Literature Locked Up: First Amendment and the fight for access to books and magazines in our prisons

Photo courtesy of Johannes Jansson/norden.org under CC BY 2.5 dk

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”  James Baldwin



Last month a federal court ruled that the Arizona Department of Corrections was overly broad in restricting certain publications to people in state prisons, and ordered the department to establish clearer rules that are consistent with the First Amendment. The decision stems from a 2015 lawsuit brought by the magazine Prison Legal News, which alleged that state corrections officials were unfairly withholding the magazine from incarcerated subscribers.

“The ruling out of Arizona is a significant step forward for the First Amendment and for our fight for access to literature in sites of incarceration,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “The court was right to recognize that Arizona’s policies towards book access give too much discretion to individual employees, who are then empowered to implement these policies in arbitrary or overly restrictive ways, and to demand narrow definitions for what content is prohibited.”

“PEN America has previously called for more explicit policies that more narrowly define the bounds for rejecting books, and we hope that Arizona’s revised policies will meet this mark,” Benavidez continued. “We need regulations that better enshrine the First Amendment within prison walls, and that recognize the importance of access to literature for our incarcerated population. We believe that this ruling can serve as an example for other jurisdictions to recognize the fundamental right to read where it remains threatened in American prisons.”

In September 2019, PEN America released Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban. a research report on the state of the right to read in American prisons. The report concluded that “book restrictions in American prisons are often arbitrary, overbroad, opaque, subject to little meaningful review, and overly dismissive of incarcerated people’s right to access literature behind bars.”

Among the recommendations, PEN America concluded that state and federal officials should develop more explicit policies governing book restrictions; implement periodic review of their restriction policies; and ensure that prison officials strongly consider the literary, educational, and rehabilitative merit of any publication before determining its admissibility.

This post is courtesy of PEN America.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

The Road to Zvegona, a poem by Poet-in-Exhile Mbizo Chirasha; Update on Mbizo’s situation; Calls for Submissions to Brave Voices Poetry Journal

See a procession of young mothers chattering their way
From water fountains in grenade torn sandals
And blood laced bras
Decade of Bullets, Mbizo Chirasha



Is fading the memory of its son,
Who for words must ride the night
Fleeing ears that hear thunder on a babies purity guggle,
Zvegona, my homestead,
Ancestors are watching
Elders on a scheming mission
Trading lies with more lies
The road to Zvegona
Your Sideroads sigh
Your song is silent
Only hiccups of mothers greet the sun
Yearning for the return of the bearded child
Who lives on the strings of truth
Truth refused a seat at the council of baboons on the lagoons
Goons settling scores on the assumptions that a boy has a price,
Well, the boy true has a price
But not one you can pay with looted coins
The boy has shaved his hair not his brains
The boy has slipped his boots on and truth has raised its flag
And the spirits of truth sing his Achilles heels on,
So Zvegona, the village of the lucky poet,
Grow thistles and thorns
Feed cattle and goats
The boy has shaved his beard
Ready for a walk back, to shave the land of all pretentious shenanigans
Uprooting the weeds and weevils
Repair the kraal too,
Where roosters shall announce light unto the land,
Currently bent double under the gargantuan weight of lying tongues.
Zvegona, you are my yesterday
Zvegona, you are my tomorrow in whatever form, shape or …….

© 2019, Mbizo Chirasha

UPDATE ON MBIZO

Mbizo is still in hiding with irregular access to water, food, computer and Wifi. Nonetheless, he continues working at his mission including  NOTICE FREEDOM VOICES PRIZE  and BRAVE VOICES POETRY JOURNAL and Womawords Literary Press.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

The first New Look Brave Voices Poetry Journal will be out by the 15th of December 2019. It is a Christmas gift. Our deadline for articles [and poetry] is the 10th of December 2019. We look  forward to contributions and features with a length of 1500 words. You can send these in the body of mail with photos as attachments. Please include your publishable photos and a fifteen line bio to bravevoicespoetry@gmail.com

Yours creatively ,
Mbizo Chirasha- Brave Voices Poetry Journal Curator

We’ve received letters of support to go in Mbizo’s applications for grants and safe harbor, but the Go-Fund-Me effort is still not to goal, which would provide for the immediate need for pantry staples, computer, and so forth. Without predictable computer access, Mbizo has not yet been able to do his interview with the Canadian radio show, though the offer still stands.

International Human Rights Festival, the entity that sponsored Mbizo’s Go-Fund-Me, has attracted $480 and raised the goal to $750.  They have cut him some partial funding for now.  Meanwhile, folks, I suggest that if enough of us donated the price of one morning latte, we’d make the goal.  What do you say? A whole bunch of tidbits would combine for a whole lot of success. You can make your donation anonymously HERE.

If you are able and interested in helping in any way, you can contact Mbizo directly at: girlchildcreativity@gmail.com

“We remain resilient in the quest for justice, freedom of expression and upholding of human rights through Literary Activism and Artivism. ALUTA CONTINUA.” Mbizo Chirasha

RELATED
MBIZO CHIRASHA is a recipient of PEN Deutschland Exiled Writer Grant (2017), Literary Arts Projects Curator, Writer in Residence, Blogs Publisher, Arts for Human Rights/Peace Activism Catalyst, Social Media Publicist and Internationally Anthologized Writer, 2017 African Partner of the International Human Rights Arts Festival Exiled in Africa Program in New York. 2017 Grantee of the EU- Horn of Africa Defend Human Rights Defenders Protection Fund. Resident Curator of 100 Thousand Poets for Peace-Zimbabwe, Originator of Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Movement. He has published a collection of poetry, Good Morning President, and co-created another one Whispering Woes of Gangesand Zembezi with Indian poet Sweta Vikram.

Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

About / Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

This . . .

Photo copyright unknown, but it’s not mine/ J.D. / quotation Kristen Tea @ motherwiselife.org

To paraphrase Tolstoy, you many not be interested in war, conflict, environmental injustice, and human rights abuses, but they are interested in you. They stalk everyone.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

About / Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Opportunity Knocks for Poets and Writers: Calls for Submissions, Competitions; Update on Zimbabwean Poet, Mbizo Chirasha

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass



Opportunity knocks is published periodically in place of Sunday Announcements, which included calls for submissions, competitions, events and other information. these days as news comes in I included on The Poet by Day Facebook Page. Remember that information is not necessarily recommendation.  Follow the leads that interest you, but do your own homework. / J.D.

CALLS FOR SUBMISSIONS

ARTEMISpoetry, a publication of Second Light Network of Women Poets, is open for submissions of poetry to Issue 34 by 28th February 2020 and artwork by 15th March 2020. Demographic restrictions: Women Only.  Membership not required. Details HERE.

THE BeZINE is open for submissions through November 15 for the December 15 issue, themed “Life of the Spirit.”  We publish fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, poetry, art, photography, and music videos … anything that will lend itself to online publication. Submissions to the ZINE BLOG are always welcome and there are no special themes for November, December and January at this time. In February we plan to address disability issues, but at this time haven’t decided if it will be month-long series of blog posts or a special issue of the Zine. We are an entirely volunteer effort, a mission of love. We are unable to make payments but neither do we charge submission or subscription fees. Submission guidelines are HERE.  Mission statement is HERE.

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ART FESTIVAL is open for submissions. It is “a growing platform for writers to submit poetry, creative nonfiction, short fiction, essays or any other format that comes from the heart, and focuses on social and activist themes. We base our work on the values of beauty, sincerity, vulnerability and engagement, and hope that these will be reflected in the submissions.” Details HERE.

MULTIVERSE, the sci-fi poetry section of Shoreline of Infinity seeks submissions. “Send us your time traveling tanka, scientific sonnet, robotic rondel, high-tech haiku, alien acrostics and futuristic free verse.”  No fee and as far as I can tell, no pay. Details HERE.

PANTHEON LITERARY JOURNAL is open to short story, flash, poetry, and creative nonfiction submissions for its second issue, Winter 2020. $3 submission fee. Deadline: December 31. Details HERE.

REWILDING: Poems for the Environment, an anthology that explores the current state of the natural environment is open for submissions through December 31, 2019 for this anthology developed by Flexible Press in concert with Split Rock Review. No submission fee. Proceeds to be donated to Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, a nonprofit environmental organization in Minnesota. Poet payment is a copy of the anthology. Details HERE.

SPLIT ROCK REVIEW is open for submissions of poetry, short creative nonfiction, comics, graphic stories, hybrids/visual poetry, photography, and art that explore place, environment, and the relationship between humans and the natural world. Reading period closes on November 30. $2 submission fee. No payment. Details HERE.

SPLIT ROCK PRESS, an extension of Split Rock Review, seeks poetry chapbook manuscripts that explore place, environment, and the relationship between humans and the natural world. 1 to 4 poetry chapbooks to be published in 2020. $7 submission fee. Deadline: November 30.  Details HERE.

COMPETITIONS:

According to The Poetry Society of America’s site: “The PSA’s Annual Awards are among the most prestigious honors available to poets. They offer emerging and established poets recognition at all stages of their careers, including our student poetry award and book awards for publishers.”There are four categories Individual Awards, Anna Rabinowitz Prize, Student Poetry Award, and Book Awards for Publishers. Details HERE.



UPDATE ON 

ZIMBABWEAN POET IN EXILE:

MBIZO CHIRASHA

We’ve published a three-part series on this esteemed and accomplished poet-at-risk to help draw attention to his plight and to the plight of all poets, artists and activists working in the trenches in countries where they are in danger from violent despots and greedy kleptocrats. This week’s Wednesday Writing Prompt is also to further these efforts and is sponsored by Mbizo in the sense that he donated his poetry.

I’m not sure yet how many letters of support for safe harbor we have, but the go-fund-me (for some immediate needs) amount is up from $150 to $420. The goal is $575. We’ve also managed to get Mbizo an interview with a radio show in Canada, with Paul Brookes on Wombwell Rainbow, and a lot of exposure on social networking sites.  To all who have supported this effort, thank you from my heart and from Mbizo’s.  I’ll post the link to the radio interview when it’s done and will keep folks updated.

LOOK ALIVE LINE: Remember, we need letters sent to International Cities of Refugee Network by November 15 (see Part 3 in the series listed below) for Mbizo’s safe harbor and email letters of support for Mbizo’s PEN America application to him at girlchildcreativity@gmail.com.  You can also connect with Mbizo on Facebook.

“We remain resilient in the quest for justice, freedom of expression and upholding of human rights through Literary Activism and Artivism. ALUTA CONTINUA.” Mbizo Chirasha

RELATED:


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

About / Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton