Voices from the Inside: Co-Editor of The Movement on Holbrook v. Jellen (Audio)

January 16, 2014: SCI Rockview – A statement about Holbrook v. Jellen by Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall was recently recorded by  Noelle Hanrahan and posted at Prison Radio. Shakaboona is a wrongly convicted prisoner with a juvenile life sentence, who has been incarcerated for more than a quarter of a century. He is one of many imprisoned human rights activist in Pennsylvania, and is the Co-editor of The Movement, a newsletter published by the Human Rights Coalition.

The audio segment can be listened to here: Abolitionist Law Center Files Lawsuit Over Censorship (6:31) Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall

Abolitionist Law Center files suit against PA prison officials on behalf of Robert Saleem Holbrook, Human Rights Coalition, and Professor Kristi Brian

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MEDIA RELEASE: Human Rights Coalition sues prison officials for censoring political dissent and human rights advocacy

January 9, 2014: Philadelphia, PA — The Human Rights Coalition (HRC), politicized prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook, and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian brought a lawsuit yesterday against several employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC currently held at SCI Coal Township.

“Today HRC is going on the offensive to fight back against prison censorship,” editor of The Movement and HRC-Philadelphia activist Patricia Vickers stated. “It is long overdue that prison officials are held to account for their attempts to silence those who speak out against this abusive system. The rights, health, and lives of our loved ones are at stake.”

The suit, Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al., filed by the Abolitionist Law Center, details a series of confiscations of Holbrook’s mail since January 2012 that includes academic correspondence with a college professor and issues of The Movement, essays written by Angela Y. Davis and James Baldwin, a newsletter published by HRC which focuses on prison abuse, solitary confinement, and ways that prisoners’ family members can come together to challenge human rights abuses and injustice in the criminal legal system.

The content of the materials censored by SCI Coal Township and Central Office officials touch on the most vital issues of the operation of the prison system in Pennsylvania: juveniles sentenced to die in prison, deaths in solitary confinement, repression of human rights defenders inside prisons, advocacy efforts by families of prisoners, and the pervasive racism that defines the criminal legal system in Pennsylvania and the U.S. In this context, freedom of thought, speech, and association carry life or death consequences.

Plaintiff Robert Saleem Holbrook, a 39-year-old prisoner who is serving a sentence of life-without-parole for a conviction imposed when he was 16-years-old, wrote about prison censorship in an article published in October 2012, “Censorship on the Prison Plantation: Extinguishing Dissent”:

“[T]he prison mailroom supervisor at the prison I am incarcerated in (SCI Coal Township) reflexively denies all books by Black/Latino authors that provide a radical critique of prisons, as well as all publications that contain articles written by prisoners that critique prisons from an adversarial position. Every issue of the Human Rights Coalition newsletter “The Movement” has been denied by this institution, as well as informational brochures and flyers related to HRC’s advocacy on behalf of prisoners. It is not the information contained in these newsletters that the prison censor fears, because none of the material is threatening or inflammatory. What angers the censor and the prison administration is that prisoners are taking the initiative to challenge their imprisonment and conditions of confinement without apology! On the pages of these publications, prisoners are demonstrating that they possess a voice and are ensuring that their voice be heard.”

“This lawsuit challenges the ability of PA DOC officials to target political dissent and human rights defenders with arbitrary censorship,” said Bret Grote, an attorney with the Abolitionist Law Center representing the plaintiffs in the case. “The First Amendment protections at stake extend far beyond the confines of this particular case, and touch upon the daily lives of millions of people in this country who are in prison or who communicate with people in prison.”

Complaint – Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al.

Contact:           Patricia Vickers           hrc.philly.support@gmail.com                        267-331-6001

Bret Grote                   bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org                412-654-9070

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Free Speech and Historical Truth in the Case of the Lucasville 5-plus: Journalists and prisoners file lawsuit against censorship in Ohio prisons

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Journalists, a professor, and a group of prisoners brought a civil rights lawsuit against Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) officials on Monday, December 9, asserting that prison officials violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in restricting media access to prisoners convicted of crimes related to the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising in order to stifle public discussion.

“The First Amendment guarantees to all people the right of free speech; this right cannot be extinguished at prison walls,” said Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Prisoners have a right to speak.  The public has the right to know.   Suppressing the freedom of speech of prisoners has only one purpose: to keep the truth from being reported.”

The complaint states three causes of action:

1)    Prison officials are denying media requests based on the anticipated content of the interviews in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment;

2)    Prison officials do not have a rational basis for denying media interviews with prisoners convicted of crimes stemming from the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment;

3)    The restrictions on media and public access to information are unreasonable restrictions on speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment.

The media plaintiffs are Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Christopher Hedges, James Ridgeway of Solitary Watch, and Derrick Jones, a theater and film instructor at Bowling Green State University. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is representing the plaintiffs.

All five prisoner-plaintiffs were framed for homicides that occurred during the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising. The uprising lasted 11 days. Nine prisoners and one prison guard were killed during the uprising.

Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Keith Lamar (aka Bomani Shakur), Jason Robb, and George Skatzes are four of the prisoner-plaintiffs who are part of a group collectively referred to as the Lucasville 5-plus. These men were framed and sentenced to death for homicides that occurred during the 1993 Lucasville uprising, and have been held in solitary confinement for the last 20 years, fighting Ohio’s ongoing efforts to execute them. The “plus” refers to the numerous other prisoners framed up in the aftermath of the uprising who received sentences other than death.

A fifth prisoner-plaintiff, Gregory Curry, is serving a life sentence after being convicted for a homicide occurring during the riot in a trial fraught with perjured testimony, suppressed evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct.

As the state persists in its efforts to execute the Lucasville 5, the fight over historical truth continues as well, with lives hanging in the balance. Access to media in this context involves more than the protection of an abstract right, but instead implicates the most fundamental questions about the humanity of people in prison and the tyranny of the state.

The lawsuit claims “Defendants and their predecessors have for twenty years denied all face-to-face media access to prisoners convicted of crimes committed during the April 1993 uprising[.]” In addition to denying requests by Hanrahan, Ridgeway, Jones, and Hedges for interviews with prisoners convicted of crimes related to the uprising, reporters from the Columbus Dispatch, the San Francisco Bay View, and the Associated Press in Columbus have been denied access to those prisoners as well.

In contrast, prisoners convicted of crimes that are unrelated to the 1993 uprising have been permitted to speak with journalists and media workers from WTVG 13 (ABC Toledo), The New York Times, Fox 25 News in Lima, Ohio, French national TV channel France 2, the Edinburgh Evening News, BBC News, Channel 35 in Lima, Ohio, Towers Productions in Chicago, News of the World of Glasgow, Sunday Post of Glasgow, The Times of London, Cicada Films, and WJW-TV in Cleveland, Ohio.

The lawsuit is the latest effort by supporters of the Lucasville 5-plus to challenge the state of Ohio’s efforts to control the factual narrative and the political meaning of the Lucasville uprising. Staughton Lynd, a lifelong political activist, author of several books (including Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising), and attorney has stated, “the truth about these events remains untold in the courts as well as in the media.”

ALC will continue to follow this case and support efforts for the Lucasville 5-plus.