Revolution #207, July 18, 2010

From the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund...

News Flash!

Revolution newspaper received the following from the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, Executive Director's Newsletter, dated July 1, 2010.

The ACLU - Foundation (Southern California), legal counsel for the PRLF regarding the ban of Revolution newspaper, sent letters in early June to two California prisons--Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) and Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP)--saying if they did not lift their blanket bans on Revolution and permit its distribution to prisoners, the ACLU would discuss with PRLF future options, including litigation. Both of these California prisons had officially notified RCP Publications (and thus PRLF) in February that Revolution newspaper was banned. The letters from the ACLU requested a response by June 21st.

In a letter dated June 15th, the Assistant Warden of CVSP, Neil McDowell, wrote: "This is to advise you that your publication entitled 'Revolution' does not have a blanket ban at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP). The memo dated February 16, 2010 authored by Sergeant L. Nunez was inaccurate in stating as such." No further explanation was given for why that letter was written nor for the ban that has been in effect.

The Warden of Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), G.D. Lewis, sent a letter to the ACLU also dated June 15th, which stated: "To date, ALL issues of Revolution Newspaper mailed to PBSP inmates in the past nine months, have been delivered," and that "No ban of Revolution Newspaper is in effect... I am considering this matter closed."

Needless to say, the PRLF has serious concerns about the complete truthfulness of the wardens' claims. This month alone, the PRLF has received at least two letters from prisoners at PBSP who state that their newspapers are being delivered at best sporadically. One prisoner says he received only a single issue in March, one in April and another in May.

The PRLF has good historical reasons for its concerns as well. For many months, beginning in October, 2009, PBSP banned the newspaper without any notification to prisoners or publisher, in egregious violation of CDCR's own procedures outlined in memos turned over to the ACLU. Then in February, 2010 PRLF received a letter from PBSP advising it that Revolution newspaper will not be delivered to inmates; that it "has been determined to be contraband because it promotes disruption of the government and incites violence to do so."

When this ban was called out and the ACLU filed for all public records, PBSP began to maneuver. In May, PBSP notified RCP Publications that there was no ban and that their own February, 2010 letter which notified Revolution newspaper of the ban was in error! This May letter claimed that there was only a single issue of Revolution barred, and they stood by the decision to do so; yet there is evidence from many official "Notification of Disapproval" forms received by prisoners that newspapers dating back to October, 2009 were disapproved. Now the warden's June letter states that ALL issues have met the criteria for delivery to prisoners.

It is important to note that by announcing that ALL issues of Revolution newspaper mailed to PBSP inmates in the past nine months have been delivered, the warden at PBSP has now been forced to admit that there was in fact NO VALID BASIS to bar a single issue of Revolution newspaper from any prisoner during that time period.

But it is up to us to hold PBSP to that statement. The prison officials are repeat offenders in violating the prisoners' First Amendment rights; the truth of the situation must be learned directly from the prisoners.

And there are many unanswered questions for which PBSP officials have offered no explanations. For reasons yet to be learned, the prison continues to try and obscure the extent, nature, and justification of the ban that it carried out for many months.

The PRLF is pursuing this on the legal front--and together with that continuing to actively mount a broad, societal effort to bring awareness of the ban. At this juncture we have made some significant headway; but we need to see the overturning of this ban all the way through. The prison officials must be compelled to fully DISCLOSE all documents regarding disapproval in the CA prison system. There must be VERIFICATION (facilitated by prison officials) that all issues of Revolution (past and current) are being delivered to prison subscribers. And if an issue of Revolution is not delivered in a timely way, prison officials must provide prompt NOTIFICATION to the ACLU-F (SoCal) and the PRLF.

Importantly, PRLF is also working to put in place legally ENFORCEABLE mechanisms to ensure that NO prison in CDCR system can arbitrarily ban issues of Revolution newspaper, or any other public newspaper or literature which does not conform to the thinking of the officials administering the prisons. Such practices are inhumane and unconstitutional.

Thoroughly resolving this in a way which requires the prison officials to follow their own regulations and inhibits their ability to manufacture or arbitrarily institute new bans in any form has important implications: for upholding the rights of prisoners to a life of the mind, for the distribution of Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature in the prisons--and beyond that for critical thinking in society as a whole.

The efforts of a broad range of people who have taken up work to Overturn the Ban are having an impact on the prison officials. Important headway is being made...but if we stop now, it could be like starting a course of antibiotics and not finishing the full course. The infection can come roaring back and then you are less able to deal with it because you didn't finish the full course of treatment.

The June 15, 2010 letters from PBSP warden Lewis and CVSP assistant warden McDowell amount to an admission that the reasons given for designating Revolution newspaper as "contraband" are wrong and baseless. Yet for all the reasons outlined here, this effort is not over! The actions of prison authorities in this matter up to now have been illegal and harmful and there is much that remains hidden in the administrative entrails about their efforts to deny this newspaper to prisoners that cannot be allowed to stand or to continue in new forms.

PRLF will continue to keep people informed of significant developments.

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