I have late breaking news to report regarding the Texas offender grievance manual. There was a memo sent out to all Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisons from the Access-to-Courts Supervisor, Frank Hoke. Here is the note as written:
Effective immediately the offender grievance manual will no longer be available in the law library. As such, please remove all copies of the offender grievance manual from your shelves. Make a note on your holdings list it has been removed and in its place write 'summary of significant changes to the offender grievance program.' The next revised holdings list will not include the offender grievance manual. In addition, cut out the below notice and post it in your law library for offender review. Should you have any questions, please contact the office at 936-437-4816.
Added: Emergency grievances that are repetitive in nature or have been previously identified and or addressed in another grievance will not be considered an emergency grievance and will be processed as a regular grievance. If at any time grievance staff cannot determine the grievance is repetitive in nature, the grievance will be processed as an emergency grievance according to the guidelines established in the offender grievance operations manual.
Added: 3rd party allegations of sexual abuse. Note: allegations of 3rd party sexual harassment will not be addressed and removed. The term 'specialty grievances' has been removed. Non-emergency grievances shall be processed as regular grievances subject to all screening criteria
Revised: time limits: disciplinary appeals and step 2 grievances shall be processed within 40 days of receipt from offender
Added: grievances that do not describe a reported use of force that was excessive or unnecessary do not warrant any further action and shall be considered non-grievable *enforcing*: 1 issue per grievance
9/30/14 9:24am authority: Frank Hoke.
I am letting all comrades know about this because it affects us all, and now we have no access to what the grievance codes are, the rules of the grievance manual, etc. This is a step in the wrong direction.
I did receive some letters back in response to my grievance petition. One came from Congressman Lloyd Doggett who wrote "Thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I am honored that you have the confidence in me to assist you with this matter. However since Congress has no jurisdiction over state issues I have forwarded your communication to the honorable Susan King Texas State House of Representatives, PO Box 2376, Abilene, TX 79604. Again thank you for taking the time to write me." Administrative Review & Risk Management sent a note when they received the grievance petition. They marked "please utilize the offender grievance procedure to address your concerns." The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) mailed an interoffice communication to me that an OIG investigation will not be conducted in response to the grievance petition.
MIM(Prisons) responds: After four years of campaigning to demand grievances be addressed in Texas, we now have the prison administrators taking action. This action is not to address prisoners' grievances, as their laws and procedures require, but rather to stop prisoners from finding out what the rules say. Fortunately, we already have an extensive guide to fighting grievances in Texas, which we distribute to prisoners, and it contains all the information needed from the TDCJ's grievance manual. We won't let this administrative move slow down the Texas campaign. In response we call on all Texas prisoners to make use of our grievance pack to fight the system on every violation of rules and regulations. File grievances and demand they be addressed. Flood the prison and the appeals system with legitimate grievances and show them that removal of their rules will not stop this fight. Write to MIM(Prisons) for a copy of the Texas grievance materials.
Most prisoners don't know that the only reason some injustices happen to them is because the person before them it was done to did nothing about it. So it continues into custom, then into practice, then into policy. Once in policy, Court Order Injunction is the only means to prove unconstitutionality of such acts and force them to be changed. Therefore we need to fight injustice while it is still just a custom!
In ULK 33"Solidarity: Dead in the Feds", a Federal prisoner reported on a spontaneous action that took place to protest poor meals in the Security Housing Unit at the United $tates Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana. 53 prisoners participated in a collective action but most quickly retreated. Clothing was taken away and everyone was placed on meager "disciplinary meals."
Besides the spontaneous direct action approach which quickly fizzled out, another tactic those comrades could take is to get those 53 prisoners to pick up a pen and a grievance and file the case law outlined on Donegan v. Fair, 859 F2d 1059.1063 (1st Cir 1988) (Statute: Prisoners have liberty interest in receiving nutritionally adequate food and meals).
I would also recommend to read the unit's use of force policy to see what they can and cannot do to you, being that this correspondent in Pollock was gassed five times. Getting gassed when done without reason is unconstitutional. See Stringer v. Rowe, 616 F2d 993 at 998 (7th Cir 1980).
The taking of clothes is arbitrary and capricious and done to punish without penological purpose. The case Reeves v. Pettcox, 19 F3d 1060 (5th Cir 1994) combats this type of act.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We appreciate this Prisoners' Legal Clinic contributor for sending in legal tips for others to use in their struggles against the criminal injustice system. Spontaneous collective action provides a good assessment of our overall level of solidarity. That 53 people participated in this spontaneous action in the first place is quite impressive. But building a protracted struggle to bring down the root causes of our vast criminal injustice system — capitalism, imperialism, and national oppression — is another thing altogether.
Unless there is a very broad and deep level of unity among the imprisoned population, direct actions will face defeat because the guards can easily intimidate people out of participating. This is essentially what happened in the original article from ULK 33. We hope the correspondent in Pollock will continue to organize others against injustices in their unit, rather than accept defeat because of one failed action. There are many tactics we can employ to build unity and strengthen our movement.
When choosing what campaigns to organize around, we can see there is a difference between just fighting for reforms while leaving the overall oppressive system intact, and fighting for reforms that make space for more political organizing. Our comrades behind bars should organize with others in their unit against prison abuses, to build networks and elevate the collective consciousness of their fellow captives. This would include fighting against excessive use of force, or for nutritious meals. And we can fight for reforms that directly impact our ability or organize, such as anti-censorship campaigns, or the struggle to abolish solitary confinement. We can organize over these campaigns, and even have some wins under imperialism. The biggest win will be developing our collective consciousness and unity.
To the comrade who wrote the article titled "South Carolina Stops Grievance Challenge Process" in ULK 33, I would like to commend you and provide ammo. You say the pigs move you around to different segregated dorms when they find out you are assisting other prisoners with their legal work. The clearly established right to assist others with legal work has been in place for over three decades in Corpus v. Estelle 551 F2d 68 (5th Cir 1977). Even though South Carolina is in the 4th Circuit, case law from the 5th Circuit can still be cited as a persuasive authority.
As for the problem of unprocessing your grievances, take a look at your prison's policies and see if they make reference to an offender grievance manual. They might have criteria for making a grievance unprocessed. Check and see if there is information on access to courts and if the manual has criteria with words such as what that administration "must," "will," or "shall" do before unprocessing the grievance. This is how you determine a "liberty interest," if the policy mandates any constitutional process due under the 4th or 14th Amendments.
Also look at these cases: Tool Sparashad v. Bureau of Prisons, 268 F3d 576, 585 (DC 2002) and Herron v. Harrison, 203 F3d 410-416 (6th Cir 2006) on matters concerning grievance and retaliation.
Teach as much as you know to others wanting and willing to learn, and keep on pushing comrade! Keep promoting use of the pen in legal warfare! Remember, winners never quit and quitters never win.
Due to another prisoner's actions who I correspond with regularly, I am being accused of ordering a hit on a prisoner "In an effort to further my position and recruiting purposes in security threat group (STG) activity." In fighting my supermax placement, I was able to get them to admit that the letter they are using as evidence was written in code. So they have no way of understanding what is really talked about in this letter. I went to the extreme of giving them some STG codes to show them that no hit was made on anyone's life and that they are making this out to be something that it isn't. This led to me being given another conduct report for possession of STG related material.
Following the advice from an older prisoner, I started using the grievance process to help fight my case instead of going the way of my past and becoming aggressive. This led to more harassment including cell searches in which conduct reports and grievances that I filled came up missing, making it seem as if I am making all this shit up!
I have been threatened with supermax placement since the day I got off this bus. Last year I was given 3 months in segregation over an incident where I was defending myself against another prisoner who attempted to stab me, and he was given less than a month. I was told that this was due to the fact that I had to have done something to provoke this individual! It's crazy. I used to read about other prisoners complaining of this kind of treatment and I'm ashamed to say that I used to doubt them and think that there had to be more to the story until I found myself facing the same set of circumstances.
Though I am a member of the United Blood Nation (UBN), I am not a gang member. To many that is hard to understand, but to explain it quickly, I feel that gang members rep colors and are more focused on ignorance. I am not concerned with the colors a person wears, the organization to which they belong or any of that. I am a freedom fighter. I stand for a cause. I read, study and follow the ideology of the Black liberation movements of the past. I encourage not only my young komrades but people who I associate and deal with to find knowledge of self and to study, build and to better themselves. I am no angel and don't claim to be. I still have a lot of work to do but I'm moving at a righteous pace and setting the tone and paving the way for the masses to follow in a meaningful and constructive manner.
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is interesting that the very method the prison uses for social control, targeting specific prisoners for segregation and other punishments, results in raising the political consciousness of those targeted. Experiencing this repression firsthand leads some who were entrenched in the lumpen mentality of fighting other prisoners to recognize the criminal injustice system is the common enemy.
This is an example of the dialectical relationship between repression and liberation, and is true in all historical eras and oppressive conditions — oppression breeds resistance. Repression of prisoners in the United $tates is one cog in the imperialist machine that condemns people all over the world for the benefit of the oppressor nations. Even though our struggle can seem overwhelming at times, we can have strategic confidence in our inevitable international victory over capitalism and all its devastating consequences. So long as oppressed people are being politicized and educated on the common enemy, from prisons in the United $tates to the mountains in Nepal, we will overcome our common enemy and finally be allowed to eat and sleep in peace. The more the imperialists oppress people, the more people can be drawn in to revolutionary activism.
We hope others will take an example from this comrade and work as freedom fighters to educate and organize others. How quickly and easily we achieve victory depends on how much political work we do today.
I've been doing follow up on your letter of 10 September 2014 to the Publications Review Committee [regarding the inclusion of MIM publications on the Master Disapproved list]. So far I've discovered three different Disapproved Publications Lists. To clear up the confusion I wrote to the law library requesting the most recent list. Instead of receiving the list, I was instructed to obtain the list from the pod librarian. I attempted to do so, but the pod librarian has only the Disapproved Books List and not the Disapproved Periodicals List. Of course, MIM Theory and ULK are on the latter, not the former. I've submitted yet another request for the Disapproved Periodicals List. If I am not given the list this time, I will initiate the grievance.
In your response to Lou Cei you indicate that he states MIM Theory and ULK have been disapproved for reasons other than the reasons on the Disapproved List I sent to you. Lou Cei also states that 5 of the MIM Theories are on the list as approved for inmate purchase.
I have located a Disapproved List that is dated March 2014. This is not the most recent updated list. It does have 4 MIM Theories listed as approved and 3 MIM Theories listed as disapproved. But here is the problem: the rows and columns of the chart are not in agreement. For example, the publication titled "Mermaids" shows an author "Elijah Muhammad" but on the row directly below is the book "Message to the Black Man in America" showing as author "C. Gatewood." Obviously the column listing the author's names is out of sync with the column listing titles. So it then becomes impossible to know if the column that lists the approval status is correct. For instance, Mermaids is disapproved but Message to the Black Man is approved.
Since I'm unable to have the list photocopied I copied pertinent portions by hand:
MIM Dist. Level 1 Study Group Disapproved MIM Theory 2&3 Approved MIM Theory 4 Approved MIM Theory 11 Disapproved MIM Theory 13 Disapproved MIM Theory 9 Previously Disapproved MIM Theory 5 Diet for a Small Red Planet Approved MIM Theory M. Baalbaki Approved Under Lock & Key #37 Disapproved Under Lock & Key Feb. 2011 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #15 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #27 Disapproved Under Lock & Key July/Aug 2013 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #25 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #37 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #37 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #20 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #26 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #23 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #36 Disapproved Under Lock & Key #28 Disapproved
To further muddy the waters, this list shows certain publications that are approved whereas the other lists show only those publications that have been disapproved.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a good example of the difficulties we encounter trying to appeal censorship in Amerikan prisons. We are often given incomplete or incorrect information, when we can get the prisons to respond to our protest letters at all. And prisoners trying to do the work to gather policies and lists in order to file the appropriate grievances are given the run around and denied necessary information. In spite of this, we do win censorship battles through perseverance. This comrade is doing the hard work of fighting on h end, and so we will continue to support this battle with letters of protest of our own. We encourage all prisoners whose mail is denied to follow up and file grievances. And let us know what's going on and what steps you are taking so we can support your fight from our end.
Censorship is nothing more than an attempt by the prisons to keep us from raising the level of education and political consciousness of prisoners. Material that educates and organizes is disapproved, often as a "threat to the security of the institution," while material that pacifies (the bible, pop culture magazines and fiction novels) is allowed in. Politically we are opposed to the U.$. prison system; the revolution we are fighting for to overthrow imperialism will put an end to the criminal injustice system in the United $tates. But this is a political question, which our bourgeois democracy deems illegal for government agencies to repress discussion of. The practical question of whether literature sent to prisoners by MIM Distributors is a threat to the institutional safety and security is clearly answered in the negative, as we know that prisoners who get involved with political organizing are less likely to engage in violent conflicts with other prisoners and with the prison staff.
In August 2014, in response to I$rael's renewed attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, United Struggle from Within (USW) drafted and began circulating a petition denouncing the imperialist genocide of the people of Palestine. The petition draws connections to the oppressed nations suffering in the United $tates, and in particular recognized the support Palestinian prisoners gave to the California hunger strikers. While this round of bombing by I$rael was over before most could even return their signed petitions, the damage is still being felt and the imperialist occupation of Palestine continues.
"According to the United Nations, 100,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, leaving 600,000 Palestinians — nearly one in three of Gaza's population — homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian help. Roads, schools and the electricity plant to power water and sewerage systems are in ruins."(1)
In addition, the Cairo agreement to "rebuild" Gaza after I$rael bombed it to pieces, will be managed by none other than I$rael, who will ensure that all the money goes into the pockets of I$raeli construction companies.(1) The democratically elected government of Palestine, led by Hamas, will be deprived of any oversight of this process, as they are further isolated with Egypt closing off the border with Gaza to the south.
It is not too late to rally in support of the Palestinian struggle! As of the beginning of November, USW comrades have gathered over 60 signatures to this petition in at least seven different prisons. Signatures are still coming in and a number of comrades have reported to still be working on collecting signatures in their latest communications.
While the numbers may not be overly impressive, to date only 17 of those comrades originally sent the petition have even reported receiving it. One Texas comrade who gathered 9 signatures reported doing so despite the prison being on lockdown (no one being able to leave their cells) and the recent cut off of fishing (sending notes between cells by string). At least one comrade could not get any other signatures due to the risk of political repression as a validated "gang member" in the control unit where he is held. It is no coincidence that many of our most active and politically conscious comrades find themselves in such conditions.(2)
This campaign to support the people of Palestine is significant in that it is the first USW-initiated campaign around an issue not related to the immediate conditions of prisoners themselves since MIM(Prisons) has been around. The campaign was launched without a lot of preparation, and despite the inherent limitations imposed on those in prison, we got good participation. As one California comrade recently reported, the petition was a tool for outreach that led to many political dialogues and lessons learned that will contribute to the building of the anti-imperialist movement in U.$. prisons. Their efforts to collect signatures reached beyond just those who signed the petition.
The need for these types of agitational campaigns is one of the lessons that we can take away from this experience. The barriers among much of the prison population to supporting the Palestinians' right to survival are built on a combination of Amerikan patriotism, misinformation and apathy. However, to sum up the reports we have received, we'd say that fear of repression is the number one barrier being faced, which is a problem USW faces with all its campaigns. One comrade reported setbacks due to fears around hysteria surrounding the Islamic State.
A number of comrades reported not being able to get any signatures yet, and one wrote from California:
"My focus thus far has been on the socially conscious Muslim prisoners, whom I guessed would be the most willing out of everyone to sign the petition. But I'm starting to see more and more that the overwhelming majority in Amerikkka just ain't willing to take a stand against these racist imperialist idiots in no way shape or form. Not one of the Muslims, out of the around 25 prisoners I approached, would sign the thing. The excuses ranged from, 'We need to worry about fixing 'home' first...' to just flat out 'The Jews have too much control in this country for me to sign some paper and get on their shit list.' ... so far everybody but me has been too scared to sign it."
A few weeks later this comrade submitted h petition with 25 signatures. This fear of signing is a common problem in prisons where all mail is read and punishment for activism can be severe. A comrade in Colorado wrote:
"I read the last issue of ULK and I want to say that the U.S. policy against Palestine has long been underrepresented and ignored. Amerikkka is telling the people of Gaza and Lebanon that it will allow Israel to murder and justify it in the name of 'peace.' I feel that the greatest threat to world peace is the U.S. foreign policy. As prisoners we all should stand with the people of Gaza and their right to self-defense and self-determination. Progress is being made here as far as the petition goes. Many are in solidarity against amerikkkan imperialism as it stands with Israel yet many are afraid to sign."
One letter from Virginia described the difficulty promoting internationalism:
"I have been having trouble convincing prisoners here to sign the Palestine USW petition. The fear of institutional retaliation keeps a majority of them from involving themselves in any type of radical struggles or demonstrations. Compounding the problem is the fact they cannot grasp the concept of 'internationalism.' The dominant question was, 'what do the Palestinians have to do with me?' I tried as hard as I could to convince them that all struggles against imperialism abroad are a reflection of the non-ruling class struggles here in the Empire. So please do not construe the lack of signatures as an indicator of my lack of organizing skills."
This question of "what the Palestinian struggle has to do with me" is a manifestation of the relative wealth and privilege of Amerikans as a whole. In reality the Palestinian struggle is counter to the material interests of the petty bourgeois majority in the United $tates which enjoys a supply of cheap gas ensured by Amerikan military presence in the Middle East. Like the struggle of oppressed people around the world, the Palestinian people's fight for national liberation threatens Amerikan imperialism and its ability to control and exploit the labor of Third World peoples. Any successful revolt against Amerikan imperialism and its allies/puppets (such as I$rael) will destabilize that power and may inspire others.
But when building public opinion with the lumpen in prison we can at least draw some connections to national oppression within U.$. borders and the national oppression of Palestinians. One researcher has claimed that Palestinians are the most imprisoned people in the world, based on the percentage who have been in prison (the United $tates is still #1 in the number of prisoners it holds at one time). New Afrikans and the original inhabitants on North America are potential rivals for this title. In both places, the dominant nation, with the weapons and wealth, is denying the oppressed nations independence and self-determination. And the cause of the Palestinian people is allied with the cause of oppressed nations everywhere in the world; the common enemy is imperialism.
Another persyn wrote about some more reactionary responses to h attempts to collect signatures.
"I attempt to discuss issues raised by MIM, but I'm completely lacking in knowledge. For example, prisoners here state that the Palestinians deserve the bombing because Hamas fired rockets into Israel. They say the land of Israel is not occupied by foreigners — that it belongs to Jews. They (prisoners here — a large number) say that there has never been a nation called 'Palestine' and that the people who today label themselves 'Palestinians' are simply Arabs mostly from the Trans Jordan area. So what is the correct response?"
These positions raise the important question of how we define a nation. Stalin gave us guidance on this point, describing a nation as a group of people with a common language, culture, territory and economy (which is different than a nation-state). The Palestinian people certainly meet these requirements. Nations can arise and fall over time, as humynity evolves and conditions change. While I$rael has evolved into a nation today, Stalin was correct to argue that there was no Jewish nation in his day. It was only after WWII and a mass migration of Europeans to Palestine, and the genocide that cleared the previous inhabitants of that land, that I$rael began its formation.
As for the question of Hamas firing rockets into I$rael, this certainly has happened. And we uphold the right of people to defend themselves. This is simply a question of incorrect facts. The Palestinian people are righteously defending themselves against a much more powerful oppressor who is constantly threatening their lives and taking over more of their land. A cursory study of history shows who is the agressor in this conflict. Even numbers from the end of July on this recent battle demonstrate this: while I$rael reported 56 deaths (53 soldiers), in the Gaza Strip 1,170 had been killed, many of them civilians in their homes.(3) For those who are serious about studying the history of Palestine and I$rael we can offer reading material, but for those who just want to support the imperialists and accept their lies and propaganda, it's probably best to just move on and look elsewhere for supporters. Let them eat their Thanksgiving turkeys and celebrate the superiority of Europeans over the indigenous people of the lands they occupy and destroy.
I'm currently in a lockdown unit in Georgia called Special Management Unit (SMU). It's a separate building outside the diagnostic prison in Jackson, GA. The conditions at the SMU are like the control units in other states. The E-wing is a 24-hour lockdown unit. You have to stay on this wing at least 90 days. We never come out of the cells for anything on this wing. No yard call or recreation and we have shower heads in the walls.
Most cells here at the SMU are very dirty and have mold growing on the walls from the condensation that builds up in the closed-in area while showering. The cells never get cleaned out and they don't give us bleach or any cleaning rags to wipe the walls and toilet down. They expect us to use what we wash with I guess.
We have no kitchen here so the food comes from across the street; trays are always cold and usually really small. We only eat twice on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We are not allowed books in E-wing or our personal property. We also don't have library or any aids to help on legal work. All we have is a guy from across the street who will bring us two cases a week, which really limits the access we have and is not much help.
They are not acknowledging the grievances about the yard call and the unsanitary living conditions, and I've never even received a receipt back. We have been trying to file a class action suit but no one will represent us or take the case, and no one here will assist us. It's hard time that should be against the law.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We have heard a lot lately from Georgia comrades in various control units like this SMU. And this has inspired some work on the Georgia grievance campagn to demand our grievances be addressed. We build campaigns like this one to expose the conditions behind bars and provide tools for prisoners to fight for improvements in conditions. But we know that even if we win some small improvements, the criminal injustice system will remain as a tool for social control. Grievances alone will not fundamentally alter this system. Our job is to educate and organize, to build a broader anti-imperialist movement that can take on the Amerikan system that needs prisons for social control. We are organizing those the imperialists wants to control.
Dear MIM and all my brothers and sisters bonded by the ink of our pens. We must continue to fight for United Struggle from Within.
I have just initiated my discovery phase in my civil suit against the Warden on this plantation and its incompetent medical staff. I'm located at a level 5 security here in Georgia and as I read ULK I see that we are all faced with this new and improved SHU system. Same game, different name.
I'm on the Tier 2 program, a step down program which is a 260-day program, and I've been here 13 months today because I was caught with 2 cell phones. I've experienced medical neglect, deliberate indifference and cruel and unusual punishment for being caught with contraband.
I encourage the use of the grievance system but we all know it is worthless. Every grievance is denied without due investigation. I personally started a petition against the grievance system here for the inmates in SHU/Tier 2 which I've sent to MIM(Prisons) and joined the grievance campaign in my state.
I wrote this for exposure and to encourage all the readers here in Georgia to petition against your grievance system.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We now have a grievance petition for the state of Georgia, thanks to this comrade's work. Write to MIM(Prisons) for a copy of this petition to demand your grievances are addressed in Georgia.