Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
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Archive for the ‘Repression’ Category

Spring Update: RAISE YOUR VOICE AGAINST THE CMU

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Daniel McGowan
April 24, 2010
Spring Update

After three years in prison and hundreds (thousands, even) of letters mailed out, I have gotten to the point where there is little to write about.  Prison life is remarkably static—so unchanging in its daily routine—that news resonates here in a pronounced way.  The early part of April brought some major announcements that will profoundly affect my life here in the Bureau of Prison’s Communication Management Unit (CMU).  Finally, my friends will be saved from the endless litany of letters about what TV shows I watch, Prison drama, my workouts and books I have read that week!

In February, after completing 18 months of “clear conduct” here, I requested a transfer to a “normal” prison (that is, one without punitive restrictions on my contact with the outside world).  My request was denied on April 5th and did not come as a major shock.  The written rejection notice did not offer a reason for my denial; instead just informing me that I can apply again at my next “program review.”  I am not the only one who has had my transfer request denied and who faces the paradox of being held here without any explanation why.  Despite twenty months of “clear conduct” (the BoP term for no disciplinary sanctions) and participation in classes, I am still being held here at the government’s discretion.

On March 30th, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed suit on my behalf against the BoP regarding this unit (Aref v. Holder, D.C. Circuit).  The suit raises a number of substantial constitutional claims and violations of federal law.  Also included in the suit are fellow prisoners at this CMU, the other CMU at Terre Haute, my wife Jenny and another prisoner’s wife.  The suit is asking for injunctive relief–that the court intervene and fix these constitutional violations.  While this is a positive step in addressing the massive problems with the concept of the Communication Management Unit, the journey through the courts is a slow and somewhat tedious affair.

Just one week after the lawsuit was filed, the Bureau of Prisons released proposed rules for the CMU, opening a 60-day comment period for the public (BoP Docket # 1148-P, Communication Management Units).  The unfortunate part of this proposal is that they represent a huge reduction in communication for prisoners.  The new rules would set the following standards:
1) Only one phone call per month (to immediate family).
2) Only one hour, non-contact, visit per month (with immediate family).
3) Only one, 3 page letter, to and from a single recipient per week.

These rules are remarkable and fly in the face of the BoP’s supposed ideas on the positive aspects of communication between prisoners and their community, family members and friends.  The proposed rules are far worse than the current conditions, and current conditions are bad enough.  I can assure you that attempting to maintain healthy, close relationships on 2 phone calls a week and 8 hours of non-contact visits a month is exceedingly difficult and expensive.  (My family lives 1,100 miles from this prison creating bills of $600+ for a two day trip).  The irony is that most of the men in this unit do not even have communication violations so why the reason for the new rules? Normally, a government agency (such as the BoP) proposes rules before implementing a policy.  In this case, the CMU has been in operations for nearly three years.  Not only is that an obvious violation of federal law but the proposed rules have an air of mean-spiritedness and retribution.

You can submit public comment on these proposed rules easily online at www.regulations.gov or by reading the rules online and sending your comments to:

Rules Unit, Office of General Counsel
Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW.
Washington, DC 20534

Please be cordial and to the point with your comments.  If you need help or talking points for your comments, do not hesitate to contact the organizations below.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) www.ccrjustice.org, 212-614-6480.

Family & Friends of Daniel McGowan www.supportdaniel.org

Daniel McGowan
63794-053
USP Marion CMU
PO Box 1000
Marion, IL 62959

Running Down the Walls

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Today, on a muggy day at USP Marion, I ran 5K to coincide with the Anarchist Black Cross Federation’s annual “Running down the Walls’ benefit run in Los Angeles (with other runs & bike rides around the continent). Because of this year’s timing, I did it solo (more than 2/3 of the men here fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan). Despite an allergy flare up and an absurd amount of smoke from a nearby wood burning stove, I finished the 5K in 33:04. I have to disclaim that time though! You should know that our yard’s path is only 1/18th of a mile requiring me to run 55 laps and make a fairly hard turn 220 times! It was a great day to run and I started my run at 12PM so that I would be running at the same time as the folks in LA. I thought a lot today about all the others participating in the run and how this isolation I feel is really an illusion–that there are many others out there that struggle against this cruel and unjust system. My thoughts are with all of you out there struggling for a better world and my fellow political prisoners (and all prisoners for that matter). I hope all of the runs were successful today and that a lot of funds were raised to booster the important work the ABCF does.

Please check out http://www.abcf.net for more information.

Thanks for all your support,
Daniel

Exposing “Little Guantanamo”: Inside the CMU by Daniel McGowan, Spring 2009

Monday, June 8th, 2009

As of May 2009, I have been at USP Marion’s “Communication Management Unit” or CMU, for roughly nine months and now is a good time to address the misconceptions (and the silence) regarding this unit. I want to offer a snapshot of my day-to-day life here as well as some analysis of what the existence of CMUs in the federal prison system implies.1 It is my hope that this article will partially fill the void of information that exists concerning the CMU, will help dispel rumors, and will inspire you to support those of us on the inside fighting the existence of these isolation units— in the courts and in the realm of public opinion.

It is best to start from the beginning— or at least where my story and the CMU meet. My transfer here is no different from that of many of the men here who were living at Federal Correctional Institutions (normal prisons) prior to the genesis of the CMUs. On May 12, 2008, on my way back from a decent lunch, I was told to report to “R&D” (receiving and discharge). I was given two boxes and half an hour to pack up my meager possessions. After complying I was placed in the SHU (secure housing unit or “hole”) and put on a bus the next day. There was no hearing and no information given to me or my attorneys— only after a day was I told I was on my way to Marion, Illinois’ CMU.2

Hearing the term “CMU” made my knees buckle as it drummed up some memory I had of the infamous ‘control units’ at Marion (closed in 1995 and replaced by Florence ADX: the lone Federal “Supermax” prison. Then it hit me. The lawyers, in challenging the application of the terrorist enhancement in my case made the prescient argument that if I receive the enhancement, the Bureau of Prisons (BoP) would use that to place me in the CMU at FCI Terre Haute, Indiana (at the time just 5 months old).3 In fact, on the way to FCI Sandstone in August 2007, I not only saw the CMU but met one of its residents while in transit. Let me back up and offer a brief history of the Communication Management Units.

The CMU I reside in, at USP Marion, received its first prisoner in May 2008 and when I arrived, held about 17 men, the majority of whom were Muslim. Currently, the unit has 25, with a capacity of 52 cells. In April 2009, we received seven new people, all of whom were from the CMU at FCI Terre Haute. The unit is overwhelmingly Muslim with 18 men identifying as such. Most, but not all of the prison,4 have so-called terrorism cases. According to a BoP spokesperson, the unit “will not be limited to inmates convicted of terrorism-related cases through all of the prisoners fit that description.”5 Others have prison disciplinary violation or allegations related to communication and the misuse of telephones etc. Here, almost everyone has a terrorism related case— whether it is like my case (destruction of property characterized as ‘domestic terrorism’) or conspiracy and ‘providing material aid’ cases.

Before the Marion CMU opened, there was the original CMU, opened in December 2006 at the former death row at FCI Terre Haute.6 According to early articles, the unit was intended for “second tier terrorism inmates, most of them Arab Muslims and a less restrictive version of the Supermax in Florence, Colorado.”7

Additionally, BoP Director Harley Lappin, in a July 2008 hearing on the 2009 BoP budget request, said this about the CMUs:

A lot of the more serious offenders, terrorists, were housed at ADX Florence. So, we are ramping up two communications management units that are less restrictive but will ensure that all mail and phone calls of the offenders are monitored on a daily basis.8

Terre Haute’s CMU has 36 men (27 of whom are Muslim) and is roughly comparable to Marion’s CMU.9 The rest of this place focuses on the latter, in which I have resided and of which I have seen firsthand.

You may be curious about just what a CMU actually is. From my correspondence, I can tell that many correspondents do not know much about what goes on here. I hope this can clear up any misperceptions. According to the BoP,

The CMU is [sic] established to house inmates who, due to their current offense of conviction, offense conduct or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communication between inmates and persons in the community in order to protect the safety, security, and orderly operations of Bureau facilities and protect the public…The CMU is a self-contained general population housing unit.10

There are, of course, alternate views to the above definition including the belief that the CMUs are Muslim units, a political prisoner unit (similar to the HSU operated by the BoP in the 80’s,11 and a punishment unit.

The CMUs have an extremely high Muslim population; here at Marion, it is 65-75%. An overrepresentation of any one demographic in a prison raises constitutional issues of equal protection as well as safety issues. Nowhere in the BoP will you find any group represented in such extreme disproportion. To counter these claims, the BoP brought in a small number of non-Muslims to be used as proof that the units are not strictly Muslim (an interesting note is that some of the Muslim men here have cases unrelated to terrorism). Does the inclusion of six people that are non-Muslim really negate the claim of segregation though?  What are the criteria for determining who comes to the CMU? The BoP claims there are 211 international terrorists (and 1000 domestic terrorists) in their system.12 Yet, the CMUs have no more than 60 men at the present time. Where are the rest of these people? How does the BOP determine who of those 1200 are sent to a CMU and who to normal prisons? These are questions that need to be asked— in court and in the media.

Many of the men here (both Muslim and non) are considered political prisoners in their respective movements and have been engaged in social justice, religious organizations, charities and humanitarian efforts.13 Another conception of the CMU is that it is a location designed to isolate us from our movements and to act as a deterrent for others from those movements (as in ‘step outside the line and you too will end up there’).14 The intended effect of long-term housing of this kind is a profound sense of dislocation and alienation. With your mail, email, phones, and visits monitored and no human touch allowed at the visits, it is difficult to feel a connection to “the streets.” There is historical evidence of the BoP utilizing political prisons— despite the fact that the Department of Justice refuses to acknowledge the concept of political prisoners in US prisons, choosing to call us “criminal” instead.

The Lexington High Security Unit (HSU) was one such example. Having opened its 16-bed facilities in 1988 and housing a number of female political prisoners,15 the HSU functioned as an isolation unit— underground, bathed in fluorescence, and limited interaction with staff. In the opinion of Dr. Richard Korn, speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, the unit’s goal was:

…to reduce prisoners to a state of submission essential for their ideological conversion. That failing, the next objective is to reduce them as efficient, self-directing antagonists. That failing, the only alternative is to destroy them by making them destroy themselves.16

After an arduous campaign by human rights advocates and supporters, the BoP capitulated, stating it would close its facility (when it did not, it was sued).17 The judge ruled that the plaintiffs were illegally designated based on their past political affiliations, statements and political beliefs.18 The unit was closed and the women were transferred to other prisons.

The correlations between the HSU and CMU are many and seem to have some of the same goals as well as methods used to designate us here. Knowing they are dealing with people committed to ideals and the movements they are a part of, we were placed here in order to weaken those connections and harm our relationships. An example is the horrendous strain that the CMU puts on our familial relations— especially our marriages. It was certainly considered by the architects of the CMU that preventing visits that allow human touch for long-term prisoners would have a disastrous impact on our relationships and would lead to weaker inmates.

Finally, the CMU can be viewed as “the stick”— a punitive unit for those who don’t play ball or who continue to express political beliefs anathema to the BoP or the US government. Although I am not aware of the BoP’s criteria for sending people here (due to their refusal to release specific CMU information), it is curious who is and who is not here. Out of roughly 18 codefendants in my criminal case, I am the only one at a CMU (the remainder of them are at low and medium security prisons). The same goes for a member of the SHAC7 campaign, Andrew Stepanian, one of 6 defendants in his case who was sent here for the last 6 months of his sentence.19 Other men here have codefendants at the Terre Haute CMU while others have codefendants at normal federal prisons. Despite numerous Freedom of Information Requests,20 the BoP refuses to grant the documents that specify the rules governing transfer to the CMU. Remember, hardly any of the men here have received any disciplinary violations and some have been in general population over 15 years! How can someone be OK in general population for that long and then one day be seen as a communication threat?

So, I have hypothesized about the goals of the CMU. Let me discuss the many problems and injustices associated with the existence of the CMUs.

Due process

More appropriately, a lack thereof. A term I never thought much about before my imprisonment, due process is:

…the conduct of legal proceedings according to established rules and principles for the protection and enforcement of private rights, including notice and the right to hearing before a tribunal [my emphasis]   with the power to decide the case.21

I was moved from FCI Sandstone, against my will and at a moment’s notice, with no hearing and thus no chance to contest the reason for my transfer. A FOIA request recently received states I was redesignated May 6th, my transfer was signed the next day and I was moved on May 13th with the reason given as “program participation”.22 Since I got here, I have not had a hearing to contest the claims made in the “Notice to Inmate of Transfer to CMU, ” 23 some of which were woefully inaccurate. Instead, I was told I can utilize the administrative remedy process (which I have done to no avail) and request a transfer after 18 months of “clean conduct”.24

The irony is that all prisoners who violate prison rules are subject to a series of disciplinary hearings in which they could offer their defense. For legal units such as Florence ADX (Supermax) or the control unit program, there exists a codified set of rules and hearings for transfer to these locations .25 The BoP has deliberately ignored this process and has instead transferred us to this special, brand-new CMU without due process. My notice of transfer was given to me 12 days after I arrived!

Similar to the callous disregard for due process (and the US Constitution), there is no “step down” process for the CMU. Unlike the ones that exist at Florence ADX, control units or even the gang units, the CMU has no stages, no requisite amount of time we are to spend here before being sent back to a normal prison.26

Because these preceding programs are specifically for prison misbehavior, there is a logical and orderly way to finish the program and eventually transfer. For us, the BoP has set up a paradox— if we are here for our offense conduct, which we cannot ever change, how can we reasonably leave the unit? In its “Admissions and Orientation” guide for Marion’s CMU, here is what they say:

Every new commitment to the CMU will be evaluated by his unit team regarding his suitability for incarceration in this institution. If, for some reason, the inmate is deemed not acceptable for confinement in this unit, he will be processed as expeditiously as possible…“27

[I am still roughly 10 months from my 18-month period in which I must wait before requesting a transfer. Considering the fact that all my remedies have been denied, I am not hopeful about this.]

CMU as Secret

In addition to the due process and transfer issues, there is the secretive and illegal manner that the CMU was created (Note: for historical perspectives, it needs to be stated that the CMU was established roughly halfway through the second term of George W. Bush and his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales).

In April 2006, the BoP proposed a “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates” policy,28 which suggested new restrictions for “terrorists” and “terrorism related inmates” such as:

1) One 6-page letter per week.
2) One 15-minute phone call a month.
3) One 1-hour visit a month.29
A coalition of civil rights organizations signed a letter of protest criticizing the proposed rules and raising numerous constitutional, practical and ethical objectives.30 The outcry appears to have caused the BoP to reconsider it and just 6 months later, open the CMU at FCI Terre Haute quietly.31 Since the BoP never sought public comment on the new CMU, it certainly appears to be a violation of the Administrative Procedural Act (APA),32 an argument a federal judge in Miami raised in response to a prisoner’s legal challenge to transfer to the CMU.33

The unit is functionally an open secret. While the BoP circumvented the standard public comment (and feedback process), it has sought to get around this by describing the CMU as a “self-contained general population unit,”34 implying that the unit is legally and penally no different than a normal unit at an FCI. There is no mention of the CMU on the BoP’s website (ww.bop.gov) or USP Marion’s subpage on the same site.35 You will not find extensive Congressional hearings on the subject— other than a July 2008 subcommittee hearing in which it appears that the BoP director was not fully forthcoming on the CMU36. Letters here are stamped “USP Marion,” not CMU, and the unit is called “I Unit” by staff. (An interesting anecdote: while on transit in Winter 2009, I met men from the FCI here and asked them what they knew about I Unit. Without hesitation, they said, “That’s where the terrorists are.” They informed me this is what BoP Staff routinely told them).

Media queries are met with silence or vague information. Requests by the media to interview me by coming to Marion have been denied— due to it “being detrimental to the safety, security and good order of the institution.”37 There still is no Program Statement on the CMU— a legal requirement, outlining the specific rules of the CMU and its designation criteria.

Because of this, and the general refusal of the BoP to hand over relevant documents through FOIA, it is impossible to determine the specific reasons why one is sent here— and thus, how to contest this process.38 In effect, the CMU was created on the fly, with no eye toward legality; they are free to operate it in whatever manner they choose.

Communication Management (The promotion of isolation and alienation)

The most painful aspect of this unit, to me, is how the CMU restricts my contact with the world beyond these walls. It is difficult for those who have not known prison to understand what a lifeline contact with our family and friends is to us. It is our link to the world— and our future (for those of us who are fortunate enough to have release dates). Prison authorities and architects are well aware that those with strong family ties and in good communication with their loved ones are well behaved and have significantly lower rates of recidivism. The BoP, in theory, recognizes this by claiming they try to situate us within 500 miles of our homes. Mostly, this is a cruel farce for many prisoners— I have not been within 1000 miles of my family in 2 years.

The most Orwellian aspects of the CMU are in how they manage our communications:

A) Telephones- at my previous prison, I was able to use the phones for 300 minutes a month— days, nights, weekends and holidays— basically at any point I was not in my housing unit (6am-10pm). Here, we receive one 15-minute phone call a week. The call can only take place between 8am and 2:30pm, never on weekends or holidays and must be scheduled one and a half weeks in advance (we can choose a back-up number to call but if neither picks up, we don’t get a call).39 The call is live-monitored and recorded. Not only do we receive one fifth of the minutes granted to other federal prisoners but the call is also very trying for our families— all of whom have day jobs and many of whom have children in school. The CMU requires calls be made in English only— a difficult demand considering over half of the men here speak English as a second language (this restriction is not present at other federal prisons).

B) Visits- At FCI Sandstone, I received up to eight visiting days a month (56 hours)— contact visits in which I could embrace my wife, play cards with my nieces and share vending machine food with my visitors. These visits were my lifeline. I got about twelve of them in eight months and it aided in my adjustment to prison.

The CMU restricts our visits to one four-hour non-contract visit a month. One short visit through two inches of plate glass with cameras hanging overhead and my visitors stuffed in a four-and-a-half by three-and-a-half-foot stuffy booth— a tight squeeze for two.40 The visits can only take place on weekdays from 8am-2pm— no more Christmas or thanksgiving visits— and worse, no physical contact (Consider what it would be like to have no contact with your loved ones. What if you couldn’t hug or kiss your lover, partner, wife, husband? What would that do to you?) I find myself riddled with guilt when I ask friends to spend $500 to fly across the country, drive three hours (and repeat) for a four-hour non-contact visit. I’m lucky though, having people who will do this. Many of the men here can’t afford it or don’t want to subject their children to this reality.

C) Mail- We can only send out mail once a day and we cannot visit the mail room to send out packages. We are one-hundred-percent reliant on the one staff person who deals with our mail to do so and sending a box home is a laborious procedure. We must leave our envelopes unsealed so that staff can read, copy, scan and send to whatever other agency studies our correspondence. A letter to NYC takes roughly seven to nine days (which should take five). Letters sent abroad, especially those not written in English, could take a month or more— a common complaint of some of my fellow prisoners.

Staff here has an interesting reading of the rules governing legal mail leading to the charge that they open our legal mail (this is the subject of an administrative remedy I filed with the BoP Central Office in Washington DC). The rule states that the lawyer’s name must be clearly identified and that the envelope must say “Special Mail- Open only in the presence of inmates”41 and yet staff has opened my legal mail that said “Law Offices of Jane Doe” stating that it should have said, “Jane Doe, Attorney at Law”! The staff looks for any reason to disqualify our legal mail as protected and gather intelligence this way. In doing so, they violate the sanctity of the attorney-client confidentiality principle.

Most of my violations have been petty— a package has more than twenty pieces of paper or a friend kindly enclosed stamps. A few instances though amount to censorship and a limiting of political expression and dialogue. See Appendix B for a detailed discussion of these instances.

D) Media Contact- Although requests have been made to interview people in the CMU, none have been granted to date. This is a violation of the spirit of the BoP’s own media policy.42 There is an imperative on the Bureau’s part to control and ultimately suppress information on the CMU from making it to a mass audience. 
Daily life at the CMU

Neither one of the two CMUs were built for long-term habitation. The Marion CMU was the site of the Secure Housing Unit (SHU), the USP that closed here in 2005. Terre Haute’s CMU is in “D-wing”— the site of the former federal death row.

The CMU was seemingly converted to its current use with the addition of televisions, steel tables, and new wiring and yet it is not suitable for long-term use due to its “open cell” design (i.e. with bars). With twenty-five prisoners, our movements are restricted to two housing ranges (hallways about one hundred by twelve feet); a recreation range where we also eat (consisting of seven cells with a computer, typewriter, barber shop, religious library, social library, art room and recreational equipment); and a small rec yard (all concrete, a lap equals one-eighteenth of a mile, four cages with two basketball hoops, one handball court, a weather awning with tables and some sit-up benches). We are lucky to be visited daily by a resident bird population of doves and blackbirds, and overhead, the occasional hawk or falcon (Ironically, as I write this, I overhear warnings from staff that if we continue to feed the birds, we will receive violations). The appearance of the yard with its cages, concrete, and excessive barbed wire has earned it nickname “Little Guantanamo” (of course a punitive unit with seventy-five percent Muslims also contributes to the name as well).

The conditions here are not dire— in fact, the horror stories I have heard over the last two years have convinced me it is far worse at many prisons and yet, I believe it is important to be descriptive and accurate— to dispel fears (about violence, for instance) but also to demonstrate just how different life is for us at the CMU.

There are many things we lack here that other prisons in the federal system have to offer:

1- A residential drug/alcohol program— despite at least one person here having completion of it ordered by the court.

2- Enough jobs for the prisoners here- There is not nearly enough jobs for all the men here and most are extremely low paying.

3- UNICOR- This is Federal Prison Industries which has shops at many federal prisons (including this one outside the CMU). These jobs pay much more, allow men to pay their court fees, restitution and child support and, as the BoP brags, teaches people job skills.

4- Adequate educational opportunities- Until recently, we did not have GED or vocational programs. Due to inmate pressure and persistence, we now have both of those as well as a few prisoner-taught classes but no college courses at all.

5- Access to staff on a daily basis— At other federal prisons, you are able to approach staff members at lunch every day, including the Warden. Here, we get (at most) two quick walk-throughs a week, usually taking place early in the morning. You are often left waiting days to resolve a simple question.

6- Law library access- We have a very small law library here with only twenty-five percent of the books required by law. We can only request books twice weekly and those are only delivered if the other nine hundred prisoners at the adjacent Medium are not using them. We lack Federal Court and Supreme Court reports as well as books on Immigration Law (fifty percent or more of the men here face deportation). This lack of access makes for an arduous and ineffective research path.

7- Computers- We have four computers for our email system (two for reading, one for printing and one that we were told would be for legal but it still isn’t working. Unlike my previous prison, where we had forty computers with a  robust computer-class program, or like other prisons that teach a vocational computer course, we have no such thing.

8- Access to general population- Being in an isolation unit makes for a situation in which we cannot have organized sports leagues and tournaments due to not having enough people at all. This may not seem crucial but sports are a very useful diversion from the stress of prison life and separation.

After reading the preceding sections, perhaps like me you are wondering what really is the purpose of the CMU. In short, the CMU is Florence ADX-LITE for those men whose security points are low and present no real problems to staff. From my interactions with the men here, I can say with certainty, that people here are remarkably well-behaved and calm— many without any disciplinary violations. If these men, like myself, don’t get in trouble, and have been in the system for some time, why are we here? Consider my case.

My short time in prison prior to coming to the CMU consisted of two months at MDC Brooklyn and eight months at FCI Sandstone. I had never gotten in trouble and spent my days as a clerk in psychology, working toward a Master’s degree, reading, writing and exercising. My goal was to get closer to home and my loved ones. In April 2008, I filed a “hardship transfer” request due to my mother’s illness and her inability to travel to Minnesota to visit me. I had my team meeting, and my security points were lowered. Weeks later, I was moved to the CMU.

The irony is that I was moved to the CMU to have my communication managed, but what changed in that one year to justify this move? If I was a danger, then why did the BoP house me in a low-security prison? The same applies to many of the men here— some have been in general population for twenty years and then suddenly a need to manage their communication is conjured up. During my pre-CMU time, I had used 3500 phone minutes and sent hundreds of letters. If there was a problem with my communication, shouldn’t the BoP have raised this with me? My notice stating their rationale for placing me here attributed it to me “being a member and leader in the ELF and ALF” and “communicating in code.”43 But if this is true, then shouldn’t I have been sent to the CMU as soon as I self-reported to prison in July 2007?

The CMUs were crafted and opened under the Bush administration as some misguided attempt to be tough on the “war on terror”. This unit contains many prisoners from cases prosecuted during the hyper-paranoid and over-the-top period after 9/11 and the passage of the USA Patriot Act.44 The number of prosecutions categorized as terrorism-related more than doubled to reach 1,200 in 2002.45 It seemed that every other week, there was some plot uncovered by overzealous FBI agents— in Lackawanna, NY, Miami, FL, Portland, OR, and Virginia and elsewhere (never mind the illegal wiretaps and unscrupulous people used in these cases). These cases may not be headlines anymore but these men did not go away— they were sent to prison and, when it was politically advantageous for Bush, transferred to the CMUs. The non-Muslim populations of these units (although definitely picked judiciously) were sent there to dispel charges that the CMUs were exclusively Muslim units.

The codified rationale for all prisoners being transferred here are “contact with persons in community require heightened control and reviews”46 and “your transfer to this facility for greater communication management is necessary to the safe, secure, and orderly function of Bureau institutions…”. Should an increase in monitoring of communication mean a decrease in privileges? If the goal is to manage our contact with the outside world, shouldn’t the BoP hire enough staff so that we can maintain the same rights and privileges as other prisoners (since the party line is that we are not here for punishment)? The reality is the conditions, segregation, lack of due process and such are punishment regardless of whether the BoP admits it or not.
Forward!

Where to from here, then? Does the new President and his Attorney General take issue with segregation? Will Obama view the CMU, as he did with Guantanamo Bay, as a horrible legacy of his predecessor and close it? Many people are hopeful for an outcome like that. On April 7th, 2009, Mr. Obama, while in Turkey, said, “The United States will not make war on Islam,” and that he wanted to “extend the hand of friendship to the Muslim world.”47 While that sounds wonderful, what does that look like in concrete terms? Will he actualize that opinion by closing the CMU? Or will he marry the policy of Bush and condone a secret illegal set of political units for Muslims and activists? What of the men here? Will he transfer us back to normal prisons and review the outrageous prosecutions of many of the CMU detainees? If it can be done with (former) Senator Ted Steven’s case, it can be done here.

While lawsuits have been filed in both Illinois and Indiana federal courts, what is needed urgently is for these units to be dragged out into the open. I am asking for your help and advocacy in dealing with this injustice and the mindset that allows a CMU to exist. Please pursue the resource section at the end of this article and consider doing something. I apologize for the length of this piece— it was suggested to me (by people way smarter than myself) that it would be best to start from the beginning and offer as many details as possible. I hope I gave you a clearer idea of what’s going on here. Thank you for all your support and love— your letters are a bright candle in a sea of darkness.

In struggle, with love, Daniel McGowan
#63794-053
USP Marion-CMU
PO Box 1000
Marion, IL 62959I read two passages below while writing this article. They fit well here:

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest…But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” — Nelson Mandela

Acknowledgements

*I read once, perhaps in 9th grade English, that “no man [sic] is an island”. If anything I have learned that over the last four years! Eternal gratitude and love to my wife, partner and best friend Jenny, for everything. My family, friends and community have been there for me unfailingly— especially the NYC crew. Special thanks to Josh Raisler Cohn, Matt Strugar, Lauren Reagan and Rachel Meeropol for their endless legal advocacy, analysis of the CMU and friendship. Of course, thank you to all the CMU prisoners for feedback and the laughs.

Appendix A: Marion CMU Demographic

Number of prisoners = 26
Organized by race/national origin
Middle Eastern-10
African-American-8
White-5
Latino-2
Native American-1
Asian American-0
Appendix B: Mail Violation Examples

In October 2008, I received a mail violation for the Jericho Movement’s Freedom Times – a newspaper by and about the political prisoner support organization. At various levels, I was informed it was rejected either due to its ‘divisive’ nature or because it contained articles about other inmates. The BoP’s faulty logic was that reading these articles would contribute to the “detriment of security, safety & good order of the institution.” (original mail violation, October 2008.)

The divisiveness argument is an interesting one given that I receive (and the unit receives) what may easily be defined as ‘divisive’ articles in the op-ed/editorial pages of the NY Times, USA Today and Chicago Tribune. There are point-counter-point lambasting of Congress and the President and extreme conservative/religious perspectives represented in these screeds.(e.g. against abortion, casting queer people as sinners etc). But for some reason, the BoP allows these publications in and deems them relevant to a safe and acceptable dialogue.

My assumption about the articles in the Freedom Times (I still haven’t yet seen it) is that Jericho is critical of the BoP and the prison industrial complex that exists in this country (Currently housing 2.3 million people in prisons/jails and 5 million on probation/parole, leading to the sick statistic that 1 in 31 US adults are under criminal supervision. See the Pew Center’s website & reports for more info. Also, the Jericho Movement argues forcefully yet legally that there are political prisoners in US prisons and demands their amnesty (I was granted PP status by Jericho in 2007). In denying me this newspaper, they are actually cutting me off from a base of support. In the past 8 months, I have received other articles and newspapers that contain articles by/about other prisoners but they take place in the context of safe/acceptable mainstream publications, not newspapers that criticize the BoP, prisons and that argue for the release of political prisoners.

Another example. On 4/15/09, I received a mail violation for the publication Rolling Thunder by the Crimethinc Ex-Worker’s Collective. It was denied based on “violence” depicted on roughly 11 pages. It’s ironic that I can receive any number of corporate newspapers detailing the riots at the April 2009 NATO protests in Strasborg, France, the G20 protest in London and police overreactions and violence at last summer’s DNC and RNC mobilizations. The reason is the mainstream publications are “objective,” while Crimethinc’s publication “encourages or promotes violence”. Crimethinc is being held to an extreme level of scrutiny based on their obvious radical beliefs and unflinching support of myself and other ecological and animal rights prisoners.

The overall effect of these mail violations is a furthering of the alienation processes that the CMU engenders. On some level, I am quite clueless about what is happening in our movement(s) and on the streets, and have to rely way too much on mainstream and shallow sources of news (a point made by Rob Thaxton, ironically, in a past copy of Rolling Thunder).
Resources *YOU can educate yourself on the CMU!*

Articles / Media1. “Little Guantanamo – Secret ‘CMU’ prisons designed to restrict communication of jailed Muslims and activists with outside world.” Democracy Now, 4/17/09.

2. “Secretive US Prison Units to house Muslim, Animal Rights & Environmental Activists” by Will Potter. greenisthenewred.com, 4/14/09.

3. “Daniel McGowan – Another victim in ‘War on Terror’” by Stephen Lendman. sjlendman.blogspot.com, April 2009.

4. “Guantanamo at Home – terrorist suspects are held in US prisons on dubious evidence under inhumane conditions” by Jeanne Theoharis. The Nation, 4/20/09.

5. “The View from Here” column by Carl Strock. Schenectady Daily Gazette. www.dailygazette.com

6. “Terrorist Prison – Eco-activist sent to secretive new prison” by Camilla Mortenson, Eugene Weekly, 12/04/08.

7. “Dr. Rafil A Dhafir at Terre Haute prison’s new communication management unit” by Katherine Hughes. Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, 6/18/07.

8. “Facility holding terrorism inmates limits communication” by Dan Eggen, Washington Post, 2/25/07.

9. “Documents show secretive US prison program isolating Muslim, Middle Eastern prisoners” by Jennifer Van Bergen. the raw story (online blog), 2/16/07.

Weblinks – Prisoners at the CMU

www.supportdaniel.org, www.supportdaniel.org/cmu (specific CMU info)
www.yassinaref.com
www.aliasad.org
www.freekhalidawan.com
hamidhayat.blogspot.com
www.dhafirtrial.net (has CMU info)
Supportive Organizations

Civil Liberties Defense Center – www.cldc.org
Center for Constitutional Rights – www.ccrjustice.org
National Lawyers Guild – www.nlg.org
Nuclear Resister – www.nuclearresister.org
ACLU National Prisoner Project – www.aclu.org/prisons
Demand Change!
*You can contact your elected officials and demand they shut the CMU down*

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Attorney General Eric Holder
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530

Also, www.senate.gov and www.house.gov (type in your address to get your rep’s contact}

Ask other Organizations for their support!
*You can contact human rights groups and urge hem to address the CMU and join legal efforts to close it. Please be polite.*

1. Human Rights Watch -  www.hrw.org
2. Amnesty International – www.amnestyusa.org
3. Stop MAX coalition – www.afsc.org/stopmax

*The following organizations signed a letter opposing the “limited communication for terrorist inmates’ policy the BoP tried to pass a few years back. Contact them and let them know that plan was indeed put forth in the form of the CMU and urge them to address it.

1. Center for National Security Studies – www.cnss.org
2. Comité Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico – presospoliticospuertorriquenos.org
3. DC Prisoners’ Legal Services Project -www.washlaw.org/projects/dcprisoners_rights/default.htm
4. FLA Institutional Legal Services – (352) 375-2494
5. Interfaith Prisoners of Conscience Project – (847) 328 1543
6. Legal Aid Society – www.legal-aid.org
7. Office of Public Defender-Maryland – www.opd.state.md.us
8. The Multiracial Activist – www.multiracial.com
9. National Boricua HR Network – boricuahumanrights.org
10. NW Constitutional Rights – (503) 295-6400
11. Penal Reform International – www.penalreform.org
12. People’s Law Office – www.peopleslawoffice.com
13. Prison Legal Newswww.prisonlegalnews.org
14. Sylvia Rivera Law Project – www.srlp.org
15. Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York – www.plsny.org
16. Uptown People’s Law Center – (773) 769-1411

Mainstream Media
*You can contact the media and request they investigate and expose the CMUs. Letters to the Editors and op-eds are good ways of doing this.* Some outlets:

The New York Times – www.nytimes.com
LA Times – www.latimes.com
The Washington Post – www.washingtonpost.com
Seattle Times – seattletimes.nwsource.com
San Francisco Chronicle – www.sfgate.com
The Oregonian – www.oregonlive.com/oregonian
Indianapolis Star – www.indystar.com
The New Yorker – www.newyorker.com
Newsweek – www.newsweek.com
CNN – www.cnn.com
BBC – www.bbc.co.uk
MSNBC – www.msnbc.msn.com
Chicago Tribune – www.chicagotribune.com
USA Today – www.usatoday.com
Houston Chronicle – www.chron.com
Boston Globe – www.boston.com/bostonglobe/
Village Voice – www.villagevoice.com
Hartford Courant – www.courant.com

Independent/Alternative Media
Pacifica Radio – www.pacifica.org
National Public Radio – www.npr.org
Counterpunch – www.counterpunch.org
Prison Legal News – www.prisonlegalnews.org
Mother Jones – www.motherjones.com
Utne Reader – www.utne.com
Z Magazine – www.zmag.org/zmag
Upping the Anti – uppingtheanti.org
The Indypendent – www.indypendent.org
Your local pirate radio station – (US list)


Endnotes1 As an introduction, for those unfamiliar with my case. I am serving an 84-month sentence in federal prison for arson & conspiracy for my role in 2 arsons claimed by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) in 2001. I left the group in 2001, was indicted 12/7/05, pleaded to a non-cooperative plea agreement in 2006 & reported to prison in 7/07. I received a ‘federal crime of terrorism’ enhancement, 3 years of probation and 1.9 million USD in restitution. I am set for release on 6/2013.

2 0n the way to the CMU, I received a grand jury subpoena from Wisconsin. I refused to answer questions at the grand jury, was held in civil contempt for 8 days and, before my appeal made it to court, was released due to an indictment having been issued. That case has since been resolved with 3 plea agreements. More info can be found at http://www.cldc.org

3 Memorandum in Opposition to the Application of Terrorism Enhancement. US vs. McGowan, CR 06-60124-AA. Filed May 4, 2007.

4 “Facility holding terrorism inmates limits communication” Dan Eggen, Washington Post, 2/25/07.

5 We are ‘prisoners.’ ‘Inmate’ is the authorities’ word for us.

6 Eggen article.

7 Much of the early information on the CMUs was due to the writings of Dr. Rafil Dhafir and the two articles cited in the ‘Resources’ section by Eggen/Van Bergen.

8 Testimony of Harley G. Lappin before House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice, Science and Related Agencies. 110th Congress. July 2008.

9 Based on observations of men who were at FCI Terre Haute.

10 Institutional Supplement # MAR-5321.07A, November 13, 2008. CMU.

11 Unpublished paper written by Josh Raisler Cohn. 2008.

12 Lappin testimony before Congressional Subcommittee.

13 These movements include environmental, animal rights, tax resistors, white separatists, Muslim charities etc.

14 In my case, I ask ‘deter from what’? At the time of my arrest, I was in acupuncture school, long divorced from ELF and focused on prisoner support, environmental justice and combating domestic violence.

15 Unpublished paper by Josh Raisler Cohn, pp8.

16 Dr. Richard Korn, ‘Report on the Effects of Confinement in the Lexington High Security Unit.’ August 25, 1987, pp19-20.

17 Unpublished paper by Josh Raisler Cohn.

18 ibid.

19 See http://www.shac7.com for background on that case

20 December 18, 2008 & March 10, 2009 letters from attorneys Matthew Strugar and Lauren Regan to FOIA/Privacy Act Section of BoP Office of General Counsel.

21 Blacks’ Law Dictionary, Third pocket edition. Bryan A. Garner (ed).2006. p228.

22 BoP Transfer Order for D McGowan, April 2008.

23 ‘Notice to 1nmate of Transfer to Communication Management Unit’ dated 9/3/08 signed by Lisa J. W. Hollingsworth and J.S. Wilson.

24 The ’18 months of clear conduct’ is standard at all federal prisons yet no one here expects to receive a transfer on that date for reasons I will explore.

25 Code of Federal Regulation, 2 CFR 541 and Subpart D-Control Units

26 ibid.

27 Admissions & Orientation Handbook, USP Marion CMU, Revised June 2008.

28 BoP Docket No. 1135-P RIN 1120-AB35, 71 Fed. Reg. 16520-16525 (April 3, 2006).

29 ibid.

30 Coalition Letter to Bureau of Prisons re: Suppression of Prisoner Contacts, June 2006.

31 Van Bergen article.

32 -Title 5 USCC 551.

33 Jayyousi v. Mukasey, Lappin. Case 08-21310-civ-Cooke. Southern District of Florida-Miami.

34 Institutional Supplement USP Marion CMU.

35 Although it is called ‘USP Marion’, the USP closed in 2005 and the prison consists of a camp and a medium (the CMU being inside the medium).

36 Lappin testimony to Congressional Subcommittee.

37 Letter to Dean Kuipers, October 2008. Signed by Warden Hollingsworth.

38 This occurred despite President Obama’s decision to release documents through FOIA at a higher pace than his predecessor.

39 ‘Reexamine Prison Unit for Muslims” by Carl Strock, Daily Gazette. 3/15/09.

40 The two I refer to are not out of the ‘average’ in size either-one 5 ft 11, the other 5 ft 6 and both slim.

41 28 CFR 540.18 Special Mail

42 Program Statement #1480.05,9/21,2000, News Media Contacts.

43 from ‘Notice to Inmate of Transfer to CMU’

44 personal observation

45 Josh Raisler Cohn unpublished article. Cited from “How many Terrorists are There. The Escalation in So-Called Terrorism Prosecution.” 16 Fed.Sent.R.38., pp.7 WL23269270 October 1, 2003.

46 from ‘Notice to Inmate of Transfer to CMU’

47 “US ‘is not and will never be at war with Islam,’ Obama says” by Richard Wolf, USA Today, 4/7/09.

Blog back up

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I’ve decided to post the blog entries on the site again. There’s nothing new up but at least you can read the older entries.

Thanks for the support,

Jenny

Focus on: Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

It is an unfortunate fact but during the course of my legal case, my codefendants and I received very little organizational support from the environmental and social justice movements. While prisoner support groups like ELPSN (UK) and ABCF and legal organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights were quick to extend their solidarity, the environmental movements’ silence was palpable. Other than Forest Ethics and some Earth First! groups, there was nothing but private support offered; an inability to organize a response to the terrorist enhancement and at worst, condemnation offered from NGO heavyweights, Rainforest Action Network, Ruckus Society and Greenpeace[1]. While this speaks volumes about our movement’s conception of solidarity and the discomfort expressed by non-profit organizations in dealing with cases of property destruction, this is beyond the scope of this blog entry[2]. One group that did not act like the previously named groups and went well beyond the call of duty is the Civil Liberties Defense Center based out of Eugene, Oregon.

A tiny, young organization funded by environmental lawyer and activist (and I’m proud to say, a good friend of mine) Lauren Regan, the CLDC had the Operation Backfire defendants’ backs from day one[3]. During the chaotic weeks following the first wave of arrests in December 2005, the CLDC made valiant attempts to find lawyers for all the defendants and quickly became a hub for families of defendants, lawyers and media contacts. Sitting in Lane County Jail, just 3 blocks from their office, I took solace knowing there were local lawyers advocating for us, keeping everyone well informed through conference calls and providing a local and long-term perspective (being that they lived in Eugene during the time of the conspiricy 1996-2001).

As the case progressed, I was freed on bail, returned to New York and relied on the CLDC’s extensive court reports and posting of legal documents. I devoured the court reports and was able to determine which codefendant started to cooperate at which time and better determine my chances of success at trial. When people ask me what it is that defendants in those cases need, I reply that it’s the unglamorous and tedious work that the CLDC does, sitting in court for hours concentrating hard and taking copious notes, getting those court reports and analysis posted on sites like Portland Indymedia, monitoring databases for relevant court documents, legal research, setting up a local media collective and press strategy and visiting people regularly at the jail. The support was invaluable with the preparation of my defense and helped my wife, family and NYC support group make sense of the case and develop solid and powerful defense strategies.

Now, don’t mistake the CLDC for some large, well-funded outfit based on their impressive resume. They are a few lawyers, an office and a dedicated crew of volunteers operating on a shoe-string budget. Since I have been imprisoned, I have relied on their work to keep up on Green Scare cases like Briana Waters and the campaign to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The CLDC is one model of how an organization can provide support for complex legal cases and free the defendants and their families to deal with the pressure of the case itself.

Please support the CLDC with their ongoing work if you are able. On their site, cldc.org, you can make a donation or send a check to them at Civil Liberties Defense Center/ 259 East 5th Avenue, Suite 300 A/ Eugene, Oregon 97401. Don’t forget— if you are arrested for an offense like mine or face a grand jury subpoena, do not hesitate to call the CLDC at 541.687.9180 or the NLG’s hotline at 888-NLG-ECOLAW.

—–

[1]Many contacts were made by my support group to RAN and Ruckus Society directly through email, to people on RAN’s board of directors and informally to staff of both organizations. RAN, at least, expressed support privately. Board member Jodie Evans, in particular, expressed support and committed to raising this issue with her executive director. A staff member of RAN commited to writing a letter from RAN regarding the terrorist enhancement issue and never did. Ruckus Society members/staff never once responded to emails, informal contacts, or info packets sent to them. Greenpeace’s director, John Pascantando, took it further condemning us publically— you can read a criticism of that statement in an article by Michael Donnelly on Counterpunch.org from 2006.

[2]What is sad is that defendants in this case had professional relationships with RAN and Ruckus. I had worked on the Mitsubishi, Home Depot and U’wa campaigns RAN organized, getting arrested while committing civil disobedience and dedicating countless hours to these campaigns. I attended two of Ruckus Society’s action camps including the ‘Globalize This’ pre-Seattle/WTO camp with many of my codefendants. We also worked with the Direct Action Network to some extent in the months leading up to the WTO protests in 1999 (DAN was partially a creation of RAN, Ruckus Society, and other groups). Additionally, a fugitive in my case was a former trainer for Ruckus and local organizers in Seattle, employed by RAN, and dealt with harrassment and search of their former residence by the FBI related to this case. The links were many but the support from these groups was sorely lacking.

[3]The CLDC’s involvement begins well before December 7, 2005— the day of the first arrest in Operation Backfire. Lauren Regan represented an early target of the investigation in 2000/01 and participated in community efforts to protect the individuals who had received grand jury subpoenas.

Green Scare spring update

Monday, April 14th, 2008

There have been many updates since my last dispatch regarding the various legal cases that comprise the Green Scare against environmental and animal rights activists in the U.S. Please show support for these people as they are all in a tough situation— either recently indicted and fighting their charges, convicted by a jury (which gives the illusion of fairness) or facing sentencing and on the way to prison. The support I received (and continue to receive) made all the difference in my outlook and helped me face the case with eyes open and head held high. My apologies for the length of this update but I think it’s important to look beyond the urgent e-mails and remember, we’re talking about people here— not just names and potential sentences.

*In February 2008, Earth First! activist Marie Mason found a GPS tracking device on her car and when she removed it, plain clothes police sprang out with guns drawn. They called her 16 year old daughter by name even questioning why her routine changed (indicating some level of surveillance). Weeks after this incident, Marie was arrested and indicted on charges related to two acts of property destruction (arson) claimed by the Earth Liberation Front in 1999. While I have not read anything about 2 of the other defendants (or a fifth person “known to the grand jury”), it appears that Marie’s ex, Frank Ambrose, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation. I remember Frank’s name from years ago when he was charged with spiking trees (an action meant to deter trees from being cut, not to harm loggers) in Indiana. I have no clue whether the indictment is true or not but I feel strongly that we support Marie as she is from our movement and has worked on environmental campaigns for years (most recently, on the campaign to stop the I-69 NAFTA superhighway). Also, like my case in Oregon, prosecutors in Michigan have trotted out the “terrorism” word to scare people and inflame public opinion against Marie. Although the fires in question were intended to destroy property and not harm people (based on a reading of the communiqué and a solid analysis of the arrest at greenisthenewred.com), the government is using the ‘T-word’ to tie the case to the nationwide anti-terrorism hoopla. Marie is currently out on bail and on house arrest and can surely use your support. To get involved contact Friends of Marie Mason, Post Office Box 19065, Cincinnati, Ohio 45219, freemarie at riseup dot net, or midwestgreenscare.org.

* Filmmaker, violin instructor and mother (of a three year old girl) Briana Waters was convicted by a jury of two counts of arson related to the May 2001 ELF arson of a genetic researcher’s office at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. The trial saw two cooperating witnesses testify against Briana and many names were dropped by both witnesses. Despite the fact that both witnesses’ potential sentence was based on the quality of their testimony against Briana, the jury believed them and found her guilty of two counts of arson (but not the destructive device count which carried a 30 year mandatory minimum). She faces 5-10 years for each count of arson and is awaiting her May 28th sentencing at FDC-Sea-Tac (having lost her detention hearing due to unsubstantiated allegations made by another informant). Being separated from family is the worst part of prison and I’m sure she can use the support. You can find her address and ways to donate at supportbriana.org, PDX IMC, or through the CLDC.

*Environmentalist Tre Arrow was recently extradited from Canada to the U.S. following a years long battle for refugee status. Tre has vigorously maintained his innocence despite three cooperating witnesses’ claims that he was involved in two arsons in 2001 (it should be noted that all three of these people did not name Tre until being questioned for hours and they all received 41 month sentences for 2 arsons— quite a low sentence). He has a large and lively support group and I expect the trial will be interesting and revealing of the U.S. government’s myopia with these prosecutions. His website has a list of needs and his current prison address at trearrow.org.

* Long time activist Rod Coronado recently pleaded to charges in San Diego, California regarding a speech he gave in which he answered questions about his past actions. Although the jury hung in his trial, the prosecution, vindictively, threatened to re-file charges or indict him on new, similar charges related to another speech he made in Washington D.C. Rod received a sentence of 1 year, 1 day and with good time should be out in ten months. This is third trip to federal prison and from his statements, it is clear he wants to put this behind him. I first got involved in prisoner support in 1997 writing and fundraising for a legal fund Rod set up and have nothing but respect for him and his contributions to the movement. If you can get your hands on his old prison zines (Strong Hearts 1-4 available from inourhearts@gmail.com) do so, or better yet, get his prison fundraiser Flaming Arrows for $10 from IEF Press Post Office Box 0372, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514 or AK Press. supportrod.org

* Eric McDavid‘s sentencing has been postponed over five times— the latest is now set for May 8th. Eric faces up to 20 years on one count of conspiracy related to an incident that never happened (but was pushed and promoted by a 19 year old hired by the FBI to monitor anarchists). Eric’s case is a perfect example of the U.S. government’s obsession with the anarchist movement and their concoction of a conspiracy that did not exist prior to their employee’s involvement. Without a doubt, Eric will need help funding his appeal. See supporteric.org to help out.

* Finally, my codefendant and friend, Jonathan Paul, not only has a new website but is writing monthly dispatches. I’m sure he’d love to hear from people and appreciate news from the movement. You can also email his support crew at friendsofjonathanpaul at yahoo dot com to see if he needs any books or magazines. Because he is housed in Phoenix, Arizona— far from his home in Oregon, donations for his wife to visit him are appreciated.
supportjonathan.org

Free to be freed (sooner than later)

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008


(picture of Jeff and Daniel from 2005 in OSP)

On February 28th, 2008, my friend and political prisoner Jeff ‘Free’ Luers received his long-awaited sentence of 10 years by Judge Billings in Eugene, Oregon. This outcome was a long time coming— Jeff was arrested in June 2000, sentenced June 2001 and his appeal was filed January 2002. February 14, 2007 saw his sentence of 22 years and 8 months, imposed by Judge Lule Velure, thrown out. After waiting so long and feeling no faith in the so-called criminal justice system in terms of fairness, I doubted I would ever see any victory with Jeff’s case.

Jeff received an absurd sentence of nearly 23 years back in 2001 which many saw as a clear message to the movement: use property destruction as a tactic and you will be crushed. It was a message heard loud and clear just a few years later when my co-defendants were indicted in the Operation Backfire/ELF case initially charged us with crimes that could have put us behind bars for life.

I knew Free from the Eugene anarchist scene— at the time a thriving and active smattering of collectives, groups and spaces. Free did Food Not Bombs and taught self defense. We were both involved in an 8-week activist gathering called Eugene Active Existence and had mutual friends. My interactions with him were always positive and I respected his participation in the Fall Creek tree village— a tactic/style of campaigning I had become disenchanted with. When Jeff was arrested, like many of the local anarchists, I joined efforts to support him and fundraise for his legal defense. Ironically, at the same time, I was involved with the Earth Liberation Front and was participating in actions similar to what Jeff was arrested for.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, so perhaps it’s easy to say this now. Either way, events outside of Jeff’s (or my) control heavily impacted his life and legal case. Some of my co-defendants went back to Romania Chevrolet’s, in an apparent gesture of solidarity, and burned 36 SUVs in an immense and spectacular action. The second Romania arson (“Romania II”) was polarizing to say the least. Some in the activist community freaked out thinking it was a COINTELPRO-inspired set-up specifically designed to ruin Jeff’s trial. The corporate media in Eugene (specifically the Register Guard and Oregonian) offered sensational coverage implying links between Jeff and the incident.

In this climate, Jeff made the decision to have a bench trial— without a jury. The Judge would not only give the sentence (per usual) but would decide guilt or innocence. Despite major holes in the government’s arguments, the Judge (Lyle Velure) found Jeff guilty on 11 of 13 charges— including counts related to an attempted arson at Tyree Oil (an action Jeff has stated he was not involved in). Jeff was found guilty of 3 1st-degree counts of arson— one for each vehicle— which carried 7-year mandatory minimum sentences. When all was said and done, Velure handed Jeff a 22-year, 8-month sentence and Jeff was sent to a maximum security prison. It’s where he has done much of his time since that day.

There has been a lot of speculation on the impact of Romania II on Jeff’s sentence. Suffice to say, I think the action had a clearly negative impact on Jeff’s state of mind regarding his ability to win at trial, inflamed the Judge and the Romania family and polluted the potential jury pool. Everyone knew about this action in the small city of 150,000. Of course the media’s role in this is obvious but they are just doing what they do and it’s silly to assume they would do anything else [case in point, the smoke hasn’t cleared at the Woodinville, WA fires that took place at a rural development before the media and law enforcement proclaimed it an ELF action. The impact on the Briana Waters’ trial is widely assumed to have been negative.]

It is my belief that our movement(s) need to not shy away from discussions of these situations. Criticism, when done in the context of support and respect, is appropriate. It can help us move forward and give us a decent perspective on our own actions. As evidenced by the Woodinville fires (assuming it is ELF), it is apparent that we haven’t learned our lesson. Suspending any sort of discussion on whether the radical environmental movements should use arson, the question of timing and impact on others is still there. It was foreseeable, in my opinion that the second Romania arson was going to inflame and polarize Jeff’s legal situation. To see this situation (potentially) play out years later is just sad. While I know the intentions of those who did Romania II were good, we still need to face up to the impact of these actions.

Although my participation with the Romania II arson was limited to being shown the communique (and failing to have Jeff’s name removed), I felt partially responsibility. The repercussions of that action hit home for me and I decided I needed to be responsible for Jeff’s sentence. I committed to being there for him in the long haul, through every appeal and ordeal until he was released. From 2001- my arrest in December 2005, I was lucky enough to work with a variety of activists all over the world in fighting for Jeff’s freedom. Specifically, the Luers family, Break the Chain and the Friends of Jeff Luers crew were the stand-outs of that effort.

Almost 8 years later after many legal briefs, multiple prisons, a few trips to the hole, 3 international days of action/weekends of resistance and countless interviews, dispatches, articles and videos, we won. Jeff is coming home in December 2009 provided he participates in a boot camp program. While I am pissed off that Jeff wasn’t released immediately, as he should have been, I am happy he will be getting out at age 30, not 43!

Our prisoners have not always done so well upon release and have had a hard time adjusting to outside life again. It is imperative that we resolve to support people not just while they are imprisoned but in the period of adjustment when they re-enter society.

The Irish republican movement has a group called ‘Welcome Home’ (translated from Irish) that exists to provide support released political prisoners beyond the initial rush and euphoria from release. This work isn’t glamorous but it’s necessary. Finding decent housing and jobs, helping people comply with parole and probation, setting them up with clothes and some money when they get out— these are all things our communities can and should do. Jeff luckily has options in all these areas due to the hard work of activists in Eugene. He plans to go to school for green building or ecological sciences. He also plans to spend a lot of time with family and friends. His future indeed does look bright.

For me, I’m just excited my friend is coming home. While I will not be able to see him until 2015, due to my probation, its a day I look forward to. Free’s coming home— damn, that feels good to say.

I want to personally thank a few people who I have worked with over the years on Jeff’s campaign: Jenny, Leeanne, Brenton, Nadia, Priya, Chris, Lauren and John and Judy Luers.

To contribute to Jeff’s legal or release fund, go to his website at www.freefreenow.org. There’s a paypal button there or you can send a check/money order.

Remembering William Rodgers

Friday, December 21st, 2007

This is a eulogy, two years too late, for my friend William Rodgers — known to friends, family and the movement as Avalon. Avalon took his life on December 21, 2005. This was just two weeks after our arrests in the Operation Backfire case and, by no coincidence, the Winter Solstice. In his absence, much has been made of his role in our Earth Liberation Front (ELF) group. Not surprisingly, the prosecutors in the case have painted him as a leader who recruited young, impressionable activists to do his bidding. This is not only false, but also insulting to the younger people in the case, who did get involved on their own. Snitches in the case have used his inability to respond to dramatically maximize his role in certain actions in an attempt to lesson the consequences of their own actions. One person went so far as submitting to the judge video evidence and testimony that has not been made public because it was deemed too personal for public consumption. Others on the margins have chosen to focus on Avalon’s flaws by spreading rumors or even by talking to the private investigators hired by the snitches.

I first met Avalon in the months leading up to the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle in late 1999 and developed a friendship with him instantly. His sly grin, easygoing and warm personality and humility impressed me, and I was happy to see that this quiet, older enviro was up to more than attending the EF! gatherings at which I first saw him. His rationality and quick thinking prevented disaster for our affinity group during the Seattle protests (I’m proud to say we took part in the Black Bloc). I distinctly remember getting ready to leave Seattle, and hearing his suggestion to “keep in touch.” Well, we did keep in touch. Much has been said of what we did in the years after that, but that will be told elsewhere.

Like so many of us, Avalon suffered from depression and despair, fueled by the realization of what our species is doing the planet. Living underground, juggling details of planned actions and double lives, and eschewing many of the things that our movement allies had access to is stressful. I know because I did it, and yet Avalon’s experience in that underground life dwarfed mine. I can’t help but think that this isolation and despair were major factors in his suicide. We moved on, and yet the cruel hand of the past — in the form of old friends and a Joint Terrorism Task Force — pulled us all back into our secret histories. Maybe for Avalon, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We will never know for sure. I remember seeing his name in a list of arrestees in a New York Times article while sitting in a New York City jail. It gave me some hope — I thought we could all fight these charges together, as a group of people who had lifelong solidarity with each other, as people who honored the oaths we made to each other. Sometimes, I lie there at night asking the questions I try to avoid: Could Avalon have stemmed the tide of informing? Would he have been the person who, having known some of the snitches for much longer than I, could really reach them — beyond their fears and to their core? I’ll never know these answers, but I do know this: Avalon would rather die and make a jailbreak than cooperate in any way with this immoral and unjust process.

The prosecution, knowing only hierarchy and bureaucracy, cannot conceive of a group without a leader, a pecking order and strict rules. Without Bill around to protest and because he was older than all of us, they found their puppet master. Suddenly the so-called “book club” was his invention and was deemed a “training school for arson.” Meyerhoff and Gerlach, grand quislings that they are, had the audacity to say with a straight face that Avalon pretty much did the Vail arson all by himself. Just reading about the ski resort’s geography, the large amount of fuel that was used and Bill’s slight stature made me laugh bitterly to myself about these lies. On some level, it’s the way the game is played for snitches. The government tells them what it wants to hear, and the cooperating witnesses jump through hoops like the well-trained pets that they are. To be clear, everyone involved with these actions and the “book club” are people like you and me. We have skills — some of us excel at one thing, others of us at another. However, there was no formalized hierarchy as suggested by the prosecution, and William Rodgers was no kingpin or leader of the ELF.

Avalon, like all of us, had his flaws and made mistakes, both personally and politically, in the way he lived his life and how he resisted environmental destruction. Our group attempted to deal with one of these areas — an accusation of sexual misconduct — and I’m sorry to say that we failed, due to not being equipped with the right ideas and strategies. It is all too easy to assuage our guilt about our own shortcomings by attacking others. I think it’s a better idea to focus on what we are doing in this world, rather than criticizing people who are not here to defend themselves. I thought of this often in court when I looked at my family, seeing the pained looks on their faces as they listened to attacks on me. Bill’s family and partner have had to endure a lot of grief in the last two years.

So when I think of Avalon, I don’t believe the hype spewed by aggressive and narrow prosecutors. No, I think of a soft-spoken, caring person who would give you the shirt off his back or carry a snake off the road; an avid, even obsessive recycler; someone who supported indigenous struggles and really got the connection between Earth-based cultures and ecological action. I knew Avalon was involved in the struggle against the Mount Graham telescope, but only after his death did I find out that he and his infoshop, The Catalyst, supported the campaign to protect the San Francisco Peaks (see Earth First! Journal May-June 2005).

When snitch Jacob Ferguson recorded a conversation with me through a wiretap in 2005, I asked him how Avalon was. He lied to me (big shock!) and told me that Avalon was happy and lived in an intentional community in Canada. I remember being really happy for him and hoping to run into him again one day, but for different reasons than why we last saw each other.

Avalon has been gone two years now, and yet it still isn’t real to me. Since I haven’t seen him for years, I can’t really take it all in without getting upset. Yes, one of our own betrayed us, and that action caused the death of my friend. How do I reconcile the truth? I don’t have a good answer except to say that we need to talk about these things and confront death in our movement. We need to grieve for our friends. Most of all, we cannot forget. This is my contribution to never forgetting William Rodgers: radical environmentalist, ELF activist, cave lover and sweet, kind man. I miss you, buddy.

–As printed in the Earth First! Journal, November-December 2007 issue.

Victory! Changes made to crack sentencing guidelines

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Recently, the US Sentencing Commission released changes to sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenders (November 10, 2007) and on December 11th, applied them retroactively – a major reform in the way crack offenders have been sentenced since 1986. The gist of this change is that crack offenders sentenced under 201.1 will now receive a 2-point reduction (or, more accurately will be eligible for) to their base offense level under the federal sentencing guidelines. Depending on one’s sentence, this could be a significant reduction – leading to years off many peoples’ sentences. This is a major reform and could result in 19,500 people going home earlier in the next 30 years (currently, the federal prison population is about 200,000). In March 2008, when the change becomes official, over 3,800 people will be eligible for release in 2008 alone. A similar number will be eligible for release in 2009.

This change is only one that needs to happen but it’s a great step toward a more sensible drug policy in the U.S. The new change doesn’t affect the 5 or 10 year mandatory minimum sentences related to crack and it doesn’t affect every crack offender. Each individual will need to petition their federal judge for a sentence reduction and make sure it applies to their specific case. The guideline change unfortunately does not change the 100:1 ratio between powder cocaine and crack cocaine (i.e. in sentencing, 100G of powder is treated the same as 1G of crack). The problem with this ratio is that it treats identical botanical and chemical substances disproportionately when it comes to sentencing. It has been criticized as racist – when you consider 85% of crack offenders are black and that ratio punishes them so much more than powder cocaine offenders. While it’s great to see more reasonable minds slowly prevailing on crack, I cannot help but see the same dynamic happening nationwide with methamphetamine – what I call “the meth/crack heads are going to eat your children” propaganda – just think of the early 90’s film, New Jack City!

I don’t want to downplay the harm done by drug abuse – both from the culture associated with their use and the legal ramifications of their use, plus the destructive role addiction plays in many peoples’ lives. Growing up in a neighborhood with its fair share of crack, I can say I’m no fan. I neither felt safe nor appreciated the dealers with their pitbull guarded yards, antisocial attitudes and ‘stick up kid’ activity. My experience does not lead me to advocate for more punitive sentences for crack offenders. Locking up people and sending them to prison is a much worse alternative than intensive drug treatment for users and addressing the economic realities that underlie so much of the choices people make. The federal prison system has a drug treatment program but I’m not sure if recidivism/drug use rates are studied or even collected (never mind peer review or other less biased sources of evaluation).

I read about an act that recently passed the House of Representatives called The Second Chance Act of 2007 (Senate bill 1060, House bill 1593). The bill has many reform-based provisions dealing with increased half-way house time, more money for re-entry, family drug treatment and provisions that allow elderly prisoners to be released earlier. Please take some time to write or call your senator urging them to vote for this. While I don’t believe in giving up your power to “representatives,” I also live in this world and know there are things we can do now as opposed to waiting for long-term systematic changes which can make changes in peoples’ lives. You can find more information about this bill here and contacts for your senators here.

It’s rare that good news comes out about the state of prisons. The new crack changes are a good first step as are the recent Supreme Court decisions that address the extent of judges’ discretion in sentencing. What we need now is the removal of mandatory minimum sentences and the reinstitution of federal parole.

Resources:

1) Drug Policy Alliance

2) US Sentencing Commission

3) Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)

4) New York Times article on crack law change

5) The Sentencing Project

6) Prison Legal News

2 years, 1 week later

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Friends and supporters,

We didn’t want December 7th to completely pass everyone by without any acknowledgment. Two years ago (plus a week), Daniel was first taken away from his family, his friends, his home, his job, his school — his life.

Last weekend there were events held all over the country to commemorate the multiple arrests that took place on December 7, 2005.

These events aimed to educate others on the past, present and future. A number of us in NYC spent last Sunday in one of the busiest intersections of Manhattan spreading the word about a troubling new piece of legislation called “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act”

Please take a few minutes to read all of the extremely important information found here: http://www.supportdaniel.org/act/

We hope to keep adding relevant information to this page over the next few weeks. Please call your senator, spread the word, stop this Act.

Thanks,
Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan

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Don’t forget to send letters to Daniel’s non-cooperating co-defendants:

Jonathan Paul
#07167-085
FCI Phoenix
Federal Correctional Institution
37910 N 45th Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85086

Joyanna Zacher #36360-086
FCI Dublin
Federal Correctional Institution
5701 8th St – Camp Parks- Unit F
Dublin, CA 94568

Nathan Block #36359-086
FCI Lompoc
Federal Correctional Institution
3600 Guard Rd.
Lompoc, CA 93436