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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Laura Whitehorn

Former Prisoner, Jailhouse Lawyer Mujahid Farid Has Died

by Laura Whitehorn

This issue of Prison Legal News is dedicated to Mujahid Farid.

Farid, 69, who died of cancer on November 20, 2018 in the Bronx, New York, often said he was only one of many people who spend their years in prison learning. Farid obtained his GED while awaiting trial, then earned four college and graduate level degrees in prison. He became a brilliant jailhouse lawyer, suing New York’s prison system for the myriad illegal, brutal punishments they added to his 15-to-life sentence, and often winning.

Denied parole nine times, he was released in 2011 after serving 33 years. While incarcerated he applied his legal brilliance to freeing the long-termers he left behind, founding Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) with other formerly incarcerated people and allies. He received an Open Society Soros Justice Fellowship in 2013, as well as a commendation from New York’s legislature and an award for social activism from Citizens Against Recidivism.

Using his legal acumen, enormous heart and courage, he made RAPP’s mission of releasing elderly prisoners a way to challenge the racist system of permanent punishment that fuels mass incarceration. He inspired formerly incarcerated people, academics, social justice advocates, faith leaders, former ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

Over the past 14+ years of my incarceration, I've been asked repeatedly to describe how I'm treated differently from other prisoners because I'm a political prisoner. It's always been easy to answer, as examples abound. Now, as I approach my mandatory release date of August 6, yet another example has reared its ugly head: my halfway house (scheduled to begin last February) was denied by the higher echelons of the Bureau of Prisons. I was, they deemed, a "danger to the community" due to the "nature of my offense" - i.e., armed protest against racist and colonialist acts of the u.s. government.

What makes it clear that this is a political decision is that nowadays almost no one from women's federal prison is denied a halfway house. The system is so desperately overcrowded that women convicted of all kinds of violent acts get to finish their sentences in halfway houses.

For me, the denial is not particularly significant. I am fortunate to have generous community and family support to help me adjust to life in "minimum" once I'm released. But what is important is what the denial indicates: the continuing intransigence of the ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

By Laura Whitehorn

I had thought I'd be gone to a halfway house by now, since I'm only five months from my mandatory release date. But it seems the decision on releasing me has been relegated to "a higher authority." This reminds us, once again, that the u.s. "doesn't have any political prisoners" until it comes time to release one of us, or sentence us, or make any other decision regarding us.

When I finally walk out of prison, I will leave behind six other women political prisoners here at FCI Dublin: Puerto Rican independentistas Dylicia Pagan, Lucy and Alicia Rodriguez and Carmen Valentin, and Northamerican anti imperialists Marilyn Buck and Linda Evans. Each of us has years of stories of the particularized treatment political prisoners receive.

One example of such treatment has become generalized to all prisoners in the years since our arrests in 1980 and 1985. When we were sentenced, we were all given extraordinarily long terms, especially for first time defendants. Now, of course, long sentences for first offenders are the rule rather than the exception.

Women prisoners in the federal system are a group especially hard hit by this aspect of the ...

Book Review: Breaking the Walls of Silence

Book review by Laura Whitehorn

Breaking The Walls Of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New Youk State Maximum Security Prison was written by the members of the ACE Program (AIDS Counseling and Education) of Bedford Hills Women's Prison. It is a compelling book which should be read by anyone with an interest in AIDS education or prisoners' rights. It's unique: it does not objectify women, prisoners, or PWA's, because it's written by them. It is a necessary book.

The book consists of two sections: a moving, exciting history of ACE, and a complete outline of the ACE curriculum -- fittingly entitled "Empowerment through Education." Although some of the information in the book is dated (the women completed the book in 1995; inexplicably, it wasn't issued by the publisher until this year), the basic content of the lesson plans and the approach to AIDS education is both creative and, in my experience as a peer educator, effective. It is very difficult to find any educational materials appropriate to prisoner peer education -- especially for women prisoners. This book provides exactly that resource.

Useful as the curriculum section is, it's the first half of the book -- the ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

If all goes well, and my 6-month halfway house is approved, this will be my last column as a prisoner contributor to PLN . This column will be written in the future by my co-defendants and comrades, Marilyn Buck and Linda Evans, both of whom remain in prison, having received longer sentences than mine.

In the years I've spent behind bars -- especially the many times I've found myself in the hole -- PLN has been enormously important to me. Nowhere else could I find such clear, direct coverage of legal remedies for prisoners. Instead of vague, empty promises of aid and support, PLN offers actual, concrete help. What a relief!

But, as most of us in prison learn, true legal remedies are few and limited. The legal system, like the system as a whole, is stacked against us. A clear example is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, where courts, media, and all the arms of the ruling class are lined up to refuse to look honestly at the myriad violations of constitutional and human rights in his trial. "Law and order" protects the rich and disempowers the poor, bestows privileges on whites and oppresses Black, Native American, Puerto Rican, Mexicano ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

Arecent issue of PLN called for articles and information from women prisoners. I hope women throughout the state and federal prison systems will respond to this request. If we are ever to change the hideous situations we face at the hands of the prosecutors, judges, and prisoncrats, we must speak up and we must speak for ourselves.

Who can understand and describe, as we can, the abusive ways we are kept in line? The issue of sexual abuse and harassment comes to light only when an incident occurs that is so outrageous that even the system can't get away with ignoring it. And that is rare.

But women prisoners know that the foundation for that abuse is laid everyday: when male guards patrol our housing units, where we have no privacy to change clothes, bathe, or use the bathroom. When male guards joke about doing strip searches in place of the women guards or when whey pat search us daily. When male guards yell at women prisoners (as they do all the time), raising the unspoken threat of violence, and often triggering memories of how a young girl was frightened and overpowered by an adult male who misused his ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

On June 1, Rosalind Simpson Moore-Bey died at home in Washington, D.C. To anyone who has passed through the D.C. Jail or CTF (Central Treatment Facility), Roz's name is not only familiar it is well-known. Her name is known, as well, to many prisoners with HIV or AIDS anywhere in the u.s., and to AIDS activists everywhere. Roz was a warrior

Roz did time in D.C. and at the old Federal Women's prison in Lexington, Kentucky in the 80's and 90's. If you think back, you will remember that as a time when AIDS and HIV were surrounded by even more ignorance and prejudice than now. In the mid- to late80's, the medical establishment, the government and the media didn't even recognize that women get HIV, and, largely as a result, many women suffered terribly and died quickly with AIDS undiagnosed and un-cared-for. The earliest mention of HIV as a virus that infected women was when some men claimed to have contracted HIV from prostitutes. The sex workers, of course, remained faceless: they existed only as vectors of the disease, a danger to men.

Despite the extensive number of HIV-positive ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

Notes From The Unrepenitentiary

By Laura Whitehorn

The Jericho '98 rally in Washington, D.C. on March 27th was, I hope, a step in the direction of freeing all u.s.-held political prisoners and Prisoners of War. Vigorous action of all kinds both domestic and international will be needed to win the release of political prisoners. Radical politics of national liberation and to end white supremacy and colonialism produced the acts that ended in the imprisonment of over 100 political women and men. Our actions challenged the u.s. government so it is not surprising that we find it nearly impossible to win release through the normal channels (few as they are) open to most prisoners. For example, the Federal and State Parole Boards most often politicize the process of release on parole, so that a political prisoner applying for parole is required to renounce her beliefs or apologize for his actions even to be considered for release.

Pursuing Jericho '98 as a long-term campaign is, therefore, necessary to political prisoners and POW's in the u.s. I think it will also be helpful to all prisoners in u.s. custody. Some people have said that supporting political ...

Notes from the Unrepenitentiary

Pick up your trumpet, raise your voice: it's time to make noise. 1998 will see two important efforts to win the release of all u.s.-held political prisoners and prisoners of war. These efforts need the support of all justice loving people, all those who stand against the ever increasing repression this country and its government are producing.

In March, 1998, "Jericho '98" will bring a national demonstration to the gates of the white house. Initiated and led by New Afrikan POW's and activists on the street, this mobilization demands the release of all left wing political prisoners and POW's held in federal and state prisons across the u.s. A few months later, the Puerto Rican independence movement will rally in D.C. to mark the 100th anniversary (July 25, 1998) of U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico. A focal point of this demonstration will be the demand to release the 15 Puerto Rican POW's and political prisoners in u.s. custody.

All around the world, governments include discussion of the status of their political prisoners in negotiations over elections and peace agreements. Only the u.s. refuses to admit that it holds ...

Prisoner Literacy Obscure & Outdated

A news item you might want to use in the paper: Washington Post (Feb. 18, l997) reported that the OMB [a federal budget office] compiled a "secret list" of 254 federal programs that could be cut to save money. They wouldn't release the entire list at that time (I think they released it, at least in part, a few weeks ago), for fear of alerting: "special interest groups." Instead, they released a short list of "selected terminations," including: Research on cranberry and blueberry disease; literacy programs for prisoners; 5 federal highway projects; and "several other obscure or outdated programs."

I guess we [prisoners] fall into the same general category as sickly cranberries. No wonder I've never liked Thanksgiving!


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