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Under Lock & Key

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[Censorship] [ULK Issue 16]
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July 2010 Censorship Report

This Report is an analysis of the censorship experienced by MIM(Prisons) from July 2009 through June 2010. In January 2008, MIM(Prisons) released our first censorship report, documenting what we can and can't get into which prisons. Last year we decided it would be best to analyze our censorship status annually instead of biannually because it often takes months to determine the status of a piece of mail.

To compile this data we rely solely on censored mail that is returned to us by mailroom staff and reports from prisoners themselves. From July 2009 to June 2010, we sent in five digits worth of mail, of which 83% were unconfirmed as received or censored. In the last reporting period, only 80% of the mail was unconfirmed. This trend shows us that even less people are reporting what mail they've gotten from us than last year, which makes drawing conclusions from our records nearly impossible. For example, when reading the state-by-state chart, it is important to remember that "no censorship reported" does not mean that all the mail got in, just that we don't know what happened. Some states with no censorship reported were: Colorado were 96% of the mail was unconfirmed; in Indiana 92%; in Mississippi 93%, and in Nebraska and New Hampshire, 100% of the mail was unreported.

This lack of data continues despite the fact that every issue of Under Lock & Key and many of our letters request that subscribers tell us what they receive from us and when each time they write. At our congress this summer we voted to adjust our policies to require subscribers to notify us of their mail status in order to stay on our mailing list. We have started sending comrades we are in correspondence with Unconfirmed Mail Forms that will list what mail we have sent them that we do not know the status of to encourage reporting. But even if you don't receive one of these forms, you should still let us know what you get from MIM Distributors or MIM(Prisons). In fact, if you tell us what you get from us before we send out the form you'll save us printing and postage costs!

Across the country, it appears that our censorship is gradually decreasing. However, if we aren't facing state repression, then we're probably doing something wrong politically. For this reason, we don't expect to ever be completely free of censorship while the United $tates is still an imperialist state. We attribute these decreases to the hard work our comrades inside have been doing to file appeals when their mail gets censored. Another reason it may appear that our censorship status is decreasing is our incomplete data — there may be censorship in places that we just don't know about.

Prisoners' Legal Clinic

In the last year we started coordinating our legal efforts in a more structured way with comrades inside through the MIM(Prisons)-led Prisoners' Legal Clinic. Members of the PLC have edited and added to the Censorship Guide that we send to prisoners who have had our lit censored; shared info and analysis about important legal issues relating to our anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist work of fighting censorship and political repression; and contributed several articles to the legal strategy issue of ULK issue 13. In this reporting year, we doubled the amount of Censorship Guides we sent out in the previous reporting year, so the help we've gotten on this guide is invaluable. We hope the PLC will eventually expand to offer counseling and preparation assistance to comrades filing anti-censorship lawsuits in the next year.

The PLC is facilitated by MIM(Prisons) but it is only as useful as the comrades who are contributing to it from the inside. Anyone who wants to engage in this important work should hook up with the PLC via MIM(Prisons); no experience necessary.

Grieving Censorship is Crucial

At Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois, Under Lock & Key issue 9 was censored from dozens of comrades because of alleged "STG references and depictions of violence." A prisoner filed a grievance, and Central Review in Springfield approved ULK 9 for entry into Menard CC. We only received confirmation from this one prisoner that he received the newsletter, so it is possible that Central Review only permitted it to him. That is one example of why it is so important to file grievances about censorship.

California Ban

In November 2009 we reported that the ban of literature from the Maoist Internationalist Movement was lifted in a settlement between Prison Legal News and CDCR. Even after this settlement, High Desert State Prison and Pelican Bay State Prison still returned or trashed all mail from MIM Distributors. Finally, in April 2010, High Desert Warden Mike D. McDonald assured us that ULK would be reviewed on an issue-by-issue basis instead of being automatically rejected based solely on the return address. We recently sent out issue 14 and it got in to at least some prisoners without a hitch. No such luck in Pelican Bay where even a letter saying "Hi, how's it going?" is still illegally returned to sender uninspected. The San Francisco Bay View newspaper and Revolution (by the rcp=u$a) have complained of similar problems with their publications.

Feds Use Censorship to Make Room for Infiltrators

At the United Snakes Penitentiary - MAX in Florence, Colorado, ULK issue 13 was censored because it contains the article "Security in the Prison Movement" that is MIM(Prisons)'s analysis of how we should deal with potential infiltrators, agent provocateurs, and snitches in the movement. Our advice was basically to treat everyone as a potential pig, and only give out information on a need-to-know basis. We also defended our work with prisoners on Sensitive Needs Yards and Protective Custody for similar reasons. While such prisoners are often viewed as working with the state, we pointed out that many comrades have had to leave their LOs for SNY in order to stop working for the state.

The state sees this perspective as a threat to the security of the institution (of white supremacy, no doubt). The reason given by the USP mailroom staff for its censorship is that "p. 6 and 11 discuss what to do with potential infiltrators who join the movement, not suitable for a prison environment." We wonder who they are targeting in our circle in USP Florence, that it would blow their cover to share this advice with them. The answer is probably everyone.

This report was written by our legal coordinator who took over the job shortly before our last yearly report. While building on previous work, s/he is responsible for many of the advances we made this year. Fighting censorship is central to our work with the imprisoned lumpen population in the United $tates and we always have projects for volunteer lawyers and legal assistants. The easiest thing our subscribers can do to help us out is tell us exactly what mail you have received from us and when, each time you write.

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