by Bay View Publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff
Nearly a thousand subscribers to the Bay View newspaper were denied their September papers – and we suspect their October papers as well – because of its coverage of the nationwide strikes to end prison slavery that began Sept. 9. Prison officials censoring the paper claim it will incite disruption. Like claims that someone being beaten by a gang of cops is “resisting,” the Bay View is “disrupting” prison operations.
Imagine being in solitary confinement – the fate of organizers, teachers, jailhouse lawyers and other imprisoned “disrupters.” You get no visits or phone calls – and the Bay View is the only mail you get. Imagine being denied your monthly paper.
Of the thousands of prisoners on the Bay View’s mailing list, our best guess is that the majority are still in solitary. One man denied his paper writes, “I’m in the cell 24 hours of most days. The Bay View helps me not to forget and to make sure my fire doesn’t burn out.”
You can help get them their papers. Send this letter to Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan if you live in California, where the Bay View was denied subscribers at several major prisons. You can copy and paste it from here into an email or onto a piece of paper. Or you can simply print out the image of the letter that’s placed here and date, sign and mail it.
If you live outside California, especially if you live in Pennsylvania and Texas, where the September Bay View was banned by prison authorities statewide, adapt the letter and send it to the director of your department of corrections or to the warden of a prison that has banned the Bay View.
Meanwhile, the prison grapevine is now spreading nationwide, and all over the country, prisoners are protesting any way they can – work strikes, hunger strikes, phone and commissary boycotts – until they too are shut down in solitary confinement and others step up to take their place. In Holman Prison, where the Free Alabama Movement and the idea of ending prison slavery by striking the punishment clause from the 13th Amendment was born, they’ve conducted Peace Summits, similar to California prisoners’ Agreement to End Hostilities, to strengthen solidarity and disarm prison officials bent on dividing and conquering them.
We are telling prison officials when we appeal the censorship that trying to silence the prison strike movement is futile. When you censor the news, you are supporting slavery. Is that the side you want to be on?
Here is the sample letter:
Secretary Scott Kernan
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
1515 S Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
Dear Secretary Kernan:
I am writing to you as a concerned California resident in support of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, which has appealed your decision to censor the September edition of the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper at several of the California prison facilities.
I believe that this edition of the newspaper was censored because it mentions the September 9th National Prison Work Strike organized against prison slavery and it equates the use of prison labor with slavery. Censorship of this discussion is in direct violation of our Constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of the press.
The fact that prison labor is written in the U.S. Constitution as slavery—what this article largely discusses—is something that is not news and cannot be contested. The fact that prisoners across the country went on strike starting September 9th
against this form of slavery—also what this article discusses—cannot be contested. The fact that prisoners most likely knew about this strike from news reported by more mainstream media that has been allowed into California state prisons can also not be contested. The San Francisco Bay View is not the only news source that has reported on the strike. Other media sources that reported on this strike include Democracy Now!, Truthout, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal, and CBS News. So why now? Why the SF Bay View?
I do not believe that the dissemination of news by a newspaper such as the SF Bay View is worthy of incrimination and censorship. I believe that all prisoners have the right to information in the same way those of us outside the prison walls have that right. Therefore, I urge you to distribute the September edition of the SF Bay View to all its subscribers at all of the prison facilities throughout the State of California.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Find lawyers to represent prisoner subscribers and defend their First Amendment rights
And there’s another way you can protest censorship and support the striking prisoners: Help them find lawyers to represent them in demanding the papers they’ve been denied. That’s what some prisoners in Indiana did. Gavin M. Rose, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Indiana, is vigorously researching and now writing a brief to file suit soon.
Perhaps the ACLU would take on the censorship issue nationwide if enough of us asked them. And other attorneys may be interested as well. Let’s make those calls.
Bay View Publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff can be reached at email@example.com or 415-671-0789.