their organizations before we print them in Under Lock & Key or on the web. Part of this process involves observing good consistent work from that organization over a period of time. But we know that there are often organizations that span multiple locations where different political lines arise in different sections of that group. MIM(Prisons) cannot pick representatives for an organization or help with correspondence to get these groups better aligned (beyond what we already do via ULK). Due to the limitations of organizing from behind-bars, we encourage political LOs to consider dividing into location-based cells to ensure each group correctly represents the political line of its members.
For those groups whose material we do print or review, contact info will be printed in ULK when available. The only organizations you can contact via our address are MIM(Prisons) and USW. You may also send United Front for Peace related correspondence to MIM(Prisons). Mail addressed to other organizations but sent to MIM(Prisons) will not be forwarded or returned.
I got your letter about the food strike. I did my best to hang in there, I gave it 2 weeks and I had to eat. Sorry, I could not last any longer. So what is the outcome of the food strike? Did they accomplish their goal? Can you please let me know what's going on right now? I am validated and I got 6 years clean and they won't let me out of the SHU either.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are doing our best to keep our comrades behind bars updated on the food strike, which ended at Pelican Bay on July 21, at least temporarily. The latest issue of Under Lock & Key just went out with this update. The original goals of the strike were not won, but the administrators promised a major review of policies and the latest report from others in touch with strike leaders say that the CDCR has a few weeks to complete their review before the strike begins again.
One thing is for sure, if we don't keep up the pressure and hold them to not only review but actual policy change, the conditions of abuse and torture in prisons across California will remain the same. In addition, hunger strikers are likely to face reprisals as punishment for their protest if we don't continue to increase support inside and outside California prisons.
The recent mass hunger strike got the prisoncrats' attention even though the prisoncrats seek to downplay or minimize the success of the strike by spoon feeding the media. In particular, their Sacramento Bee spin doctor stooge accepts the official representations which contain very few facts mixed with the typical misleading, provocative and confusing innuendo so as to perpetuate their coined myths.
The public is gullible and must be constantly educated to see through muddy water. Such has been the case for years because of the assumption that government officials and law enforcement allegedly have their safety, security and best interests at the forefront when it's really all about the money or budget. The CDCR purveys to the public that the most dangerous and supposedly most hardened prison gang leaders called for the hunger strike even though they also claim that the modus operandi of gangs are violence and intimidation which is totally contrary to the utilization of a passive non-violent form of protest which requires self restraint and determination.
The secretary, Matthew Cate, stated in a CDCR prepared statement that "hunger strikes are dangerous and ineffective as a means for prisoners to attempt to negotiate." Yet, the administrative appeal process is also dangerous and ineffective as each level rubber stamps the arbitrary decision of the prior level. Even when the decision was obviously in error and a threat to prisoner health and safety, they refuse to accept responsibility and accountability.
What the secretary has not said is that the hunger strike by masses of prisoners have in fact overwhelmed the prison medical department with additional medical expense to an already overburdened prison healthcare system. The strikers pose a more significant problem for the prisoncrats' budget than the shooting and gassing of violent prisoners in prison uprisings or even non-violent prisoners who are also shot, gassed/sprayed and beat with zeal as prisoncrats claim they were a threat to institutional security [see grievance campaign].
Prisoncrats, as any conscious prisoner should know, could not care less about the health of prisoners. They do care about the expense of providing constitutional mandated medical care. Therefore we should question the prisoncrats' claim to have had plans since January to review and change some policies, which were only revealed to us after weeks of food strikes.
Prisoncrats tend to take full advantage of the divide and conquer concept and are at their best when they are able to pit the lumpen divisions against each other for amusement or distraction which is why one should be suspicious of any claim by the prisoncrats to want to eliminate what they have for years encouraged and perpetuated in the penal system to justify the excessive prison budget.
The mass hunger strike may have only lasted 20 days, but it was like a shot across the bow of the CDCR's battleship by an enemy they can not justifiably target with all their massive violent resources and infrastructure. Yes the mass hunger strike got the prisoncrats' attention and their immediate response was to again expand the censorship of information prisoners receive so as to keep us unaware of what's going on. However, it also got their budgetary attention via their healthcare pocketbook.
The hunger strike also got the attention of the CCPOA which realizes that such strikes benefit the SEIU who are gaining more clout in the prison system and custody staff have effectively been rendered impotent as they do not have a real or effective contingency for dealing with non-violent forms of protest that they can not counteract or employ violence to suppress and to that extent the mass hunger strike was a success.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Many are writing in disappointed with the outcome of the California hunger strike so far. But as this comrade points out, the strategy of the hunger strikers was effective in a number of ways. And as the CDCR is given a "brief grace period," as one of the strike initiators called it, we are regrouping. There are many who just found out about the strike as it was happening. If the CDCR continues to drag its feet on making any real changes, as we all expect they will, we should see an even stronger and more widespread response from prisoners across California and beyond. Of course, CDCR is regrouping as well, and we must guard against efforts to trick prisoners into thinking they do not share the same conditions and the same enemies.
I appreciate you sending me the book I had requested. You see, I've got to stay busy to not allow myself to get sucked into the Texas prisoner slave mentality. Just perhaps, being armed with initiative and the right knowledge, I can get these guys minds off of the TV and gossiping, and onto unity and change. It's a very pitiful state here in Texas (no pun intended!) Last week an officer turned off the dayroom TVs during count and left them off for an hour or so. The prisoners went crazy! They were yelling, cursing, making threats and demanding to speak to rank. They're willing to come together and protest over something trivial like the television, but not over important things like parole, our good time and work time being honored, and getting paid to work.
As we know, slavery and capitalism go hand in hand. This is evident because there's no equality; slaves are less than, and whoever is the richest and most famous, their lives are more precious than the common and poor folk. Capitalism takes on a new meaning in Texas prisons. Since we work for free, and the state has enslaved us in their TCI factories to exploit and profit off of us; it's every "offender" for themselves, and some are doing whatever it takes to survive.
While the warden and major sit in their air conditioned offices, and officers are huddled up in the air conditioned pickets, us offenders are sweating like pigs in the scorching hot day rooms and cells. We're running around like savages hustling and conning for a ramen soup, stick of deodorant, a stamp, or a shot of coffee. And the ones who are fortunate enough to have friends and family sending them money to buy stuff from commissary; they're revered, admired, despised, or the next potential victim. Thanks to the state of Texas, petty criminals and first timers become hardened criminals, and whoever has the most money, has either the most power, or has to make the most protection payoffs.
If prisoners were treated as people and paid for their labor like everyone else in civilized society are, they would in turn, act accordingly. There would be real equality, unity and harmony. MIM, please give me some advice on how to make this come about.
On a related topic, I've enclosed my latest timesheet showing I have 213 percent of my sentence completed with all my worthless earned time credits. I want people to view this state issue timesheet so they can see for themselves what a scam this is. The time credits look great on paper, but they're not worth a damn. If they were, I would have been released last February when I reached a hundred percent.
Also with this letter is my last denial letter from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. I want the people to see this too. To see the absolutely ridiculous reasons why we're denied parole and "mandatory supervision." The following is their most absurd: "The inmate has a previous juvenile or adult arrest for felony and misdemeanor offenses." We've all been arrested for a felony or misdemeanor. We wouldn't be in prison if we hadn't. The parole board might as well deny prisoners because they wear white uniforms, since that applies to all of us too.
Truly amazing the Lone Star State is getting away with such widespread and blatant fraud, and exploitation of its prisoners. But, in our capitalist society and capitalist prison system, money and profit always trump humanity and morals.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer is correct about the need for unity to fight the injustice in prison. We point everyone to the United Front for Peace in Prisons as a starting point for developing principled unity to fight our common enemy. We do, however, need to point out that the prison economy does not lead to prisons, the state or the imperialists profiting from prisoner labor. It is a system primarily used for social control, not for profit. Though of all states, Texas probably has the most productive industries in prisons, and workers receive no wages, only room and board.
As we concluded in our article in Under Lock & Key 8 on the U.$. Prison Economy: "A number of articles in this issue include calls from prisoners to take actions against the prison industries that are making money off prisoners, and to boycott jobs to demand higher wages. All of these actions are aimed at hitting the prisons, and private industries profiting off relationships with prisons, in their pocketbook. This is a good way for our comrades behind bars to think about peaceful protests they can take up to make demands for improved conditions while we organize to fundamentally change the criminal injustice system."
California Prison Focus reported this evening (July 21, 2011) that CDCR claims that the hunger strike in Pelican Bay has ended are true. They report they stopped "in exchange for a major policy review of SHU housing conditions, gang validation process, and debriefing process." While our experience of reviews within the department are universally that nothing happens, the leaders of the strike have nonetheless achieved a great victory in uniting prisoners across California and beyond for the just demands of the oppressed. This is a struggle to learn from and build on.
Presumably prisoners at other prisons (such as Chino, Calipatria, Corcoran, Tehachapi, Folsom, Vally State Prison for Women, San Quentin) are still on food strike unaware of the agreement.
Of all the agencies and offices I filed the California grievance petition with, only the U.S. Department of Justice and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation bothered to respond. They only issued form letters disclaiming any responsibility for further investigation, and simply redirected me back to the same dysfunctional process that I had complained of!
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is clear that the U.$. Department of Injustice and the CDCR won't back up their words to give administrative remedy to prisoners with actions when they discover the process isn't working. In fact, it's to their benefit if the grievance system is broken so that they won't have to actually deal with the problems that arise in the prison system. This ensures their control over oppressed nations peoples.
The prisoner who received these defeating form letters asked for more copies of the petition in the same letter. S/he recognizes that the response from the bureaucrats isn't the be-all-end-all goal of the grievance petition. We want to show that if we ask nicely for a solution, we will be given the brush off. We also want to use this petition to recruit others into doing political work, even if it's just sending out the petition to a few administrators. Hopefully this action will be a simple beginning to a long history of contribution to the struggle against oppression.
We currently have grievance petitions prepared for California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, North Carolina, and Texas. If you're experiencing obstructions of your grievance procedure but your state isn't currently covered by the grievance campaign, consider modifying it to apply to your state! Write in for more info, or to get petitions.
I am a prisoner at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, NJ. I am presently housed in what is called the Management Control Unit (MCU). I have been in this unit since 2008. New Jersey's MCU is basically the equivalent of other states Security Housing Units (SHUs) or Intensive Management Units (IMUs). The reason I'm writing is to alert you of the numerous human and civil rights violations that we have been subjected to here. I also want to bring to your attention the fact that the administration at the prison has intentionally instituted a system designed to violate procedural due process rights of the prisoners in MCU.
Design and intent of the Management Control Program
The MCU program was designed to house the prisoners the administration considered a threat to the daily operations of the prison, to the correctional officer, or those they considered unable to house in general population with the other prisoners. The MCU unit in theory was not supposed to be a punitive unit for punishment since you could be placed there coming directly from the street never having received a disciplinary infraction inside of the prison. The prisoners of the MCU unit were told that the MCU is basically a "population for MCU prisoners." However, the MCU is anything but.
The MCU is supposed to be governed by what's called the New Jersey administrative code 10A. However, the administration does not adhere to it's own rules as put forth in the 10A. The so-called release program of the MCU is a three phase program (levels 1-3, one being the lowest). Completion of the following programs are requisite: Cage your Rage, and Thinking for a Change. The problem with this criteria is that the programs are very seldom offered, or capriciously and arbitrarily offered. This situation has only gotten worse recently. Since April of this year (2011) the administration has had the unit on lock-down. This lock-down is supposedly the result of a couple of random fights between a few prisoners (no correctional officers were involved in either of the situations). Since these random fights, the administration has done the following:
Canceled all requisite programs needed to be considered for release
Painted the cell windows so that we can no longer see outside
Closed down the pantry in the unit where the food is served
Taken all the jobs from the workers in the unit
Canceled indoor recreation
Changed the outdoor recreation schedule from every other day to once every four days
Changed the amount of people allowed to go to the outdoor recreation. Everybody that was on MCU was able to go to the yard together. Now only six can go at a time.
It is my opinion, which I believe to be firmly grounded, that the couple of fights had nothing at all to do with the draconian measures taken by the administration. On July 2, 2010 the superior court of New Jersey appellate division issued a crushing ruling that the administration of New Jersey thought would never happen! In that ruling the court said that once a prisoner has reached phase three (the highest level in the MCU program) the burden then shifts to the prison to show why the prisoner should be held in MCU. The burden the administration must meet is to show a present identifiable threat that the prisoner presents. Up until this ruling the administration in New Jersey was just throwing prisoners on MCU and leaving them there. The average prisoner in MCU has been there for about a decade.
To circumvent this ruling the administration has canceled the programs preventing prisoners from reaching phase three which would render them eligible for release if the administration is unable to meet it's burden. I have more proof that this is the administration's intention. The court ruling was issued on July 2, 2010. Up until that ruling whenever a MCU prisoner would appeal the Management Control Unit review committees (MCURC) decision to continue his placement in MCU, the administrator would quickly respond to the appeal 99.9% of the time upholding the MCURC decision.
Let me explain. Every three months the prisoners in MCU are given what's called routine review where the committee decides whether or not the prisoner should be released or if his placement in MCU should be continued. Every MCU prisoner is allowed to attend even though you must be phase three to even be considered for release. This is not more than a ceremonial display and out right sham. Again, after these hearings about a week later you receive the MCURC decision on paper which you can appeal to the administrator. The decision from the court was issued July 2, 2010 and since that decision none of the MCU prisoners have received a response back from any of the routine review appeals which would be September 2010, December 2010, March 2011, and the last one June 2011. I do not believe in coincidences. As I said up until that decision from the court we were getting every single one of our appeals back.
There are a few prisoners in the MCU unit right now that are phase three and still the administration have not let them go. Not only have they not let them go, but by not responding to the appeals they are preventing prisoners from taking their case to the court. The court has ruled that before a prisoner can prevail on his complaint s/he must afford the administration the opportunity to make it's final decision. Thus, the administration is violating the MCU prisoners procedural due process rights! If this is not suppose to be a punitive unit and a general population for MCU prisoners, how do you explain the actions taken by the administration?
They have stopped me from being able to finish the programs, they have painted over my cell window so that I can't even see outside! I'm only allowed to go outside every four days and you cover my window. This is treatment one would expect to hear being done at Guantanamo Bay. Before the covering of the window the MCU unit was already a socially and sensory depriving unit. The prisoners are in single cells and the only time they come out in the unit is for a 15 minute shower one at a time. Thus any conversation is carried on by yelling through the crack of the door. The only contact you have with anyone is during recreation every four days. I truly hope that my concerns and suffering, as well as the concerns and suffering of the other prisoners will lead you to pick up our cause and help us fight for and defend our human and civil rights. We are still humans.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Lack of due process and group punishment were two of the main complaints behind the California hunger strike that started in the Pelican Bay SHU and included participation of at least 6600 prisoners across the state. As stated by the author these conditions of long-term isolation are very similar across the United $tates, as are the policies that keep people there. This example also parallels that in California where the courts are ordering the state to make release easier (whether from MCU or prison altogether). But the interests of the Amerikan workers has made sure that in neither case has the state government begun to comply with court orders. While the courts offer a facade of justice, the state continues on as it always has in its efforts to control oppressed people.
MIM(Prisons) sent another stack of letters in support of the prisoners on hunger strike across California to the so-called Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with the cover letter below. There will also be a demonstration in support of the prisoners' demand outside of the CDCR office today:
Monday, July 18th 1-4PM Demonstration outside CDCR Headquarters. 1515 S. St. in Sacramento, CA
Warden Greg Lewis Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000
18 July 2011
Dear Warden Lewis,
Two weeks ago we sent dozens of letters from residents of California who are concerned for the welfare of the prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison. As the conditions outlined by the prisoners have still not been addressed by the CDCR we are sending additional letters of support (see enclosed). We are all aware that the conditions of many prisoners are becoming critical and we urge you to take immediate action to remedy the conditions. The conditions addressed by the prisoners demands are in no way conducive to rehabilitation and no one should have to die for these basic requests.
We have also forwarded copies of these letters to CDCR Internal Affairs and CDCR Office of the Ombudsman.
Sincerely, MIM Distributors P.O. Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
We rely on information directly from prisoners and returned mail to track our censorship. For the 2011 reporting year, only 72% of all mail was not reported as censored or received. This is a big improvement from last year's 83% unreported mail status. We see two causes for this change. One is that we stopped giving everyone who wrote to us automatic 6 month subscriptions, and instead required confirmation of receipt (or censorship) of a sample issue of Under Lock & Key first. This not only reduced the amount of mail we sent in by 30% from last year, but pushed those who wanted Under Lock & Key to confirm receipt of the sample issue, doubling the amount of people reporting receiving ULK.
Another contributing factor to the high reporting rate is the institution of Unconfirmed Mail Forms, which is a short form we send out to encourage individuals to report the mail they've received. We primarily send these forms to people we suspect are experiencing censorship of our materials. Even if you don't receive one of these forms, you should still tell us everything you have gotten from us since the last time you wrote. Since we ask about the entire history of mail we've sent in, not just in this reporting year, the institution of the Unconfirmed Mail Forms (UMFs) has improved our stats on past years as well. In the last year we've improved the amount of mail unreported for the July 2010 Report from 83% to 78%. We plan to continue using UMFs to better assist in tracking our censorship.
Like we reported in MIM(Prisons) 2011 Congress Summary and Resolutions, in the past six months we have been focusing our resources on building cases and recruiting lawyers rather than writing letters to administrators. Most of the victories in the fight against censorship come from prisoners filing appeals and defending Under Lock & Key in hearings. MIM(Prisons) plays a supporting role in ensuring that the administrators know that someone on the outside is paying attention and publicizing their illegal actions. So while it is not of vital importance that we write these letters, it has still helped overturn censorship in enough cases that we find it worthwhile to pick up this task again.
A major victory was won against Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico this year. A prisoner won a partial settlement for censorship issues. The settlement names MIM Distributors and Under Lock & Key and is in favor of prisoners' rights to receive "copied" material. If you are experiencing censorship for copies, write in for this information.
Red Onion State Prison in Virginia has been notorious for censoring Under Lock & Key to the point where we haven't heard of our newsletter getting in since issue 5 (November 2008). The Final Call and Prison Legal News both won settlements in favor of getting their newsletters into Red Onion in recent months. Since the treatment of The Final Call and PLN was similar to the treatment of ULK, we are hoping that those settlements will impact how ULK is received at Red Onion. This is yet to be determined.
A reasonable expectation for our anti-censorship work is that when we win a victory in a state, we should either continue to have victories there or no longer experience censorship. Of course this expectation wouldn't apply if the conditions within the state change and become more repressive. In the cases of New York, Illinois and Colorado there have been victories in the past but only censorship without victories in this reporting year. In Illinois and Colorado, some victories have been connected to outside pressure put on by MIM(Prisons). This leads to the logical conclusion that victories would be more likely if we continued to apply this pressure.
In New York there doesn't seem to have been a connection between outside pressure and victories. Those reversals in censorship came strictly from the hard work of New York prisoners fighting for their own rights. We are unsure if the current lack of victories is due to a change in conditions in the NYDOCS or a lack of prisoners fighting censorship.
There is a hunger strike happening in Pelican Bay State Prison in California that is well under way. In June 2011 we heard word that our mail had recently started getting in just prior to the start of the strike after experiencing major censorship there for years. In the last year 44% of the mail we've sent into Pelican Bay has been confirmed as received (13% confirmed as censored), compared to the previous reporting year's 25% received (57% censored). Hopefully the hunger strike will be successful in granting people held in PBSP their five core demands, including an end to mail tampering.
While we try to win as many victories as possible through writing letters, if a facility or state won't follow the law, then it eventually becomes necessary to take them to court. Due to our limited resources and time, we encourage the prisoners affected by the censorship to fight the issue as far as they can. In Arizona we came to one of these brick walls related to the censorship of a study group assignment for "promot[ing] racism and/or religious oppression" without containing any words that refer to race or religion. We reported on this issue in Under Lock & Key 18 and are still struggling to find a lawyer that will take on this important case.
And yes, mailroom staff in California are still clinging to the 2006 memo banning MIM Distributors, which was nullified in a settlement between Prison Legal News and CDCR way back in 2008. Can you believe it? The California institutions that are still favoring this method of censorship are Deuel Vocational Institution and Pelican Bay State Prison.
In Salinas Valley State Prison in California, rather than citing the overturned memo, the Warden creatively assures us that the staff was new at the time and have now been retrained, or claim to simply not see mail from MIM Distributors arriving there. This is completely bogus considering we consistently send in ULKs every time there is a new issue, in addition to persynalized letters and other literature. When we called the Warden out on the fact that there was no change after the "new staff" was "retrained," he simply baselessly told us there is no censorship and "no evidence the mailroom staff are negligent in their duties or MIM Distributors mail was illegally tampered with as you claim." No shit, there's no evidence if you just throw the mail in the trash! While some mail gets into SVSP sometimes, they are still highlighted on our list of brick walls we are determined to break.
In Nebraska the ACLU has picked up on censorship of our materials and has been doing research, writing letters, and may eventually file a suit on behalf of MIM Distributors and the prisoners facing censorship. They have reviewed most if not all issues of Under Lock & Key and have determined that "the prison is violating both [MIM(Prisons)'s] First Amendment rights and the rights of the prisoners." We are excited to be working with the ACLU to hopefully set a precedent in Nebraska that protects people held there against censorship. We encourage any lawyers on the outside to follow their example and get with MIM(Prisons) to fight censorship in prisons!