Fighting For The Right To Write

I am in a battle that should not be: with the head of the Education Department and prison authorities over my right to type book manuscripts and other non-legal documents, such as business or personal letters, college course assignments, resumes, etc. (Technically, if something is not illegal, it would actually be “legal.” ) Imagine that — a prisoner fighting his keepers so he can do something to constructively occupy his time. By the way, this is not a national issue, since the majority of prison administrators encourage prisoners to constructively occupy their time by learning new skills, trades, getting a better education, reading, as well as writing business and personal letters to prepare for release from prison.

Writing can be instrumental in the life of a prisoner who needs to establish contacts within the community to help secure employment, housing, and to build family and community ties. Furthermore, federal officials consider an inmate’s family and community ties as a factor in determining the custody and security score of inmates. The staff use that score to determine the level of security necessary to manage the inmate; e.g., placement in low, medium, or high security facilities, each of which have different programs available for inmates to use, and different management techniques for staff to follow.

What I find insane about the situation, is that the Director of the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Charles E. Samuels, Jr., encourages his 216,000* inmates to “[p]repare for a successful return to the community.” In his December 9, 2013, MEMORANDUM TO ALL BUREAU INMATES, he wrote, “Our long standing approach that ‘Reentry Begins on the First Day of Incarceration’ is as true today as it has ever been in the past. The Bureau of Prisons provides and searches for new opportunities to help you be as productive as possible while in prison, preparing to return to your family and community as a productive, law abiding citizen.” I believe he means what he wrote. The sad part is that some of those he entrusts to carry out his mission are not on the same page, as many prison officials are stuck in the “old mentality” and would revert to the days of putting prisoners in sweat boxes and beating them, if the laws had not changed to deter them from doing it.

According to the Bureau of Prisons Program Statement P.5350.27, Inmate Manuscripts, dated 07/27/99, which was written to “[e]ncourage inmates to use their leisure time for creative writing …..” In other words, the Program Statement authorizes me to “[p]repare a manuscript for private use or for publication while in custody without staff approval.”

My use of the program statement to support my opposition against the new policy was unsuccessful, never mind the fact that that is one of many program statements that changed because a judge determined that the former program statement contained unconstitutional provisions that violated an inmate’s First Amendment right to the United States Constitution (freedom of speech). Their response was that it does not specify that I can type one, only that I can, so I pointed out that it is an industry standard and known that all manuscripts submitted for publication have to be typed, not handwritten. Personally, I believe the recent change implemented here by the Supervisor of Education and the Associate Warden of Industries, Education, and Recreation, has some root in my speaking out against the system in some of my published works: “Education, the Prisoner, and Recidivism” by Wayne T. Dowdy (www.PrisonEducation.com); UNDER PRESSURE-MOTIVATIONAL VERSION by Mr. D. (Midnight Express Books, $9.99 @ Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com (https://www.createspace.com/4325313)).  Whatever the case may be, I will continue the fight for the right to write, because it is not just about me.  Other prisoners deserve the same privilege and may not have the skills or courage needed to fight Goliath with pens and paper or keys on a keyboard. I do.

Retaliation against those of us who speak out is common, even if not as common as it once was, it still occurs. Doing the right thing often has risks and consequences. Frankly, I cannot allow the fear of possible retaliation to stop me from doing what I feel I should do. Since I am a writer with a vested interest in the situation, what kind of man would I be to not use the skills I have that are needed to possibly resolve the issue? Anyway, I am 30,000-words into the sequel (UNKNOWN INNOCENCE) and have people waiting for its completion, so, I would like to deliver on my promise of putting it in their hands in the near future. I also enjoy occupying my free time writing and helping others learn to write novels, essays, and short stories.

I plan to be victorious in the battle of the fight for the right to write and will not give up until I have exhausted all available options, including bringing a civil action law suit against them, better known as a Bivens Action, when federal officials are being sued in their personal capacities. I do hope to report later that the matter was resolved without a long drawn out legal battle. Wish me luck. Thanks!

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*Based on B.O.P. population report as of January 2014.  The B.O.P. inmate population has declined, which just recently occurred, so some of the political moves initiated by Attorney General Eric Holder may now be working; e.g., instructing his underlings to be less zealous in the methods and techniques used in the prosecution of non-violent drug offenders. (The total inmate population was at 218,849 on November 21, 2013. The total population includes all of those held in private facilities, jails, halfway houses, etc.) The inmate population decline may be due to the prison growth rate slowing, rather than more prisoners being released through changes in programs like Compassionate Release and Reduction In Sentences, which was revised on August 12, 2013, to include additional categories for elderly inmates eligible for a compassionate release or a reduction in sentence. Another category added for eligible inmates are those who have young children, whose caretaker may now be in poor health, and the inmate is the only other person left to care for the child.

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