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.
Verified Prison Advocate