Originally posted on Narrative Resistance - http://alexhundert.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/no-books-for-prisoners-part-4/ reposted now as it turns out prisoners in segregation have even less access to books...
I did not want to have to write this. I have another post completed that is a call-out for support for the Oshkimaadziig Camp, an Anishinabek reclamation, decolonization, and unity camp located just over twelve kilometers, by foot or vehicle, from this prison on the other side of Penetang Harbor. As a non-native settler, I was planning to implore people to support the camp with funds, supplies, and solidarity. I would much rather have posted that piece, but it will have to wait until next week.
I did not want to have to write this post because I wanted to be done with having to fight for imprisoned people to have access to books. Though I am still trying to figure out a way to get this prison to expand access to its library, the book cart (at least on our unit) has been moving regularly for a couple months now, and imprisoned people (at least on our unit) have been able to receive books sent in from the outside -- at least until this week.
Now, instead of posting a callout for support for the Oshkimaadziig camp, I am forced to write a callout for support in our struggle for access to books for imprisoned people. And that’s what this post is -- a call for support.
On December 11th an official (Offender) notice, complete with Central North Correctional Centre letterhead, was posted on every range by the guards. I have since discovered that it came straight from one of the managers of the security and investigations department, Martin Krawczyk. Here is what he had to say to us:
“Please be advised that effective immediately and as per Ministry policy, inmates housed at the CNCC who wish to purchase books, periodicals, and or magazines directly from the publisher, must be approved prior to making the order. Canteen provides a selection of 58 magazines and books for purchase. CNCC is equipped with a library and each unit has a library cart that is replenished on an ongoing basis. Inmates must request an inmate request form; addressed to the Superintendent requesting to be approved, and detailing which books, magazine and/or periodical they wish to receive. Inmates will be allowed a maximum of one book, one periodical, and one magazine per month over and in addition to those purchased on canteen or borrowed from the library. Any books that are not approved or exceed the monthly will be returned to sender. Any costs incurred will be at the expense of the inmate. At the discretion of the Superintendent or designate, any material may be redirected if there is reasonable cause to believe that it may offend staff or inmates, jeopardize the security, safety and good order of an institution, the welfare of individuals, or the rehabilitation of inmates.” [sic]
In response to this notice (with which I have some particular grievances that I will detail below) on cell block 5A more than a dozen of us have submitted complaint forms to the provincial ombudsman. The utter lack of accountability and arbitrary (ab)use of authority that are characteristic of this institution (and others) make well known the futility of complaining up the chain of command with the prison. On at least one other range on our unit a group of people are also filing complaints with the ombudsman.
I’ve since been advised by one of the operations managers (who, in her defense, seems to be a genuinely kind person who has treated me fairly) that I should consider it a victory that at least now senior management has put in writing their recognition and acknowledgement that there is in fact any policy at all that says imprisoned people are entitled to receive books, something that they have until recently attempted to deny.
I am not writing this post to complain or as an update. I am writing to ask for help from the outside in our attempt to have the “policy” as described in the December 11th notice repealed and replaced, with something appropriately less restrictive. What I’m hoping that people will be willing to do is to make a call to the prison to tell them that the “policy” is bullshit (and I will explain why below).
The phone number at the prison is 705-549-9470. Calls should be directed to the Superintendent.
There are several things wrong with security manager Mark Krawczyk’s “policy.” I keep putting the word policy in quotations because nowhere in his notice does Krawczyk indicate where the alleged “policy” comes from. It does not match the policy in the Information Guide for Adult Inmates put out by the Ministry, nor does it match anything that I have ever seen in the Ministry of Correctional Services Act or any other prison legislation. If this is in fact a Ministry “policy,” as Krawczyk suggests, it needs to be drastically changed.
With respect to the notion of preapproval, let’s put aside momentarily that such a process is unnecessarily restrictive, absurdly bureaucratic, and reeks of fascistic tendencies; it also doesn’t work. And for those of us imprisoned here, it feels like an obvious ruse to obscure the intention of preventing prisoners from being able to receive books sent into them from family members or their community support. That said, the aforementioned Information Guide, while saying nothing about maximum limits, does specify a preapproval process. But in a place like this, where people like Krawczyk so routinely abuse their power in such arbitrary ways, while others are simply oblivious to the rules of this institution that they themselves are hired to uphold, that component of such a policy is an obvious and utter failure.
An anecdote: when I first arrived here, having already familiarized myself with as much provincial prison policy as I could, I did in fact submit a request to get approval to receive a magazine subscription. It was denied. That magazine was not anything militant or even radical; it was The Economist. Denied by the Deputy Superintendent of Operations Office with the following explanation: “only approved magazines from the canteen list” [sic]. When I followed up with a request “to discuss decision to contravene policy regarding seizing inappropriate reading material,” an Operations Manager responded as follows: “CNCC provides library books to the unit… You are allowed to order books, however, they are held in your property until you are released.” At that time the library cart on our unit had not actually made rounds for several months. I gave up on the magazine subscription and arranged for people (from the outside) to start sending books (straight from the publisher or distributor) and then calling the prison to pressure them to have the books delivered. I also kept writing installments of No Books for Prisoners and the approach seemed to get the books in -- until now.
In general, requests to the Superintendent (and other management) are ignored and, as the above anecdote displays, even when they are acknowledged they tend to be summarily and arbitrarily dismissed. I have never heard of someone getting a book “approved” here. Further, while some security streaming does make sense (this is, after all, a maximum security prison), the idea that decisions about censorship based on title and author alone is flabbergasting -- it’s not even judging a book by its cover.
The maximum of one book a month is also ridiculous and, as I’ve written, it’s the first time I have ever heard this suggestion. Krawczyk’s “notice” attempts to obscure the punitive authoritarian restrictiveness of this facet of his “policy” by noting that there are “58 magazines and books” on the canteen list. There are less than a dozen book titles on that list, and those have not been rotated since August. The rest are magazines, and reading magazines does not do the same thing for one’s mind that can be achieved from reading books. And while the library is relatively impressive (given that this is, after all, a prison) only people who are enrolled in the education program here are allowed to access the actual library. The book cart does come around regularly now, at least on my unit, as the guards have “hired” me as the “unit librarian.” However, the cart only holds about 150 books, despite there being almost 200 imprisoned people on this unit, and I have only between 5 and 15 minutes to spend in front of each range for up to 32 people to reach through a 6” by 3” slot in the wall to pick books from the cart.
To my mind the one book maximum in Krawczyk’s is cruel and unnecessarily punitive. Why begrudge imprisoned people books? Most of the books sent in to people end up being donated to the library when those people are released. I would think that having books sent in should be encouraged, not restricted.
There are lots of books here. Access to them is atrocious. This is an institutional and institutionalized problem that needs to be corrected. For a few months we were able to have books sent in from the outside. Those of us who are about reading and also have access to people with money who want to send us books, and also have the wherewithal to coordinate this and stand up for ourselves to ensure the books are delivered -- a very small number of us -- have been getting books sent in regularly, and sharing them with others. Everyone has been reading more. Now Martin Krawczyk has attempted to put a stop to that -- I think arbitrarily, and in my opinion, an abuse of his authority.
I am hoping that people will call to tell the Superintendent how absurd and inappropriate this restrictiveness is. If people are unsatisfied with the responses they get, if there is a not a repeal or substantial alteration of this counterintuitive “policy” -- after all, Krawczyk’s own notice explicitly mentions the “good order of the institution” and the “rehabilitation of imprisoned people”; things I would imagine facilitated by the reading and sharing of books -- or if people are willing to make more than one phone call in support of our struggle for access to books I would encourage people to also call the ombudsman (1-800-263-1830) and/or the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
I had wanted instead to encourage people to support the Oshkimaadziig Camp and the efforts of the people there who are about to enter a long, cold winter outdoors. As a settler, I believe there is no stronger imperative than decolonization and to support and be in solidarity with Indigenous sovereigntists and land defenders. I apologize for having to write this post. Thank you for reading it and for your support.
Next week: No Justice on Stolen Land, No Surrender at the Oshkimaadziig Camp.
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