by Mary Ratcliff
The notorious Lt. Jeremy Frisk of Pelican Bay’s Institutional Gang Investigations called me this morning (Feb. 19), a long overdue call the mail room supervisor, Cindy Williams, had said he would make over a week ago. We’d received two letters from PB Correctional Administrator for Business Services C.E. Ducart rejecting recent issues of the Bay View newspaper – both with, as Frisk volunteered, “typographical errors.”
One letter rejects our December paper to one prisoner and the other rejects our January paper to 25 prisoners; both letters specify Page 7 as the page that publishes “(p)lans to disrupt the order, or breach the security, of any facility,” citing CCR 15, Sec. 3006 (c)(5). Page 7 in both papers has only some ads and transcripts of radio interviews with Black cultural figures that could not plausibly have offended prison regulations.
Several of the prisoner subscribers listed sent me their disapproval letters, which specified Page 16 of the January paper as the offender. It contains the conclusions of two letters, “Reflections on our accomplishments so far – No more suffering in silence” by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry) and “Continued ignoring of Five Core Demands could prompt resumption of peaceful protest” by the PBSP SHU main reps, Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa and Antonio Guillen. Lt. Frisk acknowledged that the disapproval notices are correct, not the two letters to the Bay View.
I asked Lt. Frisk whether the January papers would be accepted if I remailed them with Page 16 removed, as several prisoner subscribers had requested. He said yes, so long as nothing else in the paper violates regulations, in his opinion. I replied that, since they had examined the paper, it’s fair to assume that no other pages were offensive or they’d have been cited.
Then he dropped a little bombshell: Those pen pal requests you publish, he said, violate the regulations because they are used by gang members to notify other gang members of their addresses and are used by gang members to communicate with each other. I explained to Lt. Frisk that we’d been printing pen pal requests for 21 years, and no prison had ever objected. I asked him for his opinion in writing so I could send it to Corrections Secretary Beard for his review and told Frisk we would continue to publish pen pal requests.
Lt. Frisk denied when I raised the issue that he was violating the Bay View’s right to freedom of the press. But that’s not surprising when IGI respects none of the prisoners’ constitutional rights.
Then he dropped a little bombshell: Those pen pal requests you publish, he said, violate the regulations because they are used by gang members to notify other gang members of their addresses and are used by gang members to communicate with each other.
He didn’t need to say what drives Pelican Bay State Prison to make the rare move of rejecting Bay View papers in writing, though they’ve sometimes been rejected without notice. The administration there must be scrambling to devise how they can prevent either fulfilling the prisoners’ Five Core Demands or the alternative, the hunger strike-work stoppage peaceful protest to begin July 8, 2013, if the demands are not met. And the Bay View is one of the very few publications that enables the prisoner organizers to spread the word.
Strangely, though we receive letters daily from prisoners around California and the country who sound as if they’ll be joining Pelican Bay’s peaceful protest, no other prison rejected recent issues of our paper, except for a prison in Wisconsin, where our papers are routinely rejected. Considering that at their peak, 12,000 California prisoners participated simultaneously in the 2011 hunger strikes called by the Pelican Bay main reps, according to the federal receiver’s office, the July 8 peaceful protest will not be limited to Pelican Bay. Cynics could assume that other wardens wouldn’t mind losing their prisoners to starvation.
I wish I could attend the upcoming hearing in Sacramento to raise the issue of whether the legislators and Gov. Brown agree that denying prisoners the ability to make public their Five Core Demands and their peaceful protest remedy for ignoring or refusing them violates their constitutional right to free speech and those who publish the prisoners’ letters our right to freedom of the press. Any other suggestions on how we can support prisoners’ access to the press would be greatly appreciated.
This is an email sent to prisoner advocates; several recommended publishing it. A shortened version was read by Rick Kelley during the public comment period at the Feb. 25 hearing on SHUs by the California Assembly Public Safety Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco. SF Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 4917 Third St., San Francisco CA 94124.