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Books kept me alive in prison

The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

From The Guardian/ By Erwin James

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about life,” was how I started the piece. Healy’s book had been sent to me by a probation officer in 1990 when I was around six years into my life sentence and struggling. “Read what this man has achieved and be inspired,” she wrote in the inside cover. I did and I was. Never could I have imagined then that 18 years later I would be instrumental in getting The Grass Arena republished
as a Penguin Modern Classic
. This book is still a source of inspiration and hope today.

How any of us become who we are is a complicated process. I was already trying to figure it out long before I read about John Healy. It was the first year of my life sentence and I was locked in my cell in Wandsworth prison for 23 hours a day. I was without skills or abilities, but I could read. I’m sure the six books a week I was allowed from the prison library helped to keep me alive during that uncertain year, unlike the man in the cell above mine who hanged himself during my first Christmas inside.

At first I read so I wouldn’t have to think – then a friend sent me a book called Prisoners of Honour, a gripping account of the Dreyfus Affair by David Levering Lewis. This was the book that would really make me think and change the way I
thought about life. (more…)

2,000 cases may be overturned because police used secret Stingray surveillance

A motion filed Friday says the State’s Attorney’s office colluded with police to withhold ‘discovery’ material obtained via Stingrays from defendants

From The Guardian/ by Nicky Woolf

More than 2,000 cases could be overturned in Baltimore as the first motion for a retrial is filed accusing the state’s attorney’s office and the police of “deliberate and willful misrepresentation” of the use of the secret surveillance equipment known as Stingrays.

The motion, which was filed on behalf of defendant Shemar Taylor by attorney Josh Insley in the Baltimore city circuit court on Friday, says the state’s attorney’s office colluded with the police department to withhold “discovery” material from the defendants and the courts about the use of the Stingray device. Taylor was convicted of assault, robbery and firearm possession.

Manufactured by the Harris corporation and around the size of a briefcase, Stingrays are one of a class of surveillance devices known as “cell-site simulators”, which pretend to be cellphone towers in order to extract metadata, location information, and in some cases content from phones that connect to it.

Prosecutors are required to reveal the evidence against defendants in the “discovery” phase of a criminal trial.

However, a Guardian investigation in April revealed a non-disclosure agreement that local police and prosecutors were forced to sign with the FBI before using the Stingray devices, which mandated them to withdraw or even drop cases rather than risk revealing Stingray use. (more…)

2 Men Awarded $750,000 for Wrongful Convictions in 1983 Murder


From The New York Times

DURHAM, N.C. — One year to the day after a North Carolina judge threw out their wrongful murder convictions, a state commission awarded $750,000 each as compensation to two half-brothers who spent three decades in prison, much of it on death row.

Patrick M. Megaro, the recently hired lawyer for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 51, and Leon Brown, 47, announced the settlement. Mr. Megaro also filed a federal lawsuit against government and law enforcement officials of Robeson County, N.C., for obtaining their convictions through “fraud, perjury, coercion, the willful failure or refusal to investigate exculpatory evidence.”

A pardon by Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina in June made each man eligible for $50,000 a year in compensation from the state, up to $750,000 each. (Without a cap, the compensation for their full 31 years in prison would be more than double that amount.) The maximum was granted to each man on Wednesday by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which oversees workers’ compensation and tort claims. (more…)

Two Years After Hunger Strike, California Settlement May Release 2,000 Prisoners From Solitary


From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

Attorneys and family members announced on September 1 what they called a “landmark settlement” in the class-action lawsuit Ashker v. Governor of California. The settlement, stated lead attorney Jules Lobel, “is an important step in the growing movement to end solitary confinement.”

The settlement comes after months of negotiations between advocates and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). It also comes after years of agitation, including a lawsuit and three mass prison hunger strikes, aimed at ending California’s practice of placing prisoners in isolation for indeterminate periods of time. Advocates predict that between 1,500 and 2,000 people will be released from isolation in the coming months.

At issue is California’s security housing units (or SHU) and its practice of placing those accused of gang affiliation within these units for an indeterminate time period. Within the SHU, they are locked into windowless cells for at least 23 hours per day. When taken out of their cells – for a shower, a visit or an hour of recreation alone in an exercise pen – they are handcuffed and ankle chained. Two categories of people are placed in the SHU. Those who break prison rules are temporarily sent to the SHU for up to five years. The other category includes those who have been placed in isolation on accusations of gang involvement. For them, there is no fixed end date. Until recently, accusations that have landed them in the SHU often relied on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or associations with others. Until recently, one of the few ways to be released from the SHU was to “debrief” or provide information incriminating others, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence. They are the ones who have written manifestoes, filed lawsuits and repeatedly gone on hunger strike to protest their conditions of confinement.

In California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, 1,134 of its 1,181 prisoners were held in the SHU as of June 2015. Although CDCR insists that solitary confinement does not exist within its prison system, those within the SHU argue otherwise and, in 2012, went to court to prove it. (more…)

Political Prisoner Birthday Poster For September 2015 Is Now Available


Hello Friends and Comrades,

1) Here is the political prisoner birthday poster for September. As always, please post this poster publicly and/or use it to start a card writing night of your own.

2) We’ve put the text online of our new zine How To Start A Prison Books Collective. We hope that this humble contribution will help other prison books groups get started and expand the important work of sending political, legal, and self-educational resources to prisoners. You can find the text here.

3) The Prison Ecology Project has extended its online fundraiser. They are creating tools to dismantle toxic prisons. So far, they are the only group focused on the intersection of environment and mass incarceration. Currently they are building a database of the five thousand prisons and jails around the country, finding the weak points in the environmental realm, and providing tools to organize locally. You can donate here.


The Dystopian Danger of Police Body Cameras


From Common Dreams/ By Rachel Levinson-Waldman

Police-worn body cameras are the newest darling of criminal justice reform. They are touted as a way to collect evidence for criminal investigations, oversee and expose abusive police practices, and exonerate officers from fabricated charges. While the nation continues to debate how effective these body cameras are for police departments, less attention has been paid to the appearance of body cameras in other public sectors, most recently in our schools.

Since Michael Brown was shot by a member of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department last summer, at least 16 cities have introduced body camera programs. In the past month alone, at least seven cities have begun studying, initiated, or expanded body camera programs. President Obama has asked Congress to allocate $75 million for technology and training in body-worn cameras, and the Department of Justice recently provided the first $20 million in grants.

As these programs began to proliferate, schools took notice. In Houston, Texas, 25 school officers have started wearing body cameras in a pilot program, and the school district plans to expand the program to all 210 members of the force.

An Iowa school district has even taken this initiative one step further, buying cameras for principals and assistant principals to wear while interacting with students and parents. While the administrator overseeing the program has said the cameras are not intended to monitor every activity, he expressed the hope that any complaint could be investigated through body camera footage, suggesting that principals would need to record early and often. (more…)

Mass Incarceration vs. Rural Appalachia


Feds want to build a maximum-security prison on top of a former mining site in eastern Kentucky

From Earth Island Journal/ By Panagioti Tsolkas

For all practical purposes the [Cumberland Plateau] has long constituted a colonial appendage of the industrial East and Middle West, rather than an integral part of the nation generally. The decades of exploitation have in large measure drained the region.
— Harry M. Caudill, author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist from Letcher County, in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky (May 3, 1922 – November 29, 1990)

The United States Bureau of Prisons is trying to build a new, massive maximum-security prison in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky — and there’s a growing movement to stop it.

The prison industry in the US has grown in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years— a new prison was built at an average rate of one every two weeks in the ’90s, almost entirely in rural communities. As of 2002, there were already more prisoners in this country than farmers. The industry seems like an unstoppable machine, plowing forward at breakneck speed on the path that made the world’s largest prison population.

Today, about 716 of every 100,000 Americans are in prison. Prisoners in nations across the world average at 155 per 100,000 people. And in the US, Southern states rule the chart, . Viewing these states as countries themselves,  Kentucky ranks at lucky number seven.

“Sounds terrible…” you may be thinking, “But what does it have to do with the environment?” (more…)

Support the Holman 3


From Anarchy Live!

St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama is the subject of a class action lawsuit filed by the Alabama Justice Initiative on behalf of prisoners housed at St. Clair. The focus of the lawsuit is the extremely violent atmosphere at the prison, the violent assaults inflicted upon prisoners by high-ranking and low-ranking guards. There has been a long train of assaults on prisoners by guards.

On June 17, 2015, prisoners at St. Clair called a halt to the unchecked assaults: by retaliating against two guards who were assaulting a prisoner. A crowd of prisoners beat the two guards, who have a long history of assaulting prisoners. Seventeen prisoners were swept up in the haste to quell the rebellion. Prison officials don’t know what prisoners took part in the rebellion. All seventeen prisoners were placed in segregation. Of the seventeen, three were transferred to Donaldson Max. in Bessemer, Alabama and three were transferred to Holman Max., and eleven are still at St. Clair.

The three prisoners – Brandon Lee, Johnathan Mallory, and Jamie Montgomery – transferred to Holman’s segregation unit, have not been charged and/or received any disciplinary write up for any institutional rule violation, but are continually being refused release to general population.

We need everyone that reads this to call the Warden at Holman prison and the Commissioner of the Alabama Dept. of Corrections, and demand that Brandon Lee, Johnathan Mallory, and Jamie Montgomery be immediately released into general population due to the fact that none of them have been charged with any rule infraction at St. Clair or Holman. (more…)

Aug.29-30: Huge Book Sale! Benefit for Prison Books


USED BOOK SALE: August 29th-30th, the Prison Books Collective is hosting a two day book sale starting at 9am. We have hundreds and hundreds of great books that we can’t send into prisons, but that we can send home with you. Many left political titles, impossible to find underground zines and books, text books, history, literature, military manuals ,contemporary fiction, art and more. This sale is a benefit to raise funds for our enormous postage costs.

This giant book sale is a great way to get some wonderful books and support the work of the Prison Books Collective.

Book Sale!

August 29th-30th

Saturday 9am-2pm (Rain or Shine)

Sunday 9am-4pm (Rain or Shine)

621 Hillsborough Rd. in Carrboro

Map link:

All Books Sliding Scale! You pick out the books and decide how much you want to pay for what you find! $1 minimum per book.

We can take debit and credit cards.

Chelsea found guilty of prison infractions, but no solitary confinement


From Chelsea Manning Support Network

We just heard from Chelsea following her hearing today before the Fort Leavenworth disciplinary board:

“I was found guilty of all 4 charges @ today’s board; I am receiving 21 days of restrictions on recreation–no gym, library or outdoors.”

So while she was convicted of all four charges (yes, even the expired toothpaste!), she did not receive any time in solitary confinement. We believe that had everything to do with the outpouring of support, and the attention focused on Fort Leavenworth… including the 100,000 folks who signed the petition organized by Fight for the Future.

Chelsea added, “Now these convictions will follow me thru to any parole/clemency hearing forever. Was expecting to be in min custody in Feb, now years added.”

So, this is good news, but not without significant ramifications.