Revolution #203, June 13, 2010

Pelican Bay State Prison Feels the Heat

Prison Officials Attempt a Cover-up of the Ban on Revolution Newspaper
Mobilize to Say: NO WAY!

"This letter is to advise you that your weekly periodical 'Revolution', will not be delivered to inmates housed at Pelican Bay State Prison. Your periodical newspaper has been determined to be contraband because it promotes disruption and overthrow of the government and incites violence to do so, per the First, Second and Directors level of Reviews." (February 10, 2010, Pelican Bay State Prison letter sent to RCP Publications)


"This letter is in response to recent letters received by Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) concerning a 'Ban on Revolution Newspaper,' as well as printed articles in your newspaper reflecting concern over the same.

"As a California Law Enforcement Agency, it is the intent of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to foster a positive environment for the inmates in our custody....

"While it is true that in February of 2010, a weekly issue of Revolution Newspaper was banned from distribution into the prison due to content, an across-the-board ban of your newspaper is not in effect. All magazines and newspapers are inspected for content prior to distribution, to ensure they meet the criteria for introduction into the prison. Unfortunately, when you received a letter from PBSP indicating your publication had been disallowed due to content, it was missing four very important words: 'This weekly issue of.' While PBSP stands by the decision to disapprove that weekly issue, due to a portion of the content which was unfortunately found to meet the criteria for disapproval, we do apologize for the confusion which led you to believe your publication was banned completely." (Letter from PBSP to RCP Publications received June 2, 2010)


Officials at Pelican Bay State Prison are attempting to paper over a mountain of evidence that for at least five months an across-the-board ban of Revolution was instituted in their facility, depriving over 45 subscribers access to the paper.

They are weaseling and tactically maneuvering, hoping to disarm people and derail the mounting public outcry as well as the threat of legal action. In early May, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California submitted a request for all public records related to the banning of Revolution newspaper. The ACLU also sent a letter on behalf of the Prisoner's Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF)—the provider of prisoner subscriptions to Revolution newspaper to PBSP—making a strong case that there is no basis to ban Revolution either across the board or by specific issue.

We will not be fooled or go away as easily as the PBSP officials seem to hope. This is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief. It is the time to step up our efforts and galvanize even greater public pressure. Now is the time to press our demands. The new letter from PBSP is in essence a cover-up of unconstitutional and inhumane practices, thus heaping outrage on top of outrage. It would set a horrible precedent to allow PBSP to get away with a cover-up on top of the actual institution of the ban. Successfully fighting the ban and holding the prison authorities accountable has far-reaching implications not only for Revolution and its prison subscribers, but for the rights of all prisoners to due process and to explore the full range of philosophical and political ideas about the world.

The Facts Add Up to a Mountain of Evidence That There Is An Unconstitutional and Inhumane Ban

The February letter from PBSP is unambiguous in stating there is a ban. The baseless reasons given there are internally consistent with an all-out ban. If that February letter was really about a single issue of Revolution being disapproved, then there should have been reference to the specific issue and the specific page(s) which caused the publication to be denied to prisoners.1

The February letter also said the determination to ban the newspaper was "per First, Second, and Directors level of Reviews." Second level is the warden's level review and the director's level is at the state level. If this was not a fabrication, then there are records of those reviews which should be turned over to the ACLU

PBSP subscribers to Revolution received disapproval notices in early 2010. These are standard forms notifying prisoners when mail/publications are disapproved. The forms listed different issues of Revolution going all the way back to at least issue #180, October 25, 2009 (this according to forms forwarded to PRLF). These forms reflect a total ban; i.e. they state that "page(s) which meet disapproval criteria ALL." The reason given for disapproval on all the forms was the same: "incites racial violence and promotes governmental anarchy."

These forms were the first formal clue an institution-wide ban had been in place at least as far back as October 2009. It is a violation of the CDCR regulations that PBSP did not notify anyone concerned that the newspaper was confiscated for all those months.

In February, just six days after PBSP's letter, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP) sent a memorandum: "This letter is to advise you that your publication entitled REVOLUTION for the month of ANY AND ALL, will not be delivered to the following inmate(s) ANY AND ALL, housed at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. [CVSP then cites the same California regulation as PBSP.] Your publication contained material on page(s), ENTIRE PUBLICATION, which was ALL OF THE ABOVE. THE PUBLICATION REVOLUTION IS BAN [sic] FROM ALL INSTITUTIONS WITHIN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. PLEASE REMOVE ALL INMATES FROM YOUR MAIL LIST. (Caps in original)

According to records obtained by the PRLF, a Pelican Bay prisoner filed an appeal about Revolution being withheld. His first level appeal was denied including for the following reason: "Upon review, the newsletter (sic) discussed the need for the, revolutionary struggle. Throughout the newspapers, there was continual reference to the, need for a Revolutionary Party. The newspapers speak at great length of the need for, Revolution to overthrow the government from the outside and the inside, with the Use of Force, causing death and destruction to its citizens and the economic structure of the United States of America (USA) as well as the rest of the world."

This denial letter literally (we are not joking) cites a definition of the word revolution from Webster's New World Dictionary!

The denial grossly mischaracterizes the content of Revolution, pretending to be quoting the paper with the use of italics. These are not quotes from Revolution newspaper nor an accurate depiction of what is found in the pages of Revolution. The method of PBSP authorities is shoddy and dangerously slanderous. It illustrates the suppression of a newspaper for its political content.

Note also: the denial speaks of "newspapers," that is: plural. This denial was dated in mid March, over a month after the letter that PBSP officials are now trying to disingenuously amend.

This same prisoner appealed for a higher, warden level review, which according to the PBSP February 2010 letter is the same level which ratified the original decision to ban the newspaper.

In May 2010 his individual appeal was granted and five previously withheld issues of Revolution newspaper were returned to this prisoner. Subsequently, PRLF was informed by a few other prisoners that they received some issues of the newspapers.

Now, the PRLF has undertaken a systematic survey of all subscribers at PBSP to determine if they have received the paper, and if so, which issues. This letter was sent out on May 7. PRLF reports they have only received 4 replies so far. Only receiving four replies is unusual under the circumstances—and the PRLF continues to pursue this survey with concern.

Pelican Bay Authorities Squirm

When the record is examined it is undeniable that there was a blanket ban instituted for baseless and slanderous reasons. The "oops we accidentally left out four words which meant only one issue and not all issues" explanation is shredded by the actual record of what PBSP both said and did over months. What are they worried about? What is making them squirm?

The pressure from people writing to the prison to protest the ban and the ACLU demand for all public records related to the banning of Revolution at that institution is having an impact.

In addition, is it possible that PBSP and the CDCR are covering up the ban in the wake of a major newspaper investigation shining a spotlight on California prison abuses exposed in a May 2010 Sacramento Bee newspaper investigation? The Bee's "report found support for the abuse claims in interviews with inmates, prison documents and a long-hidden report written by Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation research experts. For years, prison officials knew about many of the claims—including denial of medical care, racial slurs and the destruction of prisoners' formal written protests of mistreatment—yet did nothing to investigate." (Sacramento Bee, May 11, 2010)

The prison authorities need to be held to full disclosure of what all lay behind the ban of Revolution. Why after years of prisoners being allowed to receive this paper was it banned all of a sudden? What were the grounds for the ban and which officials at what levels made the decisions? How did the ban spread to Chuckawalla—and any other prisons in CDCR system? The ACLU's demand for ALL public records must be met.

Given the prison authorities track record in instituting a ban under a veil of secrecy and now openly covering that up, there should be verifiable assurances that all prisoner subscribers at Pelican Bay, Chuckawalla and throughout the entire California prison system are receiving their Revolution newspapers without interference—or retaliation and harassment. The prisoners and the PRLF should not be put in the position of having to fight this arbitrary, political censorship issue by issue, prisoner by prisoner, institution by institution.

The aim of this movement to overturn the ban must be to definitively win. And this means overturning the ban in a way that it can not be re-instated as soon as public scrutiny and legal attention is off.


1. The full letters from Pelican Bay State Prison officials are available on line at PRLF's website [back]

Join and Step Up the Struggle to Overturn the Prison Ban of Revolution Newspaper

  • There is a powerful statement to overturn the ban (link). There is an important group of initial signatories, but it needs to be signed by many more people. It needs to rapidly grow in scope and stature. Artists, civil libertarians, public intellectuals, humanitarians and religious figures should take a stand. Along with widely distributing the statement for signatures and donations, include a copy of Revolution (or a link to and samples of the powerful letters from prisoners to the paper.1 Plans to get the statement out to the media and published are underway.
  • Circulate this article! Let people know that PBSP officials are attempting a cover-up. Everyone who’s spoken out must know the impact of their efforts—and that now is the time to press our demands. Urge people to form or join committees to overturn the ban. Get in touch with PRLF and take word of the ban to other organizations: church, community, legal groups. (PRLF will help you give a presentation or craft your own by reading a few of the prisoners letters along with information from the article in Revolution on Overturn the Ban or the PRLF appeal on the ban.* PRLF has an online petition version of the statement. This needs to be signed by hundreds and hundreds this week! Post it on your Facebook and to your listserves.
  • Financial contributions are urgently needed to expand the work of the PRLF, to fill the requests of more prisoners who are writing for subscriptions, and to publicize the ban and publish the statement. One key way to struggle to overturn the ban is to sponsor the expansion of subs into the prisons: to "adopt a subscription." Fundraising appeals are available through the PRLF website.

Tell people: don’t turn away from the reality of more than 2 million incarcerated, disproportionately Black and Latino, people in this country. Think about the prisoner locked in a cell for 23+ hours a day who wrote he couldn’t imagine being in that dungeon without Revolution. What does it mean to have it cut off…when Revolution lets you see how the world could be radically changed for the better…when this newspaper brings you the work of Bob Avakian and enables you to delve into communist theory…when this paper connects you to the larger movement for revolution and welcomes your thoughts.

If you have not yet or have not recently read a few of the many new prisoners’ letters put up each week at PRLF’s website please take the time to do so. You will have a window into this unconstitutional and inhumane ban and why it must be completely uprooted!

* This statement and prisoners’ letters are available from the PRLF website at [back]

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