In order to survive being subjected to nearly three decades of solitary confinement, William “Billy” Blake turned to reading and, more importantly, writing.
“A Sentence Worse than Death” is an essay Blake wrote for inclusion in an anthology of narratives about solitary entitled Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement. The book was screened by the Facility Media Review Committee (FRMC) at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility where Blake is housed and, like thousands of other books sent to prisoners across the country, was deemed detrimental to the prison’s security. Jean Casella, the book’s co-editor and co-director of Solitary Watch, reported on September 20, 2016 that Blake had been denied access to his own writing.
According to the FRMC’s Inmate Disposition Notice, Hell is a Very Small Place is a “[p]ublication which incites disobedience towards law enforcement officers or prison personell [sic], presents clear and immediate risk of lawlessness, violence, anarchy, or rebellion agianst [sic] governmental authority.” The notice flagged 14 pages in the book. Surprisingly, three pages of Blake’s own essay were determined to be too dangerous for him to read.
According to Blake’s correspondence with Solitary Watch, he was instructed to transfer the book to a visitor or have it destroyed. He commented, “All my essay does is tell of my life in the box, what I’ve seen, what I’ve been through, what I’ve felt.” He added, “That essay is about as gentle as I could be.”
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