Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
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Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Illustrated Guide 9th Edition Now Uploaded

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

We’ve finished the latest version of the NYC ABC “Illustrated Guide to Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War” and it’s available for viewing (and download) by clicking on the tab at the top of this page. This update includes address changes for a few prisoners as well as removing Guillaume Constantineau (TIME SERVED!), Youri Couture (TIME SERVED!), Chris French (TIME SERVED!),Steve Murphy (TIME SERVED!), Mark Neiweem (TIME SERVED!), and Lynne Stewart(COMPASSIONATE RELEASE!).

Daniel is (halfway) home in NYC!!!

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It’s been a week now and we’re finally getting around to sending something out officially. Last Tuesday, Daniel and his wife flew from Indiana to New York, and Daniel proceeded directly to halfway house. We’re SO excited he’s back in the city and can’t wait until his time at the house is up and he can really be back home. All of you have been so amazingly generous and supportive, we couldn’t have gone through the last 7 years without you.

More to come, but for now check out what has been written on Daniel’s return.

Thanks!!

Village Voice

Huff Post Green

Dog Park Media (original source of the above article)

NYC ABC

Help Daniel find a job

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Dear Friends and Supporters,

In a nice change of pace from the usual tenor of our communications, we are happy to report some really good news: Daniel McGowan’s stay in the CMU is coming to an end! Despite many punitive measures over the course of the years, Daniel has maintained a sterling record in prison and has accrued enough “good time” to take 1 year off his 7-year sentence. What is even more exciting is that he has qualified to serve the last 6-months of this time in a halfway house in Brooklyn, beginning in December 2012! After so many years, and so much antagonism from Federal authorities, we are overjoyed to welcome Daniel back home, where he belongs.

The support you all have shown over these past 5 years has helped Daniel get through what are undoubtedly the hardest years of his life. Now that he is on the verge of rejoining us, and never looking back upon these dark times, the focus of support for the Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan is in assisting him in his re-entry and securing him meaningful employment. Not only is finding a job an important condition of Daniel’s being in the half-way house — in addition to his supervised release once he is done with his sentence — but it is also extremely important to Daniel himself, who joins thousands of other ex-prisoners who struggle to find employment because of their prior records.

Lots of people are looking for work these days, and it’s a daunting task for anyone. However, while Daniel is as highly-motivated and hard-working as many others seeking employment, it is obvious that he faces serious hurdles in getting a job because of his conviction. Daniel is a warm, intelligent, passionate, and dedicated person and he would love to find employment at a place that is doing work he cares about and finds meaningful. Over the years many of you have asked how you can help — helping Daniel find such a job would be the most important thing you could ever do for him.

HELP DANIEL FIND A JOB:

In addition to having a Bachelor’s degree, Daniel completed a paralegal course as well as every continuing education and vocational course available (over 25!) while in prison despite limited opportunities for education, as well as frequent moves. He is extremely driven and has a broad skill-set that he is looking to utilize at a NYC-based, non-profit organization. Much of Daniel’s career experience from 1997 onward is within the non-profit world he has ample experience in development/fundraising, communication and IT positions. Daniel has a particular interest in working as a paralegal for civil liberties organizations but would welcome and appreciate work in any of these fields/areas:

*Civil liberties/Free speech
*Social justice
*Prison reform
*Food justice/security
*Urban agriculture
*Recycling
*Reproductive rights
*LGBT issues
*Anti-war
*Climate change
*Harm reduction/Drug policy
*Prisoner re-entry
* “Green-collar”
*Alternative energy
*Legal
*Sustainable transport
*Environmental justice
*Domestic violence

If you work for a NYC-based non-profit, have a close friend, partner or contact at one, or have a specific organization in mind that might be open to hiring Daniel, we’d love to hear from you!

All emails can be directed to friendsofdanielmcg@yahoo.com
Please put “jobs” in the subject line.

His resume will be made available upon request.

**Daniel is still in prison, in the CMU, and will be until the end of 2012.**

Raffle Prize winners announced!

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Hi all,

Here are the winners of the December 7th raffle. We’ve already been in touch with the winners but if you see your name and haven’t heard anything, let us know.

Congrats and thanks!!

Will P    Pie Any Means Necessary
Carey S    BORF Print
Kathleen M    The Will of the Many
Ryan O    Winds From Below
Joe S    Certain Days Calendar
Ryan K    If A Tree Falls DVD; Combustion Books Pack
Beve C    Pie Any Means Necessary; If A Tree Falls DVD
Evan W    Compassion Buttons
Michael V    Compassion Buttons
Compasson Co.    Daniel Shirt – Purple L
Dylan P    Bluestockings T-Shirt; Elektra KB Art
Ethan W    Bluestockings membership; Book Thug Nation Gift Certificate
Yuri C    Live Scribe; Recipes for Disaster
Nikki C    Work; Signal: 1
John O    IFC Membership; Firebrands
Josue M    If A Tree Falls DVD; Celebrate People’s History
Anastasia C    Dr. Bronners Gift Basket; Boom! DVD
John    Eberhardt Notes; Let Freedom Ring
Nikki K    Eco-Warriors
Karen O    Agriculture and Food in Crisis
Michelle D    Fifth Estate Subscription; If A Tree Falls DVD
Cindy     Toward Climate Justice
Olga N    Eberhardt Zine Pack; JustSeeds Organizer
Jay    Spectacle Theater Tickets
Deborah D    Green is the New Red
Eliza C    Book Thug Nation Gift Certficate
Meil E    Quagmire; Acupuncture by Famous
Lana P    Wilder Brook Farm Maple Syrup
Smokey    We Interrupt This Empire
Benjamin P    Eberhardt Notes; Daniel T-Shirt
Sangamithra I    Support Daniel Water Bottle
J G    Certain Days Calendar; Eberhardt Book Pack
Willie L    If A Tree Falls DVD; 4Struggle Mag Subscription
Tom G    Oppose and Propose
Dave R    Paper Politics
Ainsley B    Eberhardt Notes
Janine     Suffled How It Gush
Spencer S    Combustion Books Pack
Molly G    Burning Books Gift Certificate
Melissa M    Pie Any Means Necessary
Dayna    Mittens; Boom!
Karen F    We Interrupt This Empire
Sideshow    Sparrow Shirt
Leah T    Compassion T-Shirt
Julie R    Daniel Water Bottle
Vera B    Daniel Water Bottle
Stavros C    Eberhardt Book Pack
Mirza    Fifth Estate Subscription
Catherine F    Sparrow Media T-Shirt
Harry N    Pie Any Means Necessary
Nicolas U    Uses of a Whirlwind

NYC – December 7th – Raffle and CCR + RFC + Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan Panel Discussion

Monday, November 14th, 2011

WHAT: Panel discussion with Robert Meeropol, Will Potter and Jenny Synan with an introduction by Rachel Meeropol plus an AMAZING raffle
WHEN: 6:30-8:00, Wednesday, December 7th
WHERE: Community Church of New York (40 East 35th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues)
COST: Free entry; raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5.

Every year we commemorate Daniel’s arrest with an event on or around December 7th. This year’s event will link advocates, activists and concerned individuals to think critically around the Red and Green scare, and ongoing repression of political dissidents in the United States. On the sixth anniversary, Family & Friends of Daniel McGowan, The Rosenberg Fund for Children, Will Potter of GreenIsTheNewRed and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting this panel discussion. In addition to the panel, we’re planning on doing a raffle to raise money which goes to Daniel’s commissary account in prison and any future legal expenses.

Raffle now over (12/08/11)
RAFFLE PRIZES are being added daily, but currently include:

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!

MORE ABOUT THE FILM:

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.

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

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.

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