Last month I received my first issue of Under Lock & Key (No. 42), and I'm honestly surprised that the correspondence unit even let this newsletter into the facility. In the 13 years that I've been imprisoned, I've witnessed and experienced having all kinds of books, magazines, and other publications be either censored in part or disapproved altogether.
The conventional reasons behind this censorship are either that the works contain content that is considered a threat to the safety and security of the institution, or that the literature contains "gang" signs or other unauthorized organizational content. Of course these reasons are totally arbitrary and capricious. For example, the prison media review committee regularly blots out the peace gesture in The Five Percenter Newspaper and claims that the hand gesture is a "gang" sign. However, I've seen pictures of President Obama making this very same gesture, but these pictures are never censored.
Similarly, I'm enrolled in a college program and last semester the administration here disapproved two pieces of Black literature: Richard Wright's Big Black Good Man and James Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man. They claimed that the stories were offensive in content. The real insult to me was that during the very same semester they approved literature in other Eurocentric classes that regularly referenced Black people as niggers. I guess offensive content is okay as long as it doesn't offend those in control.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This new ULK subscriber is reporting a problem we see in prisons across the country: systematic censorship of literature that presents even mild cultural news targetting a New Afrikan audience. White supremacist books and magazines get past the censors with no problem, but books by famous authors like Richard Wright and James Baldwin are denied. And ULK is even more likely to be censored because it speaks to the situation prisoners face today and builds unity and peace to create real change as part of a broader anti-imperialist struggle.
Everyone who successfully gets a copy of ULK should do their part and share it with others. You never know when it's going to slip past the censors, so each issue should be passed around so that we can maximize its use. And if you get a copy from someone else, be sure to write to us for your own subscription.
For a few years MIM(Prisons) has been participating in the on-line forum Prison Talk (www.prisontalk.com). This website advertises itself as a "prison information and family support community." The forums on Prison Talk are primarily used by family members of prisoners, looking for information and support. From their home page description, Prison Talk (also known as PTO) explains:
"There is no worse feeling than that of being alone and helpless. This applies to the families of those who are incarcerated just as much as it does to those behind the walls. PTO's goal is to bridge the communication barrier that exists in and around the criminal 'justice' system today and bring everyone in the prisoner support community closer together to effect change in policy, prisoner rights, sentencing and so much more."
Occasionally MIM(Prisons) attempts to post information in PTO forums for the benefit of the PTO audience, who may not regularly visit our website for news from Amerikan prisons. For instance, during the statewide hunger strike in California's prisons, we provided several articles and updates on the situation that were appreciated by the California forum users (users can indicate appreciation of a post within the forums by “thanking” the author).
We try to be careful to follow the rules of the forums. For instance, a few years ago Prison Talk staff made some policy changes to bring the forums into compliance with copyright laws. Because the content on our website is not copyrighted, these laws don't apply to posts of content from prisoncensorship.info. But we understand that the Prison Talk staff have decided to apply their policies to all news articles posted on the site rather than research each individual source, and so we modified our participation to include only a small summary of an article and then a link to the full article for those who want to read it, as their policy requires.(1)
In spite of this practice, our posts over the past year were often deleted for "copyright violation" without any indication of how we were violating the policy. Perhaps in recognition that we are not violating the copyright policy, Prison Talk staff recently started making up new reasons to delete our posts. One reason given was "We cannot allow you to link to that site. It asks for donations, and as such is not allowed on PTO." This one is interesting since it took only about 5 minutes of looking through recent posts on PTO to find examples of uncensored posts linking to sites that request donations, such as this one which links to truth-out.org, a site that has a prominently-featured button requesting donations (far more aggressive than prisoncensorship.info). In fact the only sites that are unlikely to request donations are commercial sites, so if this is actually a PTO policy, they are effectively banning links to most non-profit and independent websites.
Another post was deleted with the reason given as "You have been told multiple times you CANNOT post as someone else." This is an odd reason since we have never concealed the identity of the persyn posting on PTO for MIM(Prisons). In fact a few years ago we were asked to take down the link to the MIM(Prisons) website in that persyn's PTO user profile. So on the one hand they want us to disguise who we work with, and on the other hand they accuse us of posting as someone else. And for the record, this was the first time PTO made this accusation, it was not "multiple times."
It seems that the PTO staff want to prevent MIM(Prisons) from participating in the forums, but they don't want to do so openly. They have pursued an ongoing practice of making it as difficult as possible for us to share information about the fight against the criminal injustice system being waged by United Struggle from Within and MIM(Prisons). We have asked the PTO administrators to be honest with us and just tell us to stop participating if they want to kick us off. But they ignore this request and continue to pretend that the problem is our lack of compliance with policies. We do consistently see our posts censored within a few hours of posting, and so given the volume of posts in a day (there were 1885 new posts over one random 12-hour period this month) we assume at least one administrator has set a flag notifying themselves to review every single post we attempt to make.
It is unfortunate that the organizers of this forum serving a population that desperately needs access to information about battles being waged in the prison system are censoring participants in such an underhanded way. This is eerily similar to the games played by prison administrators who throw out prisoners' mail and pretend it just never arrived, or who deny material as "a threat to the security of the institution" when they just don't like the material. Unlike prison staff, PTO is legally allowed to remove material they find politically disagreeable from their website, but they probably know that openly doing so would lose them support from many of their users.
MIM(Prisons) is honest about our selective publication of articles and information in both Under Lock & Key and on our website. We are clear about our political line and the goals of our work. Liberal organizations like PTO, who pretend to be open to all views but in fact secretly promote their own agenda, are harming the fight against injustice.
Enclosed is the grievance I submitted regarding ULK 39. As you may notice, the Chief of Corrections Operations A. David Robinson, upheld the decision of the Publication Review Committee to censor the publication. But if you read the third paragraph of Robinson's response you will notice he refers to the prison denying "the books." Obviously, Robinson failed to do his job.
His job is to review the publication to see if the censorship is justified. Since ULK 39 is a newsletter and not "books," he could not have reviewed them. Robinson is paid at least $50,000 annually (perhaps double that). Isn't that too much to pay a rubber stamp yes man?
People in combat zones get paid less than Robinson, yet he cannot be bothered to actually perform his duty. Instead he simply acts as a robot automatically approving the actions of his flunkies beneath him.
Also notice the date of the response is December 17, but I didn't receive it until January 20. I conjecture that the date is false - the man missed the 20-day deadline but back-dated it. He had only until 21 December to respond but he probably responded January 17.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is an example of just a few of the responses we get when attempting to fight censorship of MIM(Prisons) literature. There is never any legitimate reason behind the censorship, but it's easy for prison administrators to run our comrades around in circles with false claims and delays. These are very difficult to appeal because the appearance of a response to a grievance is sufficient for higher level rejections. Nonetheless, everyone who faces censorship should be appealing it, and we can provide a guide to fighting censorship for those who need some help. Please also report on the outcome of your appeals and let us know what support we can send to help with the fight. This is a critical part of the educational work we do behind bars.
As of January 2015, my access to copies of MIM Theory magazine in Goose Creek Correctional Center has been curtailed. Several days ago I was given a notice from the prison's mailroom that a "booklet" had been sent (it was MIM Theory 2/3) from "a vendor who is not on the approved list." Though this vendor approval policy was instituted DOC-wide in Alaska about two or three years ago, at every other facility I've been in, including two pre-trial jails, magazines and periodicals such as MIM Theory were exempt and I received every issue previously sent. So, apparently, there is only a problem at Goose Creek. I sent a request to the mailroom to consider the copy of MIM Theory a zine, with a denial coming back. My next step was to send a request to the security sergeant. The response from this officer was different. Now, apparently, I'm being denied because the pages of the magazine are "discolored" and therefore the conclusion is that the copy is "second-hand" and "used." Even though any "discoloration" would likely be because the magazine is 20 years old and printed on newsprint, it is still denied because used books are not allowed.
As of about a week ago I wrote a cop-out back saying that the copy is not used nor second-hand, but rather a back-copy — an issue that was kept in stock and never put into circulation. I made the analogy that it is the same as if I had ordered from Time a back issue of their magazine. I also pointed out that the sender is the same entity as the original publisher/distributor and hence the copy is obviously not used. I'm still, as of the time of this letter, awaiting a reply back, but thus far it's not looking encouraging. I also did ask that MIM Distributors be placed on the Approved Vendors List.
I intend on pursuing the matter as far as is necessary. I have not exhausted all avenues yet. I'm curious to know if anyone else has had similar issues regarding the specific reason I'm thus far being given for the withholding of the issue, and what remedies were taken.
MIM(Prisons) adds: In our experience with this particular reason for censorship, it is a coin toss whether the administration will submit to logical reasoning on whether to allow the magazine in. We don't have a specific recommendation on how to handle a claim that a magazine is used when it simply isn't. Often times we need to send in another copy of the magazine that hopefully looks newer, or that arrives on a day when a more rational mailroom staff persyn is working.
Censorship battles are particularly important for the prison-based revolutionary struggle because of the educational focus of our work right now. Our only option presently is to work with prisoners through the mail, and the political literature that we send in is the main way we spread information about political theory, history and current events. When our mail is cut off we lose a critical tool in our anti-imperialist organizing work. This comrade's reporting of censorship battles, and h work fighting the censorship, is a good example for others. A lot of mail we send out is returned back to us, and frequently mail is rejected without any notification as to why. We need people to appeal all cases of censorship, and notify us each time censorship happens. We can support these appeals with our own letters of protest, but only when we know the censorship is happening. Many of you receive Unconfirmed Mail Form letters from us asking you to tell us what mail you received. We appreciate all the responses to these form letters, and it would be even better if everyone kept us up to date on all mail received so we don't have to send out these forms. Remember, every time you write you should tell us everything you've received since you last wrote.
Censorship is often associated with editors of major news media sources such as The National News or The New York Times, but there is a face of censorship functioning with total immunity and blessings from the Postmaster General in Amerika's public institutions. The antics of this menace are adversely affecting the lives of at least 2,000,000 citizens in California alone.
Recently it came to my attention that prisoncrats at High Desert State Prison (HDSP) regularly trash-can, delay, and deface legal documents, spiritual materials, submissions to media outlets, personal correspondence, and other mail sent to various publications, media sources, and individuals. Defacing includes stamping the body of these manuscripts with big red blocks of ink, rendering them illegible, and otherwise useless for their legal, spiritual, and personal intent.
Currently California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) warehouses over 160,000 captives representing an average of 11 other friends, family and contacts that they correspond with; therefore, nearly 2 million (1,760,000) are being subject to oppressive techniques of prisoncrats who are boldly executing a campaign of censorship with an arbitrary, malicious, and political agenda designed to undermine the captives efforts to maintain family/community unity and liberate themselves from the evils of ignorance. As a first termer captive surviving my 42nd year, I have observed several patterns in the pigz who squander long work-hours committing malicious acts of censorship/oppression.
The first observation is the geographical location which acts as a shield from public scrutiny. While the prison experience in the United $nakes of Amerikkka today is such that one in every eleven men will be imprisoned during his lifetime. (For Black men, the figure is disproportionately higher - more than one of every four.) Yet most new prisons (koncentration kamp$) are built not in Black communities, but in white ones, usually rural white ones. A century ago, when most prisoners were white and many had lived on farms, this might have made sense. But not anymore. Today, most prisoners are Black (49%) or Latino (18%). Typically, they come from the cities. Sticking them in the boondocks, where family members have a hard time visiting, where pigz have likely never encountered anyone like them, almost always leads to problems, often violent ones. Yet this is where Amerika builds prisons.(1) Due to location, captives are forced to rely primarily on written correspondence to maintain and build strong family relationships.
The next observation is the general profile of those who commit such malicious acts. On average the pigz working in these rural isolated kamps are typically ultra-conservative, middle-aged, marginally educated, white men who have little-to-no prospect for employment beyond being prisoncrats/oppressors. An interesting paradox to note is that in spite of their lack of higher academic learning, they earn an average annual wage which rivals that of most teachers and health care providers. While the state has an unemployment rate of over 7%, HDSP, like many kamps, purposely does not hire a full workforce; therefore, creating a scheme to reward certain fractions of pigz with overtime hours and rates; resulting in them working excessively long hours. These prisoncrats generally have a hostile attitude towards Blacks and Latinos - particularly those Blacks and Latinos who are cultured, politically conscious, and strive for strong family/community unit. These oppressors actively seek out night shifts where they are designated to search outgoing mail for contraband when given probable cause; however, to have probable cause is the exception. Without probable cause, these pigz openly express a passionate disdain for the relationships their captives have with family/community. With malice, they seek to destroy these relationships by defacing, delaying, and throwing away their personal, legal, and spiritual mail.
Consider an incident on 16 February 2015 when an elder captive in A-section became the victim of a brutal attack via several reactionaries acting as agents for certain pigz who were attempting to suppress the litigation of the elderly captive pursuing his rights to seek access to the courts for human rights violations. While packing the victim's property, a prisoncrat was observed throwing away large volumes of the victim's legal and spiritual documents. This man was sent to isolation while none of the oppressors' agents were subject to the same procedures. On 9 February 2015 this writer became the repeat victim of legal/business mail tampering when an envelope from friends beyond the walls was delivered without a letter inside. Previously this writer's minister sent a tax letter and form in response to my donation, which had been defaced with red blocks of ink lettering stamped on the body of the enclosures.
The aforementioned policies and practices may appear to be mere acts of personal mischief of pigz, but the series of reports on www.prisoncensorship.info demonstrate that this is a systematic pattern of abause. The latent effect has far broader implications than the receipt of one piece of mail. It's interesting to note that while it's the intent of these prisoncrats to disrupt and break down the family nucleus and community ties, the stated objectives of CDCR is exactly the opposite to the degree it reports to encourage reform via affording prisoners to develop strong family and community ties.
There are at least three ways the larger community should respond effectively to this form of oppression. 1) Write the Post Master General (cc to Warden) and serve notice how this practice is adversely affecting you as a free-citizen emotionally/personally, spiritually, and legally. 2) File (save) any legal, personal, spiritual, business, and artistic images you have received that have been defaced in this way that could possibly be used as evidence of unnecessary defacement. 3) Be willing to give your material, moral, and legal support to any who have dared to file a meritorious claim. Be advised the prisoncrats will attempt to justify their actions by citing safety and security, which is actually a euphemism for oppressive and malicious actions with the intent of suppressing communication between family and community.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We echo this comrade's call for people both behind bars and on the streets to fight the censorship going on in California prisons. For year's all mail from MIM Distributors was banned in California prisons, and that ban was overturned by coordinated legal efforts and appeals. But censorship has not ended, it is a constant power struggle to maintain basic First Amendment rights for the oppressed. Mail is particularly important not only for maintaining family and community ties but also for political education and organizing. This is why activist prisoners find their mail specifically targetted. It's not about security, it's about social control. Grieve every incident of censorship and join the California campaign to demand our grievances be addressed. Write to us for a copy of the grievance petition.
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.
It's amazing how some of these institutions specifically discriminate against Black publications from entering into their prisons, stating their writings are offensive and inappropriate to prison standards. This is how prejudice and bias their views are when it comes to Black literature.
I received a notice from the Incoming Publication Review Committee at SCI-Benner, stating that the Movement Newsletter is being denied. They indicated that three of its pages advocated violence, guerrilla warfare against the government, assist in criminal activity related to prison misconduct, and its material is racially motivated that could cause a threat to inmates, staff, and security in the prison.
This accusation is not only a derogatory attack on Black publications, but also towards Blacks in general. They have the audacity to link a race of people to a criminal behavior as though it's inbred in them.
The Black community frowns on criminal activities, as well as violence, much more so than anyone else because many are personally affected by it one-way or the other. And for anyone to imply they abet it, is in a state of illusion, because many of them are unfortunate victims of crime, not participants.
Most of the Black publications are structured to educate readers on past, and current events, give encouragement to those in despair, and to let the community know that they are not forgotten. We're fortunate to have a newsletter of sure caliber as the Movement that's fearless, judicious, and full of profound data that's reliable. Newsletters such as the Movement, Graterfriends, Fortune Society, Innocence Denied, and many others that give a voice to those whose voices have been disregarded. They advocate justice for those who have been denied it, and advocate humane treatment to those men and women in captivity.
It is judged inappropriate for Black publications to denounce racial discrimination, corruption, oppression, hypocrisy, injustice, and whatever else infringe on the rights of others. Are they permitted to execute their so-called Constitutional rights under the First Amendment to freedom of speech, which includes the rights to criticize the government or state officials? Is censorship in effect or is it just my imagination?
MIM(Prisons) responds:The Movement is a newsletter published by the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), which describes itself as: "HRC’s quarterly news magazine, The Movement, is a powerful source in public awareness that serves not only to tie prisoners to the outside world, but also to tie the public into prison issues. It represents the voices, faces, causes, and ideas of prisoner families and prisoners themselves." This is not even a New Afrikan publication, except in that it covers prison issues and a disproportionate number of prisoners of the United $tates are New Afrikan.
MIM(Prisons) is not surprised to see this censorship because we face constant problems with censorship of Under Lock & Key in prisons across the country. Prisons make up bogus reasons to deny ULK as a threat to security because of our work educating and organizing prisoners. Any publication that reports honestly on the Amerikan criminal injustice system is going to include coverage of national oppression and the struggles of New Afrikans and [email protected] in particular. This reporting and organizing work is seen as a threat to the prisons, but we must fight for our right to this legal form of education.