It Has Already Begun

By Uhuru Baraka Rowe
February 4, 2019
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

I knew it wouldn’t be long before Tracy S. Ray began implementing the same oppressive practices and procedures that he implemented as warden at Sussex 2 State Prison (S2SP). Thus, my reason for writing the post titled, “Tracy Ray Tapped to be the New Warden at Greensville Correctional Center,” was to serve as a warning to the loved ones of those of us confined here at Greensville Correctional Center (GCC). And it is a warning that should be heeded. Why? Because right after Ray began implementing similar policies and procedures as warden at S2SP, the number of incarcerated people dying from drug overdoes and suicides, and the level of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, increased exponentially. And that is because Ray rather than utilizing his power and authority to create more educational and rehabilitation programs — or allowing greater access to already existing ones — that’ll aid in our positive transformation and development while in prison, and our successful reintegration back into our communities once released, he choses to utilize it in a brutal and oppressive fashion which more often than not contributes to a retrogression into criminal attitudes and behaviors. Below are a couple of the oppressive policies and procedures Lead Warden Ray and his henchmen have already implemented since January which functions to hinder our positive transformation and development and undermines our desire to reintegrate back into society as whole human beings.

As I stated in the post mentioned above, it came to light that as warden of S2SP, Ray instructed S2SP correctional officers, civilian staff, and medical personnel to treat incarcerated people with harshness, disdain, and a callous disregard for our needs. There’s ample evidence that Lead Warden Ray has instructed officers here at GCC to treat us in the same manner.

Evidence #1. Almost immediately after Ray assumed Lead Wardenship here at GCC, there was a sudden uptick in the number of infractions, otherwise known as Disciplinary Offense Reports (DOR), being lodged against us for alleged violations of prison rules. For the week of February 3-9, approximately 51 DOR were written in Housing Unit 8, alone. A total of 596 DOR were written facility-wide between January 1st and February 2nd. At this rate, 7,000 DOR are expected to be written in 2019 while just over 5,000 DOR were written in 2018. Most of the DOR written so far have been major, 100 series DOR, e.g. allegedly stealing an extra tray to eat during chow time. Other less serious DOR have been lodged against us for not standing during count procedures or being asleep under our blankets during the daytime. Most, if not all of these DOR are bogus as they were written only to appease Lead Warden Ray who, according to ranking and rank and file guards, felt that “not enough DOR were being written against prisoners.” A conviction on these bogus DOR have very serious and far-reaching implications. A conviction for any of these DOR can result in the increase of security level points which can result in a transfer to a high security prison like S2SP; the termination of a work or school assignment; the loss of phone, kiosk, commissary, and recreational privileges; a fine of up to $15; cell restriction for up to 30 days; disciplinary segregation for up to 30 days; and most seriously, the loss of GCA/ESC good time credits of up to 180 days which can extend our time in prison for over a year or more away from our family and friends.

Evidence #2. Lieutenant Colonel R. Maurice — who assumed the position as Chief of Security here at GCC around the same time Ray became Lead Warden — issued a Memorandum dated January 30, 2019, advising us that a change in the recreation schedule will go into effect on February 4, 2019. The memo contains a rolling recreation schedule where outside recreation has been reduced to once a day, five day a week, for only two clusters at a time. When I first arrived at GCC in October of last year, outside recreation was allowed twice a day (or three times a day during summer months), for seven days a week. Gradually, the allowance of outside recreation declined to once a day, three to four days a week, around the same time that former Lead Warden Eddie Pearson retired last December and Ray assumed that same position in January. We can deduce from the timing of the reduction in outside recreation that it was implemented at the behest of Lead Warden Ray. This reduction in outside recreation has resulted in us spending more idle time indoors, in crowded pods, where tensions and animosities tend to flare (which often results in prisoner-on-prisoner violence) and where mental health issues are exacerbated due to the lack of fresh air and exercise.

The arbitrary use of DOR as a tool of repression and control and the reduction in outdoor recreation, among other things, is a recipe for disaster. If you want to know how bad it can get here at GCC under a Ray wardenship, just examine my posts about S2SP during the years of 2016-2018. Deaths from drug overdoes, medical neglect, suicides, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were common. Several employees either quit or were terminated due to a toxic work environment created by Ray, which resulted in a critical staff shortage. We spent a greater portion of the day locked inside the cell and educational/rehabilitation programs and outdoor recreation were routinely cancelled due to the critical staff shortage. Razor-wire topped fences were constructed inside the prison to further segregate and isolate us from each other and to create the sensation that we were confined in a concentration camp. Simply put, S2SP was a torture chamber designed by Ray in order to break our spirits and kill our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. And the creation of such an environment here at GCC by Lead Warden Ray and his henchman has already begun.

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24 Years A Prisoner:  My Struggle For Freedom Continues

By Uhuru B. Rowe
REVISED February 9, 2018
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for everyone who took the time to write letters and make phone calls to the Governor on my behalf urging him to grant me

clemency. Your love and support brought an increased level of optimism and energy to my freedom struggle. Unfortunately, we were not successful. That’s because in a January 8, 2018 letter from Traci J. DeShazor, the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I was advised that my “petition for executive clemency has concluded and the petition has been denied.” In an instant, any expectation I had of returning home to my loved-ones last year was dashed to pieces, at least until January 2020. Clemency petitions can be refiled two years after the date of the letter denying the petition. So I have until January 8, 2020, to reorganize my freedom struggle. So, what can we do differently this time around?

One of the issues I think worked against me the last time was the fact that, after the clemency petition was filed in 2014, I received three serious disciplinary infractions which ultimately resulted in me being transferred to Sussex 2 State Prison (S2SP) — a level 4 maximum security prison. Two of these infractions (participating in/encouraging others to participate in a group demonstration, and possession of contraband, which was later upgraded to Stealing) were lodged against me out of retaliation for my continuing to write about and organize against the inhumane living conditions we are made to endure. I addressed the Stealing infraction in a post on my blog titled, “Retaliation In The VA Prison System.” The calculated use of disciplinary infractions is often a retaliatory tool of reactionary prison officials against incarcerated activists because they know the Virginia Parole Board — which has the dual task of determining if parole-eligible inmates are a suitable candidates for parole, and investigating clemency requests — views the incurrence of disciplinary infractions as an indication of an incarcerated person inability to follow the rules of society. Based on a record of disciplinary infractions alone, the Parole Board will usually deny parole or recommend that a request for clemency be denied. I suspect the reason why my clemency request was denied was because of these three infractions. As of the date of this post, I have been infraction-free for almost three years. If all goes well, I’ll be almost four years infraction-free when my next clemency request is due to be filed in January 2020. But in order to continue on this trajectory, I need to figure out how to continue agitating for better prison conditions while at the same time avoiding any retaliatory disciplinary infractions. Remaining infraction-free will satisfy a suggestion made by DeShazor in her denial letter, that I “continue to build a strong record as good citizen.” As a politically-active prisoner, accomplishing such a feat will be difficult but not entirely impossible. I merely have to change tactics and only choose winnable battles.

Another issue that worked against us is the fact that all of the support letters that were written on my behalf were sent directly to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Office after the clemency petition was already filed on June 26, 2014. Unbeknownst to me and my attorney at the time, government policy dictates that all supporting letters must be included with the clemency petition at the time of filing. So there’s a good chance that none of the support letters sent directly to the Governor’s office on my behalf were considered. Not acquiring these support letters beforehand so they could be included with the petition at the time of filing was a tactical error made by both me and my attorney. So this time around, my attorney and I are organizing a letter writing campaign early so that all support letters will be received ahead of the January 2020 deadline. So starting today, I humbly ask all of you — those of you who support me and my cause, and sympathize with my plight — to please write a support letter, addressed to the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, urging him to commute my 93 year prison sentence. I suggest that you begin your letters this way: “Dear Governor Ralph Northam: I am writing you on behalf of Uhuru B. Rowe, #1131545, who has been incarcerated in the Virginia Department of Corrections for 25 consecutive years. I am urging you to commute (reduce) Rowe’s 93 year prison sentence because his sentence far exceeds Virginia’s discretionary sentencing guidelines by a whopping eighty (80) years. I feel that such a sentence represents an egregious abuse of power and discretion by the sentencing judge in his case…” After this, you can write whatever your heart moves you to write. However, I add that it’s important that you also mention if you are a friend or family member, how you came to know me, and stress how much my release from prison will positively impact your life and the community as a whole. Be sure to include your contact info (i.e. phone number and/or e-mail address) in your completed letter just in case the Governor or his staff wish to contact you. All letters must be sent to my attorney, Beth Norton’s e-mail at: bnorton@hancockdaniel.com, with “Clemency support letter for Uhuru Rowe” written in the subject line. If you have already written a letter but sent it to my Yahoo email address, I humbly ask you to re-send it to my attorney’s e-mail address above. If you need any additional insight into the circumstances of my case, my accomplishments in prison, or guidance on how to draft your letter, please send an inquiry to my attorney, Beth Norton.

The Preventable Death of Shawn Pulley at Sussex 2 State Prison

By Uhuru B. Rowe
February 7, 2019
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

On February 7, 2019, I spoke to Leslie McClary, who is disabled. She expressed to me how distraught and fustrated she fells since S2SP officials informed her on December 23, 2018, that her son, 23-year-old Shawn Pulley, had committed suicide while locked down in solitary confinement. When I spoke to her on the phone a week prior to this day, she told me she’s unable to grieve in peace and find closure because S2SP and Virginia Department of Corrections officials refuse to give her any answers about the circumstances that led to her son’s untimely death. Hearing the pain and frustration in her voice, I felt compelled to write this post to raise awareness about her son’s death and to expose the bureaucracy that loved ones have to navigate, and the lies, deceit, and coverups they have to endure, when trying to get answers about how their incarcerated loved one can end up dead inside of a prison cell.

Corporate media rarely investigate and report on the deaths of incarcerated people because they often view us — as does larger society — as a bunch of caged animals who deserve any abuse, mistreatment, and neglect meted out to us by sadistic prison officials, even if that abuse, mistreatment, and neglect results in our deaths. My attempt here is to humanize Shawn so you can sympathize with him and his mother, Leslie, and be inspired to assist her in getting the answers and closure she needs in order to heal and move on.

Leslie told me that out of five children, Shawn was the most humorous. When he was a child, “he always joked,” she said, and that “he loved his siblings more than anything and was very outgoing and sociable with all the kids in his neighborhood.” That’s really saying something, because Leslie raised Shawn and his siblings in the notorious Whitcomb Court housing projects in Eastend section of Richmond, Virginia, which isn’t necessarily a safe or easy place to be sociable and make friends, especially for a young white kid like Shawn. But Shawn was able to cope with that turbulent environment by being creative. “He was inventive and used to always make things with his hands,” Leslie recounted.

What inevitably put Shawn on the path to prison was that he was “too trusting,” according to Leslie, and that “because of that, people took advantage of him.” Shawn had gotten involved with the wrong crowded who pressured him into using a credit card that he didn’t know was stolen. He was arrested and convicted of credit card fraud, convicted, sentenced, and eventually sent to S2SP, the worst prison in the state, where his mental health started to deteriorate. “His mental health issues started before he was arrested. He even tried to commit suicide once in 2016. But he became severely depressed after he was arrested and when he was sent to S2SP, it got even worse,” Leslie recounted further. I told Leslie that based on what I know about S2SP and how it’s operated, there’s a high degree of probability that Shawn wasn’t getting the necessary mental health treatment he needed even though he had a documented history severe depression and a suicide attempt.

What befell Shawn after his arrival at S2SP, unfortunately, pushed him to the brink. “He got into an altercation with another inmate there and he ended up getting stabbed several times. He was placed in solitary confinement ostensibly for his own protection but hardly received any medical attention for his wounds for the first three days in solitary,” Leslie continued. She became aware of this neglect during a conversation with Shawn on December 22nd at 8:24pm. He related to her how the medical staff were refusing to give him adequate medical treatment and that his wounds were starting to get infected. Despite his imprisonment for a crime he did not commit, his mental health issues, his injuries, his placement in solitary, and the deliberate indifference of medical staff towards his serious medical needs, Leslie noted that during that 20 minute phone call, Shawn was in an unusually upbeat mood and was enthusiastically looking forward to calling her again on Christmas day. Unfortunately, that December 25th phone call from Shawn would never come.

Shortly after receiving word that Shawn had allegedly committed suicide, she started receiving phone calls from other prisoners who were in solitary with him: “They told me the guards drug his body out of the cell, layed him on the naked floor, and handcuffed his hands behind his back. And the guards were even laughing as they drug his body out of the pod in a distorted manner,” she recalled. After repeated phone calls to prison officials at S2SP, Leslie says they have refused to give her any insight as to how Shawn could have committed suicide. They refuse to return or answer most of her calls and they even refuse to release Shawn’s personal possessions to her, e.g. pictures, letters, legal documents, and a possible “suicidal note,” according to Leslie. These possessions have sentimental value which will enable Leslie to remember her son and prison officials refuse to give them to her. “What do they have to hide?” “Is there a cover-up?” “Did prison officials do something to my son?” These are all legitimate questions and concerns that Leslie is trying to grapple with in addition to trying to grieve.

I know that many of you are probably wondering why I am writing about Shawn’s suicide and Leslie’s plight, even though I am no longer housed at S2SP. It is Frantz Fanon who said, “I cannot disassociate myself from the future that is proposed for my brother.” I share that sentiment. Shawn very well could have been me or your incarcerated son or daughter. Leslie could have been my mother who received that dreaded phone call from a prison official telling her that I committed suicide inside of a prison cell. It very easily could have been you undergoing the painstaking task of calling prison officials in an effort to obtain answers about the circumstances surrounding your son or daughter’s untimely death in solitary confinement. It could have been my mother or your mother who received phone calls from other inmates who recounted how our lifeless body was desecrated by being dragged out the cell, thrown to the floor, our arms handcuffed behind our back, and then dragged out of the pod by the arms by guards who were openly laughing and joking about the matter. You’re still don’t feel an ounce of sympathy for Shawn and his mother, do you?

Consider this stark reality. By our estimate, Shawn’s suicide was death number 17 at S2SP since November of 2016. We are sure there have been others after Shawn’s. Are you not appalled by all of these deaths? What if it were 17 dogs that died inside of a cage at a kennel, would you be appalled then? Would you have more sympathy for dogs? There is no doubt that if it were 17 dogs that died inside of a cage within a span of two years rather than 17 prisoners, it would be breaking news on your local television station, there would be public outrage, the kennel would be shut down, and the responsible parties would be thrown in jail. However, because we are of the incarcerated class, we are deemed non-citizens, non-humans, with no human rights, and undeserving of sympathy from the public and humane treatment from our keepers. As a result, nobody care when we are abused! Nobody cares when we are assaulted! Nobody cares when we are neglected! Nobody cares when we are tortured! Nobody cares when we are raped! And nobody cares when we die! Prison officials do not care. Medical staff do not care. Counselors do not care. Media do not care. And the average citizen of this Commonwealth seemingly do not care. And this lack of sympathy and concern is reflected in the fact that even though a small group of us were risking our lives and our freedom by blowing the whistle about the crisis of deaths occurring at S2SP for the entire two years I was in bondage there, there have been no media coverage, no marches, no town halls, no press conferences, and no demonstrations to raise awareness about the nearly 20 preventable deaths at S2SP since the end of 2016, and no demands for accountability for those prison officials whose recklessness and brutality contributes to these deaths.

Perhaps this post will be a turning point. T. H. Huxley said, “My experience of the world is that things left to themselves don’t get right.” These prison officials will not suddenly have a change of heart and start caring about our well-being. Therefore, these deaths will not stop. Whether it’s in a local jail, an immigration detention center, a juvenile correctional facility center, or a state prison, everyday we die. I could be dead tomorrow. Something has to be done.

Leslie shared with me how she wants to connect with other families who’ve had a loved one die in prison with a view towards creating an advocacy organization to agitate for greater transparency and forthrightness when people die behind the walls, and greater accountability when those deaths are due, in part, to the abuse and neglect of prison officials. If you want to assist Leslie with such a worthy endeavor, or if you simply want to aid this single disabled mother in getting closure by getting the answers she needs about the death of her son, please call or text her at 804-309-5551. If you still have trepidation about getting involved, perhaps the following admonition from Martin Luther King, Jr. will motivate you:

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells them it is rights.”

All Power to All the People!

The Unlikely Revolutionary

By Uhuru B. Rowe
January 21, 2019
Email: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

September 7, 1995 is the day I was transferred from the Richmond City Jail to the Virginia Dept. of Corrections. Prior to “doing time,” my perception of prison was shaped by movies I’d seen on television. So naturally, as a teenager, I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew that I had to survive, and in during so, I employed the same survival tactic that so many others employ in order to survive the harsh and predatory reality of life in the penitentiary. I adopted the persona of a callous individual so I wouldn’t be viewed as easy prey. But, unbeknownst to me, most brothers behind the walls employed the same tactic. And, just two years after my imprisonment, I found myself locked down in solitary for participating in a group fight involving prisoners from different geographical locations.

About seven months prior, I was approached by an older brother name Fred who was into studying books about the Black struggle. He asked me about a variety of topics about history, culture, and politics in order to gage my level of awareness. Outside of Martin Luther King Jr., I didn’t know much about Black history and I knew next to nothing about my culture or politics. The next day, Fred handed me a book called “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson” and insisted that I read it. Up until that point, I hadn’t ever read an entire book, except maybe the Bible. So Soledad Brother set on top of a shelf in my cell collecting dust until Fred quizzed me a week later about what George was talking about. He became quite upset when I told him I hadn’t even started reading it. He began to expound on the importance of reading, telling me that Black people’s aversion to reading goes all the way back to the days of slavery when we were forbidden from learning how to read or write. And that the reason why it was outlawed by slave owners was because they knew that if enslaved Afrikans liberated their minds, it wouldn’t be long before they sought to liberate their bodies from the shackles of slavery. I reflected on Fred’s words my first day in solitary and later that night I reached for Soledad Brother and what I learned about George’s transformation in prison would fundamentally change the trajectory of my life behind these walls.

George’s experience with the criminal injustice system and his transformation in prison are in a lot of ways similar to my own. Like me, George was arrested at just 18-years-old (in 1960) and charged for allegedly participating in a gas station robbery that netted him only $70. Like me, he was railroaded by his lawyer and the judge into confessing and pleading guilty to his charges under the false promise that he’d receive a lenient sentence. Instead, he, like me, was sentenced to a life time in prison.

Like me, once transferred into the California prison system, George hooked up with some revolutionary brothers. In Soledad Brother, he said “I met black guerrillas, George “Big Jake” Lewis, and James Carr, W. L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Tony Gibson and many, many others.” It was W. L. Nolan, one of the founders of the “Black Movement” in the notoriously racist California prison system who encouraged George to read. As a result, George’s worldview began to change. “I met [Karl] Marx, [Vladimir Ilyich] Lenin, [Leon] Trotsky, [Friedrich] Engels, and Mao [Tse-Tung] when I entered prison and they redeemed me. Four the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas,” he recounted. And, thus began George’s evolution: “We attempted to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality,” wrote George. In my case, I met Fred who, in 1996, encouraged me to read and think critically. And later in 1997, while locked down in solitary confinement, I met George through his writings, connected with him on a human level, and was deeply moved by his evolution from a petty street criminal to a socially conscious, revolutionary brother who took up the struggle for the liberation of all oppressed people.

I don’t think being a revolutionary was anywhere on me or George’s list of priorities when we first entered prison. But our revolutionary transformation was forged in a furnace of extreme isolation with nothing but our thoughts, our pain, and literature. In Soledad Brother, George reflected on such a reality: “I would be sitting in a special locked isolation cell, sometimes even with the lock welded shut, and there would be no one to talk to — just the sound of screaming voices. And because there is no human contact, you depend on books. No contact with people … the only friend I had was a book…” He later said that solitary either “brings out the best in brothers or destroys them entirely.”

Even in the face of such isolation, harsh repression and retaliation, and repeated attempts on his life by racist prison guards due to his leadership role in the burgeoning Black Movement and the Black Panther Party Prison Chapter he founded in 1970, his concern was for the People and not for himself. “I don’t want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, polution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, and a thousand different brands of untruth and licentious, usurious economics,” he wrote.

George may not have left behind such a world when he was assassinated by San Quentin prison guards on August 21, 1971 during an alleged escape attempt amidst a prison rebellion, but he left behind an example to be followed and an unflinching spirit of resistance and love for the people that lives on in brothers like me and which inspired us to pick up the torch and fight to create the type of world George lived and struggled and died for.

Long Live George Lester Jackson!
All Power to the People!

The 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session Has Begun: We Need Criminal Justice and Prison Reform Now!

By Uhuru B. Rowe
January 11, 2019
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

“Politics impacts everything … We have to put ourselves at the table. If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” — Jovanka Beckles

Revolutionary greetings and a belated Happy New Year to all you. January 9, 2019 marked the first day of the Virginia General Assembly Session. This is an odd-numbered year so this Session will only last for 30 days (during even-numbered years, Sessions last 60 days), though sometimes it is usually extended to 46 days. Below is a list of some of the Bills which have been introduced in the Session this year. They cover Criminal Justice Reform and even Prison Reform as it relates to the overuse of solitary confinement. The list includes the Bill’s filing number, a brief description of the Bill, and the link to the Legislative Informative System (LIS) where the Bill and the status of the Bill can be viewed and tracked online.

1) HB1642 and SB1140 — Solitary Confinement. Data collection and reporting. Will require the Virginia Department of Corrections to submit a report to the Governor and legislators about how many prisoners are currently held in solitary confinement and how long they’ve been held in solitary. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1642; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=SB1140

2) HJ644 — Will direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study the reinstatement of discretionary parole which was abolished in Virginia back in 1995 during the tough on crime (lock’em up and throw away the key) era which swelled prison populations nationwide to historic numbers. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sum+HJ644

3) HB1689 and SB1437 — Will create parole eligibility for those convicted and sentenced between 1995-2000 by juries that had not been properly instructed that parole had been abolished. Such an instruction is now required by Fishback v. Commonwealth, but the Fishback ruling did not have retroactive application. The passage of these two Bills will correct this injustice. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1689; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=1437

4) HB1745 and SB1053 — Parole for Juvenile Lifers; Will create parole eligibility for those sentenced to life/de facto life without parole sentences when they were juveniles. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sum+HB1745; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sum+SB1053

5) HB1861 — Will create a mechanism for the expungement of police and court records for misdemeanor and nonviolent felony convictions. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1861

6) HB1651 — Will increase the Grand Larceny threshold from $500 to $750. Virginia has one of the lowest grand larceny thresholds in the country which does not take into account inflation. This has resulted in people being unjustly charged and convicted of felony for stealing goods which does not have the same monetary value as it did 20 years ago. This must change!

7) HB1665 and HB1782 — Will create a court-established community service program for community service work in lieu of payment of fines and costs which burdens formerly incarcerated and poor people. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1665; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1782

8) HB1799 — Will eliminate the accrual of interests on any fine or costs imposed in a criminal case or in a case involving a traffic infraction. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1799

A lot of radical activists don’t take part in the political process (i.e. elections and agitating for the passage of Bills) because they vies it as reformist. But we need to heed the above words of sister Jovanka Beckles. I agree that this system is so corrupt and decadent that our efforts should focused on dismanting it and rebuilding it from the bottom up by the People, especially those of us most adversely impacted by it. This too is my struggle. But reformist efforts should not be excluded entirely because such an approach is not entirely bad. Would we have a better chance of building socialism in this country if Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders was the president or fascist Donald Trump? Not only does this rhetorical question shows how vital it is for us to get out and vote for progressive candidates like newly-elected Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it shows how our participation in reformist stuggles like criminal justice and prison reform, if successful, can build momentum and strategic confidence in our ability to achieve our ultimate objective, which is the abolition of all prisons. Because, at the end of the day, any form or method of struggle (reformist or not) that leads to the reduction of the number of human beings living, rotting, and dying in prison cells, it should be vigorously supported.

Therefore, I am calling on all of you in Virginia to PLEASE call your legislator and voice your support for the above Bills. You can find out who your legislators are at https://www.virginia.gov/services/whos-my-legislator. Another way you can support these Bills is by showing up at the “Day for All People” lobby day at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, VA on January 22, 2019. This lobby day was organized by the Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised (RIHD) and The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP). To learn more about this lobby day, please text Ms. Lillie Branch-Kennedy, founder of RIHD, at 804-426-4426.

Power to All the People!

A Day for All the People

By Uhuru B. Rowe
January 14, 2019
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” — Frederick Douglas

Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised (RIHD) and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) will host the “Day for All People” Lobby Day on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, Virginia. According to an e-mail sent to me by Mrs. Lillie Branch-Kennedy (aka Mrs. K), founder of RIHD, this will be a day for you to meet with your district legislators and discuss a range of issues, including Bills introduced during the current 2019 General Assembly Session which addresses criminal justice reform and prison reform. I have listed most of those Bills below with links you can click on to view the actual Bills and their current status in the General Assembly. If you have a friend or loved-one in prison or who has died in prison, are a convicted felon or formerly incarcerated, or oppose mass incarceration and the abuse and neglect of people behind the prison walls, we need you to show up, speak up, make your voices heard and your concerns known, and speak truth to power. To register and learn more about this Day for All People Lobby Day, please contact Mrs. Lillie Branch-Kennedy by text at 804-426-4426 or by email at rihd23075@gmail.com.

Bills:

1) HB1642 and SB1140 — Solitary Confinement. Data collection and reporting. Will require the Virginia Department of Corrections to submit a report to the Governor and legislators about how many prisoners are currently held in solitary confinement and how long they’ve been held in solitary. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1642; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=SB1140

2) HJ644 — Will direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study the reinstatement of discretionary parole which was abolished in Virginia back in 1995 during the tough on crime (lock’em up and throw away the key) era which swelled prison populations nationwide to historic numbers. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sum+HJ644

3) HB1689 and SB1437 — Will create parole eligibility for those convicted and sentenced between 1995-2000 by juries that had not been properly instructed that parole had been abolished. Such an instruction is now required by Fishback v. Commonwealth, but the Fishback ruling did not have retroactive application. The passage of these two Bills will correct this injustice. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1689; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=1437

4) HB1745 and SB1053 — Parole for Juvenile Lifers; Will create parole eligibility for those sentenced to life/de facto life without parole sentences when they were juveniles. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sum+HB1745; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sum+SB1053

5) HB1861 — Will create a mechanism for the expungement of police and court records for misdemeanor and nonviolent felony convictions. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1861

6) HB1651 — Will increase the Grand Larceny threshold from $500 to $750. Virginia has one of the lowest grand larceny thresholds in the country which does not take into account inflation. This has resulted in people being unjustly charged and convicted of felony for stealing goods which does not have the same monetary value as it did 20 years ago. This must change!

7) HB1665 and HB1782 — Will create a court-established community service program for community service work in lieu of payment of fines and costs which burdens formerly incarcerated and poor people. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1665; http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1782

8) HB1799 — Will eliminate the accrual of interests on any fine or costs imposed in a criminal case or in a case involving a traffic infraction. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=HB1799

23 Years A Prisoner: My  Struggle For Freedom Continues 

By Uhuru B. Rowe
REVISED December 29, 2018
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

Happy New Year to all of you!

First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for everyone who took the time to write letters and make phone calls to the Governor on my behalf urging him to grant me clemency. Your love and support brought an increased level of optimism and energy to my freedom struggle. Unfortunately, we were not successful.

That’s because in a January 8, 2018 letter from Traci J. DeShazor, the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I was advised that my “petition for executive clemency has concluded and the petition has been denied.” In an instant, any expectation I had of returning home to my loved-ones last year was dashed to pieces, at least until January 2020. Clemency petitions can be refiled two years after the date of the letter denying the petition. So I have until January 8, 2020, to reorganize my freedom struggle. So, what can we do differently this time around?

One of the issues I think worked against me the last time was the fact that, after the clemency petition was filed in 2014, I received three serious disciplinary infractions which ultimately resulted in me being transferred to Sussex 2 State Prison (S2SP) — a level 4 maximum security prison. Two of these infractions (participating in/encouraging others to participate in a group demonstration, and possession of contraband, which was later upgraded to Stealing) were lodged against me out of retaliation for my continuing to write about and organize against the inhumane living conditions we are made to endure. I addressed the Stealing infraction in a post on my blog titled, “Retaliation In The VA Prison System.”

The calculated use of disciplinary infractions is often a retaliatory tool of reactionary prison officials against incarcerated activists because they know the Virginia Parole Board — which has the dual task of determining if parole-eligible inmates are a suitable candidates for parole, and investigating clemency requests — views an incarcerated person’s poor disciplinary record as being indicative of his/her inability to follow the rules of society. Based on a record of disciplinary infractions alone, the Parole Board will usually deny parole or recommend that a request for clemency be denied. I suspect the reason why my clemency request was denied was because of these three infractions.

As of the date of this post, I have been infraction-free for almost three years. If all goes well, I’ll be almost four years infraction-free when my next clemency request is due to be filed in January 2020. But in order to continue on this trajectory, I need to figure out how I can continue agitating for better prison conditions while at the same time avoiding any retaliatory disciplinary infractions. Remaining infraction-free will satisfy a suggestion made by DeShazor in her denial letter, that I “continue to build a strong record as good citizen.” As a politically-active prisoner, accomplishing such a feat will be difficult but not entirely impossible. I merely have to change tactics and only choose winnable battles.

Another issue that worked against us is the fact that all of the support letters that were written on my behalf were sent directly to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Office after the clemency petition was already filed on June 26, 2014. Unbeknownst to me and my attorney at the time, government policy dictates that all support letters must be included with the clemency petition at the time of filing. So there’s a good chance that none of the support letters that were sent directly to the Governor’s office on my behalf were considered. Not acquiring these support letters beforehand so they could be included with the petition at the time of filing was a tactical error made by both me and my attorney. So this time around, I am organizing a letter writing campaign early so that all support letters will be received way ahead of the January 2020 deadline.

So starting today, I humbly ask all of you — those of you who support me and my cause, and sympathize with my plight — to please write a support letter, addressed to the new Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, urging him to commute my 93 year prison sentence. I suggest that you begin your letters this way:

“Dear Governor Ralph Northam: I am writing you on behalf of Uhuru B. Rowe, #1131545, who has been incarcerated in the Virginia Department of Corrections for 25 consecutive years. I am urging you to commute (reduce) Rowe’s 93 year prison sentence because his sentence exceeds Virginia’s discretionary sentencing guidelines by a whopping eighty (80) years. I feel that such a sentence represents an egregious abuse of power and discretion by the sentencing judge in his case………”

After this, you can write whatever your heart inclines you to write. However, I add that it’s important that you also mention if you are a friend or family member, how you came to know me, and stress how much my release from prison will positively impact your life and the community as a whole.

Be sure to include your contact info (i.e. phone number and/or e-mail address) in your completed letter (just in case the Governor or his staff wish to contact you) and send it to my e-mail at:
uhururowe76@yahoo.com. And please write “Clemency Support Letter” in the subject line.

If you need any additional insight into the circumstances of my case, my accomplishments in prison, or further guidance on how to draft your letter, please search for a post on my blog titled, “21 YEARS A PRISONER” or go to http://sfbayview.com/2015/09/my-struggle-for-freedom-in-the-midst-of-virginia-s-truth-in-sentencing-and-abolition-of-parole-law/.

I thank you in advance for your continued love and support.

Tracy Ray Tapped to be the New Warden of Greensville Correctional Center

By Uhuru B. Rowe
January 1, 2019
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

Tracy Ray is scheduled to take over as Lead Warden of Greensville Correctional Center sometime this month.

For those of us who has served time in high security prisons in Virginia, the name Tracy Ray evokes feelings of both despair, disdain, and fear. His name evokes the same feelings even among prison employees who have worked under him. That’s because at every prison Tracy Ray has presided over as Warden, he has implemented the most oppressive policies, practices, and procedures which inevitably resulted in the most deplorable and toxic working and living conditions for incarcerated people and prison staff alike.

When I arrived at Sussex 2 State Prison (S2SP) in September of 2016, Tracy Ray, as Warden, was running the prison like a modern-day concentration camp. There was so much tension between inmates and staff, and even among inmates themselves, that we could feel it the moment we stepped off the prison bus. Quite a few disgruntled guards who were opposed to Tracy Ray would tell us that he had instructed all S2SP employees, including the nurses and counselors, to treat all inmates with scorn for no other reason than to dehumanize us, aggravate our suffering, and break our spirits to the maximum extent possible. As you may have read from precious posts on my blog concerning the conditions at S2SP, Tracy Ray’s method of governance had deadly consequences.

During the two years I was housed at S2SP (2016-2018) during Tracy Ray’s reign, there were in excess of 14 (this is a conservative number) deaths of incarcerated citizens due to suicides, medical negelect, drug overdoses, and inmate-on-inmate violence which in some cases was instigated or allowed to happen like in the case of John Tran. (Read post titled “How Sussex 2 State Prison Officials Murdered John Tran”) Adding to this madness was the curtailment of outside recreation and an increase in the amount of time we spent locked down with another human being inside of a cell that’s designed for one person.

Our living conditions at S2SP got so bad that a group of us prisoners were forced to unite and challenge those conditions. We drafted a petition highlighting all the deplorable conditions we were made to endure and circulated it among our peers. It garnered over one hundred signatures which was unprecedented but not entirely surprising. Brothers were dropping dead like flies and the violence precipitated by the mistreatment from staff, the lack of outside recreation and the unavailability of meaningful programmatic activities was fast becoming the norm. And because of the corruption in the grievance department which routinely ignored and trashed our grievances, we were left with no other choice than to engage in a prohibited method of struggle in an effort to improve our living conditions in order to improve our chances of staying alive.

Tracy Ray was tipped off about the petition and retaliation was swift, but it backfired on Tracy Ray. Because the suspected ring leader of the petition, who bore the brunt of the retaliation, had the support of respected members of the community, the entire incident blew up in the media and then blew up in Tray Ray’s face. (See post titled “Life at Sussex 2 State Prison-Revisited”) Numerous concerned citizens, our loved-ones, and the media started making phone calls and asking hard questions — questions that Tracy Ray refused to answer amid public scrutiny. Amid mounting pressure from the public, Tracy Ray was relieved of his duties as Warden of S2SP around May of 2018 and reassigned to an undisclosed position within the Virginia Department of Corrections. And now that the proverbial smoke has cleared and media and community members have stopped asking questions, the Departement has decided to appoint Tracy Ray as Warden of Greensville Correctional Center (GRCC). This should be a cause for alarm! Not only for those of confined here but for our loved-ones as well.

As I have written in previous posts, the conditions here at GRCC aren’t that much different than S2SP even though this is a lower security facility. (See posts titled “They Are Trying to Kill Us” and “Transferred from Sussex 2 State Prison to Greensville Correctional Center”) Just in the last two months, there have been two deaths in Housing Unit 7 in cluster S3. A short time later, the entire Housing Unit 7 was placed on mandatory quarantine after a preventable outbreak of the shingles (chickenpox) virus. As of the date of this post, Housing Unit 7 has been locked down for over three weeks. The conditions here at GRCC will most certainly advance from bad to worse under a Tracy Ray wardenship. The number of deaths here will increase exponentially because of his method and style of governance which is rooted in his white supremacist mindset. Guards and administrative staff will start quitting, leading to critical understaffing levels which, in turn, leads to the cancellation of programs and more time spent locked down in our cells. Whatever rehabilitation we have here will take a backseat to Tracy Ray’s unquenchable desire treat us in a cruel and unusual fashion, including our loved ones when they come to visit us. So I am calling you, the People, especially the loved ones of people incarcerated at GRCC, to take an immediate and aggressive stand against the appointment of Tracy Ray as warden of this facility.

Here’s what you can do: Call Governor Ralph Northam at 804-786-2211, Secretary of Public Safety Brian P. Moran at 804-786-5351, and VDOC Director Harold Clarke at 804-674-300, and firmly express your opposition to the appointment of Tracy Ray as Lead Warden of Greensville Correctional Center because of his poor record as Warden of Sussex 2 State Prison which contributed to numerous preventable deaths of incarcerated people under his care. Thank you

GREENSVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

Part 1 HRC

By Uhuru B. Rowe, Founder
December 25, 2018
Email: uhururowe76@yahoo.com

Mission Statement

History has shown that the individual, disunited voices of incarcerated people will always fall on the deaf ears of prison officials which ensures that our misery and suffering behind the walls will continue unabated. So WE, the Undersigned incarcerated citizens here at Greensville Correctional Center (GRCC), have come together out of necessity to form this Human Rights Committee (HRC) as a mechanism to unite prisoners from different racial groups, religious affiliations, organizational ties, and geographical locations so that WE can speak with ONE VOICE in communicating and articulating our demands to Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) officials and State legislators for humane living conditions, greater access to rehabilitation, an end to slave labor, etc.

The communities and neighborhoods that WE come from also have a stake in the remediation of our demands as we’ll be equipped with the tools that’ll enable us to have a positive and transformative impact on our families, communities, and most importantly, society as a whole which is the highest form of restorative justice and social restitution. So WE ask our family and friends, as well as outside abolitionists, student and community activists, and all those who oppose mass incarceration to assist us in pressuring VDOC officials and State legislators in granting the following demands which some of you are already familiar with from previous posts on https://consciousprisoner.wordpress.com.

1) ABOLISH THE ARBITRARY USE OF GROUP PUNISHMENT OR LEGALIZE GROUP PETITIONS. It is standard practice at all prisons in Virginia (Va) to punish incarcerated citizens as a group because of the misbehavior of one or more people. For example, a small group of prisoners were found to be controlling who accessed the phones in certain pods. So GRCC officials decided to limit all incarcerated people in Housing Units 2, 3, and 8 to just five phone calls a day. This type of group punishment is unfair given that WE are prohited from organizing/circulating group petitions to redress our grievances and have been punished and retaliated against whenever WE have have done so. If we are punished as a group, then WE should have the right to redress our grievances as a group. Therefore, WE demand that either group punishment is abolished or WE be allowed to organize/circulate group petitions to redress the conditions of our confinement.

2) PROVIDE HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS MEALS. According to GRCC Offender Orientation Manual (OOM), page 27, “Offenders assigned to [GRCC] are served meals that are nutritiously adequate …”. This is a blantant lie as the food served to us at GRCC is abysmal. At almost every lunch and dinner meal, WE are served a type of processed meat (known to us and staff as “meatrock”) which is served in rice or noodles or as sloppy Joe. It is common knowledge that a regular diet high in prcessed meats like “meatrock” increases the likelihood that a person will develop cancer and other ill health effects. Additionally, WE are routinely served food portions that are half the portions WE are supposed to receive which is causing us to lose weight and experience lethargy, depression, malnourishment, and fatigue. Because such a poor diet high in processed meats and low in calories and nutrients, and which increases our chances of developing cancer and other ill heath effects, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, WE demand that WE be served meals that are truly healthy and nutritious and are indispensable to the proper functioning of a healthy human being.

3) PROVIDE SAFE AND CLEAN DRINKING WATER. Incarcerated citizens in Va are forced to drink water that is brown, foul tasting and foul smelling as a result of it being contaminated with dirt, rust, high levels of manganese, chlorine, and possibly other unknown contaminants like lead. Each time WE have complained about this water, WE are told it is safe to drink. However, because prison employees are advised not to drink this water and because of the negative side effects we’ve often experienced after consuming it (e.g. nausea, cramps, headaches, diarrhea) this is proof that the water is unsafe and is putting our health and lives at risk. Denying any human being — including those of us in jails, prisons, and detention centers — access to safe and clean drinking water constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So WE demand that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Va Dept. of Environmental Quality routinely test the water and water filtration systems at all Va prisons to determine if WE are being provided water that is truly free of toxins and other pollutants. Additionally, WE demand that WE be provided two bottles of purified water daily, free of charge, until the above mentioned agencies have tested the water and have determined it is safe to drink.

4) ABOLISH THE CAPITATED FINANCING SCHEME WHICH INCENTIVIZES SUBSTANDARD MEDICAL CARE. Medical services at nearly all Va prisons are contracted out to a private, for-profit corporation known as Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. (Armor). This contract is based on the “capitated financing” scheme which was exposed in the case of Scott v. Clarke, 2014 WL 6609087 (W.D. Va. 2014). Under this scheme, Armor receives a fixed amount of money, per prisoner, from the VDOC regardless of the level or quality of medical care it provides to us incarcerated citizens. Armor knows that the less treatment it provides, the greater its profits. As expected, this capitated financing scheme incentivizes substandard medical care and has resulted in delayed responses to our sick call requests; delays in the diagnosis and treatment of our illnesses; failure to refer us, or the delay in referring us, to outside specialists; failure to carry out a specialist’s prescribed course or method of treatment; and an almost complete denial of dental care due to the absence of a permanent dentist at most prisons. As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011), “Prisoners are dependent on the State for food, clothing, and necessary medical care. A person’s failure to provide sustenance for inmates may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death.” In order to bring an end to our physical torture and lingering death as a result of the substandard medical care provided by Armor, WE demand that the capitated financing clause be stricken from Armor’s contract with the VDOC so that WE can receive full medical and dental care. If Armor refuses to agree to such a restructuring of its contract, then WE demand that Armor’s contract with the VDOC be immediately terminated and the State resume providing us with the medic care that WE need.

5) ABOLISH MEDICAL CO-PAY FEES. Anyone who has ever served time or are familiar with prisons knows that many of the illnesses incarcerated people develop and suffer from are the direct result of poor living conditions like unhealthy food and dirty/contaminated drinking water. Because the living conditions in prison often cause or exacerbates poor physical health, incarcerated people should have access to free health care. Therefore, WE demand that Va Code section 53.1-32, which authorizes the VDOC to levy medical co-pay fees against incarcerated people in exchange for prison health care services, be repealed to allow FREE and FULL health care.

6) PROVIDE EQUAL ACCESS TO ACADEMIC/VOCATIONAL/TREATMENT PROGRAMS AND WORK ASSIGNMENTS REGARDLESS OF THE SENTENCE BEING SERVED. According to GRCC OOM, page 3, “There will be equal access to programs and work assignments …”. This is also a blatant lie as incarcerated people serving a life sentence or due facto (numerical) life sentences (Lifers) are routinely passed over for enrollment in CTE (Career and Technical Education) and treatment programs in favor of those with shorter sentences. The end result is that Lifers have been on some waiting list for CTE and treatment programs for years. This has created an environment where many of us are left with little to no mental stimulation or constructive activity and too much time spent in idleness where our mental faculties have begun to deteriorate. In order to remedy this problem, WE demand that all incarcerated people, regardless of their length of sentence or release date, have full and equal access to all available CTE and treatment programs.

7) REPEAL THE DRACONIAN MAIL AND VISITATION POLICIES. Under the new draconian mail policy which went into effect in 2017, all incoming letters from our loved-ones, including pictures and greeting cards, are photocopied. (You can see the mail policy at https://vadoc.virginia.gov/offenders/prison-life/mail.shtm.) The original letters, pictures, and greeting cards are (allegedly) shredded in the institutional mailroom. Additionally, this mail policy places a three page (front and back) limit on all incoming letters from our loved-ones, which includes a copy of the envelope itself. Under the visitation policy which went into effect the same year, the following are now required: A) WE are now required to wear a state-issued jumpsuit that zips up in the back during visitation. These jumpsuits resemble those worn by patients in an old insane asylum. B) At some prisons, our loved ones are required to exit the visiting area and return all the way back to the front entrance in order to use the restroom. If they wish to return to the visiting area, they must submit to another dehumanizing search. Making our visitors return to the front entrance to use the restroom takes away from the already limited time WE have to spend with our loved-ones. C) Our visitors are now required to pass through a radiation emitting full body scanner which puts them (especially young children) at risk of developing cancer and which reveals the most intimate parts of their bodies. The VDOC’s crackdown on our mail and visitation — under the guise of trying to control the flow of drugs into the prisons — are meant to discourage, if not outright sever, the already delicate social ties existing between incarcerated people and our family and friends. Because these social ties play an integral role in helping us to maintain a positive attitude while in prison and helping us to successfully reintegrate back into society once released, WE demand that the mail and visitation policies implemented in in 2017 be rescinded.

8) INCREASE WAGES FOR ALL INCARCERATED WORKERS. Incarcerated workers employed by the various Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE) sweatshops are paid an hourly wage of up to .80 cents. Non-VCE incarcerated workers are paid an hourly wage of either .27cents, .35 cents, or .45 cents for unskilled, semiskilled, and skilled work, respectively. These are all state-sanctioned slave wages as incarcerated workers are not considered employees of the state per Va Code section 40.1-28.9(B)(7). This law was created specifically to disqualify incarcerated workers from receiving, at the very least, the prevailing minimum wage of the State. Because the current wage of incarcerated workers is tantamount to a slave wage, and because a minimum wage will allow incarcerated workers to support our families (many of whom are poor and low-income) and make restitution to the victims (or the families of the victims) of our crimes which is the highest form of restorative justice and social restitution, WE demand that Va Code section 40.1-28.9(B)(7) be amended classifying incarcerated workers as “employees” of the state so that we’ll qualify for the prevailing minimum wage per the Virginia Minimum Wage Act (VA Code section 40.1-28.10) and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. section 206).

9) CREATE AN INDEPENDENT GRIEVANCE COORDINATOR/OMBUDSMAN TO PROCESS AND INVESTIGATE ALL PRISONER GRIEVANCES. The grievance procedure as it is presently constructed is inherently biased against incarcerated citizens who utilize it to lodge complaints and grievances to redress staff misconduct and inhuman prison conditions. This is so because in all cases the Grievance Coordinator/Institutional Ombudsman has a cozy working relationship with the same prison employees he/she is tasked with investigating for acts of abuse, neglect, and human rights violations. This obvious conflict of interest has often resulted in our Informal Complaints and Regular Grievances being thrown into the trash and our Regular Grievances being rejected for bogus reasons in order to 1) maintain a strict code of silence and secrecy among VDOC employees; 2) coverup the abuse, neglect, and human/constitutional rights violations perpetrated by prison employees in order to shield them from accountability; and 3) hinder us from filing/pursuing state and federal civil suits against VDOC employees because in order to pursue such a suit, the Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that WE first exhaust all available administrative grievance remedies to their highest level.
WE cannot exhaust these remedies if our complaints/grievances are thrown into the trash or if our grievances are rejected for bogus reasons. Because of the high level of corruption inherent in the current grievance system, WE demand that an Independent (non-VDOC employed) Grievance Coordinator/ Ombudsman be established for every prison. Such an Independent (non-VDOC employed) Grievance Coordinator/ Ombudsman shall be tasked with the duty of receiving and investigating any allegation of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and human/constitutional rights violations alleged to have been perpetrated by any prison official/employee and shall report any findings of fact and conclusion of any investigation directly to the Governor of Virginia.

10) ALLOW CONJUGAL VISITS. The VDOC currently has a ban on conjugal visits. Such a ban contradicts its motto of “Public Safety First” because countless studies have shown that incarcerated people who are able to maintain healthy family relationships — including marital bonds — are least likely to re-offend. So if public safety is truly first on the VDOC list of priorities, then marital bonds between incarcerated people and our spouses would be strengthened and nurtured, not discouraged. Instead, incarcerated people are allowed to marry but are not allowed to consummate that marriage and people who were already married prior to incarceration are not allowed to engage in healthy sexual relations with our spouses (even in a safe and secure environment). This not only punishes incarcerated husbands and wives but also our law-abiding spouses.
The ban on the consummation of marriages and healthy marital sexual relations puts an extra strain on marriages already made fragile by mass incarceration and often leads to the divorces leaving many incarcerated people without a valuable support system upon our release. This runs counter to public safety. Therefore, WE demand that newly married incarcerated people be allowed to consummate that marriage and that conjugal visits be allowed on a quarterly basis at all security level 3 and below prisons in Virginia.

11) ALLOW THE NEWS MEDIA TO ACCESS ANY STATE PRISON AND CORRECTIONAL FACILITY. Incarcerated people are isolated and hidden away outside of the public eye within a vast network of prisons where there is little to no transparency. This makes incarcerated people vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and other criminal and inhumane acts perpetrated by prison officials. Therefore, WE demand that print, internet, and television media be allowed unlimited, unrestricted access into any state prison and correctional facility and be allowed to use any audio, video, or other recording equipment when surveying the inside of any prison and correctional facility and interview any incarcerated person. The implementation of this policy will allow for greater transparency and allow the media to expose to the public what has always been hidden behind a wall of lies, corruption, secrecy, and cover-ups by VDOC officials.

13) ALLOW MORE OUTSIDE RECREATION. We are allowed outside recreation at GRCC, on average once or twice a week, leaving us with little to no time for exercise in order to stay healthy and physically fit. This runs counter to VDOC motto of “Public Safety First” because the lack of fresh air, exercise, and leisurely physical activities promotes (not prevent) poor physical and mental health, e.g. muscle atrophy, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other adverse effects. So, in the interest of public safety, WE demand more time for outside recreation and exercise so that, upon returning to our families and communities, we’ll be in the best physical and mental health as possible.

Tens of thousands of incarcerated people are released back into communities across Va every year. If VDOC and State government officials are serious about public safety, it will implement these policy changes. And if you, the People, are truly interested in incarcerated people returning back to our (your) communities whole human beings who are fully rehabilitated and physically and mentally healthy, then WE ask that you assist us by pressuring VDOC and State officials to grant our demands. You can do this by calling Governor Ralph Northam at 804-786-2211, Secretary of Public Safety Brian P. Moran at 804-786-5351, VDOC Director Harold Clarke at 804-674-300, and your the delegate and senator of your district and expressing your support for the above demands for commonsense prison policy changes. You can find out the names and contact info of the delegate and senator in your district at

https://www.virginia.gov/services/whos-my-legislator/

Challenging Censorship:  The People Verses the Virginia Department of Corrections

By Uhuru B. Rowe
November 30, 2018
E-mail: uhururowe76@yahoo.com
Facebook: https//:www.facebook.com/supportuhuru

Below is a link to an article that was published in the Daily Progress concerning a lawsuit filed by my attorney, Jeffrey E. Fogel, challenging the unconstitutional and retaliatory cencorship of my writings by prison authorities at Sussex II State Prison; the same kind of censorship that then 17-year-old valedictorian Lulabel Seitz experienced back in June during her graduation ceremony at Petaluma High School in Petaluma, California. When Lulabel made it known to school administrators that she had been sexually assaulted on campus, they failed to take action and even tried to cover it up. Fearing exposure of the matter to the public, she was warned by school administrators not to mention it during her graduation speech.

There are two possible options one can take after being abused: Either suffer in silence, perhaps out of fear of retaliation or further abuse from their abuser, or courageously stand up and speak out about their abuse and expose the individual or individuals responsible for their victimization like the women (and men) in the #MeToo movement. But there’s always a price to be paid when one chooses to defy authority and challenge the status quo by standing up and speaking out, and for Lulabel, that price came in the form of censorship. And so, as she began to speak about her sexual assault on campus and the school’s failure to fully and fairly investigate her claim, her microphone was turned off in an attempt to silence her.

Lulabel’s ordeal parallels, in no small way, what I experienced at Sussex 2 State Prison. During my last year there in 2016, prison administrators from the Warden all the way down to Institutional Investigators colluded to symbolically turn my microphone off by censoring my writings. This was done so that the abuse and neglect of the prisoners there, and those responsible for that abuse and neglect, would not be publicized to the masses. And there’s another parallel between Lulabel’s ordeal and my own: When her microphone turned off, people in the audience yelled, “Let her speak!” Similarly, the civil suit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division (Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-00780) is seeking an injunction ordering the Virginia Department of Corrections to “Let him speak,” meaning, let me continue to writing about the living conditions within these prisons without government interference.

The civil suit is challenging the censorship of two of my essays in particular: “Sussex 2 State Prison is a Potemkin Prison” and “Life at Sussex 2 State Prison-Revisited.” But the civil suit very much applies to all of my writings, including those I will write in the future. If my writings have touched you, moved you, inspired you, enlightened you, or transformed you in any way, then I ask you to support and help spread the word about this case. Because, truth be told, you have just as much of a stake in the outcome of this case as I do. Why? Because whenever my writings are unconstitutionally censored, your First and Fourteenth Amendment rights are being infringed upon as well.

In Procunier v. Martinez, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 1809 (1974), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “Communication by letter is not accomplished by the act of writing words on paper. Rather, it is effected only when the letter is read by the addressee. Both parties to the correspondence have an interest in securing that result, and censorship of the communication between them necessarily infringes on the interest of each.” Simply put, I have a First Amendment right to write these political essays and have them posted to my blog and you have a First Amendment right to read them, and when they are censored, both of our First Amendment rights are being violated. That’s why I titled this essay, “The People Verses the Virginia Department of Corrections.”

So I ask you, the People, to share this link ** https://www.dailyprogress.com/news/local/fogel-files-federal-suit-alleging-inmate-s-writings-improperly-censored/article_459c02d8-ef6e-11e8-a0a9-abf785b7864d.html ** with all of your social media contacts. Additionally, please e-mail my attorney at jeff.fogel@gmail.com and express your support for this case. The more publicity we can bring to this case, the better. The future of my writings and your ability to read them hangs in the balance.

Power to the People