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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: May, 1991

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Volume 2, Number 5

In this issue:

  1. A Saga of Shame: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (p 1)
  2. GRAPO Hungerstrike Ends (p 2)
  3. Still Stuck in the U.S.A. (p 3)
  4. Prison/Community Alliance Update (p 3)
  5. War Repression (p 4)
  6. Editorial (p 4)
  7. Local Deities, A Book Review (p 5)
  8. News from Dwight Womens' Prison (p 5)
  9. The Black Panthers Are Back (p 6)
  10. "Rehabilitation" Hoax Unveiled at ISRB Meeting (p 6)
  11. DOC "Taxes" Oklahoma Prisoners (p 7)
  12. Update of Canadian Women Prisoners (p 7)
  13. Why Do We Still Have a Parole Board? (p 8)
  14. Exposure to Secondary Smoke Found Unlawful (p 8)
  15. Medical Care Chilling At Purdy (p 9)
  16. Pig Park (p 9)
  17. Penitentiary Overcrowded (p 10)

A Saga of Shame: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

By Equal Justice U.S.A.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an African American Journalist and advocate for racial and economic justice. He is currently on death row in Pennsylvania.

In 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death despite evidence that seriously questions his guilt and points to his innocence. Over the last decade, appellate courts have refused to recognize the racial and political biases that violated Abu-Jamal's human and constitutional rights and led to his conviction.

Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence. What transpired the night of the shooting still remains unclear. According to eyewitnesses at the trial, Abu-Jamal was driving a cab when he came upon a Philadelphia police officer beating his brother who had been stopped for making a wrong turn onto a one-way street. Also according to eyewitnesses, someone entered the scene, fired on the officer and then fled. It is clear that Abu-Jamal was at the scene and took a bullet in the abdomen that left him bleeding on the curb when the police backup arrived. It remains unclear who fired the shots that killed the police officer.

Witnesses maintain that Abu-Jamal was beaten at the scene. One witness ...

GRAPO Hungerstrike Ends

PLN has reported previously on the progress of the hungerstrike in Spain by some 42 imprisoned members of GRAPO (Anti-Fascist Resistance Groups, First of October) and of the PCE(r) (Communist Party of Spain, reconstituted). The strike began on November 30, 1989, and ended February 2, 1991. This makes it one of the longest running hungerstrikes in modern history.

Among the demands made by the prisoners was an end to isolation in control units, to be recognized as political prisoners and to be regrouped in one prison so as to continue their political education and maintain their identity. This was vigorously opposed by the Spanish government who holds a total of over 1,000 political prisoners. During the strike Jose Manuel Sevillano died of heart failure due to malnutrition. To prolong the hungerstrike the government force-fed the prisoners. Several government officials, to include the head of prison medicine in charge of the force feeding, were executed during the strike by operational GRAPO units.

The hungerstrike was seen as being of great importance in light of the planned European unification in 1992 which could set the guidelines for dealing with all political prisoners in Europe, i.e., isolation, psychological torture, etc ...

Still Stuck in the U.S.A.

From: Out Of Time 2/91

The U.S. department of in-justice denied repatriation to Italy for Silvia Baraldini. Silvia is a political prisoner, presently incarcerated in federal prison in Marianna Florida, serving a forty-three year sentence. Charged in 1982 with five acts, she was convicted on only two - an attempted armored car robbery in 1980 that never took place and conspiracy in the 1979 escape from prison of Black Revolutionary Assata Shakur. No one was hurt in either act and Silvia had no prior record in any court. In fact, the evidence against her was flimsy, based on the word of a single informer who testified against fifteen persons.

Under the terms of an International Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (Strasbourg Convention) signed by the u.s. and Italy among other nations, Silvia was legally eligible for transfer to an Italian prison. There are also humanitarian and medical reasons for her repatriation. The Italian Prime Minister and many Italian Parliamentarians had personally asked the Bush administration for Silvia's return: thousands of petitions and letters were sent from Italy and this country to the u.s. attorney general's office.

The Release Silvia! Committee in the u ...

Prison/Community Alliance Update

By Martin Roth

The Prison/Community Alliance has received a lot of letters statewide from organizations, as well as individuals, who are interested in and supportive of our stated objectives. Several of these contacts were made as a result of those of you who have shared news of the P/CA, through the Prisoners Legal News, with each other. We are extremely pleased with the response, both from prisoners and those in the "free world" community. It has enabled us to establish a foundation of support among diverse organizations with mutual concerns. The Prison/Community Alliance is an organization that hopes to serve us all - prisoners and citizens alike, and, in that sense, intends to represent our needs and concerns to the fullest extent of which we are capable. Your continued interest and support is crucial. Let me bring you up to date on recent activities.

The P/CA and members of the Community Help Foundation Unlimited met with Senator Gary Nelson, Chairman of the Senate Law & Justice Committee in early March. The focus of the meeting was the Initiative. Senator Nelson appears 'closed' to the idea of the Initiative. He seems to favor the continued existence of the Indeterminate ...

War Repression

By Laura Whitehorn

Revolutionary greetings. Like all progressive people, I've been trying to get news (news, not military advertisements) of the war, and following the anti-war activities around the country that somehow fail to make it onto the TV news. Here at FCI Lexington, you will be pleased to know, the administration feels proud to be able to be a part of the imperialist war effort: Unicor (federal prison industries) produces military cable. Unlike the scene I left in D.C. Jail, very few of the guards here have friends, family or are themselves deployed to the Persian Gulf.

Patriotic fever has also hit this place. The following is a true story.

On Tuesday, February 26, four of us prisoners were watching the TV news and discussing the war. A guard came into the TV room and made a few comments, too. When I expressed the opinion that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was really no different from the U.S. invasion of Panama, or of Grenada, or on and on, he was shocked. He'd clearly never heard such traitorous thoughts before. In all seriousness, he turned to me and asked if I was from this country, or ...


Editorial Comments

By Ed Mead

The main production run of the Prisoners' Legal News is a mere 300 copies. The printing and mailing costs for last issue was a very low $173 ($63 for printing, $85 for postage, and $25 for various other expenses like phone calls and photocopying). Last month we collected just $59 in donations from readers.

The PLN is published by me and another prisoner (Paul). Our main source of income is our prison jobs. I put in a lot of hours so average about $45 a month in wages; Paul earns less, We volunteer our time (as do our outside supporters) and pay our own money to get this newsletter to you each month. Most months the amount we have to pay is very small, or even nothing, because of your donations. But at other times, like now, the amount is quite large.

Today we are again in need of your financial assistance. If you like what we are doing, if you think we can have a positive impact on existing realities, then say it with dollars. If you can't afford to give something, then have a friend or family member make the donation for ...

Local Deities, A Book Review

By Ed Mead

I've just finished reading a very good novel. And because the experience was so enjoyable, I would like to share a taste of it in the hopes that you, too, will read this book. The novel is Local Deities, written by Agnes Bushell and published in 1990 by Curbstone Press (321 Jackson St., Willimantic, CT 06226). While the paperback version lists for $11.95, I ordered my copy through the state library system for free.

Local Deities first came to my attention some six months ago, when reading an article in the radical press in which both the author and Ray Levasseur claimed that the book was not about Ray or the underground revolutionary organization he was a part of at the time of his arrest. I decided I'd read the book and form my own opinion.

I had some long talks with Ray and several of his co-defendants about l8 months ago, when I was back East testifying for them at the Ohio-7 conspiracy trial. I read much of the literature produced during the period and listened to their histories in some detail. There is no question in my mind but what Local Deities ...

News from Dwight Womens' Prison

News From Dwight Womens' Prison

By L.F.

Geraldine Smith is only the third woman to be sentenced to death in the history of the State of Illinois... the first occurring in the 1800s and the second in the 1930s. There was almost no media coverage of Ms. Smith's sentencing. There was a small article in a local newspaper; all other coverage was on Spanish speaking television and radio.

Dwight "Correctional Center" is absolutely not equipped to imprison women sentenced to die. There is no Death Row; thus, Ms. Smith is simply locked in segregation, but is segregated from the others in segregation. No one is allowed to speak to her. Because she is a "novelty" in the institution, the officers do not mistreat her.., they are more curious than anything. But why the media blackout? And why Geraldine Smith? So many women are here after murder convictions, murders that they committed with their very own hands. Ms. Smith is convicted of hiring a man to murder the wife of her lover (and her child's father). The man who actually committed the murder received "natural life in prison." If women who have murdered three or four people with ...

The Black Panthers Are Back

By Paul Wright

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was originally formed in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Its goal was to organize and serve the black community in the U.S., sometimes called the survival programs. This included breakfast programs for children, free clothing programs, busing to prisons, free food program and defending members of the community from police brutality and attacks.

The rise of the BPP coincided with the growth of the anti-war movement and a growing radicalization of the student movement. It also saw one of the largest domestic repression programs (called COINTELPRO or Counter-Intelligence Program) aimed at disrupting and destroying the BPP. COINTELPRO encompassed everything from anonymous letters and phone calls to create and build splits and differences within the BPP to outright murder of party members. BPP members were also subjected to long drawn out legal and court battles that even when they resulted in acquittals had achieved the goal of tying up members in the court proceedings and drained scarce resources to pay for legal fees. Many BPP members are still in prison today some 20 years later, making them the longest held black political prisoners outside of South Africa.

The BPP dissolved ...

"Rehabilitation" Hoax Unveiled at ISRB Meeting

"Rehabilitation" Hoax Unveiled At ISRB Meeting

By Dan Pens

Any good confidence-artist can tell you that flawless teamwork is needed to pull off a complicated sting. If the players don't keep their stories straight the "marks" might catch 'em in a contradiction and expose them for the liars and cheats they are.

Maybe somebody should share this lesson with the prisoncrats at the Department of Corrections (DOC) headquarters and the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB). It would seem that a recent administrative snafu at DOC headquarters has exposed the arbitrary and capricious nature of the "Indiscriminate" Sentencing Review Board's parole release decisions.

The following is quoted from the February 11, 1991 ISRB meeting minutes:

"Regarding civil commitment procedures... The various institutions refer individuals to DOC Headquarters who they think should be referred for civil commitment. In one instance, a case was referred which the Board had approved for parole. There have even been a number of conversations about the issue following that event. It was never intended that the Board be in a position of having DOC 'second guess' or review its parole decisions."

If more "slipups" like this are brought to light, the public might get wise ...

DOC "Taxes" Oklahoma Prisoners

By Jeff Lea

This year state lawmakers determined that Oklahoma taxpayers were paying too much state sales tax and would continue to do so in the future. Accordingly, they passed a bill allowing the tax agency to refund $20.00 this year and $40.00 each year after this, to each and every Oklahoma resident. It was soon realized that prisoners would also want their money...the lawmakers stated there was no provision in the bill stopping payment to incarcerated persons. It was determined that to stop "us" from getting the money, action would have to be taken that would come into effect at the time they refund 1991 overpayments.

Inmates began to file for their refund and began to receive same. The DOC decided they didn't like it. Without a law or written departmental policy, they began freezing the $20 checks as they came in! Anyone that had already spent the money on canteen had their account tapped for the money. If you didn't have $20, they took the money as your family sent it in or they took it from the "gang pay" they pay each month for working for the DOC. This averages out to ...

Update of Canadian Women Prisoners

Update Of Canadian Women Prisoners

By Paul Wright

In our last issue of PLN (See "Oppression and Resistance at Canada's Prison for Women" page 7) we reported on events at the Prison for Women (P4W) in Kingston, Ontario, in which some 20 women prisoners had refused to lock up in their cells after in protest of abysmal prison conditions that have led to the suicides of five native prisoners in 18 months.

On March 4, 1991, the women prisoners who had been placed in segregation began a no food and water hungerstrike unless one of the prisoners in segregation was given a furlough to visit her mother who is dying of cancer and that a commission of inquiry be established to examine conditions at P4W and the effects of the criminal justice system on womens lives. By independent the women mean independent of the prison system and the solicitor general.

On March 6, 1991, the prisoners called off the hungerstrike after the warden granted a furlough so the prisoner could visit her mother and due to the hospitalization of several prisoners. March 7, 1991, saw the attempted suicide of yet another prisoner.

The women prisoners' mail is being censored ...

Why Do We Still Have a Parole Board?

Why Do We Still Have A Parole Board?
By Ed Mead

Most of us on the inside know that parole supervision of released prisoners is both ineffective and a waste of taxpayers' money. Many of us have also experienced, in one way of another, the board's arbitrary and capricious decision-making process. Indeed, we have an article in this very issue of PLN in which the board ordered a guy paroled a "rehabilitated" inmate while, at the same time, the Department of Corrections was referring him for civil commitment under the new dangerous sex offender law! And finally, we each know the emotional torture suffered under the indeterminate sentencing system. As one prisoner recently put it: "No matter what the other injustices and illegalities of the dual sentencing system are, surely this one aspect - the never knowing when you'll be released - is the cruelest and most insidious of all."

Every pre-SRA prisoner would like to be able to point to a date and confidently say, "Here, this year I'll be going home." An associate editor of PLN has a case like that of many others. He is serving his sixteenth year of a first-degree assault conviction. Nobody was ...

Exposure to Secondary Smoke Found Unlawful

Exposure To Secondary Smoke Found Unlawful

The federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that exposing prisoners to ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) violates the 8th amendments right for prisoners to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The Court has decided that under societies "evolving standards" of decency (evidenced by the fact that so many states, cities, etc. have passed laws banning or regulating smoke where others may be exposed to ETS) exposing prisoners to known carcinogens (materials that cause cancer) is "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The case involves a Nevada state prisoner who was involuntarily exposed to ETS when he was celled with a prisoner who smoked five pack of cigarettes a day and prison officials refused to give him a single cell or a non-smoking cellmate. It held: "If housing nonsmokers and smokers in other parts of the prison cell or allowing unrestricted smoking on other parts of the prison exposes non-smoking inmates to a level of ETS that poses an unreasonable risk to their health the 8th amendment is violated."

The Court ruled that prison officials were immune from damages on the basis of qualified immunity but that the prisoners still had a cause of action ...

Medical Care Chilling At Purdy

The Clinic had me pretty stressed out the last couple of days. My arm, where the stitches were, are starting to form blisters, and to me that is not normal. My belief is that it should be healing - not blistering and I've never known blistering to be part of the healing process. Anyway, Tuesday night I had staff call the clinic and the clinic's response was that I come up at 4:30 in the morning sick call, and of course I said no - at 4:30 in the morning - all they do is excuse you from programming until someone else can see you. I didn't want an excuse from work - I wanted someone to take a look at my arm! I grieved it that night, but grievances here carry very little weight. Its just something to pacify us and make us think something will change. The next morning I had staff to call again they were too busy - she logged it in - so I put in a medical slip and still no one has taken a look yet - and I'm about ready to act real ugly. My neighbor had a tooth growing under her gums ...

Pig Park

The sign shop is making a sign that reads: "State of Washington Employee Park. Visitors and Family must be accompanied by an employee of the Washington State Penitentiary or the law enforcement community. Last year, I believe it was, the 40 acre state Game Farm was either sold or given to the penitentiary. If this is true, I don't see how the guards can have a private park at taxpayers expense. I've sort of asked about it, but no one says anything about it. I don't talk much to the guards. Maybe you all can have this matter looked into and a stop put to a private park for these pigs if the land they are using is the above.

R.N., Walla Walla, WA

Penitentiary Overcrowded

The Seattle Times reports that the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) at Walla Walla now has 1,970 prisoners and is expected to house about 2,600 by this summer. This is a record of overcrowding at a prison long characterized for its overcrowding.

Remodeling is now taking place for it to house 1,936 prisoners (which sounds like closing the barn door after the cows have left). Most cells are now filled by four prisoners that were originally intended for two.


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