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[Organizing] [Campaigns] [Legal] [Virginia] [ULK Issue 54]
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Prisoners Unite Against Suppression of VA DOC Grievance Procedure

"This operating procedure provides an administrative process for resolving offender issues and complaints through fair, prompt decisions and actions in response to complaints and grievances from offenders incarcerated in Department of Corrections institutions."

These are the clever introductory words of Virginia Department of Corrections (VA DOC) Operating Procedure 866.1 governing "Offender Grievance Procedure." While offenders — captives — suppose to enjoy non-repressive rights to utilize the grievance procedure, captives have experienced for many years repressed rights by the Department's Human Rights Advocates (commonly called Institutional and Regional Ombudsman) and administrative personnel. The VA DOC is at odds over effective administrative application of the captive/offender grievance procedure.

Since my incarceration in 1993, the captive/offender grievance procedure has always been a medium, used by captives, to receive redress for their issues and problems. The Institutional Ombudsman, once upon a time, investigated captives' issues/problems with proper handling, meaning they would speak to both the captive and staff before rendering a decision. Ombudsman would render decisions reasonably, appropriately — even if it was to the neglect of the system. After all, that's the job of the Human Rights Advocate.

Over the years, the captives have grown to understand completion of Offender Grievance Procedure is the first step to satisfying the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA Federal statute). Before the legal court system will entertain captive lawsuits, the first level one must meet is exhausting all available administrative remedies. With this understanding, VA DOC Institutional and Regional Ombudsman began seeing a rise in filed complaints and grievances, and civil lawsuits (42 U.S.C. 1983). A conspiratorial plan was hatched by the department to suppress captives' grievance procedure and opportunities. Something had to be done. VA DOC was being held liable, costing thousands of dollars.

The first step in repressing and suppressing the captive grievance procedure was that many prisons and institutions removed captives' complaint forms and level 1 grievance forms from availability. This means, in order for captives to receive said forms, they must make requests to officer/building sergeants. Captives must divest their issues/problems to authorities. If the officer or sergeant disagrees with your issues or problems, they refuse to give you needed forms. When they do give you forms, it's usually because the issue/problem is not really a threat. Captives are left with suppressed and repressed grievance rights, by the same system that swore to uphold these rights.

Once a captive completes the informal complaint process, an administrative grievance can be filed. With next-level repression, the Ombudsman uses fraudulent claims to deny grievances; such reasons as: time barred, inquiring on behalf of other "captives," not enough information, and in some cases stating "If you're not satisfied with response file to next level — regional ombudsman." (Some complaints/grievances are not returned.) These alleged claims are used by the institutional ombudsman to deny grievances, not logging grievances, or otherwise repress the process. Regional Ombudsman, being the last level of grievance process, usually side with Institutional Ombudsman.

Captives who file complaints/grievances, at times, are faced with reprisals. These reprisals, although forbidden by Operating Procedure 866.1, are usually felt in not receiving jobs, non-favorable housing, denied transfers, and more. Captives face extreme difficulties seeking to prove they are experiencing reprisal, due to filing complaints/grievances. Often times, captives who file these documents are labeled "paper-pushers," and the new term, "paper terrorist.=" (yeah, such a machination by the oppressors).

VA DOC has created a crafty method to suppress, and repress captives' grievance procedure and right. This is reflected in the number of Level 1 and Level 2 grievances "found" versus those "unfounded." Even when the evidence submitted favors the captive's claims, the grievance is still returned "unfounded." The Ombudsman no longer advocates on behalf of the captives, nor upholds the integrity of the grievance policy.

In entertaining plans to file civil litigation (§42 U.S.C. 1883 claims of civil rights violation) one must have satisfied §42 U.S.C. 1997(e)(a) which states "no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions... by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." With continuous suppression of captives' grievance procedural rights, this satisfaction will prove to be difficult. These measures are used by the oppressive system to derail, suppress, or otherwise hinder captives' ability to satisfy §42 U.S.C. 1997 (e)(a), and PLRA, and have any legal litigation dismissed for not exhausting all available administrative remedies.

In a recent lawsuit (§42 U.S.C 1983) I filed against a VA DOC prison, and its Director Harold Clarke, alleging Civil Rights violations. I was advised by United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Plaintiff has no constitutional right to participate in grievance procedure - citing Adam v. Rice §40 F. 3d. 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994) - because plaintiff enjoys no constitutional right to participate in grievance procedure his allegation that his grievances were improperly processed are legally frivolous - citing Banks v. Nagle. Nos. 3:09 CV419-HEH; 3:09 CV14 (2009) WL1209031, at *3 (E.D.VA. May 1, 2009)." Moreover, simply, "ruling against a prisoner on an administrative complaint does not cause or contribute to the [constitutional] violation, see George v. Smith 507 F. 3d. 605, 609-10 (7th Cir 2007)" I alleged in my First Amendment violation claim: Ombudsman at this prison suppressed, obstructed or otherwise denied me fundamental (and meaningful) access to "offender grievance procedure" due to refusal to properly process and answer said grievances. It was, and remains a continuous practice, within VA DOC, to deny "redress to government," in this case, the prison authorities who are agents of the state.

It appears the U.S. District Court has shifted their views and opinions as to whether captives have a constitutional right to grievance procedure. On one hand, the Federal statute §42 U.S.C. 1997 (e)(a) states we have to satisfy the prongs of the PLRA, which requires the exhaustion of all available administrative remedies, before filing a §42 U.S.C. 1983. But then, restrict such requirement in decisions rendered in Adam v. Rice and Banks v. Nagle, which contradicts mandates of §42 U.S.C. 1997(e)(a).

Without protected due process rights, whether in society or behind these walls of horror, the people are in trouble. Captives have seen a consistent erosion of rights, or a limiting of such rights, over the years; from the Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act, of former President Bill Clinton, to the Patriot Act of George W. Bush. High courts have repeatedly sided with state prison administrators, citing "security takes precedence over certain rights, including infringement upon certain civil rights." This could very well open the door for the pigs to get away with vicious assaults, property damages, and other egregious acts that goes on behind these walls. The highway for "organized crime" is without patrols.

Captives are subjected to a wide range of issues and administrative confrontation, leading to needed remedies. Though, each "department of correction" professes administrative remedy outlets, captives' rights to utilize these administrative outlets continues to be repressed, ineffective, leaving issues unsolved. These create an environment of mistrust, instability and an ethos of disorganization between captives and "the system."

Captives here at this VA DOC prison have organized around the "United Front" and "United Front for Peace in Prison - Statement of Principles." We have organized, mobilized, and deputized. We've organized to the point where we have a ten point agenda, designed to address our oppression and oppressor in an organized and systematic way. We wish to accept full responsibility for our actions, educate ourselves in seeking justice, and assure that we remain at peace, on what we've agreed upon, and united around our collective agenda.

We wish to join on to and with MIM(Prisons)'s campaign "We Demand our Grievances are Addressed." Please send us the petition! ASAP we will work to assure this petition is signed by as many we can from behind these walls. We will continue to educate ourselves towards the process, and our rights under Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

Let's stop the repression of the grievance procedure within the VA DOC. We stand with MIM(Prisons)!


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade and others in Virginia have been doing some great organizing work, building the United Front for Peace in Prisons, local study groups, and fighting the corrupt grievance process in that state's prisons. We look forward to the progress of this campaign as a part of building a broad base of united prisoners in Virginia fighting the criminal injustice system under anti-imperialist leadership.

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[Campaigns] [Abuse] [Legal] [Medical Care] [Texas] [ULK Issue 52]
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Perseverance and Commitment in Texas Lawsuits

It has been a while since I've sent you anything due to all the time involved with fighting the Texa$ Legalized Mafia (Texa$ Department of Criminal (in)Justice) in Federal Court. But I've got to the point that I had to make a report on the advances I've made in our struggle.

1. I sent a letter (which a copy of is enclosed) to the Medical Practice Manager on my Unit who works for University of Texas Medical Board (UTMB). I was reimbursed $100 of the $400 I owed them. Upon his response I sent him another letter informing him that though I was thankful for that, it was not enough, I wanted it all back. The next day it was done. Enclosed is a copy of the first letter I sent to the UTMB Practice Manager. I only have one stamp right now, so I will send the rest of the paperwork when I get a chance.

2. My lawsuit against the Texas Board of Criminal Justice is going great. The Court shot down the Ass. Att. General Leah O'Leary's Motion to Dismiss and her Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment and gave me until September 9, 2016 to have all my Despositive Motions in. I've already done that and filed two complaints of Bad Faith on the Defendants' part for attempting to defraud the Court on several occasions. I've asked for two separate sanctions ordered and for the Court to order a Default Judgment in my favor. It won't be long and we will get the Revision to Board Policy-03.91 Correspondence Rules repealed.

My next 1983 Lawsuit in Federal Court against the Texas Board of Criminal (in)Justice is going to be over them violating our 14th Amendment right of equal protection under the law, which prohibits sexual/gender discrimination, due to their grooming standard policy. Women who are incarcerated in Texas can grow their hair as long as they want to, but men can't have it very long at all. This is a gender-neutral act and the state is discriminating between the sexes/genders. I've already gotten my informal resolution back from Warden Butcher at Terrell Unit and filed my Step 1 grievance. When it comes back I will file my Step 2 and so on into Federal Court.

Once I finish that one I am going to file against them for slowly but surely denying us due process by removing the tools we need to fight against unconstitutional acts. First in September 2014 they hid the Offender Grievance Operations Manual, and now I read in your latest ULK that they banned the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook.

It is unbelievable how people watched me struggle day in and day out every day with this fight, and started donating paper, pens, envelopes, and documentation to help me. Please send me everything you can on the ban on the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook and the Offender Grievance Operations Manual. Right now I'm in Ad-Seg because I was given 5 bogus major cases and an illegal use of force. They didn't use a chemical agent; they had it on hand but instead just beat me for 30 minutes on tape.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend this comrade on eir commitment to continuing eir lawsuits which benefit all prisoners in Texas, even though ey is facing persynal physical retaliation from prison staff.

We know that unfortunately the retaliation is more consistent than the victories. So while we support this comrade's efforts at this stage in our struggle, we also know that legal action alone won't put an end to the litany of abuses. What we ultimately need is to organize for self-determination of all oppressed peoples worldwide, including the internal semi-colonies within U.$. borders. Until we are free from Amerikkkan imperialism, we will always have a need for these lawsuits, and face even worse conditions. In the meantime, we organize, educate and try to carve out space for our survival.

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[Legal] [ULK Issue 49]
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Exhausting Grievances for PLRA

I write in response to the USW campaigns published in ULK 47. Please be advised, the grievance system is nationally governed by the United States Supreme Court Prison Litigation Reform Act. Although each state has its own format, a DOC failure to respond to a grievance at any stage is a failure of them to make the exhaustion remedies available.

Make sure in between stages to submit a simple delinquent notice if your grievances are not responded to. Make sure to do this twice, and retain copies. Then move through the stages and, if necessary, the delinquent notices will suffice if litigation elevates to court level. Also, a grievance rejected cannot be held by the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) because the rejection deemed the filing a non-grievable issue, therefore you have exhausted the grievance procedure and may proceed if necessary. Please see:

  • 438 f.3d 804, 809, 812 (7th GR. 2006)
  • 569 F. Supp 2d 398, 406-07 (D. Del 2008)
  • 287 F. Supp. 2d 210, 212 (WDNY 2003)
  • 231 F. Supp. 2d 341, 350 (D. Me 2002)
  • 54 F. Supp. 2d 199, 206 (S.D. NY 1999)

MIM(Prisons) adds: Many people facing problems with the grievance procedures where they're held also do not have access to a copy machine, or their cells are tossed and all their documentation is sabotaged. This suggestion of notifying staff of delinquency twice, and keeping copies, appears like a good tactic if possible. We would also encourage subscribers to request the Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual chapter on the PLRA that we distribute for $12 or equivalent work-trade. If you can afford to buy the Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual outright (approximately $30), we can send you the publisher's order form.

The mere existence of the PLRA, plus all the little headaches that make it so difficult to exhaust all available remedies, are signs that the criminal injustice system in this country is a total joke. It's not designed for justice at all - it's designed to frustrate and pacify, and provide busy work for, the oppressed people who are subject to its control. In addition to trying to fight winnable battles through the courts when possible, we encourage our subscribers to get deep into political study and organizing, which gets at the core of this unjust capitalist system and all its organs of oppression.

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[Campaigns] [Legal] [Texas] [ULK Issue 49]
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Making Moves on Indigent Mail Campaign

In 1987, the Guajardo v. Estelle case, modifying the correspondence regulations in the Texas prison system, was finalized. One of the results of Guajardo was prisoners with less than $5.00 in their trust fund accounts were considered indigent, and thereby entitled to five one-ounce First Class correspondences per week, and unlimited legal and privileged correspondences.

Circa 1998, Jason Powers, attorney at law, with the firm Vinson & Elkins, contacted me informing me the state had filed a motion to vacate Guajardo pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Powers solicited my assistance in defending plaintiffs' objection to State's motion. Obviously, the plaintiffs failed to prevail.

My concern regarding recent constrictions in indigent correspondence procedures is: Since vacating of Guajardo, indigent prisoner correspondence has been reduced from the 5 personal letters a week and unlimited legal correspondence, to 5 personal and 5 legal correspondence per month. This, when the indigent requirement has remained less than $5.00 since 1978, never being adjusted per the inflated dollar.

As such, I intend to commence a petition campaign directed at State Senator John Whitmire, State Committee on Criminal Justice, demanding not only that the 5x5 weekly indigent correspondence regulations be reimplemented, but that the standard of indigence required be adjusted to reflect a realistic inflated dollar. So fly this by your grievance writers and gauge their thoughts on the matter.


MIM(Prisons) responds: The reduction in indigent prisoner correspondence envelopes has a direct impact on prisoners' ability to stay in contact with family, fight legal battles, and engage in political education and organizing. The criminal injustice system wants to curtail these activities as a part of the goal of social control. As revolutionaries we support campaigns to expand access to correspondence, as we know this is critical to our ability to reach our comrades behind bars. We look forward to input from other grievance campaign participants about this new tactic in Texas.

Another campaign that is active in Texas is the right to access to a law library. We also recently learned that the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook has been banned across the Texas Department of Criminal Injustice as of October 29, 2015. Texas is continuing a long history of assault on oppressed peoples in that state, and the only way we're going to be able to overcome the new (and old) tactics developed (and re-instituted) daily is to overthrow the state apparatus that makes it possible. Obviously Amerikkka's government system has got to go.

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[Censorship] [Legal] [ULK Issue 49]
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All Censorship Should be Appealed

I would like to comment on one recurring theme I've observed in recent issues of ULK. I've noticed a willingness from prisoners who seem to accept a prisoncrat's word that they cannot appeal the censorship of your - or others' - literature. I have yet to encounter a prison system which does not have a process for screening books, magazines, etc. While they may be loathe to follow those procedures, we need to force them to at least go through the motions of properly reviewing our literature, as once that review is completed, then we can take our complaints to the local federal courts. While they don't always afford us the relief we deserve, sometimes we do prevail, and if nothing else our lawsuits are expensive to defend. At some point the attorney general's office will tire of defending policies which don't comport to the state's own regulations. If we continue to give up at the first sign of resistance, we will never accomplish any of our goals. Those who are unwilling to defend their rights deserve none.


MIM(Prisons) responds: There are no rights, only power struggles, so we agree with this comrade that it is important that everyone step up to fight the censorship battles that are preventing revolutionary material, or any other mail, from getting in to the prisons. Unfortunately many states do have "unappealable" (per policy) censorship. For example, in Texas the [email protected] Power book was recently banned. Per Texas policy, this book is effectively censored forever. We are pushing comrades in Texas to take this to court to not only get the book in to prisoners in Texaztlán, but to attempt to change this policy across the board.

We are not so optimistic that the attorney general's office will tire and give up, and in fact we know that even in victory the courts and the government are likely to just change the laws on us rather than let us win. But we do agree that these battles are sometimes winnable, and it is persistence that pays off. At the same time, everyone taking up these legal battles should use their fight as an opportunity to educate others about the struggle, and why we are facing so much censorship of anti-imperialist educational material. In this way, even if we lose in the courts, we have made good use of our time by helping others to learn from the fight and building resistance outside the legal realm.

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[Legal] [Campaigns] [Illinois] [ULK Issue 49]
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Advancing the Illinois Grievance Campaign

Upon reading ULK 46 I was once again reminded of the difficulties that us prisoners face trying to have our grievances heard. I would like to share with ULK readers a remedy for this issue that I have discovered.

Pursuant to Powe v. Ennis, 177 F.3d 393 (5th Circuit 1999); and Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829 (7th Cir. 2002), if prison officials refuse to hear your grievance, your administrative remedies are exhausted. You do not need a response to your grievance to pursue your issue in the courts. You need only prove that you filed the respective grievance.

This can easily be done. First, after you have written your grievance fill out a Proof of Service form stating that on such-and-such date you sent so-and-so a grievance regarding such-and-such issue. After you have filled out the Proof of Service form get it notarized at your facility's law library. Secondly make sure to make copies of both your grievance and the Proof of Service form to keep in your files. Finally, repeat this process at every level of your state's grievance system.

For example: In Illinois there is a three-step grievance system. I have personally used this method in the past (successfully). First, I filed my grievance with my counselor; next I filed it with my institution's grievance office; then I filed it with the Administrative Review Board. Each time I filed my grievance I also filed a Proof of Service form. By doing so I was able to show the Court that I had attempted to resolve my claims through the grievance process. This resulted in the court siding with me and denying the State's Motion for Summary Judgement. I am enclosing proof of this method's success for MIM(Prisons) to verify.

Although this is not the ideal solution it is one that will allow prisoners to pursue their legal matters without being obstructed by the Capitalist swine.


Example Proof Of Service

Hereby comes [your name] to swear under penalty of perjury that on the date signed below I sent the [prison name] Grievance Officer a grievance dated [date] concerning the misplacement of my TV and Norelco Razor by prison authorities through the institutional level mail service.

Executed this ___ day of _____ [month] ________ [year]

_________________________________ [signature]

[get this stamped and signed by a notary public.]


MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a helpful update to the country-wide grievance campaign and likely is a tactic that can be used in states other than Illinois. How "easily" this tactic can be employed depends on the conditions of one's confinement. As some prisoners are held in 24-hour lockdown, with no access to a law library, and the only receipt offered for filing a grievance is another beating from prison guards, they might not be able to easily employ this tactic. But for many prisoners, this might be a stepping stone from having one's grievances altogether ignored, to getting one's foot in the door in the courts.

Many people have requested copies of our state-specific petitions to demand grievances be addressed after running into problems with the grievance system. From all the petitions we have sent out, we've heard few updates about the progress on this campaign. It's important that we sum up our political practice and learn from it. And through this summing up we can determine how to best modify our practice to improve it. We call this ongoing summing up and improving of our practice "dialectical materialism." This is a scientific approach to our political work that enables us to learn from doing, and when we do this summing up publicly, through a newspaper like Under Lock & Key, we can apply these lessons across a broad base of organizers and be far more effective in the work that we are all doing.

So if you use, or have used, the above tactic, be sure to tell ULK if it helped you, or what you did to improve it. That way we can all learn from each others' practice to improve our own.

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[Legal] [Campaigns] [Connally Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 49]
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Lawsuit on Inadequate Rec and Food Pending, Seeking Assistance

Texas Administrative Segregation Lawsuit help needed
Linked document is a letter from the prisoner
requesting assistance with eir lawsuit.

The conditions continue to be much better here at Connally Unit in Kenedy, Texas since I filed that lawsuit on the recreation/lockdowns/food. But of course that could be reversed at any moment so I continue to push it and continue to use it as a tool to organize/mobilize the prisoners to take group action.

We are working on a mass grievance campaign at the moment, to follow up on some of the issues that are in the lawsuit but the administration hasn't adequately addressed. It's really pretty minor stuff, as the main thing was them cancelling rec every day, and they have stopped doing that. But I feel like you're either moving forward or you're going to move backwards, you know? And the real value in a group action like a mass grievance campaign is what it does to raise the consciousness of the group.

There is definitely a lot more interest since people here have seen that we CAN fight back. But the general consciousness level was so low here and the prisoners were so beat down and demoralized that it will take a LOT of work to develop any widespread activist mentality.

I'm going to enclose a copy of a form letter I typed up and sent out to about ten civil rights organizations already. It's pretty self-explanatory. Just trying to get some more support on this lawsuit. And I know your funding is very limited plus you aren't lawyers there, so you're not going to be able to help directly. But I'm sending it on the off chance that someone there might know a lawyer with sympathies towards the cause who might be willing to do something.

Like I explain in the letter, we don't necessarily need actual representation. This is a pretty straightforward case and they are going to want to settle at some point. Obviously they are — that's why they immediately started running rec again once I filed it. They know the records are going to show they were just flat out lying about these so-called staff shortages. But with a lawyer putting additional pressure I think we will get better terms on any settlement and a settlement will happen quicker.

I want to get these improvements locked in with a legally binding written agreement asap so that I can move on to other projects. So if you do happen to know a lawyer or have any other ideas for what you might do with this letter, please keep our struggle here in mind, okay? Thanks.


MIM(Prisons) adds: The pdf linked to this article is a copy of the author's letter ey sent to ten civil rights organizations. The letter outlines the conditions in Connally Unit regarding an egregious lack of recreation time and lack of adequate food. The author is asking for a lawyer to intervene in order to push the lawsuit to a quick settlement. If you are able to assist this struggle, please write to MIM(Prisons) and we will put you in touch with the leader of the suit.

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[Campaigns] [Legal] [Texas] [ULK Issue 52]
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Lawsuit Filed Against Corrupt Grievance System

I have an active case in the Federal Courts suing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for violation of BP-03.91 Uniform Offender Correspondence Rules, and the corrupt grievance system denying prisoners access to courts. I have filed a lawsuit under 42 USC Section 1983 against TDCJ.

If you would like to help me stop this corruption aimed at Texas prisoners, send any grievances, unsworn declarations, and other process documents you may have that can be used as evidence in the two above mentioned U.$. Constitutional violations to MIM(Prisons). Be sure to write "Dunham v. Wainwright, et al. Case No. 1:15-cv-1018-RP" on the top of each document. Your evidence will help prove deliberate indifference because it shows officials knew of the problems and failed to act. MIM(Prisons) will then forward your documents to the Court Clerk at Clerk Court, United States District Court, c/o Case no. 6:15 cv 869, 300 Willow Street, Suite 104, Beaumont, TX 77701-2217.

The Texas Attorney General handling this case for the defendants is Gloria Chandler, PO Box 12548, Capital Station, Austin, TX 78711. Please feel free to send her ALL of your complaints so that she may realize the wide range and depth of behavior and activities. I doubt she is receiving enough complaints at the present time. MIM(Prisons) will also be forwarding your complaints to the Attorney General, and be sure to again write "Dunham v. Livingston et al. Case No. 1:15-cv-1018-RP" on the top of your complaint.

Since filing this case, state employees' actions under color of law has put me in fear for my life. I need your support so they know I am not in this alone.

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[Legal] [Jester III Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 47]
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Indigent Mail Restrictions Silences Prisoners

The prison oppressors have maliciously transferred me to Jester III Unit here in Richmond, Texas. I have filed numerous grievance complaints and indicated filing a Section 1983 civil lawsuit, due to prison staff violating my Constitutional rights.

I had to wait about 15 days before I was allowed to write to you all, because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) indigent program only allows me to mail out 5 personal letters a month. Once I have submitted the 5 letters, I'm forced to wait until the next 30-day period starts. I have filed a grievance, and hope a class action lawsuit is presented to the court so that I can join in.

According to Guajardo v. Estelle 432 F.Supp 1373, prison officials must furnish postage and stationary to indigent prisoners weekly, without a waiting period. By denying me communication with my family, friends and advocates, it hinders me from informing people of the extreme mistreatment I'm constantly subjected to here.

I respectfully request the recent issue of Under Lock & Key be mailed to my new address, plus any study material to help me teach the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (Independence, Internationalism, Growth, Unity, and Peace) within the prison environment. I greatly appreciate my beloved comrades' assistance and highly need support. I will write to you and other comrades in the struggle as much as is possible or allowed.


MIM(Prisons) responds: It is all too common that laws are set, but that the problems continue because prison officials simply don't follow the laws. As this correspondent writes, there are already legal standards for how indigent correspondence should be handled in Texas. Yet the Texas Board of Criminal Justice modified TDCJ's correspondence rules in opposition to this law.

In communication with Mumia Abu-Jamal, in Mumia's book Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A., Ed Mead explains this phenomenon well:

"[The courts] may order that you have more peanut butter on the main line but they're not going to do anything significant or fundamental in terms of serving the public interest. And that is the limitation of jailhouse lawyering, you can get yourself out but there will be another one to replace you. You can get a friend out; there will be another one to replace him. You can file a prisoner rights suit but they'll just not enforce it... or if it's enforced, after a while it just dissipates, like a puddle of water evaporating and nobody really notices that it's gone."

For those issues that people notice are dwindling away, such as the restrictions on indigent mail in Texas, what role can lawsuits play in ensuring these rights are protected? Our correspondent would like to join on to a Class Action suit on this issue, and surely there are plenty of Texas comrades who would be interested in something similar. Ed Mead breaks it down:

"[T]he courts are a part of the State's apparatus of repression... and the State is the means by which one class suppresses the interests of another class. And since the police and the prisons are a part of that and the courts as well, none of these enforcement mechanisms are going to abolish themselves. Once you get beyond the point of litigating over 'we want more peanut butter on the main line,' if you're looking for substantial issues, then the courts aren't the place to go...

"And the way I look at it is that the prison is the factory that turns out the product. And that product is angry people who are released to the streets full of rage, which gets taken out on their family members, their neighbors, and the community. And to try to treat individual products that the factory spews out, it's spewing them out faster than you could possibly fix the problem. You need to focus on shutting the factory down. And the courts aren't going to be of any assistance in that."

In the context of our anti-imperialist organizing, we see lawsuits as having two functions. First, they can be a way to organize people by bringing them into political struggle, and demonstrating the limitations of the injustice system. Second, when successful, lawsuits can help to make space for this revolutionary organizing. Lifting the severe restrictions on indigent correspondence would definitely be better for people who are submitting articles to Under Lock & Key, participating in our correspondence study groups, or just keeping their ULK subscription active. And we're sure that most of our comrades behind bars don't just write to us! But even if this restriction were lifted, as it should be, there would just be some other injustice being thrown our way. Or eventually the law would be "forgotten" and we'd have to go to court over the same thing, again.

Ed Mead is a former prisoner, jailhouse lawyer, founder of Prison Legal News, and long-time revolutionary. Ey presently publish the newsletter The Rock and recently had eir autobiography published by Kersplebedeb. With Ed's vast and long-time experience in the anti-imperialist prisoner-focused movement, ey has this to say about putting our legal efforts into a broader context of struggle: "The main thing is to put jailhouse lawyering in a context of class struggle. And when you put it in that context its limitations become abundantly clear."

Mumia reflects on Ed's perspective on jailhouse lawyering,

"For this one man, jailhouse law was a doorway into other realms of social reality, where the courts, for all their pomp and ceremony, were largely irrelevant to the larger social struggles rippling through society. What Mead learned was that jailhouse law was simply a means; it was not an end. It had, in Mead's view, severe limitations."

To move beyond these limitations, we expand our scope. While this legal system fails us, we instead aim to set the stage for communist revolution on these shores. We have various campaigns and projects centered around this goal, which we report on regularly on this website and in Under Lock & Key.

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[Legal] [Gwinnett County Detention Center] [Georgia]
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Accountability Lacking in County Jails

Hello, I am contacting you on behalf of Gwinnett County prison population in Georgia. I have started a lawsuit about major Constitutional violations and denials that happen here daily. We are currently accepted in the 11th District, Northern District of Georgia. Our civil action # is 15-CV-00123-AT-JCF.

We are looking for attention from the media to help spread information on the blatant disregard Gwinnett County Detention Center has for the United States Constitution. The defendants in our case are Sheriff R.L. Butch Conway, Colonel Don Pinkard, Major D. Hughes, Corporal Campbell, and Gwinnett County Detention Center.

The jail's rules on restricting prisoners from watching world news on TV during recreation, "free time" as it is called, is a denial of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, and freedom of the press or the right to access to the media.

The jail's "postcard only" policy restricts the prisoners from receiving incoming letters in envelopes, which severely restricts correspondance with our families. This constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of speech and association under the First amendment of the United States Constitution, violating the First Amendment rights of all prisoners at the jail, and all of their correspondents' First Amendment rights as well.

The jail's policy of returning mail and publications, whether world news print media, books or magazines, or incoming letters, and not notifying the prisoners or the senders until after they have already been returned, without giving us and all other correspondents an opportunity for redress or to grieve the issue, constitutes a violation of all prisoners' and all their correspondents' First Amendment right to petition for redress of a grievance under the First Amendment of the Unites States Constitution. It also violates the prisoners' and all of their correspondents' right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is also a violation of deprivation of liberty, or property without due process of law under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United State Constitution.

The "postcard only" policy is a denial of the prisoners', and all of their correspondents', right to expectation of privacy. This constitutes a violation under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the right to equal protection of the laws, a violation under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The denial of grievances by stating that the "grievance is unfounded," and then not having an appeal process for the grievance, denies us the right to redress of grievances and constitutes a violation of our procedural due process right under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

This is just the start of 150 pages of the current lawsuit pending against Gwinnett County Detention Center for violating our First Amendment rights, the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.


MIM(Prisons) adds: In our experience fighting censorship in U.$ prisons, it is clear that county jails have some of the most blatant violations of prisoners' rights and United $tates law when it comes to handling incoming mail. Gwinnett County Detention Center's policy of allowing postcards only, and only if they are sized 4x6" or 5x7", definitely does not satisfy the reasonableness test laid out in Thornburgh v. Abbott. Marin County Jail in California and Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia are examples of county-level facilities in other states where censorship is blatant, illegal, and has almost no recourse.

California is implementing (and probably beta testing) a program called Prison Realignment which is purportedly a response to the overcrowding in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) facilities. Under Realignment, money is allocated to the counties to provide services and "housing" for state prisoners. Many advocates for prisoners' rights would like to see this money put toward rehabilitative services, and in some counties they may get their wish.

How it's playing out in real life, though, is that more prisoners are being moved to county facilities which are operated more like state prisons, and California is leasing space in privately owned prisons. In both cases, there is less accountability than state prisons. Often times (and on the whole in private facilities) censorship and other conditions of confinement are even worse than at the CDCR level.

While California moves more toward county-level imprisonment, we anticipate we will face more challenges with censorship, as is happening at Gwinnett County Detention Center. If this prototype "works" for California, we wouldn't be surprised to see other states move in this direction.

We encourage prisoners everywhere to get involved in fighting censorship when it happens at your facility. This is critical for those interested in anti-imperialist organizing, as it is revolutionary literature that is most frequently denied to prisoners, making our educational work particularly difficult.

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