The Voice of the Anti-Imperialist Movement from

Under Lock & Key

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[Censorship] [ULK Issue 34]
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2013 Censorship Report

2013 Censor Chart All

As a mail-based prisoner support organization, the ability to get our mail in to our comrades and subscribers is an essential part of our ability to organize. If we can't get mail in, we can't help lead the anti-imperialist struggle behind bars. We are under no illusion that we'll ever be free from censorship; if our enemy hates us, we're probably doing something right! But the U.$. Constitution and our humynist morality support our insistence on fighting censorship as much as possible so that we can have as big of an impact on the international revolutionary movement as we can.

Often times our subscribers don't even know how much censorship they persynally are experiencing, let alone what's going on around the country. Our annual censorship report gives our subscribers an idea of how much political repression we're facing overall.

This year we started recording our mail in more detail, and removed a lot of flaws in how the data is aggregated (although it's not perfect!). At the bottom of the chart, "% Unconfirmed" tells you how accurate the snapshot is for that reporting year; the lower number the better, because a lower percent of unconfirmed mail means we actually know what happened to more of the mail we've sent in. Unconfirmed mail not only covers up censorship in cases where the prisoner never got the mail but we haven't been made aware of it; it also may exaggerate the level of censorship we're actually facing in a particular facility or state where our mail is actually getting in to some people but they haven't told us. Of course we know the content of our literature is not held in high regard by most prison staff, so assuming we're being censored when we aren't sure what is going on is probably more accurate than not.

A facility is considered to be banning our literature for that reporting year if they have censored two or more items, and no items have been confirmed as received. An entire state is considered to be banning our literature if they have censored any mail, and no mail has been reported as received. Another note on the chart: it is only a snapshot of what is going on with our mail. A facility might be banning us in the same state where we also had victories, or a complete statewide ban may only actually affect a few subscribers (plus the potential new subscribers we might gain if our lit wasn't censored).

To improve our data on the level of censorship we're experiencing, you may receive a list from us of mail we've sent you, asking you to confirm receipt or censorship of each item. This list is called an Unconfirmed Mail Form (UMF). We recommend everyone keep a log of all your mail, incoming and outgoing, with dates received/sent, from/to who, and contents. That way if your mail with us, or anyone, is tampered with, you are one step ahead of the game. And if you get a UMF, you will be able to fill it out accurately rather than guessing. But do not wait to receive a UMF to tell us what you've gotten! When you write to us, you should always tell us what you've gotten from us since the last time you wrote. That will save time and money so we can send in more books and literature.

Facilities banning all our mail in the last reporting year:

  • Colorado - Arkansas Valley State Prison
  • Connecticut - Northern Correctional Institution and Northern Supermax
    this is the second consecutive year in Northern Supermax
  • Florida - Suwanee Annex
  • Illinois - Menard Correctional Center (two years in a row)
  • Michigan - Gus Harrison Correctional Facility
  • South Carolina - Leiber Correctional Institution
  • Utah - Central Utah Correctional Facility
  • Virginia - Hampton Roads Regional Jail (two years in a row)
  • Wisconsin - Green Bay Correctional Institution and Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution

Facilities banning ULK in the last reporting year:

  • Connecticut - MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution
    Reason: "Rejected publication per the Media Review Board"
  • Florida - Franklin Correctional Institution
    Reason: MIM investigated as Security Threat Group
  • Florida - Jackson Correctional Institution
    No reason given
  • Illinois - Menard Correctional Center
    Reasons: "Threat to safety and security"
  • Michigan - G Robert Correctional Facility
    No reason given
  • New York - Riverview Correctional Facility
    Reasons: "Incites disobedience, describes gang activity"
  • North Carolina - Marion Correctional Institution
    Reasons: "MIM Distributors on disapproved publication list," "encourages insurrection"
  • North Carolina - Warren Correctional Institution
    Reason: "On ban list"
  • Pennsylvania - State Correctional Institution Waymart
    Reasons: "Unauthorized enclosure" and no reason given
  • Wisconsin - Wisconsin Secure Program Facility
    No reason given

Florida is also attempting to classify Under Lock & Key as a "Security Threat Group," which would likely make all mail from MIM Distributors banned as gang-related, and subject anyone in possession of mail from us to disciplinary action. We have not received an update on this process since April. We do know that for a couple years Florida was a booming United Struggle from Within state, and some of our more active comrades have recently asked to be removed from our mailing list for fear of repression. We aren't sure whether the administration is threatening parole eligibility or physical abuse, or other forms of torture such as solitary confinement; or if they've already gone ahead and beaten the shit out of these comrades to get them to stop talking to us. Yet we've seen this enough times to know that something like that is going on. It's incredible the lengths Amerikans will go to to keep someone who's already locked up in prison from doing something as innocuous as reading a newsletter, participating in a study group, and talking to other humyn beings.

A popular reason for citing censorship in Nevada has been "Per AR 750... Address labels are unauthorized." Our guess is that this policy of the Nevada Department of Corrections would not hold up in court as being reasonably related to penological interests and the safety of the institution. A subscriber in Nevada who has been missing mail due to this rule should take on this struggle in a lawsuit! Another comrade in that state reported that prison officials have admitted ULK is not banned, but now they are resorting to "unofficial censorship" by simply throwing out incoming and outgoing mail. This is another reason why it's important to track your correspondence.

Victories and Struggles

Appealing censorship and filing grievances can lead to small but significant victories. The victories in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and on the Federal level are attributed solely to prisoners filing appeals of the censorship, without any supporting letters from MIM Distributors. Of course not all appeals will be granted, and we don't expect to ever be completely free of censorship from the state. But we encourage everyone to at least attempt to appeal all censorship of their mail. Send us copies of your documents and we can publicize and track them on our website www.prisoncensorship.info.

In the last year we've focused much energy on fighting censorship in Missouri and North Carolina. In Missouri we've met some success with letter writing, but in North Carolina it has been a different story. After a surge in USW activity in North Carolina, every issue of Under Lock & Key has been placed on their ban list for over 3 years straight. Upon appeal, not only do North Carolina prisoncrats tend to simply uphold the decision of the lower level with no explanation, but when asked to explain how their "independent" review process works, we are given no response. When we filed a public records request with the state, the only documents they had to demonstrate that the independent review process existed was a stack of the original censorship notifications, further putting into question the existence of the "review process." We have comrades working on this case in North Carolina who could benefit greatly from some additional legal assistance.

Multiple subscribers in Illinois have volunteered to assist MIM(Prisons) in fighting censorship in that state, and one has two lawsuits pending on this issue. While ULK is not getting in at all in some facilities in the state, some of our subscriber-volunteers are able to receive ULK and copies of the censor documentation. Also they are intimately familiar with the mail rules and appeal procedures in their state. Although it is a slower process for volunteers on theinside working via mail, this has been a very beneficial campaign, and one that anyone with legal knowledge can contribute to in their own state. MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC) to help jailhouse lawyers plug into projects that will push forward the collective legal knowledge and experience of the anti-imperialist movement behind bars. Write in to get involved! Any lawyer or law student who is interested in helping prisoners push forward these anti-censorship lawsuits should contact us.

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[Censorship] [ULK Issue 27]
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July 2012 Censorship Report

July 2012 Censor Chart

Overview

This past year MIM(Prisons) was fortunate enough to be working with a volunteer with legal expertise on our anti-censorship campaign. This volunteer's insight and knowledge helped us send in many more letters to administrators, and with more depth and research than ever before. But sending out more complaints to prison officials means we are getting back a comparable amount of bullshit responses from them. Through this process we've learned just how important it is to be selective with who we write letters on, because sending one form letter protesting a single censorship incident easily escalates into a major research project.

One of the most common bullshit responses we receive from prison administrators is that whatever article of mail we sent was "never received via USPS." Unfortunately in these cases, the only option we have is to resend the item via Certified Mail or with Delivery Confirmation. At least this way the mailroom staff can't just throw the mail in the trash. But we won't know if your mail actually made it into your hands unless you tell us you got it.

Each July we report how much mail is unreported as received or censored for the past year. Consistently for the past few years, about 75% of the mail is unconfirmed at the time of the report. Gradually, as more people tell us what they received, and respond to Unconfirmed Mail Forms (UMFs), the amount of unreported mail drops. Our current rate of unreported mail for the 2010-2011 reporting year is down to 60%, an all-time low! We attribute this to our widespread use of UMFs, and subscribers' diligence in responding to them. But don't wait until you get a UMF to report mail you received! Every UMF we send is money we could have spent sending you actual literature, so you should tell us what you've gotten since the last time you wrote.

Appeals are Viable Tactic

Appealing censorship and filing grievances can lead to small but significant victories. In Arizona, Pennsylvania, California and Colorado, some mail from MIM Distributors which was originally denied, was allowed to be received by prisoners after appeal. Of course not all appeals will be granted, and we don't expect to ever be completely free of censorship from the state. But we encourage everyone to at least attempt to appeal all censorship of mail from MIM(Prisons). Send us copies of your documents and we can upload them to our website www.prisoncensorship.info.

Future Struggles

Do we even need to say it? If you know the words, then sing along: California is still banning literature from MIM Distributors! Up to the present, administrators and staff in CDCR amazingly are still citing the 2006 ban of MIM literature, which was overturned in 2007! In another attempt to remedy this problem, we have compiled a supplement to our Censorship Guide which is specific to the California ban. If a 2006 memo is cited as a reason why you can't get mail from us, tell us and we'll send you the supplement.

Mailroom staff in Michigan are eager to protect the "freedom" of white supremacists, as this subscriber reports:

"Please know that I was able to obtain a hearing yesterday on the administration's rejection of MIM Theory 13, even though MDOC policy doesn't require one to be held due to it already being on the Restricted Publications List (RPL). The hearing officer gave two reasons for upholding the rejection: 1) It was on the RPL; 2) It was racist because there was an article against white supremacists. I found reason number 2 rather illuminating. . . I asked which article she was referring to and, quickly scanning the table of contents, asked her, "Is it the book review criticizing Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf?" In any event, she could not point out a single reason for the rejection let alone relate it to a serious penological concern. I flipped through it and pointed out many reasons why it should be let in and, of course, one of them was that it is against white supremacy or racial supremacy of any type."

Last year we reported that we were contacted by the ACLU in Nebraska because they had been contacted by one of our subscribers regarding the ban of literature from us. They wrote at least one letter to the Warden at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. This letter was important because it forced the Director Robert P. Houson of Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to admit that "there is no outright ban on MIM's publications at TSCI at this time and such a ban never existed in the past." Unfortunately it appears that the legal intern who favored us has left the organization, and their new legal intern isn't being as generous with their legal expertise and sway. We encourage prisoners to contact the ACLU and other support organizations to help them fill a role that MIM(Prisons) can't.

Last year we reported that Arizona was holding the position that publishers have no appeal rights if their materials are censored. In January 2012, thanks to the assistance of our legal volunteer, we were able to send Director Charles L. Ryan a letter detailing exactly the legality behind our claim to appeal rights. In June we received a letter from Assistant Attorney General Pamela J. Linnins, responding to a different letter from us in May. She has yet to respond directly to our letter from January.

"It appears that the Department and MIM Distributors must agree to disagree. The Department stands by its position and belief that you do not have a right to notice when inmates are denied access, regardless of its permanence, to your publications. However, as a courtesy to you and pursuant to your request, the Department will begin providing notice to you, MIM Distributors, when inmates are denied an issue of your publications."

At Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, multiple lawsuits reached settlement in the last few years challenging their illegal censorship of literature, namely from Prison Legal News and The Final Call. We were hoping that these settlements would have had an impact on our own literature, but we appear to still be banned at Red Onion. The amount of literature we know was censored is the same for the past 2 reporting years, but the amount of mail we know was received is about a third as much this reporting year compared to 2010-2011. This could be from delay inherent to mail correspondence, or it could be due to more censorship. It is unclear which is true at this time.

Other states with significantly large censorship proportions were: South Carolina and Florida. It is significant that wherever we have a growing population of active subscribers, repression of our literature increases. We hope comrades and subscribers everywhere will take up this important battle to protect freedom to share knowledge. If you're in a state listed above, you should especially get on board!

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[Censorship] [Political Repression] [ULK Issue 21]
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July 2011 Censorship Report

2011 Censorship Graph

We rely on information directly from prisoners and returned mail to track our censorship. For the 2011 reporting year, only 72% of all mail was not reported as censored or received. This is a big improvement from last year's 83% unreported mail status. We see two causes for this change. One is that we stopped giving everyone who wrote to us automatic 6 month subscriptions, and instead required confirmation of receipt (or censorship) of a sample issue of Under Lock & Key first. This not only reduced the amount of mail we sent in by 30% from last year, but pushed those who wanted Under Lock & Key to confirm receipt of the sample issue, doubling the amount of people reporting receiving ULK.

Another contributing factor to the high reporting rate is the institution of Unconfirmed Mail Forms, which is a short form we send out to encourage individuals to report the mail they've received. We primarily send these forms to people we suspect are experiencing censorship of our materials. Even if you don't receive one of these forms, you should still tell us everything you have gotten from us since the last time you wrote. Since we ask about the entire history of mail we've sent in, not just in this reporting year, the institution of the Unconfirmed Mail Forms (UMFs) has improved our stats on past years as well. In the last year we've improved the amount of mail unreported for the July 2010 Report from 83% to 78%. We plan to continue using UMFs to better assist in tracking our censorship.

Like we reported in MIM(Prisons) 2011 Congress Summary and Resolutions, in the past six months we have been focusing our resources on building cases and recruiting lawyers rather than writing letters to administrators. Most of the victories in the fight against censorship come from prisoners filing appeals and defending Under Lock & Key in hearings. MIM(Prisons) plays a supporting role in ensuring that the administrators know that someone on the outside is paying attention and publicizing their illegal actions. So while it is not of vital importance that we write these letters, it has still helped overturn censorship in enough cases that we find it worthwhile to pick up this task again.

Victories

A major victory was won against Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico this year. A prisoner won a partial settlement for censorship issues. The settlement names MIM Distributors and Under Lock & Key and is in favor of prisoners' rights to receive "copied" material. If you are experiencing censorship for copies, write in for this information.

Red Onion State Prison in Virginia has been notorious for censoring Under Lock & Key to the point where we haven't heard of our newsletter getting in since issue 5 (November 2008). The Final Call and Prison Legal News both won settlements in favor of getting their newsletters into Red Onion in recent months. Since the treatment of The Final Call and PLN was similar to the treatment of ULK, we are hoping that those settlements will impact how ULK is received at Red Onion. This is yet to be determined.

Changes

A reasonable expectation for our anti-censorship work is that when we win a victory in a state, we should either continue to have victories there or no longer experience censorship. Of course this expectation wouldn't apply if the conditions within the state change and become more repressive. In the cases of New York, Illinois and Colorado there have been victories in the past but only censorship without victories in this reporting year. In Illinois and Colorado, some victories have been connected to outside pressure put on by MIM(Prisons). This leads to the logical conclusion that victories would be more likely if we continued to apply this pressure.

In New York there doesn't seem to have been a connection between outside pressure and victories. Those reversals in censorship came strictly from the hard work of New York prisoners fighting for their own rights. We are unsure if the current lack of victories is due to a change in conditions in the NYDOCS or a lack of prisoners fighting censorship.

There is a hunger strike happening in Pelican Bay State Prison in California that is well under way. In June 2011 we heard word that our mail had recently started getting in just prior to the start of the strike after experiencing major censorship there for years. In the last year 44% of the mail we've sent into Pelican Bay has been confirmed as received (13% confirmed as censored), compared to the previous reporting year's 25% received (57% censored). Hopefully the hunger strike will be successful in granting people held in PBSP their five core demands, including an end to mail tampering.

Future Struggles

While we try to win as many victories as possible through writing letters, if a facility or state won't follow the law, then it eventually becomes necessary to take them to court. Due to our limited resources and time, we encourage the prisoners affected by the censorship to fight the issue as far as they can. In Arizona we came to one of these brick walls related to the censorship of a study group assignment for "promot[ing] racism and/or religious oppression" without containing any words that refer to race or religion. We reported on this issue in Under Lock & Key 18 and are still struggling to find a lawyer that will take on this important case.

And yes, mailroom staff in California are still clinging to the 2006 memo banning MIM Distributors, which was nullified in a settlement between Prison Legal News and CDCR way back in 2008. Can you believe it? The California institutions that are still favoring this method of censorship are Deuel Vocational Institution and Pelican Bay State Prison.

In Salinas Valley State Prison in California, rather than citing the overturned memo, the Warden creatively assures us that the staff was new at the time and have now been retrained, or claim to simply not see mail from MIM Distributors arriving there. This is completely bogus considering we consistently send in ULKs every time there is a new issue, in addition to persynalized letters and other literature. When we called the Warden out on the fact that there was no change after the "new staff" was "retrained," he simply baselessly told us there is no censorship and "no evidence the mailroom staff are negligent in their duties or MIM Distributors mail was illegally tampered with as you claim." No shit, there's no evidence if you just throw the mail in the trash! While some mail gets into SVSP sometimes, they are still highlighted on our list of brick walls we are determined to break.

In Nebraska the ACLU has picked up on censorship of our materials and has been doing research, writing letters, and may eventually file a suit on behalf of MIM Distributors and the prisoners facing censorship. They have reviewed most if not all issues of Under Lock & Key and have determined that "the prison is violating both [MIM(Prisons)'s] First Amendment rights and the rights of the prisoners." We are excited to be working with the ACLU to hopefully set a precedent in Nebraska that protects people held there against censorship. We encourage any lawyers on the outside to follow their example and get with MIM(Prisons) to fight censorship in prisons!

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