Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Looking Back, Learning Lessons, PLN's Early Days

By Ed Mead

When the PLN first started out we experienced a lot of banning at various prisons, both in Washington State and elsewhere. One such event took place when the second issue of the paper was banned from both the Penitentiary and the Reformatory here in Washington. Paul and I immediately drafted a comprehensive civil rights complaint challenging the censorship, but just days before the suit was to be filed, both bannings were reversed on administrative appeals. Warden Blodgett, when deciding to allow the PLN into his prison, said our newsletter "fails to rise to a level of having the potential to be intellectually disruptive to our population." He went on to say that most of the writing is done "by radical, but harmless, malcontents that receive little support or sympathy from our general population. The articles promote somewhat archaic concepts that fail to generate patronage from our very young population." He said that each future issue would be carefully examined by officials, presumably to insure that we stay "harmless."

Our old lawsuit raised a number of issues that deserve another little peek at today. One such issue was that prisoncrats repeatedly suppressed our paper. This was not because of any legitimate security concerns, but rather because of a Nazi-like impulse to prevent us from communicating an alternative correctional approach to prisoners, their families, and, ultimately, the community. An important aspect of this alternative, we argued, was the understanding that it serves neither the needs of the individual nor the public good to maintain a segment of society in a state of literal slavery; completely disfranchised, and reduced to a condition of child-like dependency and irresponsibility. The credo of the PLN , we said, is "Working to Extend Democracy to All," and it is the expression of this idea of democracy, and the notion that prisoners should be conscious of their legal and political rights, that our captors have sought to suppress. They want prisoners to continue stumbling around in the blinding fog of legal and political ignorance.

No wonder, too. Government statistics reflect a national recidivism rate of 62.5 percent (it is much higher for younger offenders). According to Phil Talmadge, member of the Senate's Subcommittee on Corrections, Washington's prison officials spend $40,000 a year per prisoner. Can you imagine a private industry "making it" with 63 percent failure or product rejection rate for each of the very expensive parts it processed? Of course not. Why, they could send us each to Harvard and make nuclear physicists of us for considerably less money. Instead they degrade and dehumanize us and our loved ones, and in the process create a rage that eventually gets taken out on the community.

The state's entire apparatus of repression, the police, courts, prison system, etc. tell the public that theirs is the only correct way to solve the crime problem. And to the extent that it isn't working, they glibly argue, it is merely a matter of applying increasing amounts of the same old medicine - more police, more judges, more prisons, more punishment, etc. The public has bought into this big lie because they see no alternative. They have no vested interest in the concept of punishment. They don't care whether you are sent to Harvard or jail. They simply want something that works. They don t want their daughters raped or their VCR's stolen.

The bottom line is that the interest of prisoners and those of people in poor and working class communities are one and the same. Our common contradiction is not with each other, but with the state and its lapdog media (or, more accurately, the tiny class of people [bourgeoisie or ruling class] who control the state and own the media). We on the inside have some alternatives the public deserves to hear. Yet it will take much building with our loved ones on the outside before it will be possible to effectively communicate these alternatives. While building this necessary strength, we will also need to keep the pro-slavery, anti-democratic state and DOC functionaries from censoring us. And, finally, we will need the talents of those young offenders Warden Blodgett says we fail to reach.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login