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Prison Officials Block Mail And Visitation In Attempt To Stifle Prison Organizing

Prisoners participating in a strike against slave labor at facilities in Texas, South Carolina, Oregon, and other states are speaking out after authorities allegedly blocked members of the media from visiting with them and rejected mail from supporters and media organizations containing news from the outside.

In Texas, Keith “Malik” Washington wrote a letter stating that on October 5, he was transferred from the Coffield Unit to the Telford Unit. At Coffield, he said he became “the target of a coordinated effort by the state of Texas to retaliate against me for organizing a campaign that seeks to end prison slavery.”

“There are elements and individuals within the Texas criminal justice system that don’t want to acknowledge the humanity of prisoners,” he wrote. “The slave plantation mentality is deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of the oppressor and the oppressed.”

He explained Telford has a solitary confinement unit and he was “sent to this control unit in order to be neutralized.” He said the state’s social media ban is used to “punish me when my friends or supporters post any kind of information about me.”

The revised prison rules allow for prisoners to be punished with extra work duties if they or their supporters use social media on their behalf. They can also be placed in isolation.

“It is crucially important that you continue to share with the world what is happening to me and to so many other imprisoned freedom fighters who are trapped inside American prisons. This attempt to silence prisoner voices and the voices of our free-world supporters is a gross violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

Malik wrote that Raven Rakia, an independent journalist who covers criminal justice and incarceration, traveled to Texas but was denied an interview with him. He said he tried to place Rakia, other journalists, and some friends on his visitation list but prison officials “denied receiving any updated visitation forms from me.”

“Sisters and brothers, I cannot fight these people without your help,” he said, asking the public to call officials at the Telford Unit at 903-628-3171 to demand he be allowed visitation from media correspondents, friends, and lawyers.

Malik asked journalists and lawyers to try to visit and make contact with him “so that I can relay to the public how Texas has framed me and isolated me.” Such attempts and their written rejections could be used to launch legal complaints and put pressure on administrations to allow visitations.

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is using “phone zaps,” or targeted phone calls highlighting the plights of specific prisoners, to mobilize outside support to place such pressure on prison officials when there is retaliation.

“The phone zap is a tool to organize repression response for inside organizers (prisoners) who are suffering retaliation for their organizing efforts,” said IWOC spokesperson Azzurra Crispino. “It is important because it is the only way we can keep inside organizers (prisoners) safe.”

“When guards and prison officials know that the outside world is watching, they are far less likely to brutalize prisoners. It’s like shining a light in a room where there are cockroaches – they scurry to get out of the way.”

She said anyone can participate in the phone zap or write letters to prisoners, which have a similar affect. “We have tried to make it as easy as possible for people to participate. If you have suggestions on how to make it even better, please let us know! You can always email us at iwoc@riseup.net.”

Meanwhile, three prisoners organizing against slavery in South Carolina were reportedly transferred to other facilities on the morning of October 19. The prisoners are members of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS), which provides other prisoners with legal aid.

“These members were moved from Turbeville Correctional and split up,” a member of JLS told Shadowproof. “One was sent to Lieber Correctional, one of the worst prisons in the state. These prisoners were suspected to have fermented the environment that caused a disturbance there a few weeks back.”

The JLS member said prisoners had been filing legal complaints and are known by officials at the facility to represent JLS. They said no disciplinary charges were filed against the members for their organizing, and that they are not in isolation but in general population at other prisons.

When asked if the prisoners planned to continue their resistance, the JLS member said, “They’re JLS, our resistance is always on going.”

Joshua “Zero” Cartrette wrote a letter published by It’s Going Down from Oregon’s Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, where he said prison officials confiscated mail related to the strike before it even began.

Zero said he was written a disciplinary report because he believes prison monitors read his mail, in which he made “incriminating statements” about the strike to supporters. He also believes another prisoner outted him to officials.

The letter comes after he spent about two weeks in solitary confinement. At the time of his writing, he said officials had “only just now [given him] a pen.”

“This in itself is a sign of how much more they fear us when we stop fighting with our fists and start fighting with our truths,” he said.

Zero shared he would soon be transferred to a maximum security facility, Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, where he will “stick out what will undoubtedly be a very long time in solitary confinement.”

“Last time all this happened, I did 18 months, which after organizing a packet/program strike in the SHU, turned into 24 months,” he said. “So… I don’t know what their decision is going to be this time.”

He also described the prison’s response upon learning of prisoners plans to strike on September 9.

Initially, they gestapo’d 5 people on the first night when they arrested me as well. 5 people from between three different cell-blocks. Then the second day a few more people came down. Each in our own isolation cell. But we could yell back and forth to each other. We sat for about four days with no word as to what was going on, and then they started pulling us all out one-by-one for interrogations.

The only thing they really had on anyone was me and one other person and even the other person wasn’t near as implicit as I was, so over the course of the interrogations and so, since I was already decidedly fucked, we were able to get a few people off the hook completely. And then three others just got unauthorized organization in the third degree and they’ll be getting out of the [hole] tomorrow. One other guy got an unauthorized organization in the first degree and he’ll be doing at least a few months at whatever maximum facility they send him to, and myself. I got found guilty of unauthorized ORG in the first, and “Disturbance” (Conspiracy), so I’ll be doing probably six months in a max, and then the committee will decide whether or not I get extended into long-term. for about 2 1/2 years– And for the same shit– it’s pretty likely I’ll go back. But we’ll see.

Zero said he was upset because this prison is close to family, and he recently had the chance to see his daughter, sister, mother, and stepfather. Other prisons in the state are too far away for them to visit.

“I knew this was bound to happen at some point, and ultimately my purpose inside these walls is not to be complacent and comfortable. But to go where the work is. But still, it happens when you least expect it and it’s never a good feeling to be hauled out of bed in the middle of the night, cuffed, and without a word tossed into a cold cell. A different cold cell, I guess,” he wrote.

An editor of San Francisco Bay View, a national Black newspaper that covers the struggles of California prisoners, shared the publication’s experiences with various prisons rejecting issues of their newspaper.

“On the front page of our September paper is a story headlined, ‘Sept. 9: Strike against prison slavery, strike against white supremacy,’ that scared prison administrator all over the country out of their wits,” Mary Ratcliff told Shadowproof. “According to official notices we’ve received and appealed, that September issue has now been banned in the entire states of Pennsylvania and Texas, in four major California prisons, and in Menard Prison in Illinois.”

“Prisoners in many other prisons around the country and their families are calling and writing to say they haven’t received their September papers. We encourage them to insist on rejection notices, so both the Bay View and the prisoner subscribers can appeal the decision.”

Ratcliff shared a message from Malcolme Morgan at the California City Correctional Facility. Morgan “sent his ‘notification of disapproval so everybody can see how much master fears a revolt.'”

“He’s well aware that the current nationwide prison strikes are for the purpose of finally abolishing slavery in the U.S. by striking the punishment clause from the 13th Amendment,” she said. “Pointing out that enslaved people in centuries past found ways to communicate, he writes: ‘(W)e convicts already know about the nationwide work strike that California City Correctional Facility does not want us to read about.'”

In Alabama—one of the epicenters of the strike—the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) continues to use social media to broadcast events at state prisons that are not given attention in the press. On October 12, they reported there was a major early-morning search for contraband at Elmore Correctional Facility.

FAM noted two murders at one of Elmore’s worst dorms, A2, and said that before that day, “Department of Corrections administration at Elmore has shown no interest in stopping the violence at this facility. Matter of fact their neglect, and actions of ignoring the violence is overwhelming.”

“However now the leaders of ADOC take action in cleaning up, why? It’s obvious from the fact that Regional director Cheryl Price making an appearance during the major “shakedown”,(which has not occurred before today) that the leaders in Montgomery, Alabama are feeling the heat from the Department of Justice announcing their investigation.”

FAM said it was “obvious that the leaders in Alabama are making a desperate attempt to cover themselves from years of neglect.”

Another shakedown took place at Elmore the following day, October 13, according to FAM. On October 14, they reported, “At approximately 8:44, two officers at Elmore Correctional Facility confront an inmate outside a dorm. An altercation between the inmate and officers transpire leading Capitan McGee to call a code for assistance.”

“Once the code was called all officers left there post to respond. In the mean time another incident occurs inside one of the now un-manned dormitories. The unsupervised incident resulted in more unnecessary blood shed caused by a stabbing inside one of the dorms recently searched by ADOC employees earlier this week.”

“Alabama Department of Corrections has rules and regulations that require that at all times an officer is to man a post, even during codes for assistance. However, Elmore correctional facility has been notorious for ignoring and cutting corners of these rules and regulations. ”

While barriers to communication with prisoners and the reluctance of prison officials to discuss these actions make it difficult to gauge the strike’s health and momentum, the prisoners’ demands received greater recognition in the mainstream press. Professional football players Yves Batoba and Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins tweeted a compilation of stories from the strike.

“It’s unreal… those corporations who profit from prisons also have major influence on media content,” Stills said.

UN Human Rights Council, 21 Oct 2016 (UN Photos)
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.