Prisons Censor Bay View Newspaper

New Folsom Prison, 100 Prison Road, Represa, Calif.

The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, a communications network for the Black community worldwide, has hundreds of subscribers in prison. Because of an article about the prison strike, the paper has been rejected from New Folsom prison in California – and subsequently from the entire state of Pennsylvania.

The Bay View is still developing its response, and their editor’s letters include calls for support. Until more direct actions are decided upon, consider supporting the paper by donating or subscribing.

Here are two letters on the situation as it unfolded by editor Mary Ratcliff:

Sunday, September 18

I’d like to nip this in the bud. I’ve been churning out appeals to state after state and prison after prison that rejected the last several Bay Views (different issues for different reasons, though prison strikes seem to scare them the most) and even winning a few, but this is California, and we can’t let them get away with this here at home.

Though this rejection applies to only one prison, New Folsom, it’s the one that’s wired to the capitol — and the guards’ union, CCPOA, is still one of the most powerful lobbies there, not to mention the insatiable budget appetite of CDCr. So New Folsom is a bellwether; other California prisons will follow suit if New Folsom succeeds.

New Folsom Prison

Their objection is to a story headlined “Sept. 9: Strike against prison slavery …” You can read it here or the way it appears in the print edition here. The major media are calling this Sept. 9 strike the largest prison strike in history. Getting reports from inside is hard and slow, and the strike hasn’t been covered as it should, but there’s coverage by some mainstream press and by the major alternative outlets. CDCr is telling reporters that no California prisoner participated, but some prisoners say otherwise.

Officials at New Folsom who imagine they can stop word of this revolutionary movement at the California border are delusional. One of the men in a multi-state collaboration (and most of you seeing this know the towering obstacles to prisoner-with-prisoner collaboration) who hatched the idea for a nationwide protest against prison slavery about three years ago is from California; others in the core group are from Alabama, Texas and Ohio.

The recognition that the 13th Amendment permits actual slavery for prisoners is being feverishly discussed in cell blocks across the country, and a demand is growing to strike the “punishment clause” from it. Here’s that clause: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The great minds locked up in California will certainly have a lot to say about this, whether or not they participated in any kind of strike this month.

In Alabama, where three prisoners at Holman Prison, founders of the Free Alabama Movement, are the main organizers of the nationwide strike, they reported yesterday that the guards are coming to them and asking them to use their organizing magic to quell rebellion by those who haven’t yet shaken their “criminal mentality” and have been attacking and even killing guards lately. So many guards have quit that those who remain are afraid to enter the dorms, and prisoners are doing count themselves.

But back to California, please put your great mind to ways we can resist these attacks on the Bay View. In August, you’ll recall, the FBI released a bulletin blaming the Bay View for what they predicted would be a Black August blood bath for police and prison guards — a bulletin leaked to and reported by KGO-ABC7. I remain convinced that California guards instigated the bulletin’s targeting of the Bay View. But regardless, the FBI prediction was wrong.

The prediction in New Folsom’s letter that the September Bay View would “disrupt the order, or breach the security” of New Folsom or any other prison is just as wrong. The prison’s decision to censor needs to be appealed, and I’d love help with that. Would it also be effective, do you think, to ask people to call the warden? Any other suggestions?

One suggestion I’ve been making in appeals to censorship in other parts of the country is for prison officials to sit down with reps chosen by the prisoners and discuss their complaints and demands — and actually address them. I tell them that California’s doing that, and the prison admins and guards haven’t suffered — in fact, their budget is up once again. We could urge New Folsom to set up meetings like that.

Thanks to each and every one of you for caring that the Bay View survives and reaches its subscribers behind the walls, where, according to CDCr, it persuaded 30,000 California prisoners to participate in the 2013 hunger strike. Many of you know that we’re currently hanging by a threadbare shoelace financially; if it breaks, CDCr can claim the victory. But if we’re able to keep printing the paper, I’ll be damned if CDCr gets away with censoring it.

Mary Ratcliff
SF Bay View


Monday, September 19

Now the September Bay View is banned in the whole state of Pennsylvania, where we have hundreds of subscribers. The excuse, as at New Folsom Prison in California, is the Sept. 9 prison strike stories.

Strangely, Pennsylvania also banned our August paper for a bizarre reason: They

Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections, John E. Wetzel

misinterpreted Black August to be a call for a hunger strike. Black August is commemorated partly by fasting during the daytime and breaking the fast in the evening, much like Ramadan. I appealed that but haven’t heard back yet. So I don’t know whether Mumia and hundreds of his comrades in PA ever got their August papers.

Thanks to those of you who have responded to the message I sent out yesterday (below). I’m told the PHSS (Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity) coalition will be discussing it tonight, and Terry Collins will cover the issue on his show tomorrow on KPOO (10pm-midnight).

Please keep in mind that this retaliation against the Bay View is nothing compared to the nationwide retaliation against the strikers and especially anyone fingered as a leader — people in many cases whose words you’ve read in the Bay View, the best and brightest. Remember the retaliation against Georgia prisoners when thousands refused to work for only one day in December 2010: Two of them were beaten with hammers by guards (yes, there’s video on, another thrown off a tier and dozens disappeared (incommunicado with loved ones) for a month.

While we work to abolish prisons, let’s bring the light of the First Amendment into those dark dungeons. Prisoners must be allowed to COMMUNICATE, a most fundamental human right, and a necessity if we’re going to know what kind of torture we’re paying for.

Since we don’t yet know exactly who is being punished for the strike, taking a united stand against censorship of the Bay View will warn prison officials everywhere not to mess with the prisoners who are only demanding their basic human rights — respect for their humanity.

More suggestions of WHAT WE CAN DO would be greatly appreciated. I know you care, but these prison officials have to know it too.

Mary Ratcliff
SF Bay View

“Censorship in Solitary Confinement is Psychological Torture” by Michael D. Russell



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