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Comrade Malik: Censorship & Blocking Access to Courts by Federal Bureau of Prisons

Revolutionary greetings fellow workers! Today is June 2nd, 2020. The US Department of Justice has ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to place their facilities on a nationwide lockdown.

Submitted to Enough 14. Written by Keith Malik Washington (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC)).

The Inmate Bulletin issued to the prison population said that the nationwide lockdown was a precautionary measure in light of the recent rioting and civil unrest throughout AmeriKa. 

My experience as a federal prisoner has taught me that the oppressors who run these prisons subscribe to and embrace a Reactionary Ideology. This Reactionary behavior has been on full display here at USP Pollock. 

One reactionary policy which has gone unreported is the recent censorship of prisoner communications as well as the blocking of our access to courts. 

Since March 13th, 2020, prisoners here at USP Pollock in Pollock, Louisiana have had no access to Law Library Materials which includes the Education Legal Law Library Computer. 

It is virtually impossible for prisoners to litigate pending civil or criminal actions without access to the Law Library Computer. What is remarkable is that mostly all federal facilities within the BOP allow prisoners access to the Law Library database on our housing unit. 

uch is not the case here at USP Pollock. When I asked the Complex Warden Chris McConnell about this anomaly he said: “I do not have enough staff to monitor the Law Library Computer.” 

Access to courts is one of the most zealously protected US Constitutional Rights, even for prisoners. However, I have noticed a pattern of practice and an unofficial policy whereby the prison administration here at USP Pollock do not just block access to courts but they censor outgoing communications which discuss in detail recent legal decisions regarding THE CARES ACT and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Censorship Exposed

On April 22nd, 2020 there were two significant rulings by the US Courts in regard to similar petitions filed by federal prisoners in two separate facilities that have been ravaged by COVID-19. Federal prisoners at FCI Elkton in Ohio asked the US District Court to order the BOP to release those qualified to Home Confinement. 

The prisoners at FCI Elkton cited the fact that most of them were not just low security prisoners but were mostly older prisoners who had pre-existing conditions which made them especially vulnerable to contracting the Corona Virus. It is noteworthy to mention that there have been approximately six prisoner deaths at FCI Elkton as a result of COVID-19. 

The US District Court in the northern district of Ohio ruled in favor of the prisoners at FCI Elkton and ordered the BOP to immediately release vulnerable federal prisoners to home confinement. The BOP with the aid of the US Department of Justice did appeal the District Judge’s order. However, instead of appealing to the 6th Circuit, the BOP went straight to the US Supreme Court. This was rather unusual because most imprisoned litigators know that you cannot leapfrog the Circuit Appellate court when appealing a decision of a US District Judge. Nevertheless, in a not so surprising ruling the US Supreme Court batted down the BOP’s appeal and sent the case to the 6th Circuit where it belonged. This happened recently in late May 2020 and we are awaiting the opinion of the 6th Circuit. 

As I mentioned earlier in this article, prisoners here in Louisiana at FCI Oakdale filed a similar request in Federal Court as the prisoners housed at FCI Elkton in Ohio. I have personally reported that FCI Oakdale has suffered at least ten prisoner deaths as a result of COVID-19. What is remarkable is the US District Court in the Western District of Louisiana took the opposite stance of the Court in the Northern District of Ohio, ruling in favor of the BOP. Moreover, the District Judge in Louisiana seemed to chastise and admonish the Oakdale prisoners stating that he refused to become a “Super Warden” and involve himself in a matter the BOP had authority to remedy. The point is this, rather than release prisoners to Home Confinement the BOP has chosen to hold prisoners risking the chance that they may contract this deadly virus. 

I would like to provide the specific case citings of both of these similar civil cases. I want you to analyze them and question the disparity in decisions made in a Northern Federal Court and a Southern Federal Court. 

On or around April 25th, 2020 I wrote an article/essay entitled “Western District of Louisiana ignores Humanity of Federal Prisoners at FCI Oakdale.” I attempted to send this article to Fred Stein of IWOC-NYC and requested that he and his comrades transcribe my piece and share it far and wide. The censorship of free speech has become a favored tactic and strategy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I have also witnessed and experienced Federal BOP personnel retaliating harshly against any prisoner engaging in “Protected” conduct. The US Supreme Court has ruled that filing grievances and lawsuits fall under the umbrella of “Protected Conduct”. 

As a journalist and activist I am privy to the laws that allow the reporting of events which are viewed as being of “Public Concern.” It is June 2020, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons still has not initiated a mass COVID-19 testing program for federal prisoners and employees. Remarkably, NABPP-Pc member Jason Renard Walker has reported that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has begun en-masse COVID-19 testing in its facilities. 

President Donald J. Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Bryan has said that he does not believe that systemic racism exists in the criminal justice system. 

As we look closely at the recent Civil Rights Complaints filed by prisoners in Ohio and Louisiana and the disparity in the meting out of justice we must understand this: 

“Racism and the scourge of white supremacy does not just exist in Amerikan Police Departments. Racism and implicit bias resides inside the prosecutor’s office, the Judge’s chambers, the jury box, and most certainly racism is present inside Amerikan prisons and jails.’

President Trump went to work right away appointing judges who would uphold the tenets of white supremacy in Amerika. We have people saying that President Trump is “Crazy.” This is a huge mistake. President Donald J. Trump has moved in a very pragmatic and methodical fashion in order to dismantle any Law, Program, or Policy that can be used by the people in order to remove the foot of the Capitalist oppressor off of our necks. 

As the conversation progresses in regard to how we can “fix the system” it is my strong belief that we can’t build until something is demolished or destroyed. Our greatest strength as we proceed forward is our increased mutual aid, solidarity and direct action. It is important for me to say that Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer have had decades to address systemic racism in the criminal justice system and they haven’t done it –  why now?? Think about that for a minute. 

As I contemplate and reflect on the Austin Police Department shooting a pregnant woman who was exercising her constitutional rights I am mortified. I was under the impression that Austin was the most liberal and progressive city in the state of Texas. I was wrong. I forgot that Austin is the home of one of the most bigoted Attorney Generals in America. Ken Paxton has shown his true colors in his zealous pursuit of keeping innocent and wrongfully accused prisoners inside Texas’s nation leading slave kamps and inhumane gulags. 

However, I must ask for your forgiveness, I’ve digressed. Allow me to get back on this message and wrap up this essay. 

If I were to be asked what I think may help address some of the inequality, racism, and abuse we see perpetrated by the police in America – outside of abolition of the police, I would suggest the creation of independent civilian oversight committees that have prosecutorial and subpoena power over all police departments and law enforcement agencies in America. Presidential candidate Joe Biden made a similar suggestion. I don’t trust Joe Biden. He has a horrible record when it comes to criminal justice. With Biden, black people are trapped between a rock and a hard place. Biden may be the lesser of two evils but he is not our ‘Savior’ nor is he our friend. He is a male Hillary Clinton – period. 

I end this essay with a quote from journalist and activist/author Natasha Lennard’s book Being Numerous: Essays on a Non-Fascist Life: “We know better than to call upon the government or the courts to ban white supremacist events, especially under this white supremacist administration. Anti-Fascist activists have no interest in bolstering the state’s censorial oversight, and even less faith that only such censorship would ever be applied to white supremacists.”

I send out my clenched fist of solidarity to IWOC, IWW, ABC, and Black Lives Matter! I love y’all. Stay safe and stand up for Black Lives. Solidarity Forever! 

Addendum

FCI Elkton – Civil Complaint Filed by Federal Prisoners

  1. Wilson v. Williams 2020 US District Court LEXIS 70674 ND-Ohio April 22, 2020. Note: ND means Northern District.
  2. FCI Oakdale – Civil complaint filed by federal prisoners — Livas vs. Myers 2020 US District Court LEXIS 71323 (WD-Louisiana) April 22, 2020.

Keith ‘Malik’ Washington is Assistant Editor of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. He is studying and preparing to serve as Editor after his September 2020 release. Malik is co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. Visit Malik’s website at: www.ComradeMalik.com and invite your social media contacts to visit the Bay View website: www.sfbayview.com



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