Former inmates speak out against literary censorship
Keeping up with current events, using cell phones and being able to read any material one chooses may not seem out of the ordinary to most people, but for many being released from prison or those locked inside, these are foreign concepts.
Project Rebound, an organization on campus dedicated to sending former inmates back to school, hosted Prison Monologues Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Jack Adams Hall to address these disparities in the prison system.
“It is important to connect the students and the University to what’s going on in prisons instead of keeping it separate, which is what long-term imprisonment does,” said Linda Evans of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, who was incarcerated for 16 years herself.
The event featured speakers from Project Rebound and anonymous letters from the currently incarcerated that detailed their experiences with racism, violence and censorship.
“The newspaper went beyond educating me,” said an inmate in a letter to the Bay Guardian after a ban on the publication in his prison was lifted. “It began rehabilitating me.”
Members of Project Rebound said that books and newspapers, all of which are regulated by prisons, should not be subject to censorship, as it strips inmates of a basic freedom.
“From behind prison walls, the last thing you want to do is take away the simplest joys,” said Jason Bell, member of Project Rebound. “Wardens ban things and just come up with excuses. That bothers me.”
The censorship continues the cycle of keeping inmates from attaining an education that many desire.
In fact, SF State sociology professor Karen Hossfeld said that some of her best students are from Project Rebound.
“They read something and it begins with a spark, and I want to start other sparks,” Hossfeld said. “It costs more money to imprison a body than educate a mind and that pisses me off.”
Among the speakers was Richard Brown of the SF 8, a group of former Black Panthers who were arrested in 2007 for a crime committed in 1971, who said that the unfairness was starting to make its way outside of prison walls by means of current legislation such as the Patriot Act, and encouraged action by even those who have never been incarcerated.
“You have to care because the things that happen to the incarcerated could happen to you someday,” he said. “When they are starting to run people’s lives and play games with their heads. (It’s) not a great country at this time. It’s nowhere near that.”
Another point made in the monologues was that those on the outside are not fully aware of the seriousness of what goes on in prison and how differently the free view certain issues.
“Sometimes we need translation because people don’t know how different it is,” said Eric Durmell, a psychology major and former inmate. “For instance, being searched means getting naked and exposing your anal orifice in public and being forced to lift your scrotum for officers. They’re not looking nicely through your things.”
Durmell also described the censorship in the prison system as “modern day slavery.”
The speakers also advocated the education of inmates as well as taking funding away from prisons and investing in education. They also advocated for decent health care, self-improvement opportunities, better nutrition and the end of cruel and unusual treatment.
Many of the speakers believed that the role of the media and its attitude toward inmates also has to change in order for the public’s opinion on prisoners to change.
“It’s not what you see on TV,” said Airto Morales, a member of Project Rebound working on his master’s degree in philosophy. “We have a lot of sharp individuals in the joint, but they dehumanize us and make us look bad. They try to make it look like Camp Snoopy, but it’s really psychological warfare.”