Systemic Silencing: Maine State Prison Inmates in Danger for Publishing on Voices

14 September 2011


Dear Blog Readers,


On September 2, 2011 Commissioner Joseph Ponte issued a memo stating that Maine State Prison (MSP) will no longer allow inmates to send mail or pictures to people that post them to “Facebook and other social networking sites”.  The commissioner went on to say:


          “Any prisoner who is already engaged in this activity is to notify the person(s) who did any posting to remove them immediately.  Any prisoner who is discovered to have engaged in this activity after this date or whose prior posting(s) remain on Facebook or other social networking site [sic] two (2) weeks from this date will be subject to disciplinary action”.  [emphasis mine]


Ponte’s desire to silence inmates is so intense , he is threatening them with “disciplinary action”.  The Commissioner’s behavior is exactly the reason why Voices from the Cracks is necessary to the inmates and the community at large.  If the Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC) has nothing to hide, why are they in such a hurry to silence inmates?  If Ponte believe the MDOC is wholly innocent of: murder, physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, excessive use of solitary confinement, hundreds of instances of gross misconduct, and systemic abuses of power– than why is he threatening “discipline” for any and all who write to people who post online?  Moreover, many of the pieces that are submitted to Voices consist of: poetry, short stories, memoir, and political musings, which enrich the community while giving inmates a positive create outlet and a chance to make meaningful contributions to society.  All of which promote successful reentry and reduced recidivism.  Isn’t that suppose to be the goal?


Furthermore, Commissioner Joseph Ponte does not give a definition, outside of his Facebook reference, as to what he feels “other social networking” is.  However, Warden Patricia Barnhart made it clear in her personal letter to me that the she and Ponte believe Voices from the Cracks qualifies as “other social networking”.  After accusing my colleague of being Sophie Inchains, Barnhart says, “Sophie Inchains is not a verifiable name and we are asking you to use your proper first and last birth name or legal name on all correspondence with prisoners”.  Using a pseudonym in a field that is wrought with various kinds of danger and retaliation from prison officials is a common practice.  Regardless, Sophie Inchains is a “verifiable” person.  She has a post office box, three email accounts, a Facebook, a Twitter, and a Blog.  For months I, Sophie Inchains, have been communicating with inmates at MSP and it was not until recently that I became UN-“verifiable”.  In fact, I have even spoken to the commissioners office and the MSP mailroom.  Continuing with her rally against me, Barnhart went on to say:


     “Prisoners will not be permitted to send/receive correspondence to/from Sophie Inchains.  Prisoners are not permitted to provide photos and information to persons outside the facility to be uploaded to Facebook and other social networking sites.  I have attached a copy of the memorandum issued by MDOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte regarding this issue for your review”.


Clearly, Barnhart and Ponte are collaborating to silence and punish inmates.  Barnhart’s letter says inmates “will not be permitted to send/receive correspondence”, however, Ponte’s memo says prisoner need to “notify the person” that is posting to “other social networking” sites within “two weeks from this [September 2] date”.  How are inmates going to “notify” anyone if their mail is confiscated?  Moreover, Ponte’s memo is dated for September 2 but Barnhart’s letter was not postmarked until September 12.  I believe Ponte and Barnhart strategically timed the staggering of the memo and letter in order to illegally hold all incoming/outgoing mail to/from Sophie Inchains for at least ten days.  Although, if you take into consideration the length of time since my last MSP letter, I am guessing that MSP has been illegally holding mail for up to twenty days.


Commissioner Ponte and Warden Barnhart I am asking that you research the definition of a Blog [weB-LOG] and reconsider the position you are taking by calling it “other social networking”.  There are thousands of prisoner sites, which are run by: advocates, family members, lawyers, human rights activists, and even inmates themselves in facilities where the officials are not terrified that their abuse will leak to the media.  It’s funny how when prison officials have nothing to hide, inmates are treated like the humans they are.


Furthermore, incarcerated men at MSP do not send ANYTHING to be published on Facebook or “other social networking” sites.  The internet is a vast and mysterious thing, which allows people to post LINKS, on Facebook, or other pages.  A link on Facebook does not denote inmates sending materials for posting to Facebook, it simply means that someone liked what they read and shared it with their own friends via a link on Facebook.  I would also like to point out that no original work from an MSP inmate has ever been published to Facebook. Links are a part of everyday internet life, holding an inmate accountable for a process they have no control over is wholly criminal.  If an inmate is published in “The New England Journal of Medicine Online”, and someone posts a link to that on their Facebook page, are you going to punish the inmate?


In closing, Commissioner Ponte and Warden Barnhart’s uses of systemic silencing are so blatant they would be comical, if not for the over 800 men who are at the mercy of vindictive guards, the MDOC, and the Prison Industrial Complex as a whole.  Since MSP has proven repeatedly that inmates will be beaten death, psychologically abused, or keep them in solitary until they hang themselves temporary action must be taken to assure prisoners safety.  Therefore, in an attempt protect all the Voices I care so deeply about, all blogs posting from MSP prison inmates are suspended until further notice.


But rest assured readers…there will be a further notice.




Sophie Inchains

Verified Prison Advocate

11 responses to “Systemic Silencing: Maine State Prison Inmates in Danger for Publishing on Voices

  1. Thank you for this important update! My “blood was boiling” just from reading this title! This is no surprise…especially from MSP. It’s obvious that the exposure they’re getting is bringing some accountability that hasn’t been there for far too long! The warden is a man eating c@#t with teeth for one thing and shouldn’t even have a position overseeing incarcerated men. How the hell did she even get this job that she’s obviously using as a source of power to abuse men in retaliation for whatever the hell happened to her at some point in time? What a sick bitch! I guess she’s found her “partner in crime” Ponte to help her reach her sick mission of “ball chopping”. Keep up the good work, Sophie! Good always overcomes evil.


    • Thanks Suzie. None of this happens alone. I am surrounded by valiant fighters of all kinds.

      There are no posts from MSP inmates anywhere on my site and all links from FB are down, so I am hoping they leave everyone alone.



  2. …and to add to that. That’s hypocrisy at it’s finest! So they think they’re above the law by making up rules as they go along? It failed with the shady land dealings so I doubt it’ll succeed here either. I wonder if some schmuck will “fall on their sword” for her this time when this “shit hits the fan”. If either of them were doing their job in the first place there would be no need for inmates to reach out to the outside world for resolving issues that have been ignored. I’ve been advocating for a member of my household for 10 years and it’s a never ending battle, and most of it would be avoidable if people were doing the jobs that they’re getting paid to do. Regardless, every obstacle helps me to “fight” harder and better. Looking back, some of the obstacles were removed when administration suddenly changed with no effort on my part.


    • Suzie,

      I agree that there HAVE been changes, and some of them are very positive, since Ponte took over. I am not one to shirk credit when it is due. Neither are the inmates. One of the post was a letter to Ponte outlining three guards that were doing their jobs well, and helped inmates deal with day to day stresses w/o the common attitude they encounter.

      Perhaps the most frustrating part of the systemic resistance to Voices is how Ponte is missing the point. Voices from the Cracks is not about him, Barnhart, MSP, or the MDOC; Voices is about the inmates having a space in the public sphere where they can feel human. It is about positive reinforcement of skills and artistic talent by showing humanity.

      Are the inmates going to write about problems, issues, etc? Yes, this is their space outside of the steel boxes they are caged in. This is a place for them to say, ‘so and so is really making life harder than it needs to be, we need help’. But, it is also the place for them to formulate political ideas, express themselves through poetry, art, music, and stories. I do not expect prison officials to universally embrace this format, however, I DO expect them to understand the true value and allow inmates to be human.


  3. we hear you… believe me some try to shut up our voices out here in the ???free world??? too. Or shut us out little by little from our loved one who is inside the prisons system. TDC is blocking my own communication with my son more and more. I swear I beleive TDC persons want my son Bryce Seton Vandergrift to lose all hope. What do you think happens when a minor child loses hope… exactually what I think. Wow, what does the man have to hide that he doesn’t want inmates words to be heard? I know that the Clemmens Unit TX is reading all my email and letters back and forth, I don’t care but it’s that TDC BLCOKS BRYCE FROM RECEIVING THE LETTERS FILLED WITH HOPE OR HELP FOR HIM, these are being tampered with. FACT


  4. Relentlessmom,

    Thank you for your comment and support. I am so sorry to hear that you are having trouble getting mail to your into your son. Mail is one of the number one issues that inmates and families face. It is a national problem, although some states/prisons are better at staffing and handling volume than others.

    Please let Bryce know he and anyone inside his facility is welcome to submit to Voices at any time.



  5. This information is most disconcerting. I urge you to bring this topic to the Maine Prisoner Advocacy group and to the Maine Civil Liberties Union. The bottom line is that prisoners do not surrender their First Amendment Rights at the prison door. Being convicted does not rob a prisoner of his right to self expression and his right to publish. This commissioner’s directive, in my opinion, would not survive a legal challenge under the First Amendment.


  6. I appreciate that this time the MSP tried to intimidate the unmovable force that is Sophie Inchains. Thank you for providing a voice. Thank you for reminding us that inmates are people, whom deserve to be heard. I believe change begins when the first no is heard. I offer my voice to help the sound resonate in as many ears as possible. I’d like to help you remind people that being in prison does not mean thrown away. Fear prevents many form softening their hearts to people who are being discarded. We are predisposed to think of prison and automatically recall images of rapists and murderers aching to harm us personally . We as whole must remember that every person incarcerated is not malicious,or the boogy monster and deserves their human rights to be protected regardless of guilt. Prisoners because they are people deserve the right to speak out, speak up and be heard.


    • In the future, if you are going to post negative ignorance on the blog while having all the bravado of using a fake name, you should know that the word–as used in this context–is spelled THEY’RE. It is a conjunction for THEY ARE. 🙂



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