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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: November, 1990

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Volume 1, Number 7

In this issue:

  1. Klan Papers Get into Texas Prisons but PLN is Banned (p 1)
  2. Florida Corruption (p 1)
  3. Fully Informed Jury Amendment (p 1)
  4. Editorial Comments (p 2)
  5. Prisoners' 1983 (p 3)
  6. Authority (p 4)
  7. Digital Probe Costs Nevada $4,000 (p 5)
  8. Full Due Process Required Before Termination of Work Release Status (p 5)
  9. Long-term Negligence Might State a Deliberate Indifference Claim (p 5)
  10. Severe Injury Not Required for Damage Claim Against Guards for Assault (p 5)
  11. Transsexual Wins Hormones Case (p 5)
  12. Free Supreme Court Opinions (p 6)
  13. Reviews (p 6)
  14. A Mother's Story (p 6)
  15. Warehouses of Misery (p 7)
  16. Lines in the Sand (p 8)
  17. The Initiative Process (p 9)
  18. Let's Get Educated (p 9)

Klan Papers Get into Texas Prisons but PLN is Banned

Michael Lowe, exalted Cyclops of the Waco Ku Klux Klan, is trying to reach some 13,500 white prisoners inside the Texas prison system. And Texas prison officials are allowing the KKK publications into their prisons. Well get prisoners out of their white prison clothes, said Low, and into white Klan robes. I think the Texas Department of Corrections (TDOC) should like it.

A defensive TDOC spokesman, David Nunnellee, said: We cant ban something mailed to inmates just because it is not a popular viewpoint. As it happens, the PLN has had about a dozen Texas prisoners on its mailing list since the newsletter first started, and not a single copy of any issue has made it to the prisoner-addressee. All have been banned.

We are working with Texas prisoners on joint litigation in an effort to stop the rejections. Until we are successful, our message of prisoner unity will be barred from Texas prisons, while the KKK is permitted to spew its message of prisoner against prisoner hatred and collaboration with the pigs.

Florida Corruption


In May of 1989 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began an investigation into drug trafficking by prison guards at the Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown, Florida. After a 15-month investigation FDLE agents arrested 10 prison guards and 6 prisoners. Over 60 prisoners and 25 guards were also listed as suspects.

Prisoners allegedly paid the guard anywhere between $200 and $300 per drug delivery. Several guards also confessed to acting as collection agents and enforcers for prisoner drug traffickers.

This was the largest bust of this type in Florida State history. The FDLE agent leading the operation said that the state would not prosecute those prisoners serving life sentences, as it would be a waste of resources to do so.

The primary drugs introduced by the guards into prisons were marijuana and cocaine. Federal charges may also be pending against those charged by the state.

Fully Informed Jury Amendment


FIJA is a national group which seeks to put laws on the books in all 50 states which will inform juries that they have the right to return not guilty verdicts if the ends of justice would not be served by applying the law in question to this particular defendant. We already see juries returning not guilty verdicts in cases of obvious state misconduct, i.e., the Berry and DeLorean trials, or where charges are politically motivated as in the Ohio-7 acquittal last year. With the increase in politically inspired prosecutions, as well as the unjust laws still in effect, this is a very important issue and one that PLN supports. For more information write: FIJA, P.O. Box 59, Helmville, MT 59843. (FIJA has chapters in 32 states, write them for information.)

Editorial Comments


Welcome to issue #7 of the Prisoners' Legal News. As I write this issue, #6 has not yet been mailed out to readers, and #5 has just been banned from the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla. The warden there said "the article, `Why Racism' clearly promotes violence against prison staff and encourages riots." Paul and I were of course correct in printing materials challenging racism on the inside, but I believe we were wrong in publishing that particular article. It was a bit too emotional and contained too much pig this and pig that rhetoric. We apologize to our readers at the Walls for not exercising better editorial judgment. On the other hand, the issue did successfully make it into every other prison it was sent to. We will try to be just a bit more careful in the future.

Paul and I would like to take a moment to salute the unsung folks who make it possible for you to read this newsletter each month. First there is Janie, who, if we had titles, functions in the capacity of production manager. Janie, along with Carrie, Steve, Cindy, Jim and anyone else handy, duplicate the master copy ...

Prisoners' 1983


BY J.D. Enquist

Ask what the most common lawsuit filed by prisoners is and instinctively the answer will be the "Prisoners' 1983."

The section 1983 is the result of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The statute was originally enacted by Congress under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Known then as the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871; later in 1970 it was codified as 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Between 1871 and 1961 the State and Federal Courts heard very few lawsuits filed by prisoners. It was known as the "hands-off doctrine." In 1871 the Court said "[a] prisoner has as a consequence of his crime not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights, except those which the law, in its humanity, accords to him. He is for the time being a slave of the state." (Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Virginia 790).

The death of the hands-off doc¬trine begun in the late 1950's and 1960's, after a period in the 1940's known as the "open door policy" (in which the Courts infor¬mally looked at prisoners' com¬plaints), the Courts began hearing a small ...


By: J. D. Enquist

It seems that there are increasingly more and more prisoner litigants and many of them becoming jailhouse lawyers. Or as it has been suggested, In-house Legal Consultants or Prisoners Legal consultants. The latter being of no importance, this article is focused on the new prisoner litigants who have skipped over an essential element, that is, understanding what "authority" (case law) is.

The following might be somewhat of a silly example, but only because of the nature of the characters. In any case, what is important is the illustration explaining "authority."

Olympia enacts a law that "dogs cannot run wild after 11:00 PM. At 12:00 midnight a city cop sees and grabs your dog six blocks away from your house (for some unknown reason the dog did not chew off the cop's hand). Within a few minutes the cop is banging at your door and returns you dog to you. Before you have the chance to tell the cop what you think about him disturbing your sleep, he hands you an $25.00 ticket. He tells you it's for your dog running wild. You tell the cop that your dog was not running ...

Digital Probe Costs Nevada $4,000

A U.S. Court of Appeals, noting that a digital anal body cavity search is "humiliating, degrading and uncomfortable" and that more "narrow and restrictive means could have been used," held that the defendant Associate Warden of a Nevada prison must pay an award of $1,000 in general damages ...

Full Due Process Required Before Termination of Work Release Status

A prisoner's work release status was revoked for drug use. She was returned to prison and found guilty at a disciplinary hearing. The Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated the prisoner, holding that the due process clause itself invests prisoners with a liberty interest in remaining on work release, and that she was entitled to the same due process protections granted those who are having their parole status revoked. This included an in-person appearance before a member of the parole board.

This case was not decided on a state created liberty interest, but under Morrissey and its expanded protections. Edwards v. Lockhart, 908 F.2d 299, 303 (8 Cir. 1990).

Long-term Negligence Might State a Deliberate Indifference Claim

A state prisoner alleged that he suffered from chronic foot problems and that prison officials refused to provide him with adequate medical care, thereby inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. The trial court dismissed the complaint.

The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed for further proceedings. It held that the complaint alleged facts sufficient to prevail, if they could be proven. His claim that the medical personnel at the prison clinic refused to let him see a doctor about his foot problems, and that later when he did see a doctor, a cursory examination was done, might show intentional mistreatment. Further, the clinic's purported "repeated, long-term negligence" over a three-year period might amount to deliberate indifference, despite the fact that negligence alone is not enough to show this, absent repeated conduct. Kelly v. McGinnis, 899 F.2d 612 (7Cir. 1990).

Severe Injury Not Required for Damage Claim Against Guards for Assault

Severe Injury not Required for Damage Claim Against Guards for Assault

A prisoner filed a civil rights complaint against guards for assaulting him. A jury awarded the prisoner with compensatory and punitive damages. The state appealed.

On appeal the defendants argued that the inmate had not stated a constitutional claim since he was not "severely injured." The court held that "severe injury" is not required to show a violation of constitutional rights by a prisoner. The inmate had only to demonstrate that the infliction of pain, whether slight or great, was "unnecessary and wanton." McHenry v. Chadwick, 896 F.2d 184 (6 Cir. 1990).

Transsexual Wins Hormones Case

A male transsexual (born with male body by psychologically a woman) prisoner sued prison officials, claiming that denying her the opportunity to continue estrogen treatments at her own expense constituted indifference to her serious medical needs.

The plaintiff had a number of surgeries ant procedures to enhance her appearance as a female, including electrolysis, a brow lift, dermabrasions, jaw reduction, a chin implant, breast implant surgery, as well as estrogen treatments. The prisoner asserted that the cessation of estrogen while in prison had reversed many of the female characteristics previously attained and had reversed many of the female characteristics previously attained and had caused periods of vomiting and depression.

The court held "psychological disorders may constitute a serious medical need." The prison, the court concluded, had denied medical care through both intentional conduct and deliberate indifference, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The court issued a preliminary injunction to provide the prisoner with the same level of estrogen treatments she received prior to imprisonment. Phillips v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 731 F.Supp.792 (W.D. MI 1990).

Free Supreme Court Opinions

The new term for the U.S. supreme court started on October 1, 1990. The Court offers free copies of its decisions for each term to interested parties. This applies only to decisions in this term, there is a limit of 5 decisions per request, be sure to include the title and, if possible, docket number. Write: Public Information Office, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington D.C. 20543 (202) 472-3211


By Paul Wright


This is a 40-page English language publication put out by the European Autonomous movement. This first issue has a long article on the hunger-strike by GRAPO prisoners in Spain, persecution and history of the Kurdish Workers Party in West Germany and their ongoing struggle in Turkey, plus news about squatting actions, immigration laws and such all over Europe. Definitely worth checking out. Send donation to: Ekomedia, PaulinenStr. 15a, 2000 Hamburg 36, West Germany.


This is a nicely put together 50-page English language monthly magazine put out by a Basque Human rights group. The latest issue has an excellent section on the history and development of the Spanish prison system and its repression of political prisoners. Spain holds over 650 Basque political prisoners alone. This section puts the GRAPO hunger strike (reported in prior issues of PLN) in a better perspective. EKIN also has articles dealing with the latest actions undertaken by Basque liberation groups in the struggle for independence from Spain, which with that of the Irish people is one of the longest in Western Europe. To my knowledge this is the only English language magazine on Basque events available. Write to: Ekin, Apto. 1005 ...

A Mother's Story

By Shirley Dicks

My son is on death row for a crime he did not commit, and time has almost run out for him. I am trying, somehow or somewhere to find help for him.

My son was with his friend Donald Strouth on the day of the crime in 1978. He was outside in the car when Strouth went inside the store and killed the shopkeeper. My son didn't believe he was going to rip the store off as he had told him. When he saw blood on his pants, he knew something had gone down and he called me. I picked him up and he told me what had happened, Strouth had robbed the man and killed him.

Jeff turned himself in and gave a statement without an attorney. They told us he didn't need one, and we had no reason to doubt their words. Jeff told the truth; that he was there, outside in the car, but had taken no part in the crime.

The boys were tried separately. At Strouth's trial, his girlfriend said that Strouth told her he hit the man on the head and slit his throat. That Jeff froze up ...

Warehouses of Misery

By Wm. Daniel Ravenscroft, esq.

What has our prison system really come to? Nothing more than a giant machine gobbling up human beings then spitting them out without the slightest concern for the collateral consequences.

The California prison system has over 90,000 inmates and the rate of incarceration and recidivism is absurd. Aside form this, it appears that our legislature is on a collision course to "try to provide prison beds for offenders" when in fact, all they are really accomplishing is the establishment of human warehouses of misery. This obviously pleases the citizenry, but the end result of the products produced within the prison system is something that seriously needs to be addressed.

In the recent Blue Ribbon Commission Report on inmate population management, the major findings indicated the predominate conclusion that "the criminal justice system in California is out of balance and will remain so unless the entire state and local criminal justice system is addressed from prevention through discharge of jurisdiction."

The commission also concluded that in 1994, lacking significant changes in correctional policies and practices, when the currently authorized construction is completed, prisons will be more overcrowded than they are today (168% vs. 189%) and ...

Lines in the Sand

By Paul A. Wright

As we go to press several hundred thousand American soldiers are waiting in the desert of Saudi Arabia. I expect that before too long they will be attacking Iraq or Iraqi troops in Kuwait.

It cannot be said that U.S. troops are there to defend "democracy," after all, these are some of the most reactionary, feudal monarchies in the world where women can't drive, no one votes and there is on free press and the wealth is controlled by a family of monarchs put in power by British imperial forces over 70 years ago.

After World Ware I ended Britain and France carved up the Middle East and drew arbitrary borders and installed puppet regimes favorable to their commercial interests. Iraq decided that it would invade Kuwait to reassert what it considers to be its historic right to Kuwait. The same imperial powers who drew the lines in the sand 70 years ago are back to ensure they are not meddled with.

All of a sudden George Bush decides that Saddam Hussein isn't such a nice guy after all. Only days before the invasion of Kuwait the Bush administration had lobbied against trade ...

The Initiative Process

The PLN's coverage of the "initiative" idea was good, but I don't think it left anyone feeling any less powerless than they were before. This (legislative initiative) is going to take a lot of push. People on the outside are still in the dark about what to do.

I think two things need to be done with this project. First we need to have some outside citizens groups working to reach the voters in the communities we can't get to through our families.

Second, we need a clearinghouse for people who vote, but either won't take any further action on their own or just aren't sufficiently motivated -- even with loved ones behind bars. So this "clearinghouse" could be HQ for this project (something as simple as a family member's address) where votes or pledges or contacts via phone or letter can be received and questions answered.

Another article or a "special edition" of the PLN devoted entirely to this project will need to be done in the near future.

Sure, it's great and wonderful and nice to say we have until 1992 to organize on this, but who is going to take the ...

Let's Get Educated

I liked the PLN's proposal concerning getting outside people and prisoners together to lobby the legislature to change the laws in that state. I have done similar work here (in New York), to the point of actually writing a legislative bill and having it sponsored in the N.Y. Assembly.

What is also extremely important, and (a subject) I would like you to address in the newsletter, is the report that Black males are more rapidly entering prison than enrolling in college. I would very much appreciate it if you would make a call to all progressive elements, both inside and out, to encourage and demand Black and all other "correct thinking" prisoners get their GEDs and enter college programs and studies.

Our future depends on having well educated and literate comrades, capable of building and sustaining progressive political movement. We need those who will be able to establish alternative education programs, a new generation of revolutionary and progressive lawyers, folks who will challenge status quo politicians in the political arena, and social scientists and economists who can help to evolve a new world economic order.

We must be able to recognize revolutions take years, and sometimes generations to ...


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