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Under Lock & Key

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[Campaigns] [Fremont Correctional Facility] [Colorado]
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Grievance Campaign Update in Colorado

I have received a response from the Warden - Ms. Susan Jones - who was only temporary (we've had three wardens in the last 6 months here at Fremont Correctional Facility) and it was a two paragraph "toe-the-CDOC-company-line" statement of how CDOC has a solid policy for grievances and all are addressed all the time. Basically a complete lie, as it did not raise serious awareness for our issues here at FCF.

However, there have been at least 30 inmates who filed the Colorado Petition that I know of for a fact, and only a few of us actually got a response, the identical B$ response that CDOC is doing the legally right thing, BLAH BLAH, BLAH, and that these matters have been addressed. Well, they literally have done nothing, and now with another new warden, all petitions were also reported to the U.S. Attorney General's Office as per the petition design, so at least somebody outside Colorado's corrupt system got the same message. I have not received a response from them, nor has anyone here that I know of.


MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is building off the grievance campaign that is spreading across the country. The petition for Colorado was designed for exactly the situation described here: prison administration ignoring prisoner's grievances while pretending they are following policy.

This campaign is part of the United Struggle from Within organizing work to gain some basic protections for prisoner's legal rights. We know that under the existing criminal injustice system we will never have broad sweeping change. But as long as we live in a bourgeois democracy, and not a fascist state, we can win battles holding employees of the state to their own rules. And the rights won through grievances create space for prisoners to organize and build the anti-imperialist movement. Write to us for a copy of the petition in your state, or to create one if it doesn't exist.

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[Campaigns] [California]
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Bringing Grievances to Higher Level Wins Again

Every since my filing of the MIM censorship suit I haven't been able to get a 602 [grievance form] processed, and I was pretty good at filing them and winning them prior to the MIM suit. Since I've been at this prison the only 602 I was able to get acknowledged and processed was one concerning the law library, and only after two months of either having them "screened out" for one reason or another or simply being ignored. It was only because I finally got tired of their b.s., went over their heads and mailed a "retaliation and conspiracy" petition to Sacramento along with a quick letter explaining my situation.

Afterwards I not only got a letter from Sacramento telling me they'd sent it back to appeals court with instructions to properly process, but I got a letter from here basically reprimanding me for going over their heads; but it got the job done.


MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a good example of perseverance in the face of repression, following in the footsteps of a similar victory in Kern Valley this month.

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[Organizing] [Campaigns] [Texas]
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Grievance Petition Spreads in Texas

I got the grievance petition, and I need more. 350 copies is only enough for 35 people, and I've got 144 on my pod x3 pods my building x8 so send me some more please.

Also, I got a reply from the state bar of Texas. They sent info on how to complain about your [state-assigned] attorney that we can use for the grievances in TDCJ.

I did get a response in person from the grievance regional investigator in a personal interview. They basically told us to keep filing grievances and they will work on problems.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend this comrade for his ambitious work to spread the Texas grievance petition to every prisoner in his institution. But it is quite costly for us to make so many copies and send them in so we need to encourage everyone to make their own copies if possible. We know that sometimes this will not be possible, and if this is the case for you please explain why and we will try to supply you with the necessary copies.

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[Campaigns] [Arizona] [ULK Issue 26]
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Hatred from ADC and Grievance Campaign Update

Florence Grievance Petition Response

The grievance campaign is very well alive out here in Arizona. As a litigious prisoner of war, isolated behind closed doors, I am doing my part in disseminating the grievance campaign where I feel it can have its most impact. I have also imported its meaning into an actual grievance alleging a denial of my First Amendment rights and access to courts. If Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) does not follow through and respond to my grievances within their specified time frames, I anticipate filing a lawsuit. I am also seeking injunction relief, asking the court and ADC to consider how its grievances are handled when being delivered to prisoners. This is because I believe they should be handled confidentially due to the legal issues that are presented in these grievances.

Your most recent letter including an Unconfirmed Mail Form and letter to Director Charles L. Ryan, et al. regarding censorship was given to me yesterday [3 April 2012] with "please pick up your idiot form from you CO III" written on it. In addition, a cigarette hole was burned through the letter. This type of misconduct is extremely unprofessional, especially coming from a government entity claiming rehabilitation, justice, standards, and professionalism.

Unfortunately this type of unprofessional behavior seems to be an ongoing pattern of harassment against MIM(Prisons). I am requesting that an incident report be documented in this case, and that ADC conduct an internal investigation. Furthermore, I'm asking that they ensure that I am no longer harassed in the form of tampering with my mail, which is a Federal offense.

I am sending this envelope to the ACLU who is now representing me and several other prisoners in a class action lawsuit against ADC Director Charles L. Ryan as the Defendant. We are alleging inadequate medical and mental health services, which are unconstitutional conditions of confinement. I am hoping they can see the hatred that is rained upon us at the hands of this corrupt state. This lawsuit appears to be following the footsteps of Brown v. Plata. The ACLU is asking for injunctive relief, asking that all mental health prisoners be taken out of isolation.

I am including some addresses that can be helpful in gathering some momentum in our struggle. They are aware of the prejudice that we're currently experiencing. I'm hoping we can put this together and change Arizona's precedent to violate our First Amendment rights.


MIM(Prisons) adds:Strategically, MIM(Prisons) disagrees with legal battles that do not serve the rights of all prisoners such as the popular trend of getting "mentally ill" prisoners out of isolation. Doing this further legitimizes the use of torture against those who are mentally strong and are put in isolation for political repression rather than "ill" behavior. There are better ways to reform torture and reduce the number of people in long-term isolation.

Above is a letter from a staff persyn at Florence Correctional Center responding to a grievance petition that a prisoner submitted. The staff persyn tells the prisoner to talk to a Correctional Officer about his grievances, when the grievance petition clearly says that this has been tried, doesn't work, and something else needs to be done to protect the prisoners' rights to due process.

So far everyone who has responded directly to the many, many grievance petitions that have been submitted to various prison administrators all over the country have simply referred the petitioners to seek remedy from another entity. No one has taken responsibility for this issue, all the way up the hierarchy. Even when petitioning the United Nations for various humyn rights abuses, U.$. prisoners have been told to seek remedy within the United $tates "justice" system. We will continue to distribute and publicize the grievance petitions to further highlight this point. One prisoner reports to have seen some success in a lawsuit in Oklahoma.

Clearly justice, due process, and fairness will not be given to us just by making the authorities aware of the problem. Raising public awareness may help apply pressure for reforms to be made. But the most thorough remedy for an end to injustice is to organize against the conditions that allow this to happen. A government designed to protect people and not profits would jump at the opportunity to correct an injustice, especially against its imprisoned population. We know that a society like this is possible, because we've studied how socialism worked under the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong. We encourage everyone frustrated with the Amerikan administrative runaround to work with MIM(Prisons) to build for a better world.

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[Campaigns] [Oklahoma] [ULK Issue 26]
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Oklahoma's Failed Grievance System Challenged in Court

Recently there was a victory for Oklahoma's prisoner population, with respect to the difficulty of having grievances heard and adequately addressed. On February 29 2012, a magistrate judge held that Director Justin Jones "wrongfully established, maintained and enforced the grievance policy and authorized punishment for inmates who show disrespect to staff." The magistrate further held that Director Justin Jones had: "failed to establish an available administrative remedy on the claim involving the policy on grievance restrictions and disregarded the claim against Mr. Jones for the disciplinary policy involving disrespect to staff."

On February 2 2011, the Plaintiff in this case filed a grievance challenging his placement on a grievance restriction. Five days later, the grievance coordinator returned the grievance and checked the box for "Not an issue grievable to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (Private Prisons property, misconduct, see OP-090124, Section 11.B.1.), litigation pending, not within/under."

In response to a complaint made by the Plaintiff, Director Jones argued that the he had "failed to exhaust his administrative remedies." Director Jones's argument consisted of the following sentence: "Here the prison's administrative records demonstrate that Plaintiff has not filed any grievance/grievance appeal regarding his being placed on 'Grievance Restriction.'"

Director Jones relied on an affidavit by Debbie Morton, which stated that the Plaintiff had not appealed the February 7 grievance decision to her office. Presumably, the Plaintiff did not appeal the decision because the grievance coordinator has told him that the complaint was not grievable.(1) Even at the time of the magistrate's report and recommendation, Director Jones still did not submit any evidence to suggest that the complaint would have been grievable.

"The plain language of the [Prison Litigation Reform Act] requires that prisoners exhaust only available remedies." Tuckel v. Grover, 660 F. 3d 1249, 1252 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a)). The Oklahoma Department of Corrections's (ODOC's) special report includes excerpts from the grievance policy, but those portions do not identify the matters that are grievable. The magistrate held "thus, Mr. Jones has failed to satisfy his burden of demonstrating an available administrative remedy to contest imposition of a grievance restriction or punishment for disrespect to staff."

In his conclusion, the magistrate stated as follows: "When the Defendant's evidence is reviewed favorably to [the Plaintiff] as required, one can reasonably infer that there was no available administrative remedy to contest his placement on a grievance restriction or the punishment for disrespect to staff. As a result, the court should reject Mr. Jones' argument for dismissal or summary judgement on the basis of exhaustion."

As stated and shown above, my fellow comrades in Oklahoma prisons have no available administrative remedy to contest a grievance restriction or punishment for "disrespect to staff," due to an erroneous establishment of a grievance policy or disciplinary policy. The above outlined lawsuit was filed on March 17 2011 against the Directory of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. If comrades in Oklahoma have been placed on grievance restriction, follow the policy while on that restriction and see to it that the oppressor is dealt with justly.

Further, if comrades are housed at private prisons, know that the ODOC and private companies are in cahoots with each other in an effort to deny you a Constitutional right permitting you to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


Note:
Lyon v. Krol, 305 F. 3d 806, 810 (8th Cir. 2002) (en ban); Bright, J. dissenting) (stating that dismissal for nonexhaustion would have been unwarranted because prison officials may have "creat[ed] the impression that [the prisoner's] claims were not grievable through the [prison] grievance system").

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[Campaigns] [Organizing] [ULK Issue 25]
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Grieve, Grieve, Grieve; a Growing Movement for Democracy

Strategy

In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are featuring reports from comrades in a number of states who are leading efforts for a campaign to have prisoners' grievances heard and responded to by state officials and employees. This campaign has continued to grow in popularity, with minimal effort by MIM(Prisons), yet many have not yet heard of it and there is much room to expand. For all who remain inspired by the recent efforts of California and Georgia prisoners, but feel your conditions are not so advanced, we suggest you work on the USW-led grievance campaigns to start getting people organized in your area.

The basic actions necessary to advance the grievance campaign are:

  1. File grievances on the problems you face where you're at. Get people around you to file grievances. Appeal your grievances to the highest level.
  2. If your grievances go unanswered, organize people around you to sign and mail out grievance petitions created by USW, distributed by MIM(Prisons). Send follow-up letters periodically to check on the status of your petition. Send responses to the grievance petition to MIM(Prisons).
  3. If your state is not yet covered by the grievance petition, but your grievances are going unanswered, translate the petition to work for your state. This requires looking up citations and policies, and figuring out who would be best to send the petition to.

    While getting grievances responded to is essentially an exercise in reformism, we see promise in these efforts because they struggle to give voice to some of the most oppressed. This is a democratic struggle in a part of the United $tates where the least amount of democracy exists. Amerikans will tell you that's the point, "you do the crime, you do the time." But we disagree. We don't think the U.$. prison system has anything do with justice or applying objective societal rules to its citizens. The simple fact that about half of all U.$. prisoners are New Afrikan, while only 12% of the U.$. population is, disproves that theory in one fell swoop. In general, the oppressed nations have seen an increase in democracy in the United $tates, yet for a growing segment of these nations, their rights are lawfully being denied. For those who have committed real crimes against the people and should spend time in prison by proletarian standards, we think a program of reforming criminals requires accountability on both sides.

    Some have pushed for campaigns to give prisoners voting rights as a method to increase prisoners' democratic rights. But we see imperialist elections having little-to-no bearing on the conditions of the oppressed nations. In contrast, we see the grievance campaign as a democratic campaign that we can support because it can actually succeed in giving prisoners more say in their day-to-day conditions.

    The grievance campaign to which we are referring was originally sparked by some comrades in California in January 2010. Since then it has spread to Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas. The petitions are updated regularly based on feedback we get from those using it. The three states which have been particularly active lately are Texas, North Carolina, and Colorado.

    The Colorado campaign kicked off just before recent reforms were enacted in the Colorado system as a result of passive resistance by the prison laborers being used in large-scale industry there. Similarly, Missouri's petition is specific to their conditions of censorship around a relatively new policy banning music with parental advisory ratings.

    In this issue, there are two reports out of Texas, showing the varying levels of organization within a state. One comrade in Connally Unit reports of a mass demonstration.(page X) While another comrade has diligently filed the maximum grievances he can for almost two years, he has proved this road to be fruitless by himself.(page Y) But what is the lesson here? Are our efforts worthwhile? We say there are no rights, only power struggles. We already know that the injustice system is going to abuse people; it is made to control certain populations. In order to win in a power struggle, the other side must feel some sort of pressure. Sometimes one grievance to a higher level is enough to apply pressure. But when the higher level is involved in the repression, it's going to take a lot more than one persyn's grievance. Look at the example of the Scotland lockdown.(page Z) One comrade reported that grievances were being ignored, as has been common in Scotland before the lockdown. But we hear from ULK correspondent Wolf that a combination of complaints from prisoners and outside supporters resulted in an improvement in conditions, however small. This is parallel to the petition to End the High Desert State Prison Z-Unit Zoo, which met some success last year.

    The lesson isn't that getting a little extra time out of cells, or skull caps, is a great victory. The lesson is in how prisoners and their outside supporters pulled together and exerted their influence on the DOC as a group. At the same time, a North Carolina comrade reports how standing up by oneself can be risky.(page A)

    We think the grievance campaign is a good stepping stone for comrades who say unity and consciousness is lacking in their area. As we know from reports in ULK, the conditions in most prisons across this country are very similar. So the basis for mass organizing should exist even if it requires some hard work to get started. Circulating a grievance petition doesn't require a lot of people to start, and just about everyone can relate to it.

    One USW leader involved in the original campaign in California came out to question the effectiveness of the tactic of signing petitions and sending them to state officials and legal observers. S/he proposed moving into lawsuits to get them to pay attention, particularly after one CDCR staff member implied they wouldn't address any complaints without a lawsuit. As John Q. Convict points out, there are also connections still to be made between the grievance campaign and media access in states like California to create more accountability for the captors. The best tactics will depend on your situation, but the petition is a good place to get started and to test out the waters.

    This work is not just a way to bring allies together locally, but is connecting struggles across the country. One Massachusetts comrade was inspired by the efforts of a Florida comrade who was having trouble mobilizing others and wrote in to tell h: "To my Florida comrade, I want to tell you to stay strong." S/he went on to quote Mao, "In times of difficulty we must not lose sight of our achievements, must see the bright future and must pluck up our courage."

    Of course, oppression will always exist under imperialism, because it is a system defined by the oppression of some nations by others. And we cannot hope to use reforms to fix a system that tortures people and then ignores administrative remedies to cover their own asses.(page B) But we must begin somewhere. And the grievance campaign encompasses many of the little battles that we have all fought just to be able to read what we want, talk to who we want, and have a voice in this society.

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[Abuse] [Campaigns] [Stiles Unit] [Texas]
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False Charges and Grievances Ignored in Texas

I'm writing to you in hopes of receiving relief or at least a thorough investigation into the matter of a grievance I filed. It's an appeal to a disciplinary case I received on November 2, 2011, for allegedly "Threatening an Officer," which was completely false and untruthful.

At approximately 3:00AM on November 2, Officer Nwanko let inmates out for breakfast. Because he didn't give prior notice, as standard procedures, a lot of inmates were caught unaware. Officer Nwanko was closing prisoners in their cells for not being ready. A college class I was taking started at 5:00AM I explained this to the officer but was ignored. It was during this time that other prisoners who were stuck in their cells were hollering to get out for chow and AM lay-ins, and were cursing the officer. Officer Nwanko proceeded to let out 3rd row, then left. On his way out the door, another prisoner made a comment for which I was written up.

After he finished letting all the inmates on the pod out, he went to the front desk and called for rank. Officer Nwanko explained that someone made the threat, but had no knowledge who the offender was that made the threat. He stated "When I was leaving, 35-cell (my assigned cell), was trying to get back in to get a school pass, ask him." Because of this statement, I was called to the front desk where I was then confronted by Lt. Davis and Cat. Graham, who both ask me about the threat made to the officer. Lt. Davis wanted to know who made the threat against the officer. When I had no knowledge, Lt. Davis made it quite clear that unless I told them what they wanted to know, that I would be locked up, and charged with threatening an officer. The officer was instructed to write the case, knowing this to be false and untruthful.

During my disciplinary hearing, the charging officer didn't have his story straight. The security tape will refute his testimony which the hearing officer relied on in finding me guilty of the charged offense. He stated that as he came down from third row, I intercepted him and proceeded to follow him. I requested that the security tape be made available for review, for that day and time that this alleged threat was made against this officer by me. The footage will refute the charge and discredit the charging officer's false testimony. The hearing officer refused my request for this security tape to be presented in my defense.

I never threatened this officer, nor approached this officer at any time, as the tape will substantiate. Despite the credible defense evidence of the existing tape, I was found guilty by the officer. The appeal process was equally unsuccessful. This greatly affected my chances for parole consideration, as the board relies heavily on what the "papers" say not on truth/or ones claim of innocence. Any input by you will be appreciated.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade sent a copy of his grievance petition looking for our assistance. Unfortunately MIM(Prisons) doesn't have the resources to help with each individual battle against injustice like this one as there are so many going on in the Amerikan prison system. But we encourage everyone to participate in the campaign demanding our grievances be addressed as a systematic way to deal with this problem. Of course addressing grievances still won't put an end to the injustice in the criminal injustice system. But it will help prisoners like this one shorten their time behind bars and create more organizing space for anti-imperialists building the movement behind bars.

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[Campaigns] [Texas]
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Fighting Unjust Grievance Denials in Texas

I just got my issue of ULK24 today. Not sure if it's the one they tried to deny or not. But I got it. I wanted to write to ask about this grievance campaign on page 12. I see Texas listed here, but have not heard of any inter-state attempt to rectify the grievance problems. So, could you please tell me of this and possibly who to contact?

I am struggling to keep our basic rights here. Yet, our prisons have been known to steal grievances (as they did to me last February on a solid case against them), scratch out lines written on step ones, hold step ones for extra time to ensure it's impossible to file a step two, and lastly they grade/investigate step two grievances here instead of sending them up the ladder to Huntsville, as policy says they must.

So I would like to hear more of this Texas campaign. Can you help me gain a better understanding of this and who I need to contact? I'm up for release this year and will take this fight to the outside world with me.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This grievance campaign has been growing since the initiation in California. We now have petitions for seven states, including Texas, which comrades are using to fight unjust grievance systems. Write to us for a copy of a generic petition that you can customize for your state if we don't already have a campaign in your state.

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[Campaigns] [Colorado] [ULK Issue 25]
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Joining Grievance Campaign

In order to file a §1983 prisoner complaint, one must exhaust the facility grievance procedure on any issues beforehand. The pigs here claim procedural defect, frustrating the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA. Now that the institution has been made aware of my pending §1983 suite, they block the third and final grievance process. I am submitting a revised complaint with denial of access to the court added, and I will keep you informed.

I passed two grievance petitions on down the line. Colorado chain gang is just as messed up as you might think, but I do help those who at least show some heart. I pass all of my info on to other people, to maybe spark some fight.


MIM(Prisons) adds: The grievance campaign is spreading from its start in California to Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas. Write to us for copies of the grievance petition for your state. If you are in a state not currently covered by the grievance campaign you can use the current petitions as a format, but will need to look up citations and policies specific to your state for reference in the petition. If you do this research and send us what needs to be rewritten for your particular state, we will gladly send an edited, accurate copy to other USW and Legal Clinic folks in your state.

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