Sep 01, 2019
A small victory has taken place. On April 19, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit “reversed and remanded" my First Amendment case back to the Northern District Court of California. Now in its eighth year, this case began in late 2011, when I arrived at San Quentin State Prison from Folsom State Prison. It was then that my writings (intellectual property), notes, quotes and research, compiled during years of reading in other prisons, was seized by prison guards who deemed it "indicative" of association or membership in the Black Guerilla Family prison gang (think George Jackson). I am not, nor have I ever been affiliated with the BGF.
Because I had read certain books during my then- fifteen years of incarceration, certain prison officials questioned and held my research and writings. I filed a grievance to have it returned to me, along with several other requests. I was later threatened with "validation" points that could have placed me in solitary confinement, indefinitely.
After exhausting my state administrative remedies, I filed a civil rights suit (42 U.S.C. $ 1983). The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendant(s). I appealed and filed a motion for appointment of counsel. The Ninth Circuit “denied” the motion, reasoning it was "unnecessary” and appointed an attorney to represent me on appeal, pro bono.
The case, Sawyer v. Chappell, et al., 9th Cir. Case No. 17-16846 (D.C. Case No. 3:15-cv-00220-JD), is essential to follow, because many prisoners who previously filed similar suits had gang affiliation, long criminal records, and lengthy prison disciplinary records. I have none of that working against me.
For years, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has placed prisoners in super-max prisons because of what they have read or written, in violation of these prisoners' rights under the U.S. Constitution. In 2013, these prisoners led a nationwide hunger strike to end solitary confinement.
San Quentin State Prison is the state’s flag ship for “rehabilitation," as long as it can determine what that looks like. Deviation from state prescribed educational "programming" is oftentimes construed as one's inability to adjust, irrespective of them remaining disciplinary free. For 22 years, I haven't done anything that would warrant a write up.
The public isn't aware of all that takes place inside San Quentin, California's oldest prison. In a politically twisted system that boast reform as its model, the prison's infamy extends far beyond the men who are confined here. This is because every correctional officer is emboldened to act as warden, with impunity.
They tried to bury me. Maybe one day they'll succeed. But for the time being, I plan to resist, read and write as I please.
What I'd like you to take away from this is the idea that the U.S. Constitution is not in place to protect us. We are positioned to protect it from the tyranny of men who would soon oppress others, inside and outside the prison gate.
I urge you to follow this case and its developments. Pass the information on to other journalists, writers, and professionals. Thank you.