Allow us our Afro-Boricua religious freedoms, or it’s African religious genocide

The-Hands-of-Fellowship-and-the-Spirit-of-Love-Yinka-Adeyemi-1400x1023, Allow us our Afro-Boricua religious freedoms, or it’s African religious genocide, Behind Enemy Lines
Yinka Adeyemi’s art piece “The Hands of fellowship and the Spirit of Love evoke this description of Yoruba art by Moyo Okediji, Assistant professor of art, Wesley College: “To look at Yoruba art is to dance, sing and chant poetry with one’s eyes. The mind is treated with the fullest orchestrations of intense feelings” – an experience imprisoned practitioners of the Yoruba Ifa Santería religion should not be denied. – Art: Yinka Adeyemi

by Bienvenido Rodriguez Jr. aka Biembe Gladiola

My name is Bienvenido Rodriguez, Jr., also known to my Black, Brown and Indigenous comrades as Biembe Gladiola. I am a 45-year-old Jailhouse Political Prisoner and Jailhouse Lawyer. I am a member of the Puerto Rican Jailhouse Political Party commonly known as “Association Pro-rights for the Convicts/Asociación Pro-derecho Para el Confinado,” mainly referred to as “Asociación Ñeta.”

Us prisoners advocate and litigate for the rights of prisoners as a group, i.e., in the legal definition sense of a class action. I am also a member of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Baricua Liberation Prison Chapter/ Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaria de Liberación Boricua. Our military forces are similar in ideologies as the people of Cuba. We believe in Fidel Castro’s Six Pillar problem: The agriculture problem, the industrialization problem, the housing problem, the unemployment problem, the education problem and the healthcare problem. I can go into deep detail, but my main aim is to address a Pennsylvania state-wide systematic problem with the Yoruba Ifa Santería religion within the Pennsylvania state correctional institutions, including SCT Dallas.

For those who are incarcerated, Yoruba Santería religion is a federally recognized religion and was granted First Amendment protections in 1993. See Church of the Lukumí Babalu-Ayé v. City of Hialeh, 508 U.S. 520, 113 S. Ct. 2217, 124 L.Ed. 2d 472. Prison chaplains will try to deceive you and tell you it’s not a religion.

Yoruba Ifa Santería religion involves many practices which originated in the 19th century when hundreds of thousands of members of the Yoruba people in Nigeria were brought as slaves from Western Africa to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Santería adherents faced widespread persecution in Cuba, so the religion and its rituals were practiced in a stringent cloak of secrecy. The open practice and its rites still remain infrequent, even in the modern-day American slave prison/plantation.

The Santería religion was brought to this nation most often by exiles from the Cuban revolution. Yoruba Ifa Santería is commonly practiced in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Saint Thomas, South America, the United States as well as Brazil, but that particular sect is called Yoruba Ifa Candomble; [the] Haiti sect is called Yoruba Ifa Voodun, [the] Jamaica sect called Yoruba Ifa Obia, and so on. See “Yoruba Concepts, Rituals, Ceremonies and Sacrifices,” by J.C. Awolalu; “Santería the Religion,” by Migene Gonzalez Wippler; “The Afro-Cuban World of Santería,” by Raul Canizares, and “Santería African Spirits in America,” by Joseph M. Murphy.

In 2016, I filed a federal civil complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction against four Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) prison officials for violating my First Amendment U.S. Constitutional right to Yoruba Ifa Santería religious freedoms and for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 u.s.c § 2000-cc by imposing a substantial burden on my right to practice and exercise Yoruba Ifa Santería religion.

This practice is called “psychological religious genocide.” I am calling out all who sincerely practice Yoruba Ifa/Santería/Lukumí/Candomble/Obia/Voodun/Macumba/Abakua/Palo, who are incarcerated throughout the nation to legally arm ourselves against this religious repression before it is too late – because many of our young ones have no knowledge of their African historical roots.

The initial action began due to the PADOC officials’ destruction of my Yoruba Ifa Santería Orisha Eleke beaded necklaces. One necklace was the necklace of Orisha Elegba/Elegua whose color beads consist of black and red beads. These racist prison officials’ argument was that the black and red Orisha Eleke beaded necklaces were Blood gang related beads. The other necklace was the necklace of the Orisha Oshun, whose color beads consist of all yellow, and sometimes yellow and gold beads. The prison officials argued that the yellow Orisha Eleke beaded necklace was “Latin King” gang related, and that both of these necklaces are used as gang identifiers that can spark gang riots and violence throughout the Pennsylvania state prisons. This is absurd –  with a mix of fake, exaggerated fear. So, these racist defendants decided my Orisha Eleke beaded necklaces were contraband, and threw them in the trash can.

I filed suit and I claimed violations of repeated denials of Yoruba Ifa Santería Religious Accommodation requests. The following religious accommodations requests were made, which were denied by the defendants:

1) To be allowed to purchase, and possess and to wear, at all times, Yoruba Ifa Santería beaded necklaces of the same color combination that the defendants destroyed

2) To be allowed to purchase Yoruba Ifa Santería Moyuba prayer caps

3)  To be allowed to purchase Yoruba Orisha African images and to construct a shrine containing Orisha African images for worship and devotional purposes

4) To be allowed to make offerings of fruit, mint candies, cup of water, cup of coffee and cigar smoke to the African Orishas

5) To be allowed to have group worship and group studies on Mondays

6) To be allowed to have religious group cigar smoke puffing and blowing ceremonies on Mondays

7) To be allowed to have religious group feast for the Holy Three Wise Kings Feast day every January 6

8) To be allowed to purchase Yoruba Ifa Santería religious books

All of the above religious accommodation requests were denied. But when the civil complaint and the preliminary injunction was filed, we had a settlement agreement, and we agreed on all the terms including a $10,000 monetary settlement in April 2017. However, $3,500 went towards attorney fees and $6,500 was erroneously deducted from my Inmate Account and sent to the criminal court to pay towards an illegal Pennsylvania statute, referred to as Act 84 that allows only 25% deduction to pay towards court costs and fines, as a result of a crime committed. But the defendants did not deduct 25%, they deducted the whole amount of $6,500 that went towards the Bureau of Collections of Lehigh County under Act 84. This is the way our racist institutions work. 

I am aware of how the system operates. If we use the laws in our own interest and against theirs, then the power structure will change the laws. Pennsylvania has many white racist legislators within the legislature who put laws in place aimed at keeping Black and Hispanic prisoners stripped of our religious identities, specifically African traditional religious roots, while racist correctional officers throughout the state of Pennsylvania continue to intensify repression of the teachings, history and religious exercise and practices of our African Yoruba Ifa Santería religion.

This practice is called “psychological religious genocide.” I am calling out all who sincerely practice Yoruba Ifa/Santería/Lukumí/Candomble/Obia/Voodun/Macumba/Abakua/Palo, who are incarcerated throughout the nation to legally arm ourselves against this religious repression before it is too late – because many of our young ones have no knowledge of their African historical roots.

The United States government, its political subdivisions, Pennsylvania state/commonwealth and the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections must be charged with violations of International Human Rights treaties by its ratification of such treaties under the Mandela Rules, and put on the international spotlight.

I am Puerto Rican, but I also come from the Original Man, the African Black man. We are a people who have suffered so much for so long, at the hands of a racist society, that a line must be drawn somewhere. I understand that prisoners have more important things to litigate, such as criminal appeals and serious human rights violations, but our ancestors’ legacies are more important as our own human existence comes from the original Black Man – the Black God Olódumaré. Ashe!

As the PADOC defendants violated every single term of the settlement agreement, I proceeded to access the federal courts by requesting relief under Rule 60 (b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures claiming violations of the terms of the contract of the settlement agreement and the continued violation of exercise of religious freedoms. Relief was denied by a biased, white racist federal magistrate judge who was clearly advocating on behalf of the PADOC defendants, where Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly determined that the PADOC had fully complied with the entire terms of the settlement agreement.

Of course, no one admits prejudice, but Judge Kelly betrayed hers in countless ways throughout the hearing, including having the stenographer manipulate my testimony on Notes of Testimony. My relief was denied. See Bienvenido Rodriguez, Jr. vs. Rev. Ulli Klemm, et. al., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7388 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 16, 2020). I consequently appealed Judge Kelly’s decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and it was also denied by concurring with Judge Kelly’s biased decision. Somehow these federal judges are always white and direct descendants of slave masters who naturally persecuted Africans for worshipping their African Orishas/Gods.

Judges McKee, Schwartz and Phipps are a panel of three white racist judges who sit sleeping on the bench within the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. (Bienvenido Rodriguez Jr. vs. Rev. Ulli Klemm, et. al., 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 33412, 2020 WL 6256880 (3D Cir. Pa. Oct. 23, 2020). 

Exhibit-A-DC-804-Official-Inmate-Grievance, Allow us our Afro-Boricua religious freedoms, or it’s African religious genocide, Behind Enemy Lines
Imagine yourself in Biembe Gladiola’s shoes …

I will always push my pen and paper until my fingers fall off. I filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court and this was also denied by Justices Roberts Thomas, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett. There was no opinion in this citation. It simply says: “Petition for writ of Certiorari filed by Bienvenido Rodriguez, Jr. is denied.” These Justices do not explain any reasons what-so-ever for their denial. This goes to show the public how corrupt these judges are; that they are too numb to even feel shame.

So here I am, still being violated for my First Amendment U.S. constitutional right to religious freedom. These judges are making oppressive decisions against me and allowing the PADOC officials to continuously violate my freedom to exercise Yoruba Ifa Santería religion and allowing the PADOC officials to violate every single term of the settlement agreement. The only term that has been complied with was the purchase of consecrated Yoruba Ifa Santería Orisha Eleke beaded necklaces. 

I will also be petitioning the United Nations International Tribunal on Human Rights in the form of a group petition/complaint by invoking the United Nations standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, commonly referred to as the Mandela Rules. Because the United States government, its political subdivisions, Pennsylvania state/commonwealth and the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections must be charged with violations of International Human Rights treaties by its ratification of such treaties under the Mandela Rules, and put on the international spotlight.

Thank you for publishing this article in your newspaper. I would like to send my revolutionary salute to Brothers Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Major Tillery, Russell Maroon Shoats, Jalil Muntaqim, Leonard Peltier, Sekou Odinga, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, Carlos Torres Iriartíz, Assata Shakur and all those who I have not mentioned.

I love the Bay View. Thank you for supporting and helping us prisoners by exposing the abuses and human rights violations that our government imposes on us by way of their corporate correctional slave industries.

Ashe Olódúmaré

Asociación Pro-derecho Para El Confinado, N – D – Corazón 150

Nuestra Organización Sigue Viva

Sincerely, Bienvenido Rodriguez, Jr. (Biembe Gladiola)

Send our brother some love and light: Bienvenido Rodriguez, Jr., LQ-7479, P.O.Box 33028, St. Petersburg, FL 33733.