Prisoners in Kilby Prison in March 2016. (Eldon Vail for District Court of the United States)
A Holman Prison inmate has gone on hunger strike after prison officials banned a popular African-American newspaper because of its “racially motivated” content, according to a letter sent to the inmate from staff at the correctional facility.
“I’m going to fight with all my might in protest by going on a hunger strike until they lift this racist, ignorant and illegal ban prohibiting the SF (San Francisco) Bay View National Black Newspaper from coming into this prison and/or prison system as a whole,” said inmate Michael D. Williams, who first received the letter in January but did not make it public until Sunday, to the Bay View paper. “The Bay View helps us as prisoners to stay focused and never to view nor accept being confined to a ‘cage’ as ‘home.'”
Williams was sentenced to 20 years for first degree burglary in 2014, according to prison records.
Williams’ received the latter, formally known as a ‘Notification of Rejected Mail’ on Jan. 18. It noted that the ‘NEWSPAPER IS NOT ALLOWED/RACIALLY MOTIVATED.’
Prison officials are entitled to open inmates mail to ensure they don’t contain “illegal items or weapons” and “may not censor portions of correspondence which they find merely inflammatory or rude,” according to Civil Rights law,
The letter did not give specific reasons for the ban other than saying it was racially motivated. Bob Horton, ADOC’s public information manager, did not respond to calls and emails from AL.com. It’s not clear if the ban has been applied to the entire prison system or just Holman.
The San Francisco Bay View paper was established in 1976 to cover black issues in the Bay Area and is sent to prisoners all over the country, according to the paper’s website. The weekly circulation of the paper is around 10,000 copies.
Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, an advocate of prisoner right’s in Alabama and representative of the Free Alabama Movement, an state-wide organization that fights for better conditions inside prison, said that he was shocked about the banning of the newspaper at Holman.
“I take issue at the retaliation going on within the Alabama Department of Corrections, not only because it has censored the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, but also because it has put influential inmates of peaceful movement in solitary confinement or moved them to different prisons,” said Glasgow. “The newspaper is not racially motivated, it’s just written for African-Americans. This kind of censorship is unconstitutional.”
The state’s prison system has come under severe scrutiny in recent years because of rising violence and a prison population that has peaked at 190 percent of capacity. Such are the poor conditions inside the prisons, a federal investigation was opened in late 2016.
Prison reform legislation was passed in March that will see the state and local communities collaborate to build new prisons should Gov. Bentley pass the bill into law.