[Pnews] Pennsylvania prisoners launch boycott of new mail system privatized by prison profiteers

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 27 18:43:38 EDT 2018


https://www.workers.org/2018/09/25/inmates-in-pennsylvania-launch-boycott-of-prison-profiteers/ 
<http://sfbayview.com/2018/09/pennsylvania-prisoners-launch-boycott-of-new-mail-system-privatized-by-prison-profiteers/> 



  Pennsylvania prisoners launch boycott of new mail system privatized by
  prison profiteers

September 25, 2018
------------------------------------------------------------------------

*/by /**/Ted Kelly/* <https://www.workers.org/author/ted-kelly/>

“I am going to boycott the third-party correspondence system,” Bryant 
Arroyo, an activist and organizer currently detained at SCI Frackville 
in central Pennsylvania, told this Workers World reporter during an 
extended Sept. 23 interview.

Arroyo urges all prisoners to immediately cease sending and accepting 
mail in response to the draconian new prison policies of current 
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

Eliminating the right of prisoners to send and receive correspondence 
via postal service is the most controversial aspect of a sweeping 
crackdown imposed in September by the Pennsylvania Department of 
Corrections. Prisoners will no longer be allowed to receive mail 
directly at state correctional facilities. Instead, their mail is being 
routed through a third-party company that rakes in profits from the 
enslavement of U.S. workers.

The PDOC awarded a $4 million contract to Smart Communications, a 
Florida-based firm that bills itself as a “family-owned business” with 
“a reputation as the true innovator in the prison marketplace.”

Under the contract, Smart receives all letters and photographs, 
photocopies them, stores the contents on its private servers and then 
forwards the photocopies to prisoners. Smart’s website boasts, “We 
currently have over 50 clients worldwide.” That means the company is 
paid to seize, open and duplicate the private correspondence of 
prisoners held in over 50 U.S. facilities. Pennsylvania is the 19th 
state to hire the company.

“I have other means of communication,” said Arroyo, referring to the 
phone calls and emails he must pay for in order to talk to the outside 
world. “I don’t have to comply with this policy, and I don’t want to. I 
don’t think our people should be subjected to it. And I don’t think the 
taxpayers’ money is being well spent – do you?”


      Arroyo urges all prisoners to immediately cease sending and
      accepting mail in response to the draconian new prison policies of
      current Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

Bryant Arroyo has a long history of activism defending the rights and 
well-being of his fellow inmates. This has made him great friends and 
powerful enemies. In 2006, he organized a campaign of prisoners that 
scuttled plans to build a $400 million coal-gasification plant next to 
SCI Frackville – a plant that would have poisoned the environment around 
the prison and the nearby community.

This organizing earned him the ire of the head of the anthracite coal 
cartel, Jack Rich, and his corporate backers, like former Pennsylvania 
Gov. Tom Ridge and the South African energy company Sasol. The 
successful movement also led political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal to dub 
Arroyo “the world’s first jailhouse environmentalist.”


      *‘When you’re backed into a corner, you fight to live’*

Now Arroyo’s focus is on the PDOC crackdown implemented in the middle of 
the nationwide prison strike that took place from Aug. 21 to Sept. 9.

“Big Brother has invaded the DOC. We don’t have rights in here,” Arroyo 
explained to WW, “only privileges.” Even the right to unfettered legal 
defense can be capriciously suspended without warning by state authorities.

But Arroyo is intent on fighting for restoration of the precious few 
resources prisoners have to defend themselves: “This is survival mode. 
When you’re backed into a corner, you fight to live.”

This is why he is urging prisoners to boycott the mail. Arroyo’s boycott 
announcement comes as the American Civil Liberties Union and many public 
defenders have announced their intention to stop sending legal mail 
through the Pennsylvania prisons.


      But Arroyo is intent on fighting for restoration of the precious
      few resources prisoners have to defend themselves: “This is
      survival mode. When you’re backed into a corner, you fight to live.”

“Every prisoner must act as an individual and as a collective front not 
to send mail to the third party,” he said. “This is not only a breach of 
our privacy but a breach of attorney-client privilege.”

Under the Smart system, all supposedly protected correspondence 
pertaining to prisoners’ legal cases is handled – and opened – by prison 
staff. Copies are made and given to prisoners, but the originals are 
retained by the PDOC for 15 days, after which they are allegedly 
destroyed. Regular personal correspondence is stored on Smart servers 
for seven years. Video recordings of the mail-opening process are 
supposed to be purged every five days.

“But [the purging of legal correspondence] is a flat out lie,” said 
Arroyo. “What they’re not telling you is that they’re keeping it. And 
they can use it against you at any point in the future.”

The Innocence Project, the Abolitionist Law Center and the Pennsylvania 
Institutional Law Project are partnering with the ACLU to bring a 
lawsuit against the PDOC for this unprecedented attack on 
attorney-client confidentiality, which they say is “indefensible.”


      The for-profit privatization of the prison mail system is having a
      deadly, chilling effect on prisoners’ legal right to private
      correspondence with their defense attorneys and on their
      much-needed human contact with the outside world.

In the meantime, Arroyo urges his fellow inmates to follow his lead in 
communicating with legal teams and only set up urgent face-to-face 
visits: “Everything except in-person contact is compromised.”

Arroyo said the first piece of mail he received after the new policy 
began was a card that came in the form of photocopied sheets of paper: 
“It was lifeless. It takes away the joy of receiving mail.”

Arroyo also described the for-profit firm’s predictable failure to 
fulfill its contract. One inmate received a sheaf of papers that had 
photocopies of the front and back of an envelope – and the rest of the 
pages were blank.

“They don’t want us to smile in here,” he said.

The for-profit privatization of the prison mail system is having a 
deadly, chilling effect on prisoners’ legal right to private 
correspondence with their defense attorneys and on their much-needed 
human contact with the outside world.


      *Isolation puts prisoners at risk*

The prison crackdown is meant to exacerbate the breakdown of social ties 
caused by mass incarceration. Some friends and family are understandably 
scared to put themselves at the mercy of prison officials at a time of 
such intense repression.

The day Arroyo called for the mail boycott, an older couple who came to 
visit a man’s brother was turned away because the woman was wearing a 
bra with a small metal clasp, which set off a metal detector.

“It’s straight-up sexual harassment,” he commented to WW. The “no-bra” 
policy is apparently unique to SCI Frackville and reportedly not in 
force at other PDOC facilities.


      The prison crackdown is meant to exacerbate the breakdown of
      social ties caused by mass incarceration.

The PDOC crackdown also included a punitive 90-day suspension of 
commissary food during visits. Friends and family are usually permitted 
to purchase from vending machines in the visiting room. Now a row of six 
machines stands completely empty at the back of the room. “We literally 
can no longer break bread with our community,” said Arroyo.

Visits with children are necessarily shorter when parents and guardians 
can’t buy them snacks. Without access to vending machine drinks, 
visitors are also subjected to the same water that prisoners are forced 
to drink, with little kids hoisted up to toxic water fountains to quench 
their thirst. The guards and prison staff still have access to bottled 
spring water and soda.


      The PDOC crackdown also included a punitive 90-day suspension of
      commissary food during visits.

Many Pennsylvania prisons, including Frackville and Mahanoy in 
Schuylkill County, are situated in a coal mining and fracking region 
that has become known as a “cancer cluster” site. Arroyo points out that 
Schuylkill has a remarkably high incidence of polycythemia vera, a rare 
blood cancer caused by waterborne pathogens.

Arroyo calls these health risks from the prison system “environmental 
terrorism.” He himself is awaiting a second round of throat surgery to 
remove polyps growing on his vocal cords. He is confident these are the 
result of 25 years of drinking poisoned water in Pennsylvania prisons.


      Arroyo calls these health risks from the prison system
      “environmental terrorism.”

In the prison lobby, this reporter also witnessed two toddlers being 
subjected to the magnetic wanding and swabs meant to detect trace 
residue of narcotics, the same security protocols required of adult 
visitors.

When Arroyo’s daughter called to plan a visit with her small children, 
he was compelled to tell her to wait until the punitive three-month 
visitor policy expires. “I’m not going to subject my grandchildren to this.”


      *Democrats lead the crackdown on prisoners*

Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf is just one of many new law-and-order Democrats 
who display a ruthless dedication to expanding the system of mass 
incarceration. This reactionary cadre includes Philadelphia Mayor Jim 
Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner, as well as national figures 
like former California chief prosecutor Kamala Harris, now a U.S. 
senator from the state.

Wolf also steadfastly refuses to hear demands from im/migrant rights 
activists demanding he issue an emergency order to close Pennsylvania’s 
Berks Family Detention Facility, which is under contract with U.S. 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other immigrant and refugee 
concentration camps across the country are among the 50 facilities that 
Smart counts as “clients.”


      Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf is just one of many new law-and-order
      Democrats who display a ruthless dedication to expanding the
      system of mass incarceration.

ICE kidnappings, imprisonment and rampant abuse are defended under the 
guise of “national security.” Similarly, Wolf’s strategy is to tie the 
crackdown on prisoners to “security and safety” in state facilities, 
creating a strong obstacle to efforts to fight recent prison repression 
in the courts.

Additionally, a poorly fabricated “health crisis” among prison staff was 
the apparent excuse for an August lockdown. But staff accounts of being 
sickened by synthetic drugs transmitted through the mail system 
collapsed under public scrutiny.

Arroyo notes that the PDOC appears to have concocted the “health crisis” 
to justify smothering prison strike efforts in Pennsylvania, which 
coincided with the national strike Aug. 21 to Sept. 9.

The emergency lockdown was implemented in late August. After the Labor 
Day weekend, the omnibus prison regulations were already being 
implemented, including a more repressive visitor policy estimated to 
cost the state an additional $15 million to put in place.


      Arroyo notes that the PDOC appears to have concocted the “health
      crisis” to justify smothering prison strike efforts in
      Pennsylvania, which coincided with the national strike Aug. 21 to
      Sept. 9.

Meanwhile, the commonwealth of Virginia under Democratic Gov. Ralph 
Northam has announced a similar set of repressive measures for its 
prisons. Warden David Call of Nottoway Correctional Center in 
Burkeville, Va., released a Sept. 20 memo that referred to “feminine 
hygiene products being an ideal way to conceal contraband.” In an 
outrageous move that mirrors the Frackville “no-bra” policy, he declared 
that “the use of tampons and or menstrual cup hygiene items during 
visitation are prohibited.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sept. 24)

The Virginia DOC memo continues: “Offender visitors who have been 
recognized by the body scanner machine having a foreign object that 
could possibly be a tampon and has [sic] failed to remove such item 
prior to being screened, will have their visitation terminated for the 
day and will have their visitations privileges reviewed.”

Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, another Democrat, failed to evacuate 
prisoners held in state facilities even as Hurricane Florence wreaked 
havoc across the state.


      *Fight repression, ‘don’t give up’*

Arroyo insists that we must see prisoners as individual human beings to 
fuel needed collective action. Millions of people are incarcerated in 
this country, which means millions more family members and friends are 
affected by this system. He urges his fellow inmates to continue to 
fight and to find people on the outside who will actually listen, not 
just cynical aspirants to elected office. Above all, he urges prisoners 
across the country not to give up.

Arroyo himself is an innocent man who has been sentenced to life in 
prison for a crime he did not commit. He says: “I could be bitter. But I 
choose not to take that path. Nah, that’s not what I want. They want you 
to mess up so they can put you in the hole. I don’t give them that 
privilege.”


      Arroyo insists that we must see prisoners as individual human
      beings to fuel needed collective action. Millions of people are
      incarcerated in this country, which means millions more family
      members and friends are affected by this system.

Of his beloved daughter, Genesis, he says he “raised her through the 
confines.” This summer he condensed a lengthy essay he wrote, “A Dad’s 
Honor, a Daughter’s Dream,” and managed to get it down to 15 minutes. 
Then he called Genesis’ wedding ceremony and read it as a toast to his 
daughter.

Despite this particularly trying time of reaction and repression, Bryant 
Arroyo retains his optimism through one of his most contagious tactics: 
a sense of humor.

“You’ve heard the tune that goes, ‘Video killed the radio star’?” he 
asks, breaking into song. “Well, the DOC killed the mail!”

/Copyright © 2018 Workers World, where //this story/ 
<https://www.workers.org/2018/09/25/inmates-in-pennsylvania-launch-boycott-of-prison-profiteers/>/first 
appeared. Workers World permits verbatim copying and distribution of 
articles in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. /

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