Daniel McGowan
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Live from Little Guantanamo: A Conversation with Daniel McGowan Inspired by the Film IF A TREE FALLS

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Live from Little Guantanamo

A Conversation with Daniel McGowan Inspired by the Film If a Tree Falls

The award-winning documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, premiered at Sundance last spring and continues to screen in theaters across the globe. The film, which aired on PBS earlier this fall and is now available on DVD, details the events that led to the imprisonment of environmental activist Daniel McGowan and raises critical questions about ecological crisis, terrorism, and government repression of political activists.

Those who see If a Tree Falls are likely to be left with a number of lingering questions. How is Daniel doing now? When will he be released from prison? What does he think of the movie? Daniel, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence in the Communications Management Unit at FCI Terre Haute in Indiana, answered some of these questions and others in the following interview about the film, prison life, and his thoughts about the future.

Question: What was it like being interviewed and filmed while you were on house arrest awaiting trial during such an obviously difficult time in your life? How present and intrusive where the filmmakers? Did it add stress to your situation?

Daniel McGowan: It was at times frustrating and other times, comforting. What I mean is that throughout the period of house arrest, I felt stifled and unable to be productive. Having the filmmakers over for half of the day helped me motivate, get out of bed and organize my day. In that way, it countered the severe monotony of being stuck in an apartment and helped jolt me out of periods of depression. The whole experience was surreal – wearing a microphone for part of the day after being recorded on a wiretap by an informant was one of these bizarre instances. There were times that I said something and realized that it may end up in the film! That was disconcerting, as was the negative impact a camera had on social situations.

Was it a hard decision to agree to be the subject of this film during that time? What did you hope would be the result?

DM: The decision to allow myself to be filmed would never have been made if I had not previously known Marshall Curry. I worked for his wife [Elizabeth Martin, founder and former Executive Director of WomensLaw.org] and knew him somewhat and was familiar with his previous film, Street Fight. Originally, my sister raised the issue as I was flying back from Oregon after getting bonded out of jail in 2006. The thought was basically that Marshall was considering my situation as a topic for a film and whether or not that eventually happened, footage of me coming home would be essential.

Once I got my ankle bracelet, so probation could monitor me, and got settled in, we spoke at length about his ideas and we took it from there, setting up some longer background interviews. After a few months, despite frequent grumblings on my part, I was fully committed to it.

Having seen my indictment announced on cable TV and seeing how we were all being portrayed as crazy, dangerous terrorists, I felt strongly that it needed to be countered.

The film to me was a way to challenge the narrative the prosecution and media put out about us, knowing it was a long-term thing. My hope was that people would be able to hear my own thoughts and version of events instead of accepting the mainstream media version, which was exceedingly shallow and accepting of the law enforcement view.

Were you able to watch the film from prison when it aired on PBS? Do you even want to watch it?

DM: When I found out PBS was going to air If a Tree Falls, I was excited that huge amounts of people nationwide were going to view it. However, I have no intention of viewing it while in prison. There are deeply personal scenes, especially interviews with my wife and the day I turned myself in that I want to view by myself, at home. I want to have the chance to emotionally deal with that in a safe environment.

As the film’s primary subject, what is the number one effect that you would like the film to have on viewers? In general, what do you hope the film achieves?

DM: It is difficult to dive into some of these areas because I haven’t yet seen the film. While I have spoken to many people who have seen the film, and read many reviews, there really is no substitute for seeing it myself. That said, I hope people see it and feel a form of discomfort – not in a bad way, but one that has them thinking about what they saw for a few days or weeks after. That discomfort would be because the film challenged previously held ideas, like what a terrorist is, who the kind of people are that commit property destruction, and whether the U.S. government really is on the right path environmentally, with prisons and the isolation of political prisoners in special units.

What would you like for viewers to know or understand about you, Daniel McGowan, on a personal level?

DM: From what I have heard, the film does a pretty good job of showing who I am. Friends and family have all commented that my personality shines through and I credit the filmmakers for editing all their footage so well! The letters I have received from people who have seen the film have been sympathetic but I fear people may worry too much. The film is a snapshot of my life at a time where I mentally and physically was not doing well at all. That time has passed, though, and I am in the homestretch now. There’s a huge difference between facing 30 years and having almost completed your sentence. All things considered, I am doing okay.

The other thing I want people to know about me is that there really is no major difference between myself and most viewers of the film. Like them, my circle of compassion is wider than myself and my family. Similarly, I seek to live my life as close as possible to my ideals, though like everyone, I fail at that sometimes. On a less serious level, I love fantasy fiction, singing in the shower, and I am a sucker for children and animals – I’m pretty sure some of those details never made the film!

The film ends with your family and friends walking with you to report to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to begin your sentence, which began in 2007. If you could add 30 minutes to the film to bring it up to present day, what would you add to the story? What are the most important things that have happened since you started your sentence that the public should know about?

DM: If I could add 30 more minutes to the film, I would discuss how unusual my stay in prison has been since July 2007. My friends and I have joked that we should print one of those concert tour t-shirts but instead of listing the cities that shows were played in, it would list the prisons I have been at! Let’s just say I have seen more of the Midwest than I ever wanted to.

After an uneventful 8 months at a low-security prison in Minnesota, I was held in contempt of court in Wisconsin during a grand jury I was called to against my will. Once that ended, I was shipped to the Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illinois, where I spent 26 months. While there, I persistently sought a transfer hearing to dispute the rationale for my placement there, and I also finished a paralegal certificate. One day I was told to pack up and was released to Marion’s general population, where I spent 4 months and then was sent to the hole (secure housing unit). Two days later, I was driven to the original CMU – FCI Terre Haute in Indiana. I’ve been here since February 2011.

I am not sure to what extent the filmmakers addressed the CMU issue, whether in the film or ‘extras’ on the DVD version.

Two years ago, you wrote an insider’s account of life in the Communication Management Unit facilities that you have been housed in for most of the past 3 years. What is life like in these units? How does being housed in the CMU compare to life in general population?

DM: The CMU is extremely different than general population, from my limited personal experience. For starters, the Bureau of Prisons has moved people to these units since 2006 without any form of due process. There have not been any hearings, evidence presented, or any real methods of issuing a grievance about the issue (other than asking for reconsideration from the very same people who have moved me here). This is one of the main issues we sued about in our civil lawsuit, Aref v. Holder.

There is extensive monitoring of all contact between CMU prisoners and the community, whether it’s phone, visits, mail, or email. A separate part of the BOP exists in Washington, D.C. that monitors all our communications. In addition to monitoring, there is a drastic reduction in our communications that has resulted in widespread anxiety and disruption to familial relations.

Prisoners in the CMU are given two 15-minute phone calls a week that must be scheduled a week in advance and take place within a specified time slot. Comparatively, most prisoners in the prison system can use 300 minutes a month. In the CMU, we have two 4-hour non-contact visits a month. There is a no physical contact allowed and the call takes place over a phone so that it can be monitored and recorded. Our visit room has a small glass window with bars in addition, which seems excessive. This is clearly one of the crueler aspects of our placement here. Many of my neighbors have chosen not to have their families visit. Their children do not understand why they cannot hug their father when some had contact visits at previous prisons. Most prisoners in general population receive up to 8 visits a month, up to 8 hours a day, where they can sit with their loved ones, hug and kiss their children, share food and play games.

If there is a good aspect to the CMU, it’s the people. Many of the men here are highly educated, considerate and generous. We share our magazine subscriptions, watch BBC news and football, and lend a helping hand to those in need. The unit is highly diverse, multilingual and there are quite a few men who got raw deals from overzealous prosecutions. At the end of the day, it’s prison and living so close to others creates annoyances. Ultimately though, things here are resolved through dialogue.

In the movie, when describing your political awakening, you say: “I had never seen with my own eyes what kind of world we lived in. I feel like I’m in perpetual mourning and I have been from the moment that… I kind of took the blinders off and was like, ‘Holy crap what the hell are we doing?’” Do you still feel this? And how do you deal with this deep sense that something is wrong in the world, now that you are in prison?

DM: Yes, I would say I still feel this way, though ten years later, I am better able to deal with the frustration that comes with seeing the world like that. When I first got involved in activism, around 1997, I felt like I was exposed to so much, so fast. Part of this was due to where I got involved – at the (now closed) Wetlands Preserve bar, which had an extremely active environmental activism center. Each week, I learned about new injustices and due to my pragmatic nature, felt a desire to put my energy into combatting them. I still very much feel we are on a very ill conceived path but I tend to be calmer about what I see and realize that one person, by himself, cannot do everything.

Prison, and I would say finding yourself in a legal case, has the effect of narrowing one’s focus. This is a dynamic that occurs due to the need to focus on your day-to-day survival and well-being. In this environment, no matter the cordial relations you may have, you are truly on your own. Your emotional, physical, and mental well-being is your responsibility. This focus on the self inevitably changes how you deal with events occurring outside the walls. It used to frustrate me to no end that I stuck in here while my friends were out there, able to work on issues we both care deeply about. Ultimately, what I learned (and I’m not suggesting this concept works for everyone) is that you fight injustice where you are. Can I, as a prisoner of the United States, really be an active participant in outside campaigns? No, of course not – though I am more than happy to share my opinions. I have done what I can, while in prison, to counter the injustice I see. Sometimes, this means refusing to believe what I have read about a prisoner and judging him on his actions and from what I see. Other times, it’s more concrete, such as soliciting the aid of various legal organizations to address the CMUs. I share what information and resources I can so people can effectively and legally fight their cases.

Do you think it’s a better or worse climate for environmental activism now in 2011 vs. 2001 when the actions you are in prison for occurred?

DM: Since I have been in prison for four years now, it is truly difficult for me to judge the state of environmental activism in 2011. When you are free, you learn about and absorb information in a totally different manner than when you are imprisoned. In here, I rely on what I read and the viewpoints expressed in letters by friends and family. This leads to very spotty analysis, since the information I do receive is so subjective. Unfortunately, many publications have ceased publication or gone all-digital since 2007 and there is a dearth of high-quality environmental publications. Also, the majority of people I correspond with are not heavily involved with environmental campaigns.

That said, I cannot say environmental activism is in a better position now, in 2011. So much has happened since 2001 that bodes poorly for progress in environmental activism. I was amazed at how the BP oil well disaster played out, how in the aftermath, there were calls for accountability on the part of BP but as time went on, it petered out. BP set up a reimbursement fund and a bureacratic and lengthy process by which people could be compensated. No talk was made of restoration to the Gulf or reparations for the environment or non-humans that that rely on a healthy ecology. In fact, within months, BP handled the PR struggle well and blunted public anger. The environmental movement was unable to change the long-term dynamics of deep oil drilling, and business has gone on as usual already.

Another example where I feel the environmental movement is worse off in 2011 is in countering well-funded and articulate public relations campaigns for the coal, tar sands oil, and hydro-fracking industries. As scrutiny increases on one form of polluting and carbon-producing source, for example coal, the response is to highlight another source of energy, which is usually no better than the first. Coal dust spills lead to people saving on coal, which leads to nuclear being portrayed as carbon-neutral. The Fukishima disaster occurs, leading people to get fuel from tar sands oil from Canada. The process continues, yet we never move toward healthier and sane sources of energy, or more importantly, any fundamental questioning of the consumer driven culture that requires such insane amounts of energy.

Do you think at all about what your life will be like when you are released?

DM: Being relatively close to release, I often find myself thinking about life on the outside. A lot of my thoughts focus on employment, halfway house, probation and serious things like that. Also, I find myself daydreaming about spending time with my wife, playing with my nieces, traveling, eating good food and being able to play music – loud and whenever I want! I try not to romanticize these things and fall into thinking life will be problem-free on the outside. It’s hard because prison is just so bland, negative and soul killing that life outside feels heavenly.

When do you expect to be released from prison? What are your hopes and ambitions for life after prison? What challenges do you think you will face? What do you fear?

DM: As things stand now, I should be released to a halfway house in New York at the end of 2012. Then, after a few months of adjustment (which entails a job and getting passes home), I’ll go home and begin 3 years of “supervised release”. After four years in prison and many hours spent in reflection, I have loads of ideas on what I’d like to do. Primarily, I want to get on my feet, spend quality time with my wife, family, and friends, and seek out meaningful employment. My hope is to work as a paralegal or communications director for a non-profit engaged in issues I care about. Prison reform is one of these issues as is urban agriculture, the struggles against homophobia and the marginalization of activists in the U.S. I have ideas for different projects and campaigns, most of which are long-term and involve books, dumpster-diving and “free-cycling.” How’s that for vague?

The challenges most on my mind are the preconceived notions and biases of potential employees as well as people I meet – who do not know my past. I have no interest in hiding my history, if that were even possible. Realizing that people may judge me based on being a ‘felon’ or having been convicted of arson and erroneously being labeled a terrorist is a tough pill to swallow. I don’t want to be mired in this though and instead, I plan on devoting time and energy to campaigns that seek to de-stigmatize felons and remove the barriers that deny us full personhood in this country. Remarkably, in 2011, there are many states you cannot vote in once convicted of a felony and thus, there are more than 5 million such disenfranchised people in the U.S. today.

If you could ask everyone who sees If a Tree Falls to do one thing, what would it be?

DM: This is a tough question because I loathe the idea that somehow, my suggestion would be relevant or suitable for people reading this interview. In the context of this film, I would ask everyone to be skeptical in how they perceive the words and message of the U.S. government and mainstream media. You can see by watching the film that the issues presented – about terrorism, tactics, environmental politics, incarceration – are more complex than how you will find them portrayed in governmental press releases or the newspaper. When I see the way that I have been presented in the [mainstream] media, even I don’t like myself! It’s truly important for all of us to consider the intent and political goals behind those crafting the messages we are exposed to daily. I am really appreciative of anyone who took the time to see the documentary and question the hype around cases like mine. You can learn more on my website and on Facebook.

This interview was conducted by friends of Daniel McGowan in the fall of 2011. An abbreviated version of this interview also appears on Huffington Post [www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-mcgowan].

IF A TREE FALLS opens next week in NYC and Eugene, Oregon!

Friday, June 17th, 2011

IF A TREE FALLS opens Wednesday, June 22 at the IFC Center in NYC, where the filmmakers will be doing Q&As at primetime shows from the 22nd to the 25th.
The film is also playing at 2 festivals in NYC beginning this weekend — June 18 at BAMcinemaFest, and June 19th and 20th at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

And in Eugene, Oregon, it premieres Thursday, June 23rd at the Bijou Cinemas, where the Thursday screenings at 6:15pm & 8:45pm will be followed by a moderated Skype chat with the filmmakers.

Ticket sales at the IFC theater and Eugene will be monitored by other theaters around the country to determine whether they want to pick up the film.  Please consider attending the IFC and Eugene screenings during the opening week as ticket sales there will assure the film’s widest possible release!


Winner of the U.S. Documentary Editing Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, IF A TREE FALLS  is a feature-length documentary that offers a behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s “number one domestic terrorist threat.”  Centering on the story of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who participated in two multi-million-dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies, the film investigates the origins of the ELF in America and explores how a working class kid from Queens found himself facing life in prison for “eco-terrorism.”  Using never-before-seen archival footage and intimate interviews from all the players — including ELF cell members and the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them — IF A TREE FALLS weaves an intriguing and suspenseful story that asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism in America today.

If a Tree Falls is distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories and will screen nationwide this summer. Click here for more information and screening times.

Please follow us on facebook and twitter.

And check out the trailer online here and here!

See you at the movies!

**Note from Family and Friends of Daniel:

We feel that both Daniel’s story and the message of the film are important to share, and we hope that as many people as possible are able to see it. We also want to highlight an issue we feel the film did not go far enough to illustrate–that Daniel and other non-cooperating defendants have been put behind bars in large part due to the betrayal of former friends who turned government informants. Some of these informants, like Suzanne Savoie, who is interviewed in the film, received sentences that were only slightly less than those who did not cooperate and many of them are currently out of prison because of this betrayal. It is paramount that we as a community do not forget the damage they have done, or allow them opportunities to try to reintegrate into our circles. For this reason, we are at odds with the filmmakers’ decision to invite informants like Savoie to film screenings and we encourage the audience to question and object to any government informant’s participation in the release of this film.


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
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,

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.

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
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


*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
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.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.

Support the Good Time Bill

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Dear family and friends,

Greetings from the “Communication Management Unit” (CMU) at USP Marion. I hope this letters finds you well and enjoying the springtime weather.

I am writing you today to let you know about a piece of federal legislation introduced in Congress recently that has the potential to reduce my sentence-and many federal prisoners’ sentences-by increasing the level of ‘good time’ credit we receive. This bill, H.R. #1475, also known as the Federal Work Incentive Act of 2009, introduced by Representative Danny Davis (IL) has the potential to pass, given the dire economic situation and the Democrat-majority Congress. Nonetheless, this bill needs your support.

I am requesting that you write a letter to your House Representative urging them to co-sponsor the bill and vote for it when the time comes. (You can find out who your rep. is by typing your address into the tool at www.house.gov or www.goodtimebill.info/takeaction.html).

You can read the text of the bill, background information on the situation with federal prisons today, talking points and sample letters on the new website, www.goodtimebill.info This will be the only site you need to check for updates – feel free to contact them to get more involved at support@goodtimebill.info

When writing your Representative on this issue, it’s OK to mention you know someone in federal prison but also, raise issues of cost and overcrowding as well [e.g. federal prisons are 40% overcrowded, costs U.S. taxpayers 7.6 billion annually and over 3/4 of the prisoners are serving time for non-violent offenses]. Currently, the population in federal prisons is 203,000 (and growing), parole was abolished 20 years ago and we serve about 85% of our sentence. This bill can begin to remedy these issues and give prisoners incentives for early release and good behavior.

You can sign up to receive more information or join the ‘Good Time Bill’ Facebook group by visiting the above website. In the next couple of months, we will be asking for you to follow your letter up with an email and before a vote, a simple two minute phone call to your Rep’s office urging a ‘yes’ vote. Please do your part in addressing a very relevant problem in our society by working to pass this bill – it has the potential to reduce the sentence of the majority of the 203,000 peoples’ sentences and return us to society to live productive lives.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for all the support. Be sure to check the www.goodtimebill.info website for more information, updates and more detailed information about the Good Time Bill.

With love from Little Guantanamo,

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

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,


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.

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.

Winter in Sandstone

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

It has been a while since I have sent out an update on life here at FCI Sandstone. Part of the reason for that is my life is pretty boring and I’d hate to bore you with the details – invariably, anything on the outside sounds great compared to the mundane days here! I did want to thank everyone who has written me these past couple of months and assure you that even if you don’t get a response, I do read each and every letter or postcard (more than once). The amount of letters and my other responsibilities (as well as my sore thumb from writing too much!) prevents me from responding to everyone. It is a great feeling to stand there at mail call every day and receive all these letters – with tales from the outside and news, both good and bad. I’d like to especially thank everyone who sent me cards around the holidays – which, as you may know, is a hard time for most prisoners.

Most of my letters inquire about how I’m doing. It’s a complicated answer, of course. For starters, I’m really busy working my job as an orderly 6 hours a day, working hard on my Master’s degree, working out and taking many of the classes the prison offers (such as German I or Job Skills). If anything, my time is going fast as I’ve established quite a busy routine. In here, routine is your friend. On another level, life is deeply frustrating as I watch from the sidelines as the atrocities of normalcy persist – our country’s occupation of nations far away, continued exploitation of ecosystems and every other form of life on this planet and the myopic and ‘ostrich’s head in the sand’ approach of many in our society to these issues. Cooperating codefendants in my case refuse to take real accountability for their actions choosing to instead minimized their collusion and instead point fingers at those who made significantly different choices than they did. That, I’ll address at another time, though.

My friends have been great about keeping me updated on what is going on outside in our movement(s) and society, in general. I cherish my updates on other political prisoners, environmental campaigns and the continuing developments in “Green Scare” cases. With that information though, comes the constant reminder that I am here, not out there, and my advocacy is limited to writing. One organization I am continually impressed by is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who is presently (as of this letter) in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary attempting to disrupt the pirate whalers of Japan (perhaps, ‘poach’ is the better term considering a sadly voluntary moratorium on whaling since 1986. Japan, along with Iceland, Norway and a few small island nations continue to support this slaughter of highly intelligent and sentient marine mammals). This year, there has been much drama including Japan’s refusal to release two Sea Shepherd crew members who boarded their ship with a declaration condemning Japan’s poaching. Like last year, the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, is there documenting the kill, taking photos for their lucrative direct mail campaign but as per usual, refusing to cooperate with Sea Shepherd in any way, including the sharing of coordinates. Oh my, Greenpeace – what have you become? The fight to protect Antarctic’s whales may be over by the time you read this but please check out their website and consider donating, or even better, crewing with them.

So, reading accounts of direct action against whaling and local initiatives in my home town of Brooklyn makes me itchy but I’m throwing myself into my studies and writing with renewed vigor. I have been happy to see so many other political prisoners writing publicly these days. Specifically, my codefendant and some of the Shac 7 defendants who, like me, have a blog and similar website names. Additionally, the Earth First! Journal has consistently published political prisoner writings lately focusing largely on the variety and differences of the prison experience. While I enjoy hearing all of these responses, I specifically hope to hear more from my codefendants on the debates surrounding my case and the cooperation of so many people.

Overall, I’m doing well and dealing with the cold (it hit -5 degrees last week!). Luckily, I am provided for very well by my family and friends and my stacks of books, magazines and my frequent visits are a testament to that fact. Thank you again for all of your letters and support. Please continue to support the Green Scare defendants and all political prisoners especially in the next month when we see Jeff Luers and Eric McDavid‘s sentencings and the start of Briana Waters‘ trial in February.