A Prison Strike Organizer Suffers Retaliation For Speaking With Journalists
Alice Speri reports in The Intercept:
A prisoner at Ohio State Penitentiary says he is facing disciplinary action for participating in an NPR interview about the nationwide prison strike that started on September 9.
Nearly a month after inmates embarked on the largest prison strike in the country’s history, the media and the public continue to know little about where and how the action played out, and even less about officials’ retaliation against striking prisoners.
As The Intercept has reported, that’s no coincidence. Prison officials regularly go to great lengths to control the information leaving their institutions, and this strike has proven no exception, despite gradually developing media interest in the protest.
Undeterred by challenges, prison activists have succeeded in releasing sporadic updates on the strike as it spread across the country, and some of them have even used a combination of contraband cellphones and their regularly allotted phone time to speak with media organizations.
But those calls come at a cost.
In an incident suggesting just how difficult and risky it can be for prisoners to communicate with the outside, and with journalists in particular, Siddique Hasan, a prison activist sentenced to death for his role in a 1993 prison uprising, said he was “written up” by a prison investigator for his participation in a September 28 episode of the NPR show “On Point with Tom Ashbrook.”
Hasan is expected to go before the prison’s Rules Infraction Board this week, charged with “unauthorized use of telephone or violation of mail and visiting rules.” He plans to plead guilty to the accusation because he contests its legitimacy, he told The Intercept.
The prison’s warden and Michael Wylie, the prison investigator who first approached Hasan about the interview, did not respond to a request for comment, but Laura Gardner, the warden’s assistant, wrote in an email to The Intercept that “per DRC’s media policy, telephone media interviews are not permitted nor are media interview with Level 5 inmates.”
Hasan told The Intercept that Wylie warned him against presenting himself as an “organizer” and a member of the Free Ohio Movement — a peaceful prisoners’ rights organization he helped found. Hasan also said Wylie told him that he was not allowed to speak on radio programs or do interviews with the media, even though that restriction was previously limited to media conducting on-camera interviews on site or reporters bringing in recording equipment during visits. The department of corrections did not respond to a request for comment.
“Since I am not a coward or a passive ‘nigger’ that takes unconstitutional orders from my oppressive captors, I have no intention of passively submitting to such a threat,” Hasan wrote in a message to The Intercept, sent through a monitored prison communication service. “I expect to be put in isolation sometime soon, found guilty by their kangaroo court, and then given more phone restrictions in order to excommunicate me from the media and the outside world. If so, come what may and let the wind blow wherever, for I will never capitulate to their unconstitutional demand and this new form of harassment.”
A Pattern of Retaliation
It’s hardly the first time Hasan has faced retaliation for his communications with the outside. But while he regularly speaks to supporters, reporters, and even conferences and college campuses — about anything from his faith to prison resistance and the movement for black lives — he has faced increased scrutiny in the weeks leading up to and following the September 9 prison strike.
Last August, an imam who leads religious services at the prison, with whom Hasan has had theological disagreements in the past, accused him of making threats against the institution. Incidentally, he alleged that those comments dated to several days earlier, on July 22, the same day this reporter visited Hasan in prison. In the investigation that followed, Hasan was accused of “plotting to blow up buildings” on September 9 — the day of the planned prison strike — and sent to solitary confinement for over a month.
But his battle for media access dates further back, to a 2013 lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Ohio on behalf of a handful of journalists, Hasan, and four other prisoners, accusing the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction of violating the prisoners’ constitutionally protected right to media access. . .