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Under Lock & Key

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[Censorship] [Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc] [Federal]
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Feds Threatening First Ammendment with New Policies

I am writing you this letter to bring to your attention as serious situation that is about to occur at this facility. On 16 March 2020, the Acting Warden is about to implement a Draconian, repressive, and extremely restrictive mail policy. This policy DOES NOT conform to the Code of Federal Regulations and is in violation of the United States Postal Regulation.

This policy includes the ability to arbitrarily censor a prisoner’s mail without warning and without providing any notification that it is being done. This new policy affects ALL General Correspondence, which includes letters from families, the courts, religious organizations, financial institutions, and every other type of correspondence that is not a newspaper, magazine, or book.

The institution is using the influx of “spice” (synthetic marijuana) as an excuse to enact this policy. A review of the existing Code of Federal Regulations already gives the institution authority to place a specific prisoner on a restrictive mail policy for specific reasons (such as introducing or using drugs). This new policy affects everybody, even though the population that is abusing the drugs is less than 5%.

Also, the local warden shouldn’t be allowed to enact new rules at the local level. I wish to provide an example. Let’s say that every local postmaster could enact local rules. A postmaster in San Francisco could raise the postage by .15 per stamp. A postmaster in Chicago could end deliveries on Saturdays. A postmaster in New York could dictate that only mail weighing less than 10oz can be delivered. If every local postmaster could enact their own postal rules at whim, this would completely disrupt the delivery of mail across the country, and I am certain the public wouldn’t allow it.

The most egregious rules are:

  1. All correspondence must be on white paper and in white envelopes, or it will be rejected. The problem with this is that most courts, and many businesses mail documents in manila envelopes.

  2. All accepted correspondence and photos will be removed from the envelopes and photocopied. The photocopy will be delivered to the prisoner and the originals will be destroyed. Basically, the Acting Warden has changed the rules so that he can destroy your property without your permission. How can an prisoner know if something even arrived? The mailroom can simply destroy it and no one would be the wiser. There is no law or federal rule which authorizes the warden to open up people’s mail and make photocopies. Think of the privacy concerns. Suddenly the institution is now storing a digital copy of your private mail somewhere. Are they keeping this in a database for future review?

I ask the reader to think of the importance of photos in your life. Childhood photos, wedding photos, graduation photos, vacation photos, etc. For prisoners who cannot have visits and are locked up for decades, photos are the single most important way to convey information of loved ones. To simply replace a quality photo, with a cheap photocopy completely diminishes this important visual connection AND since there is NO EVIDENCE that photos can be used to hide drugs, this new rule is arbitrary and capricious and only serves to increases the hardships and burdens of being in prison.

You (the Public) pay the United States Post Office (USPS) a fee (.55) to deliver the mail to the recipient (prisoner). The prisoner has signed a CONTRACT with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to allow them to open and check the envelope for contraband, then deliver the envelope with the contents. Now the Warden is violating the terms of this contract without having the prisoner sign a new contract.

Since this is a NEW RULE, ONLY the agency itself can make this type of change. In order to do so the agency MUST submit the proposed rule change to the Director of the Federal Register, who will publish it so the public and review and comment on the changes. If each local Warden can suddenly change the rules without following this process, what stops them from limiting the number of hours to access religious services, visiting, or access to medical services?

  1. All correspondence shall have no more than five pieces of white, single-sided, 8.5 x 11, paper per envelope. A person can currently mail much more than 5 pieces of paper in an envelope at a cost of $0.15 per additional ounce. This new rule effectively increases the cost to send any additional ounces to $0.55. This will negatively impact the poor.

Also, many organizations, legal firms, businesses, NEED to send in more than 5 pages, or print on both sides. This new policy will allow the Warden unlimited power to arbitrarily reject mail he doesn’t like (ACLU, Prison Legal News, etc.), under the guise that it violates the page limit rule. Again, there is no security risk to printing on both sides of a piece of paper or mailing more than 5 pieces in the same envelope.

  1. All incoming correspondence shall have envelopes which DO NOT have mailing labels. All addresses must be written in ink. Many organizations, legal firms, businesses utilize mailing labels to reduce costs. Again, this policy allows the Warden to arbitrarily reject mail that he doesn’t want.

These are just SOME of the new rules the acting warden plans on implementing on 16 March 2020. This will have numerous negative effects upon BOTH the public and the prison population. Further, if local wardens are suddenly granted the power to create any new rule they desire, without going through the proper process, then the entire federal system can be abused by a local authority, WITHOUT THE PUBLIC’S KNOWLEDGE!! The Warden ALREADY has UNDER EXISTING POLICY to reject ANY Correspondence if it is deemed to have contraband. What ISN’T ALLOWED is for the Warden to REJECT the Correspondence of ALL PRISONERS simply because of the Warden’s belief that contraband COULD be in a particular piece of mail.

As prisoners, we are often forgotten. Everybody hears and sees the stories of family separation of people from other countries at our border. But what about the on-going family separation of our citizens confined within our prisons? As prisoners confined within these prison walls, our resources are limited to fight this “EXTREMELY RESTRICTIVE” mail policy. Most prisoners want to take action but worry about being harassed and retaliated against by staff when they make their complaints known. I know this from personal experience. MY personal property has been gone through and destroyed. My mail is being rejected or “lost”. I have been threatened with sanctions and retaliatory transfer.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! Please contact your local federal representative (Congressperson or Senator), the Western Regional Director, The BOP Director, the Director of the Federal Register, The Postmaster General, post this to your Facebook page, make your feelings known on Twitter, contact a media representative and ask them to investigate, make a request to a civil rights organization (ACLU, FAMM, etc.) or a religious organization and ask for their assistance.


MIM(Prisons) adds: For those of us involved in supporting prisoners we know that the First Amendment rights to free speech and association are a constant battle field in this country. Fighting censorship in prisons and combating the unaccountable grievance system where prisoners are punished for voicing such concerns are part of defending the basic civil rights of oppressed peoples here in these United $tates.

These petty rules, like the Michigan prison that recently censored our mail for having postage stamps on it, are a blatant effort to silence certain voices and to needlessly deprive prisoners of the things that can help them.

FCI Lompoc can be contacted at: 3600 GUARD ROAD LOMPOC, CA 93436 Email: LOX/[email protected] Phone: 805-736-4154

We encourage people to write and call to express their concerns about the proposed policies. It seems that they may have already gone into place based on the timeline our comrade provided above. We will update this article as we find out more. Please email us with your updates or any reports on your attempts to contact the BOP on this issue.

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[Censorship] [Thumb Correctional Facility] [Michigan]
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No Postage Stamps Allowed on Michigan Mail

Our most recent censorship notice came from GOA T. Bates at Thumb Correctional Facility in Michigan. The reason our mail was censored? “MAIL - WITH LABEL AND POSTAGE STAMP”. So you can send mail to prisoners in Michigan as long as you don’t put a postage stamp on it. Do they understand how the postal service works?

Of course they do. Violations of our First Amendment rights for illogical reasons is common occurrence here in these United $nakes. There are no rights that we don’t stand up for and defend. Right now we are behind on fighting censorship battles, but we could use your help in increasing the pressure on such egregious cases as this. See our Prison Censorship database for examples of protest letters, and our legal/caselaw page for existing court precedents. Please email us any letters you send, or about any phone calls you make or if you have any questions.

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[Censorship] [Minnesota Corrections Facility Oak Park Heights] [Minnesota]
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The Censorship Is Real!

Not many people hear about censorship battles. Not many people even understand what censorship is. They may have a vague concept based on the albums sold at Wal-Mart that block out cuss words, but they have no clue as to how deep censorship really goes.

And that's mostly because of the censorship in and of itself. You can't hear about what is suppressed. And this has been happening ever since words were created.

I am currently dealing with illegal censorship of at least three publications. Each of them has a few different things in common. One: They are all free to prisoners. Two: They are all political news oriented. Three: They are all against the prison industrial complex in any of its forms. Four: And this might be the kicker, or maybe I'm just paranoid, they are all being sent to a prisoner who has filed a Civil Suit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections: Myself.

This all started after I filed under the 42§1983 for guards messing me up in my last facility. All of my legal mail was opened outside of my presence before being given to me. Then they started refusing to send out mail to national organizations seeking counsel if it was in a sealed envelope. I had a stack of over 30 envelopes that clearly indicated that they were legal correspondence. So I went through the Chain of Command, and anyone who's ever dealt with that already knows the outcome of the subsequent Grievance & Grievance Appeal: Staff denied all wrongdoing.

See, I'm not stupid. I have all the DOC Policy in my cell. I keep a full legal bin of State and Federal Law along with citations of case decisions. And even when I showed these fools every piece of where they violated not only their own policy, but Minnesota and United $tates Law, they only had this to say: "Well, if I have to go to Court, I guess I will." That was the discipline Sgt. Glen Lissowy as I showed him all of the evidence.

So after proving that the internal grievance system was completely useless, I filed a Civil Action in the District Court, only for the Judge Gregory G. Galler to deem it frivolous, and that I did not state a legal claim. Two months go by, and then I receive a notice that I am receiving a discipline for lying/misrepresentation. I was literally getting punished for filing a lawsuit against the DOC. Under Minnesota Law, this is only permissible if you lied, or filed a malicious lawsuit. I did neither; you figure that one out.

After that bit of nonsense, I received another astonishing piece of mail. A Non-Delivery Notice stating that the newspaper The Abolitionist was being censored due to it allegedly constituting a risk to the safety and security of the facility, with no further explanation. Again, I know the policy, and so I filed an appeal, which was to be forwarded to the Correspondence Review Authority(CRA). But, instead of following Policy, the Mailroom Lead Worker, Natalie Leseman responded to the appeal.

So I had to go up to her supervisor, Lt. Jason R. Hills, and cite the Policy and the Law only for him to also not follow policy and to reply to the appeal rather than forward it to the CRA. So finally, I had to mail it to the damn CRA myself. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to their response?

The Correspondence Review Authority, comprised of Chris Pawelk-AWO, Sherlinda Wheeler-AWA, and Byron Matthews-Captain, stated that they had read the material and determined the content should be denied for violating MN DOC Division Directive 301.030 Contraband because one of the articles allegedly advocates for organized disturbances within prison walls and activities in violation of facility rules.

Obviously, we all know this is not adequate to legally censor material, plus, it's complete bullshit. So I used the Second appeal and sent it to the Assistant Commissioner of Corrections, Nate Knutson. Confusingly, his reply was that the newspaper had a graphic depiction of violence and that that was why it had been denied.

While this was taking place, I received another Notice of Non-Delivery for a publication from MIM Distributors in San Francisco, CA alleging it was a "Risk to Safety & Security of Facility." And again no further explanation was given. So I began the whole process anew. And again, Lt. Jason R. Hills failed to forward the appeal. And then the CRA failed to respond within the time permitted by Policy, and I am still awaiting word back from Nate Knutson.

The CRA did finally reply 15 days late, saying literally nothing of substance. And now I am awaiting to be approved to proceed In Forma Pauperis for a Civil Action against these poohbahs again.

But all this goes to show the lengths to which those who seek to oppress those with differing views, or who are in opposition, are willing to go. These people are willing to stake their livelihoods on performing illegal acts to people in prison, just to shut us up. And 90% of the time, they succeed.

When there are no witnesses, and no one to speak out, this type of thing goes unnoticed, and unpunished. You know they say absolute authority corrupts absolutely. If I can suppress your voice, your mail, your movements, your very life, no one will notice until you're gone for good. Censorship is men playing god, and you're only hearing about it because it was allowed to be said. Let that sink in.


MIM(Prisons) responds: Much respect to this comrade for all eir work fighting the censorship in eir prison. The other reason you are hearing about this censorship case is because of the independent newspaper and website run by MIM(Prisons). You won't read about this stuff in the mainstream press. And so this underscores the importance of these independent institutions.

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[Censorship] [Arizona]
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HRDC Forces Arizona DOC to Define Censorship Rules

Freedom is Never Free

In November the U.S. District Court ruled that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) must "establish bright-line rules that narrowly define prohibited content in a manner consistent with the First Amendment." These rules must be defined by mid-February. This ruling comes after years of censorship of a variety of publications by the ADOC, often as a result of arbitrary decisions from mail room staff.

In this case Prison Legal News (PLN) (a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC)) filed a lawsuit in 2015 challenging the censorship of their newsletter for "sexually explicit" content. Ironically, the content that inspired this censorship was describing non-consensual sexual contact between guards and prisoners. And as most readers know, PLN is primarily a legal resource for prisoners fighting injustices like this prison rape.

Arizona bans a variety of publications, including issues of National Geographic, Men's Health and GQ.

Issues of Under Lock & Key are also on this banned list, though not for sexually explicit material. In the case of ULK, the most recent ban (that we know about) is ULK 63 from July/August 2018, which was banned for "Incite, Aide, Abet Riots, Work Stoppages, Means of Resistance". Many other issues of ULK sent to prisoners in Arizona are returned or rejected without reasons given. Our attempt to appeal this ban of ULK 63, requesting the ADOC provide more evidence than these vague claims resulted in the following response: "The pages identified containing such content are throughout, including, but not limited to, pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 17."

In an example of their arbitrary decisions around censorship, a MIM(Prisons) six-page guide to forming a prisoner-led study group was censored in 2016 because it supposedly "Promotes superiority of one group over another/promotes racism/degradation." This is exactly what MIM(Prisons) fights against: the superiority of one group of people over another. And this is exactly what the criminal injustice system promotes.

This court ruling requires the Arizona Department of Corrections to change the mail policy from allowing DOC staff to use their discretion when determining what's banned and to establish consistency in excluding sexually explicit material. This won't help MIM(Prisons) as it is rare that a prison claims ULK should be censored for sexually explicit material. But any progress towards less censorship and more narrowly defined policies is a good thing.

On October 22, in a different case, Prison Legal News was awarded $1.2 million in attorney fees by a federal district court in Florida after a nine year lawsuit over censorship of PLN publication because of ads for phone services, pen-pals and stamps. This victory came after the Supreme Court refused to take up the final appeal of this PLN ban.(1) This resulted in the case remanding back to the district court for a ruling on the attorneys' fees. Basically this means PLN won on their Due Process claims but lost on their First Amendment claims. So the censorship is still legal, but the DOC failed to follow proper censorship policy.

"Free speech isn't free," said Human Rights Defense Center executive director Paul Wright. "In this case, censorship by the Florida Department of Corrections cost state taxpayers almost $1.2 million — because of the vicious efforts by the prison system to censor HRDC's publications. The Attorney General's office spent over 3,000 hours in attorney time fighting this case. The real tragedy is that Florida prisoners remain unable to read PLN and other HRDC publications that will educate and inform them of their rights."(2)

PLN and the HRDC have done a lot to fight censorship in prisons over the years. And their hard work on this front benefits everyone seeking to help educate and organize prisoners. MIM(Prisons) doesn't generally have the resources to take on these legal battles, but we do what we can to appeal censorship and force prisons to follow at least basic rules and regulations. This censorship, and our failures in the courts prove a point we often make: under capitalism there are no rights, only power struggles.

Censorship is one of the biggest barriers to our work with prisoners. And it's an area where we always need more help, both from jailhouse lawyers and from lawyers on the streets. If your mail is censored, get in touch with us and let us know. We will send you a guide to fighting censorship and assist on our end with an appeal to the prison. And lawyers on the streets get in touch and help us with these battles!

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[Censorship] [Minnesota Corrections Facility Oak Park Heights] [Minnesota]
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Fighting Minnesota Censorship Games

Okay, so yesterday I received a "Notice of Non-Delivery of Mail or Package" of a publication you sent to me that was stamped out of California on 20 August 2019. It did not properly follow MN-DOC policy or any law, even though DOC Policy Number 103.220 specifically says all employees must follow *ALL* United $tates Laws.

Up to this date, I have only received one issue of Under Lock & Key (May/June 2019, No. 68) and mail with information on "Poetry Writing Guide", "Second Introductory Letter", "Writing Articles" and "Invitation to Join Introductory Study Group 1(27)".

I have not received any other "Notices of Non-Delivery" for anything else. So if you have sent any other materials you should be aware that not only have I not received it, I never received a notice that you had attempted to send anything to me, which consequently means you most likely did not receive any notification of censorship.

This facility is and has been illegally retaliating against me for filing a civil suit against the mail-room staff and prison officials. And even though in all Supreme Court rulings they have held that I cannot be punished for filing a complaint about prison conditions to the Courts, I was given disciplinary segregation for filing a lawsuit in the Tenth Judicial District Court, in Washington County, Minnesota. This facility constantly opens my legal mail without my consent, and refuses to send sealed legal mail to Equal Justice Initiative Center for Wrongful Convictions, The Legal Aid Society, The Innocence Project, The Exoneration Project, The Lewisburg Prison Project, and will open the sealed envelope, tape it shut, and send it back to me with one of their "Notice of Non-Delivery" saying it was "Sealed in violation. NOT legal mail as addressed." The names of the mail-room staff responsible, along with the officials involved are: S. Henry, N. Leseman, Lt. Jason R. Hills, Assistant Warden of Administration Sherlinda Wheeler, and Warden Jeffrey Titus.

I just recently had to deal with these same people illegally censoring the newspaper "The Abolitionist" published by our comrades Critical Resistance. The mail-room sent me their little "Notice" and just like the one for your mail, it said "Risk to security of facility" and offered absolutely nothing else as to what in it allegedly was a "risk." So I appealed and sent a letter to Critical Resistance explaining the issue. In response to the first level appeal, Lt. Jason R. Hills claimed that "the publication contains things in violation of DOC Policy" and failed to cite anything else as is required by law. I appealed again, and have yet to get a response.

But Critical Resistance did respond, letting me know that they had not been notified by the facility, and sent a second copy of the newspaper. And guess what? Nothing in the publication violated policy at all. I sent a "kite" to Lt. Jason R. Hills with all the titles of the articles and asked him to please enlighten me as to which one had supposedly violated "DOC Policy." Obviously, he did not respond.

Anyways, if you could please take action on your end, we can hit them from two fronts for this illegal censorship and retaliation, and if you could notify Minnesota Public Radio, and other news outlets in Minnesota as to this illegal conduct, I believe it will prove as an ultimately versatile United Front against these people actively attempting to oppress and repress me. I only have numbers/addresses for the St. Cloud Times, Kare 11 News, and Fox 9 News: St. Cloud Times: 320-255-8757, 320-255-8775; Kare 11 News: 763-546-1111; Fox 9 News: 952-944-9999.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We have sent this comrade more mail than what is noted above, which was apparently censored. This includes several political theory magazines. And we received no notification of this censorship. This violation of policy, and in fact violation of law, is common in prisons across the country. Prison administrators routinely deny mail without bothering to follow their own rules about notifications and required justifications. The censorship is typically targetting political literature, but has also extended to dictionaries, bibles, and textbooks. Retaliatory censorship is alive and well in Amerikkkan prisons.

This comrade is setting an excellent example of both documenting the problem and fighting back. When we receive notifications of censorship we always alert the affected comrades behind bars. And we need prisoners to do the same for us. In addition, all rejections need to be appealed. And if you can send us your appeals and information on the censorship, we can follow up with appeal letters from our side.

This multi-prong attack on the censorship can sometimes win small victories. Occasionally we will actually get the mail in. But even when we lose the appeals we put the prison on notice that we're paying attention, and this sort of politically-motivated censorship won't just slide by without protest. And getting other organizations to stand up and protest too is important to building the strength of our voice in this battle.

Fighting censorship is only a small part of our larger fight against imperialism. But as our movement gains strength the criminal injustice system will use repression of all sorts to try to stop us. It's particularly important that we fight censorship because this is the primary way that comrades behind bars can stay in touch with the movement beyond their cellblock. Without mail, prisoners don't even have access to study materials. So we take this struggle seriously. And we call on lawyers and paralegals on the streets to get involved. We need legal support to help with these battles.

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[Censorship] [MORGAN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL COMPLEX] [Tennessee] [ULK Issue 69]
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Choose Your Words Wisely - ULK Censored in Tennessee for L.O. Language

I would like to inform the supporters, comrades and my fellow brothers throughout the world, plus also in the "Amerikan Prison System," that we must be watchful of our message that we are attempting to give and spread to those who very well needs it. The ULK article that was titled "Konfused Gangster Mentality" was deemed to be a threat to the Morgan County Correctional Facility. So it was rejected by the mailroom staff. This decision was upheld by the "Security Threat Group" coordinator, and by the final decision of the head warden.

The article was said to be written by a supposed gang member who has ties to the Bloods street gang. It was said by the prison officials that the way the word “confused” is spelled as "Konfused." But also that the word "Damu" that's a part of our Afrikan native people spoken language, that many of our slave ancestors spoke called Swahili. This was brought to the land of Amerika by the Afrikan slaves, who spoke Swahili and also many other Afrikan language dialects.

Even today across the great land of Amerika, you can hear Swahili spoken throughout many major cities as common language by "Afrikan Amerikans." Many may greet one another in such of a way for all to hear. "I love you Damu of my Damu!" Let me translate "I love you Blood of my Blood!" Because for we as Afrikan Amerikans we share something in common. That our people was stolen, kidnapped and then shipped across the Atlantic, during which millions of people died while being transported.

Now when we are attempting to speak to brothers, sisters, supporters, plus comrades through the ULK, we must choose and use our words wisely in our articles, so the law enforcers won't be offended. Because here at Morgan County CF they have a long history of being taught to be racist, prejudiced, biased and abusive by assaulting prisoners while being in restraints. Yeah they're country boyz here at this facility. They don't want prisoners awoken and told what they should be doing against their oppressors. Because that would mean that these coward "Correctional Officers" would be getting their ass kicked left and right when they do things to us in a wrongful act.

And last, but not least, it was said by the STG coordinator here that he didn't like that the article titled "Konfused Gangster Mentality" used the word pig to describe law enforcers. I myself thought it was funny, because this same STG coordinator at MCCF, he has witnessed his co-workers partake and possibly himself also in one or two of the foul acts I mention above.

Now we know that this is an ongoing problem that's not confined to the prison system; it also is happening in our streets of Amerika. The law enforcers are killing unarmed black males at an alarming rate as they did in 1950s thru the 1960s when our true brothers and sisters known as the Black Panthers became aware of the problems and began to form a movement to deal with them.

If you are affiliated with a gang my brother, keep your gang slang, your dissing ways toward another gang out of the ULK. Because these swine are always looking for ways to stop such articles and paper from entering into the prison systems. And that goes for being straight forward when it comes to speaking on dealing with the law enforcers. And being behind enemy lines without the system knowing that it has been infiltrated by us in all forms. Then more damage can be done against who we are fighting. This simple, but effective technique has been used by the oppressed through the world.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer raises a difficult question for those of us working to expose the criminal injustice system. We want our publication to get in to our readers behind bars. We also want to print the truth. And we want to use language that inspires and empowers our readers. This truth and this language sometimes leads to censorship. We try to walk the line, always printing the truth, but choosing our language carefully when there is an alternate word that means the same thing and can prevent censorship. We can be thoughtful about what words we put out front.

We also need to take on these censorship battles and use them to expose the prison system, and the lack of free speech under imperialism. Like this writer, we need to appeal censorship when it happens. And when you appeal, if you inform MIM(Prisons) of the censorship we will also write an appeal as distributor of the publication. Even if we don't win these appeals, we put the prison on notice that we're paying attention to their rule breaking. Often the words and articles they cite as reason for censorship wouldn't pass a review by the courts. We need to remind them of these laws. If you don't have a copy of our guide to fighting censorship, write in to request one.

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[Censorship] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 68]
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How to Fight PA Mail Policies

In the article "Pennsylvania Digitizing Prisoner Mail" in ULK 65(1) Soso points out that PA's new policy will restrict prisoners to purchasing books directly (after the publication is first approved by the DOC). By enforcing this policy the PA DOC is implementing a state-run monopoly on reading material within its prisons. The obvious reason for this imperialist act is to further censor prisoners' reading material.

Illinois comrades have heard our brothers' cries for help. This policy can be fought, but it will take time and dedication to prevail. Crofton v. Roe, 170 F. 3d 957, 961 (9th Cir. 1999) is a case finding that a regulation that only allowed a prisoner to receive publications he ordered and paid for directly bore no relationship to the interest of screening for contraband. You'll need to Shepardize this case to find cases from your Circuit that support this judgment.

What does this mean? It means that you can combat the current policy denying third parties to order you books. That might seem like a small victory compared to the digitization of your mail and pictures, but any victory against the state is a victory for the people. Unfortunately, due to the security concerns regarding drugs being smuggled into the prisons through the mail, it is unlikely that this policy will be overturned by any court. The only method left for this issue is direct action in protest of the policy which garnishes public attention and support (i.e. the mass hunger strikes in California in protest of the SHU which resulted in the abolishment of indefinite placement in the SHU). In Solidarity!


MIM(Prisons) responds: We hope that this PA mail policy will be challenged in the courts. Although MIM(Prisons) does not have the resources (or lawyers) to do this from the streets, we print this letter to support our jailhouse lawyers who are working on this battle. At the same time, this writer makes a good point that we are unlikely to win these legal battles entirely. We can sometimes gain some small victories, that allow us things like greater access to educational materials in prison. But we need to keep in mind that political power only comes to those who take it. The imperialists and their courts will not give up this power without a fight.

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[Censorship] [Campaigns] [Polunsky Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 68]
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Texas Bans Mailing its own Grievance Manual to Prisoners

tdcj griev manual censorship

We just got word that the Texas Department of Criminal inJustice (TDCJ) has denied delivery of the TDCJ Offender Grievance Manual to one of our subscribers in Texas. Not just at the unit level (we were not informed of the censorship at the unit level by Polunsky Unit mailroom staff, in direct contradiction to TDCJ's own policies)(1), but the Director's Review Committee even upheld the censorship of the grievance manual. The Director.

Well, what could possibly be the reason given for censoring TDCJ's own manual which was written for "offenders"? Couldn't tell you. All the notice says is it was "received in contradiction with BP-03.91, Uniform Offender Correspondence Rules." Don't forget, BP-03.91 doesn't just say that this item is denied delivery to this particular subscriber. It says that this item is banned in the entire state for all time. Just like [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, our "Defend the Legacy of the Black Panther Party" study pack, and multiple issues of Under Lock & Key (at least including Nos. 63, 57, 54, 51, 45, 35, 32, 28, and 27).

You might be wondering why MIM Distributors is sending in the grievance manual anyways. It's a TDCJ document, after all. And according to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, the grievance manual ought to be available to prisoners.(2) Well, in September 2014, a memo went out that removed the grievance manual from all TDCJ law libraries.(2) Why would they do this? Don't know, they didn't say. TDCJ's grievance system is notoriously ineffective and deliberately obstructive. And Texas is historically one of the worst states when it comes to brutal national oppression. Seems to be part of those overall patterns.

We did have a "victory," so minor that it's even embarrassing to use that word. The Director's Review Committee Decision Form actually listed the name of the item that they censored! Wow! We didn't have to go hunting around in the list of mail we sent to this subscriber, guessing which item was censored based on the date we mailed it out. This is often a very difficult detail to pin down, considering how much mail we send in and the weeks- and months-long delays in the TDCJ censorship procedures.

So, we've been protesting the ineffective grievance process in Texas for almost ten years. The grievance manual was hidden almost 5 years ago. And now we can't even mail in the grievance manual. We do plan to appeal this censorship to the Director's Review Committee, but often our letters to them go unanswered. In the short term, we need people (and lawyers!) in Texas to put pressure on TDCJ to stop obstructing prisoners' access to the grievance system. Ultimately we need to overthrow this totally bunk injustice system and the economic system it protects.

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[Censorship] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 66]
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Pennsylvania Mail Disrupted

Following a fifteen-day lockdown of all Pennsylvania state prisons, new policies were erected for receiving mail. Publications were halted, and hundreds of book packages from free prison book programs were returned to sender. This occurred because several staff members at various Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) prisons claimed to become deathly ill after handling prisoner mail.

DOC officials assumed it was synthetic marijuana, or K-2, being sent in through the mail. However Dr. Lewis Nelson, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and other prominent medical staff called the DOC on their lies and excuses about the lockdown and new policies and procedures dealing with prisoner mail. Dr. Nelson blew the whistle, so to speak, when he pointed out that one must ingest or inhale synthetic marijuana to have any type of effect on individuals.(1) One cannot be affected by merely touching it, or paper soaked in K-2. Furthermore, he stated that synthetic marijuana simply does not have the type of effects that the individuals were having.

So, one might ask, what the real agenda the DOC had in the change in procedure. The DOC has wanted to control what prisoners read and what type of mail they received for quite some time. It goes to show just how much prisons seek to control others. Needless to say, the DOC is currently under investigation due to its frivolous claims. Mail must be sent to a company in Florida, where it is scanned. It is then forwarded to each respective prisoner at whatever prison he/she is confined. Pennsylvania prisoners receive copies of photos, letters and greeting cards, and the originals are eventually destroyed. Even our legal mail is opened in the presence of each prisoner, handled in a biohazard container, then photocopied. The copies are given to the prisoner, and the originals placed in an "evidence" bag, and eventually destroyed, or so the DOC claims.

We are permitted to receive books, magazines and other publications now, as of very recently. They still must be sent to a secure processing center, where they are searched and then forwarded to each respective prisoner. This is a reminder that we are all being controlled. Unless we get together and do something about it. How long will we allow prison officials to violate our rights and take away freedoms that are promised to us in the U.$. constitution and its amendments? This is a call to arms, and the need to fight the system instead of tearing down one another. I refuse to allow the U.$. prison system to continue violating my rights, and what few freedoms are afforded to me. I will continue to struggle against the wretched machine that seeks to break me. This is a call for comrades to do the same.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We wrote about this Pennsylvania mail policy in ULK 65 and since that time, a new policy to send books and magazines to yet another separate address was implemented.(2) In response to outcry by prisoners and family, the PA DOC did back down on their policy that books could only be ordered through the PA DOC, from their approved vendors. That is no small victory.

We have instances of letters sent to the Florida processing center being returned to us just stamped "return to sender" after being opened and then taped shut. No reason is given. We think it's safe to assume it's the contents of the letter that inspires this censorship, because not all our mail is being returned, and it is being opened at the processing center. In at least one case, our Guide to Fighting Censorship was the item returned to us.

This is an important censorship battle and we join this comrade's call for everyone in Pennsylvania to take up the fight. This is an easy excuse to selectively censor revolutionary material, or selectively censor prisoners who are politically active. We anticipate an increase in denials of our mail. When you are notified of censorship, appeal it, and also let us know what was censored. If you haven't received mail from us in a while, check in and let us know. We always keep up subscriptions for 6 months after your last letter to us. Also follow this comrade's example and keep us informed about changes to the rules and updates on the fight against them. For our part, we will also be appealing when we have evidence of censorship and working with you to fight from the outside.

Notes:
1. https://www.thevermilion.com/opinion/inmates-speaking-out-about-injustices-mistreatment-should-concern-us/article_4669417c-c074-11e8-8448-b76185fef536.html
2. Soso of MIM(Prisons), "Pennsylvania Digitizing Prisoner Mail", ULK 65, November 2018.
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[Censorship] [Legal] [Florida] [ULK Issue 67]
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Supreme Court Denies PLN Florida Censorship Appeal

On 7 January 2019 the Supreme Court refused to take up a First Amendment case challenging the statewide ban of Prison Legal News (PLN) in the Florida Department of Corrections. The ban has been in place since 2009. This appeal was the final attempt to challenge the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which sided with the Florida DOC.(1) Each year thousands of cert petitions are filed with the Supreme Court and most are not heard. As is typical, no reasons were given for the PLN case denial.

The Florida DOC maintains that they are censoring PLN for safety and security reasons. The appellate court found this censorship justified related to certain advertisements in PLN including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps, and third-party phone services.

We know there is no real safety and security justification for censoring PLN. It's an educational publication that helps many prisoners gain legal knowledge and fight back against injustices. PLN is, however, a threat to the institution of prisons in the United $tates. Prison Legal News fights for prisoners' rights and exposes injustices around the country. This is counter to the interests of a system that is focused on social control.

A number of groups stepped up to file or sign briefs in support of PLN. Of particular interest is one from a group of former Correctional Officers, including some from Florida. They argue, very rationally, that the complete censorship of PLN is an exaggerated response to security concerns and a constitutional violation.(2) Of course these former C.O.s, and many others who support allowing PLN into the Florida DOC, made very narrow arguments that still protected the DOC's "right" to censor anything they deem dangerous. These supporters are just opposing censorship for something so obviously not dangerous as it exposes the falsehood that prisons are censoring mail in the interests of safety and security.

This PLN lawsuit sets a very bad precedent for others fighting censorship as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands. Fortunately it should not directly impact ULK as we don't run these third-party ads. Though Florida did censor ULK 62 for "stamp program advertisement." While we do accept stamps as donations, we run no stamp programs. This goes to show that when there is no justification for censorship, the prisons will just make up things not even in the publication.

Any ruling upholding censorship in prisons is a bad one. This ruling further exposes the reality that there are no rights, only power struggles. The First Amendment only protects speech for those privileged enough to buy that protection.

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