Tag Archive: censorship

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…)

Stop the regulations that would ban the Bay View from California prisons

“Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

From San Francisco Bay View

The public comment period is open now; it closes Nov. 10, 2014, at 5 p.m. See here for the text of the changes as revised (on Oct. 20) and here for the regs as originally proposed

Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons. We called for your help in June, and we’re calling for it again.

The CDCR promised to go back to the drawing board, saying the public had misunderstood its intent. Yet, the revisions recently made by the department are superficial and fail to address the serious concerns so many of us raised in our public comments.On Oct. 20, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued revisions to its proposed “obscene materials” or censorship regulations published earlier this year. This was in response to hundreds of public comments submitted to the department.

If the proposed regulations are approved, CDCR will be able to permanently ban any publications it considers contraband, including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights. (Banning the Bay View, which CDCR blames for instigating the hunger strikes, seems to be a major objective. – ed.)

The proposed regulations are designed to (1) censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, (2) stifle the intellectual, personal and political education and development of those incarcerated, (3) stifle efforts by prisoners to nonviolently organize, and (4) expand the CDCR’s ability to arbitrarily cut off its wards from direly needed contact and support coming from outside, thus further isolating them. (more…)

A Year After Mass Hunger Strike in California Prisons, What’s Changed?

hungerstrikeFrom Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

On July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners launched what became a 60-day mass hunger strike. One year later, however, Luis Esquivel is still sitting in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in solitary confinement in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. “Right now, my uncle is in his cell with no windows,” said his niece, Maribel Herrera. “It’s like sitting in a bathroom – your sink is there, your toilet is there, your bed is there. And you’re just sitting there. I can only think about that for so long because it hurts.”

Herrera’s uncle has been in solitary confinement for 15 years. “I hadn’t seen my uncle since I was a child,” said Herrera. “I can’t even remember hugging him.” When she visited him in 2012, her first-ever visit to Pelican Bay, more than 850 miles away from her family’s home in San Diego, hers was the first visit Esquivel had received in seven years. (more…)

Censored and ‘Obscene’ in Solitary

After a huge hunger strike to protest the state prison system’s inhuman conditions, California is threatening to ban any written material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”
Last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proposed sweeping new regulations for mail going both into and out of the state’s prisons and jails. Coined “obscenity regulations,” on face value they appear to ban material that “depicts or describes sexual misconduct.” Yet, if you scroll further down the long, technical parameters laid out on CDCR’s website you’ll find they’re casting a much broader net—such as censorship of any material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”“There’s a lot of non-sexual speech that will be banned if these regulations are put into effect,” says Paul Wright, Director of Prison Legal News. “This isn’t a new tactic, for hundreds of years the guise of ‘obscenity’ has been used to crush political speech, not just among prisoners, originally it was used to punish criticism of the church.”

It’s no coincidence that these enhanced restrictions are coming from California, where 29,000 prisoners went on hunger strike for 60 days last year in a historically unprecedented protest against inhumane prison conditions—namely prolonged solitary confinement. A large part of the hunger strike’s success in capturing international attention had to do with the ability of activists, lawyers and family members to get out the voices and opinions of the men inside who initiated the strike, at least in part through written correspondence. Under these new regulations, letters like those might not make it through next time. (more…)