PAY-PER-MINUTE E-READERS IN WEST VIRGINIA PRISONS JEOPARDIZE ACCESS TO LITERATURE

Apple’s iPad (left) and Amazon’s Fire (right), two popular tablet computers. Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Income earned (or not) by inmates v. charges for reading-time in the feature below: In 1865, the United States passed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which banned slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This provided a legal basis for slavery to continue in the country.  

As of 2018, many prisoners in the US perform work. In Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, prisoners are not paid at all for their work. In other states, as of 2011, prisoners were paid between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour. Federal Prison Industries paid innmates an average of $0.90 per hour in 2017. In many cases the penal work is forced, with prisoners being punished by solitary confinment if they refuse to work.From 2010 to 2015 and again in 2016, and in 2018 some prisoners in the US refused to work, protesting for better pay, better conditions, and for the end of forced labor. Strike leaders are currently punished with indefinite solitary confinement. Forced prison labor occurs in government-run prisons and private prisons.

The prison labor industry makes over $1 billion USD per year selling products that inmates make, while inmates are paid very little or nothing in return.In California, 2,500 incarcerated workers are fighting wildfires for only $1 per hour, which saves the state as much as $100 million a year.” MORE Wikipedia



“West Virginia’s recent institution of pay-per-minute electronic tablets in prisons is predatory and would effectively limit prisoners’ access to free books,” according to PEN America. The program allows incarcerated people to read a limited selection of books from a free online library, but the service provider will charge up to 5¢ per minute to access this content. The state sharing some of the revenue. The private vendor, Global Tel Link, also reportedly maintains the right to raise prices without state permission.

“If you want to demonstrate how misguided prison policies towards access to literature have become, this serves as a perfect example,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “Incarcerated people are actually being charged money to read books already in the public domain, and the state gets a portion of the revenue. Not only is this a predatory policy that will actively disincentivize incarcerated people from reading, but it rewards the state for being complicit in these restrictions. After all, do we really expect West Virginia prison officials to develop more permissive policies towards book access now that the state is literally receiving a monetary award for funneling incarcerated people towards these pay-per-minute plans?”

In its September 2019 report Literature Locked Up PEN America examined the recent trend of prisons deploying e-readers. In November 2018, responding to public pressure, the state of Pennsylvania reversed a policy that banned physical book orders and required prisoners to buy e-tablets in order to read. Civil rights groups have increasingly warned that prisons may turn to e-tablets as a lower-cost substitute for physical services — such as law libraries or access to legal assistance — in ways that ultimately degrade the substance of incarcerated people’s constitutional rights.

“The average person may see a headline that says ‘prisoners receive e-tablets’ and think that such an agreement can only be beneficial for the incarcerated population’s right to read. Not necessarily,” Tager said. “We have to look at how these policies are being implemented in practice. Are they truly enlarging incarcerated people’s access to literature? Or are they further entrenching the idea that access to literature is a privilege for incarcerated people and a source of profit for the state? In the case of West Virginia, charging for per-minute access to books in the public domain clearly falls in the latter category. Access to free books should be free. Period.”

This feature is courtesy of PEN America, Wikipedia, and PrisonPolicy.org

PEN America a stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its 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: Jamie Dedes, Versifier of Truth, Womawords Literary Press, November 19, 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

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.

***

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.

About / Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: 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

Welcome News of Imprisoned Swedish Publisher/Poet Gui Minhai’s Upcoming Collection “I Draw Blood on the Wall with My Finger”

Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

“We enthusiastically welcome the news of Gui Minhai’s forthcoming book of poetry, which will serve not only as a literary work but also as a reminder that Gui continues to be unjustly detained,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. 



Taipei Times and PEN America announced that Gui Mihai, Swedish publisher and poet, imprisoned in China since 2015 will have a collection of his poetry – purportedly smuggled from his cell – published next year. The volume is entitled I Draw Blood on the Wall with My Finger. It’s publication will coincide with Gui’s 56th birthday.

Gui Minhai has been in detention since Chinese state security agents kidnapped him from Thailand in October 2015. Gui is a member of the Causeway Bay Bookstore Five, a group of publishers and booksellers affiliated with Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Bookstore, all disappeared by Chinese state agents in late 2015.

Causeway Bay Bookstore in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; 3 January 2016

“We enthusiastically welcome the news of Gui Minhai’s forthcoming book of poetry, which will serve not only as a literary work but also as a reminder that Gui continues to be unjustly detained,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “Gui’s continued detention – more than four years after his abduction – serves as a representation of the Chinese government’s continued blatant disregard for human rights and international law. On the occasion of this announcement, we reiterate our call that Gui be immediately and unconditionally released, and allowed to rejoin his family.”

Numerous human rights and free expression groups – including PEN America – have continually decried Gui’s illegal detention. In October 2017, the conditions of Gui’s confinement were reportedly relaxed until January 2018, when Chinese state agents forcibly stopped him from traveling with Swedish diplomats for a medical examination in Beijing. Gui has reportedly exhibited symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a degenerative neurological disease, and PEN America remains concerned for his health.

PEN America previously concluded in a November 2016 report that the Chinese government’s disappearance of the Causeway Bay Bookstore Five, as well as the conditions of their detentions – including a series of forced “confessions” from the booksellers that numerous observers have concluded were obviously scripted by state agents – constituted “a wide range of human rights abuses.”

RELATED:

Editorial Note: This feature is complied courtesy of  PEN America, Taipei Times, The Washington Post, and Radio Free Asia.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its 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.

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

Part 3 of 3: Zimbabwean Poet in Exile: Award-Winning Mbizo Chirasha, Call for Action – Here’s where the rubber hits the road!

Mbizo Chirasha

“I am a Zimbabwean, Zimbabwe is the country in which I was born. It is my country. I don’t have another home except Zimbabwe. I need to live freely in my country of birth. Why do I not get the freedom I need? I wait and watch people gambling and playing games with my life, my freedom, my peace, my health  and any other freedoms.

“Political affiliation – I do not belong to any political party because of my job. My job is very much global and universal. I am a Poet, Writer, Blogger and Organizer of Events. I am supposed to work with anyone or everybody. I am supposed to relate and associate with every Zimbabwean irrespective of affiliation because I am apolitical in my standing.

“My problem – I have been seeing strange stalking, attacks and threats soon after the Lit fest of 2017. I was quiet after the first attack but now I felt it is getting scary, dangerous and life threatening. I need to open up to the government, Media, International Organisations and  the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organizations because I don’t know who is doing this to me and who is planning to take my life and don’t  know for what major reason.” Mbizo Chirasha, Tuck Magazine, February 2017 / the finer details of the threat are described HERE.



HERE’S WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD

YES! This is a long-shot but all you have to sacrifice is a few minutes of time over your morning coffee to write two letters for Mbizo. If nothing else, it will show this man that people care. When he has safe harbor, he’ll continue his literary activism (as he does even now under threat) and he’ll be able to reach out a helping hand to others in peril. So please stand with us.  Thank you!

LETTER WRITNG CAMPAIGN IN SUPPORT OF MBIZO’S APPLICATIONS FOR SERVICES and SAFE HARBOR:

We need two letters. Please simply throw your support behind Mbizo by encouraging these organizations to provide timely assistance.

  1. International Cities of Refugee Network (ICORN) c/o Sølvberget KF,
    Stavanger Cultural Centre
    p.o. box: 310 4002 Stavanger
    Norway
    ICORN’s mission is “protecting and promoting writers and artists at risk.”  I’ve read Mbizo’s paperwork. Responses to his 2017 application for assistance repeatedly indicate that his paperwork is in process but no action has been taken by ICORN on Mbizo’s behalf over the two years since he filed for safe haven.
  2. Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a project of PEN America “Since its inception in 2017, ARC has assisted more than 181 individual artists from over 53 countries by connecting them to a wide range of services, most frequently including emergency funds, legal assistance, temporary relocation programs and fellowships. Thanks to a core network of over 70 partners, over 50% of them have already received direct support. Please write a letter in support of Mbizo’s application to an ARC partner agency.  He will include it in his application package, which is being prepared now.

CONNECT:

  • Connect with Mbizo on Facebook or email him at girlchildcreativity@gmail.com about the letters.
  • The deadline is :  14th November 2019. Thank you!

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gofundme: Mbizo Chirasha: Zimbabwean Poet in Exile

One Thomas Block of Human Rights International organized this fundraiser asking for $575 to address some immediate welfare needs. Be aware that this is a bandage not a cure, so even if you find yourself able to donate (please!), we still need you to write letters of support. At the time of this posting, $150 has been raised. Link HERE for details and to donate.

OCTOBER 30, 2019:
“We in the United States cannot really understand how poetry can become a dangerous activity. But in societies around the world, our activist-artist colleagues risk their lives for justice and art. Just two days ago, Mbizo’s activist-art brother, Zimbabwean musician Platinum Prince was abducted and beaten in Harare. His crime? In September of this year Platinum Prince released a track entitled NDIYO YACHO HERE MR PRESIDENT in which he seemed to be questioning the President of Zimbabwe over the current economic situation. We stand with Mbizo.” Thomas Block, International Human Rights Art Festival Organizer
~~~~~~~~

“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