Censorship in Virginia

by Peter Kamau Mukuria

Greetings, brothers, sisters and comrades: I am a cadre of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, currently incarcerated at Red Onion Prison in the southwest corner of Virginia.

“What Is Left” – Art: Peter Kamau Mukuria, 1197165, ROSP, P.O. Box 1900, Pound VA 24279
“What Is Left” – Art: Peter Kamau Mukuria, 1197165, ROSP, P.O. Box 1900, Pound VA 24279

I’ve been a subscriber to SF Bayview for 14 months. I recently received the August 2016 issue, which came as a pleasant surprise. Prior to that, my copies of Bayview were arbitrarily disapproved with the pseudo-justification that “content could be detrimental to offenders’ rehabilitation efforts.”

This is a prison with an extensive history of abuse on fully restrained prisoners. Shouldn’t these abusive, sadistic and malicious practices be considered detrimental to offenders’ rehabilitation efforts? Prison officials also claim, with no proof whatsoever, that the publication is a threat to institutional safety.

In order to substantiate such a claim, they would need to establish a penological interest; anything short of that is arbitrary and unconstitutional (violating the First and 14th amendments). I understand that prison administrators have a responsibility to maintain security, discipline and good order in these plantations, but not at the expense of transgressing prisoners’ constitutional rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the case Turner vs. Safley (482 US 89), stated verbatim: “A regulation cannot be sustained where the logical connection between the regulation and asserted goal is so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational.” Hyperbole, hypotheses or mere rhetoric do not meet this standard.

Prison officials often instigate petty quarrels among prisoners, and yet this is not considered a threat to institutional safety.

Bayview newspaper and Revolution newsletter have been perpetually and deliberately disapproved simply based on prison officials’ own preferences as opposed to legitimate penological interests.

Additionally, ROSP (Red Onion State Prison) violates their own written policy in failing to notify me of the disapproval of Bayview. According to Operating Procedure 803.2, Sec. D, “When a publication is disapproved, offender must be notified through notification of publication disapproval within 10 working days. Upon receiving the disapproval form, offender has 7 days to appeal or choose manner in which to dispose of the disapproved material.”

But ROSP officials do not notify prisoners of the disapproved materials. In fact, I never know when Bayview is disapproved unless I inquire about it, and by the time I am notified, it is too late to appeal the arbitrary ruling.

Bayview newspaper and Revolution newsletter have been perpetually and deliberately disapproved simply based on prison officials’ own preferences as opposed to legitimate penological interests.

Filing a complaint form to address this matter (which I have done) is useless, because the complaint will then be reviewed by the very same personnel who originally censored Bayview. Prisoncrats have arbitrarily created a threat out of possessing Bayview without any penological justification. In Thornburgh vs Abbott (109 S.Ct. 1874, 490 US 401 [1989]), the Supreme Court clearly stated: “Wardens may not reject a publication solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social, sexual or unpopular or repugnant.”

Prison officials claim without evidence that certain publications constitute a “threat to security.” In the 10 years that I have been incarcerated, I’ve witnessed and heard of many violent altercations, but never have I heard or witnessed prisoners fight over a newspaper.

Prisoncrats systematically implement policies that they know are unconstitutional because they know it creates a financial onus on prisoners to file lawsuits to challenge these unconstitutional practices. This is the precise quandary that I’m faced with, as I’m currently litigating a different issue, challenging the practice of long-term solitary confinement (Peter K. Mukuria v. Harold Clarke et al., 7:15-CV-00172). It would be financially irresponsible for me to file another 1983 civil complaint before the conclusion of the above-named case. But if censorship remains an issue in VADOC, I have every intention of challenging that practice.

Prison officials claim without evidence that certain publications constitute a “threat to security.” In the 10 years that I have been incarcerated, I’ve witnessed and heard of many violent altercations, but never have I heard or witnessed prisoners fight over a newspaper.

Reading the August 2016 Bayview, I learned on page 3 that this censorship problem affects many prisoners. I humbly ask those in society to assist us in this struggle. Many prisoners whom I speak to daily would like to subscribe to Bayview or order “Defying the Tomb” by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, but they fear that they will never receive these publications.

Prisoners must realize that these unconstitutional practices affect us all and give us a fundamental commonality that is greater than our differences. Prisoners should never settle for a free ride by letting others fight for them.

We must engage in the change we seek and maintain internal pressure by constantly challenging unconstitutional policies and practices. However, the external pressure from those in society is of great value and in many instances more effective than the internal pressure that prisoners can apply.

Reading the August 2016 Bayview, I learned on page 3 that this censorship problem affects many prisoners. I humbly ask those in society to assist us in this struggle.

We are combating a 1,000-pound beast, and no single blow is enough to annihilate it. This issue requires that we all fight together; we have nothing to lose but our chains. A collective approach is an absolute necessity for the improvement of our living conditions.

No man or woman should be stripped of his or her rights without putting up some form of resistance. If we passively give up one right, chances are we will be stripped of another essential right. “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

Dare to struggle, dare to win; all power to the people.

Send our brother some love and light: Peter Kamau Mukuria, 197165, Red Onion Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound, VA 24279.

More censorship

Another prisoner at Red Onion, Moto Shakur (Shiva Bhairava), 1356652, ROSP, P.O. Box 970, Pound VA 24279, who’s in solitary confinement, says he’s missed his papers since November 2015. “The best day of my life is when I started receiving this paper. It gives me a sense of self that I never knew existed. … Until I get these papers back, I know I’m missing out on the Afrikan World.”

Rand Gould, C-187131, Alger CF, N6141 Industrial Park Dr., Munsing MI 49802, writes: “I’ve never gotten the January 2016 issue. The February issue was very well read by the mailroom staff.” Staff had removed nine pages from his April paper, using excuses similar to those described by Peter Mukuria in Virginia. He says Michigan regulations require notification to the publisher; none has been received, so the Bay View could not respond.

Political prisoner Richard Mafundi Lake, 079972, 100 Warrior Lane, B-7A, Bessemer AL 35023, revered for his organizing against racist police brutality, has protested against the withholding of several papers. On a “Notification of Rejected Mail,” citing the Bay View as “inappropriate reading material for inmates,” Mafundi writes: “There is a difference with a distinction between a slave and a prisoner. A slave was forbidden by law to read. A prisoner by law is encouraged to read. A slave had no rights. Prisoners retain some rights, including the right to read – even in Alabama! You are trying to perpetuate a bygone era – slavery! – which I deem quite insulting! Come into the 21st century and stop trying to revert back to relics of slavery. You, nor anyone, will ever be able to control my thoughts and mind. I am not a slave! I am a conscious prisoner! It is the conditions in prison that need changing. Change the mindset of prison staff!”

Moto Shakur (Shiva Bhairava) says: “The best day of my life is when I started receiving this paper. It gives me a sense of self that I never knew existed. … Until I get these papers back, I know I’m missing out on the Afrikan World.”

Pennsylvania has only recently begun to reject the Bay View. Leonard Chase, K-5573 DA-25, 10745 Route 18, Albion PA 16475, says: “I’ve been getting the Bay View here for two years,” but his July paper was denied. He’s not the only one. In this case, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections sent the Bay View a notice of “Publication Denial” for both the July and August papers – August because they misunderstood a story on Black August to mean that the traditional Ramadan-like fasting amounts to a hunger strike! An appeal of the decision as to July was sent, and an appeal regarding the August paper is pending.

Statewide censorship of two papers in a row by Pennsylvania and so many other states – this is merely a sampling – amounts to an epidemic, and other publications are feeling it too. The winds of prisoner-led change are blowing hard; on Sept. 9, prison officials, who tend to fear change, will be faced with the largest prison work strikes in history.

We invite good legal minds to get involved. Contact the Bay View or, better yet, work with prisoners where you are. You’ll all be making history!