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Settlement Allows North Carolina Prisoners to Receive Compensation for Writings

by David M. Reutter

North Carolina’s Department of Corrections (NCDOC) has entered into a settlement agreement that allows prisoners to prepare for publication and receive compensation for manuscripts so long as the prisoner “authorizes a family member to handle all issues and correspondence related to the business aspect of publishing for compensation.”

The settlement came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on behalf of prisoner Victor L. Martin, a critically acclaimed author who has published a series of books in an emerging and popular literary genre known as “urban fiction.”

Prior to November 30, 2006, Martin had written and published four novels through three publishing companies without adverse action from prison officials, who not only were aware of these activities, but who praised him for “doing something positive.”

Captain Fredrick S. O’Neal, an Internal Affairs officer at Central Prison, was not enthused with Martin’s writings, which contain “the language of the streets, with plenty of slang and four-letter words.” O’Neil, along with several other guards, searched Martin’s cell and seized materials related to his urban fiction writing and his publication efforts.

From that time on, Martin was regularly written disciplinary infractions and placed in segregation for his writing activities violating prison rules against conducting a business.
ACLU-NCLF’s legal director, Katherine Lewis Parker, and cooperating attorney W. Swain Wood, began intervening on Martin’s behalf. Ultimately, they filed a civil rights complaint on his behalf in federal court in February 2008. The complaint alleged the adverse actions taken against Martin were “specifically because of the content of [his] writings.” It further claimed O’Neal had unlawfully seized and destroyed the only copy of a 310-page, handwritten urban fiction manuscript.

The March 8, 2010 settlement overturned ten disciplinary infractions given to Martin as a result of his writing and a $10,000 payment for damages and attorney fees. Most significantly, NCDOC must change its policy to allow prisoners to prepare a manuscript for publication, for outside typing, for copyrighting or for private use so long as the prisoner does not receive direct compensation. The policy covers fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music lyrics, drawings, cartoons, and other writings of a similar nature.

It also sets guidelines for handling a confiscated manuscript, assuring it will not be destroyed without notice to the prisoner. Finally, there is a provision that allows the prisoner to give power of attorney to handle the business aspect of publishing.

“I hope that my fellow inmates will understand that positive actions bring positive results,” said Martin in giving credit to the ACLU-NCLF and Wood for the policy change. “I will continue to write within the guidelines of this new policy, and I also wish to thank all my supporters.” See: Martin v. Keller, USDC, (E.D. North Carolina), Case No. 5:09-CV-0044. The settlement and complaint are available on PLN’s website.

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Related legal case

Martin v. Keller