Florida doesn’t want prisoners to know what a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter said about cynicism and movement building…

Or what a PhD said about “Black Genealogies of Power”

by Panagioti Tsolkas / FightToxicPrisons.org

The March 2017 edition of the Gainesville Iguana was impounded by Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials with a one word reason: “Racial.”

It’s not a huge shock coming from the prison censors that have been banning Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow since 2011.

In this case, the FDOC’s Notice of Impoundment was generous enough to include page numbers to accompany its reasoning for holding back this publication, which has been widely distributed across North/Central Florida for three decades, including several prisons in the region… While they are legally required to explain a clear reason for impounding or rejecting publications, they often leave it vague at best, but here its difficult to interpret the vagueness as anything other than racist censorship.

The pages correspond to two re-printed articles by prominent authors Alicia Garza and Dan Berger.

In Garza’s article, titled “Our cynicism will not build a movement. Collaboration will,” she outlines the reasons that she participated in the Women’s March in Washington D.C. after the Trump inauguration.

“No one is safe from the transition this country is undergoing,” Garza writes. “While many of us have faced hate, ignorance and greed in our daily lives, the period we have entered is unlike anything that any of us has ever seen before.”

Berger’s article that was considered too “racial” for a prisoner audience outlined what he called “Sevens maxims for resistance in the Trump years,” quoting famous authors, organizers and poets who provide insight for people looking to engage with the new presidential administration. In one example, he refers to civil rights activists Ella Baker who said that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” He notes that she was calling people to “do the slow and steady work of building strong people… not throwing people under the bus because they lack citizenship, have a criminal conviction or […] are new to activism.”

Are these things that the Florida DOC is concerned may “present a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system”? If so, it provides a pretty clear indication that system may need an overhaul.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP), which is also based in the Gainesville area and focuses on environmental health issues behind bars, assisted the Iguana with appealing impoundment of their publication. Impounding a publication is often a predecessor to outright rejection.

FTP became familiar with censorship last year, while communicating with prisoners regarding the national movement to end prison slavery, which resulted it demonstrations outside and inside of prisons around September 9, the anniversary of Attica. Though the correspondence did not advocate for participation in any unlawful activity, several facilities censored the mail and have still not replied to the effort to appeal the censorship, siting a loophole that letters are not granted an appellate process, as publications such as the Iguana are.

Despite efforts to censor mail about the Attica anniversary events, Florida state prisoners were still among the most active participants nationally, with thousands of prisoners in ten prisons confirmed as participating.

In the case of publications like Prison Legal News, which reports frequently about conditions in Florida, the DOC has been sued on multiple occasions and still find excuses to refuse that magazine. In fact, Florida is the only state prison system in the country that has persisted with a blanket ban against the prisoner rights magazine (other states have attempted and either capitulated to the magazine or lost in court.)

It is little surprise that the Florida prison system is considered among the most corrupt in the country. Censorship and corruption have always gone hand-in-hand, and this state has a history of ignoring First Amendment protections that prisoners are entitled to under the the U.S. Constitution, and re-affirmed by dozens of court cases nationwide.

Let’s hope they make the right decision this time and lift the impoundment of the Gainesville Iguana… But I wouldn’t hold your breath on it.