Welcome Back Readers, Advocates, and my Beloved Incarcerated

Hello everyone,

As you can see if you follow my Twitter I am trying to bring the blog back from hiatus. Without going into to much detail–after all this is not my blog but the Prisoner’s–my life was really unstable for about two years. I am getting back on my feet and I am anxious to reconnect with lost friends and make new ones.

At this time I do not have a new P.O. Box for submissions; however, I am willing to give anyone that needs a Voice my home address until such time as I can afford to open a new box. I live in Arizona now, but the blog has always been a national blog. Please, write. Tell your loved ones to write, send art, send essays, send anything they desire and I will post it.

I am starting a new section of the blog for formerly incarcerated people to speak. I think that it is important that we hear from the people who have been released and understand that the struggle doesn’t end when they unlock the gates, for many it gets so much worse, and sometimes it really does get better. If you or someone you know is formerly incarcerated and would like to speak please contact me:
Email: writingfromthemargins@gmail.com
Twitter: @Sophieinchains
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sophie.inchains
LinkdIn: Sophie Inchains

I hope to hear from all of you soon.

Solidarity in Struggle,

Sophie

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A Quick Note From Sophie

Hello Blog Readers,

Over the last six months Voices posts have slowed to a trickle due to issues with Maine Department of Corrections that I talked about in previous blogs, and personal issues that prevented me from properly maintaining the blog. However, I feel it is necessary to let readers, families, and inmates know–VOICES IS STILL HERE. The blog will not shut down for any foreseeable reason, but for the time being postings and letters to contributors will remain slow and often infrequent. I apologize for any inconvenience this causes and hope to rectify the situation quickly. As always, THANK YOU writers and readers for all of your input and feedback.

Also I wanted to let everyone know that after the debacle Voices through with Maine State Prison (MSP) in September 2011, all of the mail that I have tried to send to inmates across the state of Maine has been confiscated by mail rooms and never seen again. The inmates at MSP (at least some of them) were notified that they would no longer receive my mail; however, inmates at the jails and Maine Correctional Center were not.

Therefore, the letters I have received in the meantime are dejected and upset, as inmates believe that I just stopped writing…and caring. This type of emotional abuse is not just unnecessary– it is torture.

If you, or anyone you know, is writing to inmates in the state of Maine, please let them know they are in my thoughts and I miss writing to them as much as they miss my letters.

Solidarity in Struggle,

Sophie Inchains

Update from Sophie

Hello Readers!

First, I apologize for the long silence and tardiness posting letters from inmates; as well as the delay in getting letter out to incarcerated folks.  If you know someone who is waiting to hear from me please let them know they will be getting a letter very soon and I have not forgotten anyone.

Second, for those of you following the issues that Voices has been having with the Maine State Prison I want to let you know that Warden Patricia Barnhart is allowing inmates to send mail to Voices, so long as it does not go to “social networking” sites.  Since Voices is a blog and does not fall into that category, I will happily begin posting letter from inmates here in Maine once more.  Unfortunately, due to an issue that I cannot discuss here yet, I cannot write back to the inmates at Maine State Prison at this time.  However, if you are reading this, and you write to someone there, please let them know they are being published and I look forward to the day that the situation will be resolved.

Third, as always having a Voice is only effective if one knows they have access to such a tool, therefore be sure to SPREAD THE WORD FAR AND WIDE.  If you write to anyone in a prison please give them the address so they can send in anything they like, and be sure to let them know to pass it on as well!

Sophie Inchains

PO Box 2900

South Portland, Maine. 04116

I wish everyone the best!  Solidarity in Struggle,

Sophie Inchains

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.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sophie Inchains

Verified Prison Advocate

Inmate Posts on Voices now Faces Retaliation & A Note from Sophie About MCC Breaking Fire Codes

8-14-11

Dear Sophie,

Well its [sic] nice to think that somebody is thinking about me.  But your computer is ok.  I didnt [sic] hear anything after I sent that letter to you.  Its [sic] good to know that someone knows what is going on here.  If ochea [sic] ever came in here they’d shut it down.  The only reason they can get away with it, is because its [sic] a state oned [sic] place.

They delivered my medicine for a year now.  And all of a sudden they want me to go over and get them.  Like one C.O. said this is a prison and were not supose [sic] to cater to you guys.  And I quote.  So I am trying.  [omitted for safety]  I try to get along with everyone.

Yes Im [sic] doing ok.  Im [sic] still in a lot of pain.  But I cant [sic] get help for that until I get out.  Im [sic] in [omitted for privacy] by the way.

I wish more people would write to the blog.  But they say they would be waisting [sic] there [sic] time.  Because nobody care about us.

Well it was good to hear from you.  And take care.

Your friend

[name omitted for inmate safety]

Maine Correctional Center

A note from Sophie:

 

Previously I published a letter by this inmate that outlined serious fire hazards in his pod (along with other very serious health concerns for prisoners).  He wrote to the blog that every fire exit and door is currently blocked with heavy things.  After receiving his letter I immediately emailed the fire chief in the town where MCC is located Windham, Maine.  Here is my email and his flippant dismissal of the issue:

 

Dear Chief Charlie Hammond,

I am writing out of a grave concern for the inmates and staff at Maine Correctional Center (MCC).  I am a prison advocate and today I received word from an inmate in MCC that the doors to the outside AND the fire exits in his pod are blocked.  Unfortunately, I do not know exactly which pod he lives in but I felt that it was imperative that I inform someone given the seriousness of the matter.  The letter from the inmate can be viewed here: p1yroD-40

I do know from reading the letter that wherever the man is housed is with other handicapped/disabled men, which of course adds to my concern.  These men are crippled and would have trouble with a normal evacuation where the doors are accessible.  Therefore, having doors and fire exits blocked is an extreme safety hazard for them.  This in turn puts the MCC staff at a greater risk for injury in the event of a fire because they would first have to unblock the doors and then help crippled men out of the cells and into the air. I do not have to go into details about the risks and unlikelihood that this could even be accomplished in an emergency situation. 

I hope that this letter prompts an investigation that leads to a swift resolve.  Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to check into this matter.

Solidarity in Struggle,

Sophie Inchains

 

Charles Hammond to Charles, me

           

show details Jul 20

 

Please contact the individual(s) and identify the building. I don’t want to spend the days correcting problems specific to one or two doors. We’ll do a random when we go to the facility. I am also forwarding this to the Fire Safety Officer at MCC.

 

 

As you can see, Mr. Hammond was not very interested in the conditions at MCC.  The inmate did tell me which pod he is located in, but I feel that for his personal safety, I cannot disclose his exact location.  The fire chief and his crew should have no problem finding the numerous violations at MCC in EVERY pod, I refuse to place this inmate in more harm so that Mr. Hammond can dismiss his claims.

 

Although I only used an initial when I published this inmate’s original letter, I believe that the reason that he is “suddenly” being told to walk and get his food (he is handicapped) is blatant retaliation for publishing on Voices.  I have taken the initial out of the original post, but of course, this person is still at risk.

 

Also, the inmate says in this new letter that the safety conditions have not changed in his pod.  Clearly, MCC does not care about the safety of their inmates OR staff.  If anyone reading this would like to contact Mr. Hammond and kindly suggest that his office make the visit to MCC soon (and preferably UN-announced) his email is: chhammond@town.windham.me.us

 

Sophie

A Quick Shout Out!!!

Voices from the Cracks would like to congratulate Maine State Prison inmate Harold Sanford Carter III for being chosen for paid publication!!  Two of the poems that were previously on Voices, “Maine State Prison a Sonnet” and “Circles of Everything” have been chosen by a literary magazine and will be published soon.  Please join me in offering Harold a round of applause for this accomplishment!

 

–Sophie

Systemic Silencing by Maine State Prision: A short note from Sophie

Today I received word that mail I have sent into Maine State Prison (MSP) is being thrown away because it is considered solicitation.  I called the mail room to ask what I could to do rectify the situation and to let them know I am not a corporation I am an individual.  When I spoke to Nancy in the mail room I told her I write to them, they write back, and I run a blog.  Similar to (but not exactly) a pen-pal situation.  She informed me that prisoners do not have the right to write to people or receive mail from them.  Her exact words were, “What makes you think that inmates have that right”?  I then said, “So, do you mean to say that inmates do not have the right to write and receive mail from their family and friends?  Can I quote you on that”?  She said, “No.  I have to go open mail now”.  I then informed her that I would let the commissioner know her feelings on inmates receiving correspondence.  She told me to, “Read the mail rules on the website”.

I hung up with her and made the call to the commissioner’s office.  Then I looked up the mail rules (again) to make sure nothing had changed.  Section lll. of the Policy 21:12 of the mail rules states, “It is important that their be constructive correspondence between prisoners and their families and others as a means to maintain ties with the community.  Each facility shall provide prisoners with the means to engage in such correspondence”.

I called back the prison and got Nancy again and I said, “I did what you said and I just want to read you what I found”.  She listened to the first sentence, made a loud sighing sound in my ear, and told me to talk to her co-worker.  A man got on the phone and I asked his name but did not catch it…I believe it started with a G.  He was very respectful as I explained that I am not trying to break the rules only keep inmates in contact with the community.  He let me know how to send mail in the future to be sure they get it and assured me that they will get it if I do it the way he instructed.

My biggest concern here is Nancy.  This is a woman working in the prison mail room who does not believe that inmates have the right to get mail!  Considering the amount of mail I have received (and who knows what has been censored/shredded) about the MSP mail room, I would say that there are some real issues.

Although this blog is not for my voice, it is for the inmates, I wanted to take this moment to validate the complaints and concerns coming from the incarcerated at MSP regarding the mail room.  So often complaints are over looked, considered exaggerations, or just ignored that I felt this one was major enough to warrant a vocal intervention of sorts.  MSP has a mail room issue and I believe fully much of it starts with attitude and personal beliefs that are not conducive to that working environment.

I do know that there are some amazing organizations and people who know about this and are working towards a better system.  For all of your hard work, which I really hope produces change, thank you.

-Sophie Inchains