Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
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NYC – Tuesday, October 29th – Come to a Green Scare(y) Halloween Card-Writing + Letter-Writing For Move Marie

WHAT: Political Prisoner Letter-Writing Dinner
WHEN: 7pm sharp, Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
WHERECAGE – 83A Hester Street (UPSTAIRS) New York, New York 10002 (directions below)
COST: Free

Free Them All!With grand jury resistance here in NYC, Feds sneaking around in Southern California, and other campaigns & projects across the country, anarchists have their hands full. The work that’s happening on these projects is, in many ways, inspiring. With that inspiration, there are plenty of reasons to become directly involved. It is in the spirit of direct involvement (and the magick of Halloween) that we host another Political Prisoner Letter-Writing Dinner. And what could be more ghoulish than the Green Scare?

Since the early 1980s, public relations hacks have been working to reify the term “eco-terrorism.” By 2004, they became successful and a phrase that a decade earlier had no real meaning was now defined by the United States government and used to introduce legislation. Now we have comrades serving decades for economic sabotage and allegations of thought crime. With several recent animal liberation actions, and Rebecca Rubin facing 5 to seven and a half years, it is clear that Earth and animal liberationists are both still active and still in the cross-hairs of the feds. Join us in letting them know they are not forgotten.

We are also taking this letter-writing night to answer the call to organize an event to get letters on behalf of Marie Mason, in an effort to get her moved from the isolation unit in FMC Carswell, where she is currently imprisoned. For more information on the campaign, visit movemarie.com

The deal, as always, is that you come bringing only yourself (and your friends and comrades), and we provide you with a delicious vegan meal, information about the prisoners as well as all of the letter-writing materials and prisoner-letter-writing info you could ever want to use in one evening. In return, you write a thoughtful letter to a political prisoner or prisoner of war of your choosing or, better yet, keep up a long-term correspondence. We’ll also provide some brief updates and pass around birthday cards for the PP/POWs whose birthdays fall in the next two weeks thanks to thePP/POW Birthday Calendar.

Getting to CAGE is simple:
From the J/M/Z:
Essex Street Stop: Walk west on Delancey Street (toward Essex Street, away from Norfolk Street) and make a left on Essex Street. Walk three blocks and turn right onto Hester Street. We’re two and a half blocks down, on the right.

From the F:
East Broadway Stop: Walk north on Rutgers Street (toward East Broadway, away from Henry Street), that becomes Essex Street, and turn left on Hester Street. We’re two and a half blocks down, on the right.

From the B/D:
Grand Street Stop: Walk east on Grand Street (Toward Forsyth Street, away from Chrystie Street) and turn right on Orchard Street. Walk one block and turn right onto Hester Street. We’re a few storefronts down on the right.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Otherwise, we’ll see you at supper.

This event is brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Anarchist Black Cross.

Write BOP Director on behalf of Marie Mason

Please help get Marie Mason moved out of FMC Carswell by writing a letter to the Bureau of Prisons Director. We are asking as many people as possible to write letters and organize letter writing events so that we can show the BOP just how many people recognize her position as unjust, and support the idea of her being moved into a general population unit closer to her family.

Below is the address to send all letters to, and a sample letter. Please remain firm but polite in your communications with the BOP.

Charles E. Samuels, Jr. , Director,
Federal Bureau of Prisons,
320 First St., NW,
Washington, DC  20534

Dear Director Samuels:

I write on behalf of Marie Mason #04672-061, who is currently incarcerated
in a special isolation unit at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.  Marie
has been unjustly placed in this unit – without notice or cause- in a move
that is strictly punitive on the part of the BOP. She has had no
disciplinary incidents since her incarceration, poses no threat or danger
to the prison or other inmates and has worked hard to make her life and
the life of her fellow inmates better for the last 5 years. There is no
reason for her to be in this unit – 1000 miles from friends and family.
In fact, you said in a memorandum written to all federal prisoners in June
2013 to reaffirm the importance of parenting that, “there is no substitute
for seeing your children, looking them in the eye, and letting them know
you care about them.”  Marie would love the opportunity to do this.

I urge you to transfer Marie to a lower security facility – closer to her
family and friends – so that she can serve the remainder of her sentence
in a facility where she can be housed with the general population.

Her sentence would best be served in a facility consistent with her
peaceful personality and constructive nature.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  If a reply is possible, it
would be appreciated.

[Your Name]
[Address Optional]

Move Marie from Carswell prison


October 21st–Call in day for Marie Mason

Please join in the campaign to move environmental activist and political prisoner Marie Mason out of the FMC Carswell isolation unit.


Environmental activist and community organizer Marie Mason is serving the longest sentence ever (22 years) for environmentally motivated property destruction. In 2010 she was transferred to the notorious high security prison FMC Carswell.

Now we’re mobilizing to get her moved.

On Monday, October 21st, people across the country and world will keep the Bureau of Prisons office ringing off the hook demanding she be moved. We need your help to make the 21st the day we forced the BOP to take notice.

There are multiple ways to join in on the action:

Call In

See the call script and recommended call in time and make the call. It takes a minute, but your participation will make a huge impact on the campaign and the effort to move Marie.

Organize a Phone Tree

Get friends and family in on it by organizing a phone tree. Create a list of people who agree to join you in calling, then pass it out to everyone. The first person calls in, then calls to remind the next person in line. If you get a voicemail, leave a message go down the list until you reach someone. It’s an easy way to help yourself and others follow through.

Join the Call In ThunderClap

A ThunderClap is a way to join hundreds of like minded people in sending out a common tweet on the same date. It helps grab people’s attention and in this case it can help inspire even more folks to join in on the call.

Share Your Call In Story

After calling in, let people know how it went via Diaspora, Twitter, Facebook or other platforms you use. It can be as simple as “I called the BOP to Move Marie!” with a link to the call-in info or a quick rundown of what went down when you called. It will help inspire others to call and raise awareness about the campaign.

Call Script

Use the following script to help prepare what you will say. Practice a few times to yourself if you’d like. Speak politely and with confidence and urgency.

Call Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr.
(202) 307-3250/3062

Hello, my name is _______ and I am calling about Marie Mason, ID
#04672-061. I would like to speak with Charles E. Samuels Jr. about her
unjust transfer to FMC Carswell.

Hello Mr. Samuels. My name is ________ I am calling on behalf of Marie Mason,
who has been unjustly placed in a special isolation unit at FMC Carswell – without notice or cause- in a move that is strictly punitive on the part of the BOP. Marie has had no disciplinary incidents since her incarceration, poses no threat or danger to the prison or other inmates and has worked hard to make her life and the life of her fellow inmates better for the last 5 years. There is no reason for her to be in this unit – 1000 miles from friends and family.
We demand that Marie be moved to a lower security facility – closer to her
family and friends – so that she can serve the remainder of her sentence in a facility where she can be housed with the general population.

Thank you for your time. I will be following up in the coming months to
check on this situation.

Suggested Call In Times

The BOP office is open 8am-5pm EST. We’re suggesting then that people call in at the following times according to their time zone. Of course, the most important thing is to call, so call when works best for you.

West Coast- Call between noon and 2pm your time
Mountain People- Call between 11am and one your time
Central Folks- Call between 10am and noon your time
East Coast- Call between 9am and 11am your time

Village Voice article on Daniel’s life post-prison

 Daniel McGowan: The FBI’s Least Wanted

He did his time for burning down two Oregon lumber mills, but he’s not exactly a free man

By Anna Merlan amerlan@villagevoice.com
Wednesday, Sep 25 2013

At six o’clock on a cool June morning, after five and a half years in federal prison and six months in a halfway house, Daniel McGowan went home. From the halfway house in Vinegar Hill, he took the F train to downtown Brooklyn, crawled into bed beside his wife, Jenny, and slept for a few hours. Then he headed out to meet his probation officer and a mountain of paperwork. It was his first day as a freed domestic terrorist.

“The definition of terrorism is exactly what they did.”

“I was really horrified at the time of my sentencing at being called a terrorist,” he says. “I’m still horrified.”

At 39, McGowan is a little skinnier than before he went to prison, a little grayer. But he doesn’t look too different from the guy who helped burn down two Oregon lumber mills on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front in 2001, or the guy a federal judge sentenced to seven years in prison for those crimes in 2007. On a recent evening, he’s wearing a loose green T-shirt and several days’ worth of stubble, a bike seat by his side and a smartphone in his hand. He glances at it every few minutes.

Courtesy Jenny Synan

McGowan can’t associate with environmental or animal-rights groups.

“I used to make fun of people who texted all the time,” he says. “And now I’m one of them.”

With a summer of freedom behind him, McGowan is still figuring out the rules of his new reality. Besides being a convicted terrorist, he owes nearly $2 million in restitution, which he’s expected to pay in full. The peculiar terms of his probation forbid him joining “any groups or organizations whose primary purpose is environmental and animal rights activism”—a prohibition that includes nonprofits such as PETA and the Sierra Club. He can’t associate with anyone with a felony on their record, or anyone convicted of illegal environmental or animal rights activity, even a misdemeanor—a tall order for a man who had spent much of his life in activist circles. And, as he learned in the halfway house, writing about his experiences in the prison system has the potential to land him back in jail.

McGowan says he left the ELF soon after the second Oregon arson. He was working at a nonprofit for victims of domestic abuse when he and 12 others were arrested during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Operation Backfire, which ferreted out ELF members responsible for a series of arsons and other crimes between 1996 and 2001. Vandals targeted lumberyards, slaughterhouses, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service offices, wreaking a record $48 million worth of damage.

Several of those arrested agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. One ELF member secretly recorded conversations with McGowan, helping to convict him on several counts of arson and conspiracy—actions that, in the eyes of U.S. District Court Judge Ann L. Aiken, amounted to terrorism: attempts to create “fear and intimidation to achieve a goal and affect the conduct of government,” as the judge put it at McGowan’s sentencing.

Ten months into his prison term, McGowan was transferred from the general population at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota, to a newer wing in Marion, Illinois, known as a Communication Management Unit. Much of the CMU population is Muslim, but politically affiliated prisoners such as McGowan also find themselves there. The main hallmark of a CMU is restricted contact with the outside world: McGowan was allowed two short, no-contact visits per month—he wasn’t permitted to have any physical contact whatsoever with his wife for the duration of his sentence—and his phone time was limited to a single 15-minute phone call per week. (The BOP has subsequently revised the CMU limits to two 15-minute calls and two four-hour visits.) His mail was delayed and often rejected by a censor as inappropriate. In 2009, while he was incarcerated at Marion, his mother died of cancer. (McGowan was later transferred to the nation’s only other CMU, in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he spent 22 months.)

Court documents would later show that the initial decision to move McGowan into the CMU was made by Leslie Smith, head of the counterterrorism unit of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Smith acknowledged that McGowan’s disciplinary slate was clean but argued that he posed a threat to public safety because his jailhouse letters and articles constituted “attempt[s] to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements.” Additionally, he had requested that his lawyers send him copies of leaked BOP documents—a blatant attempt, the BOP contended, to escape its monitoring of his communications.

After five and a half years in prison, McGowan was sent to a halfway house in Brooklyn to serve out the last six months of his sentence. While he was there, he wrote an article for the Huffington Post detailing his time at the CMU. On April 4, three days after the story was published, federal marshals arrested him, took him to the Metropolitan Detention Center, and issued him an orange jumpsuit. From there, he assumed, he’d be sent back to the CMU for the remainder of his sentence. But his lawyers quickly secured his return to the halfway house and quashed the BOP’s effort to impose a gag order.

“As far as we know, this is a made-up rule applied only to Daniel, in a further attempt to chill his freedom of speech,” wrote Rachel Meeropol, McGowan’s attorney at the New York–based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights.

The BOP quietly dropped the matter.

Will Potter is a journalist who has written extensively about environmental activism. He says restrictive parole conditions for activists are becoming more common.

“It reflects the political nature of these prosecutions,” Potter says. “And how this terrorism language can follow people long after they leave the courtroom and long after they leave prison. This is something that can follow these activists the rest of their lives.”

McGowan should not expect the surveillance to stop when his supervised release ends, Potter emphasizes. “At speaking events we’ve done with other former prisoners, law enforcement has been there. Sometimes they come in publicly, flashing badges. In FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests later on, I’ve also gotten information about [undercover] police officers at public events. I just can’t imagine what that would be like. It’s a constant cloud over you all the time.”

For Steve Swanson, McGowan’s terrorist designation and the terms of his release seem like justice. Swanson is president and CEO of the Swanson Group, which used to be called Superior Lumber, one of the two companies whose buildings McGowan helped to burn down.

“The definition of terrorism is exactly what they did,” Swanson says. “They were trying to change our behavior by inflicting terror on us. It’s not different than Islamic terrorists or what the IRA was doing back in the ’70s. To say they were nonviolent is just not accurate. We have a total volunteer fire department that responded. Any number of those people could’ve been killed.”

Adds Swanson, “Frankly, we used more wood products to rebuild all those things they burned down.”

At his sentencing, McGowan apologized for the fires, saying he felt “deep regret” for frightening the lumber workers. “Although I now know it’s hard for people to believe, my intention at the time was to be provocative and make a statement,” he told the court. “Not to put individual people in fear.”

Swanson says McGowan has never apologized to him directly.

In the meantime, both men have moved on. The Swanson Group tore down the remnants of its old factory and built a larger one. McGowan recently participated in Running Down the Walls, a fundraiser for political prisoner support groups. He figured it was permissible because it had nothing to do with environmental issues.

Still, he says, that April night in jail was jarring: “Sometimes things feel fragile.”

A federal judge recently ruled that because McGowan is no longer an inmate, he has no standing to participate in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons that challenges the constitutionality of CMUs. Instead, on Tuesday, September 17, he filed a formal complaint against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, alleging that the re-arrest deprived him of his liberty and caused emotional harm.


Daniel McGowan, Jailed For HuffPost Blog, Takes First Step Toward Lawsuit

Matt Sledge

Posted: 09/17/2013 4:50 pm EDT  |  Updated: 09/17/2013 5:48 pm EDT

NEW YORK — Former Earth Liberation Front member Daniel McGowan took the first step toward a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday, filing a $200,000 claim over an April incident in which he was jailed for writing a Huffington Post column.

On April 4, 2013, McGowan was taken from a halfway house, where he was serving out the final months of a seven-year sentence, and sent to a Brooklyn jail for roughly a day and a half. Three days before, he had published a HuffPost blog post about the years he spent in two secretive federal prison units designed to severely restrict inmates’ contact with the outside world.

McGowan, 39, alleges in his Federal Tort Claims Act submission with the Bureau of Prisons that the jailing caused him emotional harm and deprived him of his liberty. The bureau has acknowledged that the move was inappropriately made on the basis of a regulation against inmates publishing under their own name that had been ruled unconstitutional in 2007.

The Bureau of Prisons has six months to respond to McGowan’s claim. If he is denied, he may then file a lawsuit against the agency.

Bureau spokesman Chris Burke said the agency does not comment on the cases of individual inmates.

McGowan’s April jailing was the last in a series of what he alleges were retaliatory actions the Bureau of Prisons took against him during the seven years he served for conspiracy and arson committed as an Earth Liberation Front member. He was placed in the prison system’s communication management units — which prisoners calls “Little Guantanamo” — at least in part on the bureau’s determination that he had “attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements” through articles and interviews from prison.

“The irony is just so thick,” McGowan told HuffPost for a story last week. “You’re writing an article about retaliation for freedom of speech and writing, and they retaliate by throwing you in prison.”

I ‘Got Snatched’: Daniel McGowan’s Bizarre Trip Through America’s Prison System

I ‘Got Snatched’: Daniel McGowan’s Bizarre Trip Through America’s Prison System

Matt Sledge by    msledge@huffingtonpost.com

Daniel McGowan was in the yard of the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minn., when his name rang out over the loudspeaker. It had been eight months since he first reported to the low-security prison to start a seven-year sentence for conspiracy and arson. To pass the time, he worked as an orderly in the prison psychology department, took correspondence classes and exercised.

Sandstone, located nearly smack-dab in the middle of the country, was about as far removed as McGowan could be from his wife, Jenny Synan, in New York and from his former compatriots in the Earth Liberation Front in Oregon, with whom he had been caught in a national law enforcement sweep. But he still kept in touch with the outside world, writing passionate articles about the environment and prisons for publications like the Earth First! Journal. He was allotted 300 minutes of phone time a month. And on the rare occasions when Synan could get away from work, she would come see him. In the prison’s visiting room, they would hug and kiss and play board games together.

He was looking forward to such a visit when the loudspeaker told him to report to the prison’s shipping and receiving department. It was the day before his second wedding anniversary in May 2008, and he assumed that he was being called in for some routine matter. Perhaps the package full of books he had recently mailed to his wife had been returned for insufficient postage, he thought.

Instead, a prison staffer handed McGowan two boxes and told him to fill them up with his possessions. He was the one being shipped. When he asked his case manager where he was being taken, he was thrown in a cell.

He headed south the next day, still unsure of his destination. “When I got on the bus, they told me ‘Marion,’” McGowan says.


* * * * *
The U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Ill., is home to more than 1,100 prisoners. Originally built in 1963 to house inmates from Alcatraz, it operated on long-term lockdown as one of America’s most notorious prisons for decades. Inmates were held in their cells for 23 or 24 hours a day, in what was essentially the first federal “supermax.”

After the supermax in Florence, Colo., opened in 1994, Marion remained in use as a maximum-security prison. In 2006, it was renovated, expanded and downgraded to a medium-security facility. But in March 2008, it quietly regained some of its supermax identity — and its status as an experimental prototype for the prison system — when the Federal Bureau of Prisons established within its walls a secretive wing known as a Communication Management Unit, where prisoners are held under tight restrictions. Inmates call it “Little Guantanamo.” This is where McGowan was headed.

Forty-two prisoners are currently in the CMU at Marion. Another 43 are in a similar facility in Terre Haute, Ind., that was built two years earlier. The special units were developed as part of the federal government’s crackdown on terrorism following 9/11. Particularly after Lynne Stewart, the former defense attorney for the Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, was convicted in 2005 of covertly sending messages to her client’s followers in Egypt, the Bureau of Prisons was determined to create a new form of incarceration to monitor inmates’ every contact with the outside world. When the CMUs were first opened, nearly all of their inmates were Muslim men.

Unlike at Guantanamo, the prisoners in these CMUs are not being held indefinitely. But they are subjected to unusual restrictions: only two 15-minute phone calls a week, heavily monitored mail and eight hours of visitation a month. Inmates are restricted in how many times a week they can hold group prayers. Their movements and conversations are recorded at all times. Critics have described the conditions as psychologically debilitating.

Some of the inmates currently being held in CMUs are people like John Walker Lindh, who fought with the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Many others have only tenuous connections to terrorism, however. Some of their crimes are merely hypothetical. Yassin Aref, an Albany, N.Y., imam, for example, was convicted of witnessing a fake loan for a Stinger missile to be used against the Pakistani ambassador in New York. According to Paul Wright, the ex-con founder of Prison Legal News, most of the prisoners being housed in CMUs “aren’t even the second- and third-tier prisoners in the war on terror. These are like the sixth and seventh tier.”

Others have no publicly known connection to terrorism at all, beyond sharing a religion with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. Avon Twitty, for example, was serving a 27-year sentence for killing a man during an argument before being transferred to a CMU for the final years of his sentence, but he was also a convert to Islam.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of a number of prisoners, the CMUs are analogous to solitary confinement — an “experiment in social isolation” that allows corrections officials to retaliate against what they view as bad behavior, even if it is protected by the First Amendment. By classifying the CMUs as simply a way to monitor inmates, rather than as a punishment, the Bureau of Prisons has sidestepped the knotty issue of due process rights.

In a bit of what McGowan’s lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Rachel Meeropol, calls “beautiful doublespeak,” the BOP refers to the CMUs as “self-contained general population units.” The inmates may be quarantined in the CMUs, the BOP asserts, but the units are still “general population” and thus don’t require additional administrative procedures to determine which prisoners will be placed there.

“My suspicion from the get-go was, I’m unrepentant in terms of my political identity,” McGowan says of his placement in the CMU. “I think what they’re trying to do is say, ‘OK, you want to be a little political prisoner type, you want to write and be all active and say stuff, and get a ton of mail and everyone thinks you’re peachy keen? You’re gonna get crushed.’”

The Bureau of Prisons has strenuously denied that it places inmates in CMUs because they are Muslim or because they have exercised other First Amendment rights. “Inmates are designated to the unit for management of their communications based on the potential security threat they present,” Chris Burke, a BOP spokesman, wrote in a statement to The Huffington Post. At least some inmates, he added, may be placed in the units for other communications threats, like trying to harass victims or witnesses of their crimes.

McGowan, at first blush, does not fit the image of a terrorist. Born the son of a police officer in New York’s working-class Rockaway neighborhood, he attended the State University of New York in Buffalo and then drifted into the world of environmental activism. In the hothouse atmosphere of Eugene, Ore., in the late 1990s, he became more and more radicalized — an evolution detailed in the Oscar-nominated documentary “If a Tree Falls” — and eventually joined a small cell of the Earth Liberation Front.

McGowan and his group conducted a campaign of vandalism and arson across the Pacific Northwest for several years. No one was killed or injured. Eventually, McGowan says, while his hands were still covered in gasoline during one of their actions, he decided to split from the group. In 2002, the year in which he turned 28, he moved back home to New York and took a job at a Brooklyn nonprofit for victims of domestic violence.

McGowan met Synan at his sister’s birthday party just before he moved back, and he was instantly taken with her. They began dating. She was sitting at work at an arts organization in December 2005 when she received a call from one of McGowan’s office mates that he had just been taken away by FBI agents. “And that was the first that I knew” that McGowan might have been under investigation, she says.

McGowan’s autonomous cell within the decentralized Earth Liberation Front was known as “The Family.” Its members had promised never to turn on each other if the feds came calling. But one of them did, leading to indictments for McGowan and six of his companions.

After bail, house arrest and legal proceedings — protracted because he refused to testify against his fellow defendants — McGowan eventually agreed to enter a non-cooperation plea. He would admit to taking part in arsons at a lumber company and a tree farm, but he would not be forced to testify against his fellow defendants.

“I hope that you will see that my actions were not those of [a] terrorist but of a concerned young person,” McGowan said in his plea statement in November 2006. “After taking part in these two actions, I realized that burning things down did not fit with my visions or belief about how to create a better world. So I stopped committing these crimes.”

McGowan did not see himself as a terrorist, but the federal government did. In the midst of a nationwide panic over environmentalist-linked crimes that critics call “the green scare,” prosecutors obtained a terrorism enhancement for McGowan’s crimes. The designation did not result in a longer prison term, but McGowan’s supporters warned that it could lead to his placement in one of the CMUs, which were just being set up at the time.

Civil liberties groups like the National Lawyers Guild and criminal defense attorneys were infuriated by the “terrorist” label, which McGowan rejects to this day. Although they may not have approved of his criminal tactics, they argued that labeling him a terrorist was an absurd overreaction to crimes that resulted in nothing more than property damage.

“Is this what a terrorist is?” Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, asked at the time. “Americans know the difference between Daniel McGowan and Osama bin Laden, and this effort to subvert the fairness of the judicial system is an affront to the values they hold dear.”

Still, as McGowan was serving his sentence at Sandstone, Leslie Smith, the chief of the prison system’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, made the case to have him transferred to a more restrictive facility and to have his communications cut off. In a memo dated March 27, 2008, Smith argued that McGowan was an “organizer.”

“While incarcerated and through social correspondence and articles written for radical publications, inmate McGowan has attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements,” Smith wrote. McGowan, according to Smith, had spoken bitterly of the government’s cooperating witnesses as “snitches” for their “betrayal.”

There were inconsistencies in Smith’s dark portrait. He singled out McGowan’s prison letters and interviews, but in them McGowan cautioned against the kinds of destructive actions for which he had been convicted, as he had in his plea statement.

“We need to have serious conversations about whether militancy is truly effective in all situations,” McGowan told the Earth First! Journal. “Certainly, direct action is a wonderful tool, but from my experience, it may not be the most effective one at all times or in all situations.”

“Direct action” is a deliberately vague term that covers a wide range of protest tactics, from non-violent sit-ins to sabotage and property destruction. But for those versed in the movement’s lingo, it was clear what McGowan was saying: Think twice before you try actions as aggressive as mine.

Nevertheless, to Smith, those articles and interviews about “direct action” were proof positive that McGowan was trying to act as a “spokesman” for the radical environmental movement.

According to Burke, the BOP spokesman, inmates can be placed in CMUs when they “have been convicted of, or associated with, international or domestic terrorism,” when they “attempt to coordinate illegal activities via approved communication methods while incarcerated,” or when they “have extensive disciplinary histories for the continued misuse/abuse of approved communication methods.”

In his memo, Smith noted McGowan’s sterling disciplinary history but emphasized his speech since entering prison. Two months later, he was on the bus out of Sandstone.

In McGowan’s words, he “got snatched.”


* * * * *

At Marion, McGowan says, he found a totally different world from the one he had known at Sandstone. With severely limited contact with the outside, and little access to the classes and activities available at regular prisons, inmates would stare at the TV all day or wander the halls aimlessly, like zombies.

When his wife visited him, they could no longer kiss and hug and play board games. Instead, they would walk down a hallway together, with two sets of bars between them, unable to touch. In a small room, they would sit across from each other, separated by glass, and speak through phones, so that agents in the BOP’s Counter-Terrorism Unit could listen in.

“The worst part would be in the hallway together, and it’d be like two sets of bars, and she’d be coming in and I’d be going in the same room, and I’d see her in the flesh and I’d go I can’t even believe how insane this is,” McGowan remembers thinking. “Because then we go into our little box, and there’s two cameras, and you’re on a crappy little phone.”

“And then you go there and you’re behind glass,” Synan says. “You can’t touch the other person, feel their hands, touch their skin. But also you’re sitting there in a very tiny booth, holding a phone, knowing that there’s somebody recording the call.”

Other families broke apart under the strain, McGowan says. His relationship with Synan, whom he married shortly before his prison term began, was tested.

At the time, only 15 minutes were allotted for phone time each week, making conversations frustrating. “Say you’re just bickering about something, but after 15 minutes that phone hangs up, but you get nothing for the next week,” Synan says. “You have to just sit there and, say somehow, we’re in the middle of this argument, but you can’t do anything about it.”

Most difficult for McGowan, Synan says, was when his mother died in 2009. On their one phone call a week, she told him that his mother was in the hospital. “Your mom’s very sick,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

But McGowan needed to have the hospital’s phone number approved before he could call it — a process that couldn’t be completed late on a Friday. All through the weekend, he lived in a suspended state, waiting for Monday to find out whether his mother was dead.

“It’s horrible. This is life and death, and they had to approve a hospital room phone number, which is ridiculous,” Synan says.

McGowan’s mother made it through the weekend — a small solace. He called the hospital room, and with his sisters holding up the phone on the other end to his barely speaking mother, he talked to her. “He’s got 15 minutes and that’s it,” Synan recalls. “And so the phone hangs up and he’s talked to his mom, and he won’t know anything for a while.”

When McGowan’s mother died days later, Synan told him in a message sent through a special, heavily monitored prison email system.

“That was the only way to do it,” Synan says. McGowan had made her promise she would let him know as soon as possible.

With a few interruptions, McGowan was held in the CMU at Marion for two years. In October 2010, he was released into the prison’s general population.

But McGowan’s time in Little Guantanamo was far from over. After several months in general population, in February 2011 he was sent off to the other CMU, housed on the old death row at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute. McGowan says that move also smacked of retaliation and further highlighted the absurdity of treating prisoners like dangerous terrorists one day and common criminals the next.

The reason for his second transfer seems Kafkaesque. In January 2011, the leaks website Public Intelligence released two BOP Counter-Terrorism intelligence reports, which included details on letters to many of the inmates held at the CMUs. The documents provided a rare look into just what sort of communications monitoring the BOP was conducting on its “terrorist” inmates, including McGowan.

In one week, the report detailed, McGowan received two items of interest to the BOP: a series of postcards from a woman at a G-8 summit in Italy, describing the demonstrations there as “boring and depressing” because of their “total lack of antagonism,” and a letter from a lawyer describing an animal rights conference at which the “green scare” and McGowan’s incarceration were discussed.

Another report said that McGowan had been mailed a copy of a radical environmentalist magazine, which prison officials rejected, and an email from a member of a social justice public relations collective. “Much respect to you for hanging in there and staying strong,” Ryan Fletcher wrote to McGowan on Aug. 7, 2009. “One day all of this will come out and expose this thing for what it is.”

The BOP delivered some of these messages to McGowan and rejected others as too inflammatory for prison. But with the reports about his communications now live on the Internet for anyone to see, McGowan asked his wife to have his lawyer mail him copies.

To the BOP, that was “circumventing monitoring through the use of legal mail.” McGowan was sent to the Terre Haute CMU, where he spent the next 22 months.


* * * * *

In December 2012, in the final months of his seven-year sentence, McGowan was released to a halfway house in Brooklyn and obtained a job manning the front desk of a law firm.

But even then, he and his lawyers say, he was not free from the prison system’s efforts to retaliate against him.

On April 1, 2013, McGowan wrote a blog post for The Huffington Post about his incarceration in the CMUs. Three days later, U.S. marshals showed up at his halfway house. He was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and placed in solitary confinement.

For McGowan, his wife and his lawyers, what followed were 20 hours of terror. They had no idea whether he was about to be shipped back to one of the CMUs. They had no idea, other than perhaps the blog post, why the BOP was so upset with him.

McGowan’s jailing provoked protests from his lawyers and was reported across the Internet, including HuffPost and Politico. Three different BOP officials gave HuffPost three different explanations as to what was happening and why. Barely a day later, perhaps realizing the public relations mess it was causing, the Bureau of Prisons released McGowan back to his halfway house. Federal officials later admitted that McGowan’s re-entry manager had jailed him on the basis of a regulation barring prisoners from speaking to the media — a regulation that had been ruled unconstitutional in 2007.

To McGowan, the episode was a reminder of just how arbitrary and over-the-top the BOP’s reaction to political speech can be.

“The irony is just so thick,” McGowan says. “You’re writing an article about retaliation for freedom of speech and writing, and they retaliate by throwing you in prison.”

BOP spokesman Burke would only say, “We don’t comment on an inmate’s disciplinary history.”

If the prison system was hoping to break McGowan’s will to express himself by sending him to the CMUs, or by jailing him for his blog posts, it failed. McGowan vows that his experience will only make him fight harder for the environment. It has also given him a new cause to fight for: prison reform.

In July, a federal judge ruled that McGowan could no longer participate in the Center for Constitutional Rights’ lawsuit against the federal prison system, in large part because he is no longer a prisoner. But he is not the only one to have faced retaliation, the suit alleges.

Kifah Jayyousi is a Detroit native and Navy veteran who became a supporter of the Blind Sheik. Convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim in a foreign country and to provide material support to al-Qaeda, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Jayyousi has never been accused of trying to communicate with al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group while in prison. But in June 2008, Smith had him transferred from a Florida prison to the Terre Haute CMU based on his conviction for a terrorism-related crime.

Inside the unit, Jayyousi became a leader among his fellow Muslims. Two months after his arrival, in the middle of the heated presidential election, Jayyousi delivered a sermon to the other prisoners.

“You were brought here because you are Muslim and … our response to that has to be to stand firm, stand strong, to stand steadfast,” Jayyousi said, according to the BOP’s transcript of his monitored speech. “John McCain is a presidential candidate, and in two months he could be our president. Where was he 20 years ago? He was being tortured in a Vietnamese prison for many years with no hope. … He stood fast, he stayed firm, he came through.”

“You are going to return to your Lord to meet him with your hard work and the hardships that you have faced and done in this life; this is why we martyr,” Jayyousi said.

In October 2010, when one of his original co-defendants was sent to Terre Haute, Jayyousi was shipped off to Marion. The CMU unit manager there recommended him for release into the general population in February 2011, citing “clear conduct and a good rapport with staff and other inmates” and “no continuation of actions which precipitated his placement in the CMU.” But Smith again interceded.

“Jayyousi made statements which were aimed at inciting and radicalizing the Muslim inmate population in [the] CMU,” Smith wrote. In Smith’s characterization, Jayyousi’s long statement about prison conditions — which cited McCain; the late Vice Adm. James Stockdale, another Vietnam POW; and Nelson Mandela — was transformed into a call for inmates to “martyr themselves to serve Allah.”

Jayyousi claims, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit, that he was simply standing up for himself and other Muslim inmates who had been put in prison and the CMU because of “fabricated” terrorism convictions. But Smith said the speech was a “highly inflammatory” action from a “charismatic leader” that “encouraged activities which would lead to a group demonstration.”

The debate is important, because courts have long held that prison officials may take actions limiting the free speech of inmates if those actions also advance “legitimate penological objectives,” such as disrupting potential prison riots.

“The Constitution applies to prisoners too,” says Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “When you’re put in prison, there are a lot of limits on your rights … but there are limits on what can be done to them.”

In July, a federal judge found that Jayyousi had a “plausible claim” that he had suffered retaliation because of his speech. “There is arguably a disparity between the actual content of the sermon and Smith’s description of it,” the judge wrote.

Jayyousi remained in the Marion CMU until May 2013, when he was released into the general population at Marion. He “was not provided with any explanation,” Meeropol says.

Although Meeropol is glad that the BOP has instituted procedures for moving inmates out of the CMUs — in fact, the first time a prisoner was released from a CMU was when the BOP let one of her group’s named plaintiffs out a week before the group launched its lawsuit — she still calls the situation of alleged hardened terrorists being moved in and out of the general population “ridiculous.”

“There’s no clear criteria for how a prisoner can earn their way out of the CMU,” Meeropol says.

“When you don’t have procedural protections in place, it’s not surprising that abuse would result,” she adds. “The retaliation comes in with a case like Daniel.”

On June 6, McGowan was released from the halfway house after seven years in the Bureau of Prisons’ custody. At 6:01 a.m., he left the house. He got on the subway and finally headed home to crawl into bed with his wife. That weekend they stayed in at a fancy hotel. Since then, he says, he’s enjoyed simple pleasures like rock concerts — the Postal Service and Black Flag, two bands that have been re-formed since he was incarcerated — and his niece’s birthday party on Long Island.

Other than that, McGowan says, “it’s very early, and I’m trying to get my head straight about just being out and living my life. Trying to get through each day.”

Running Down the Walls 2013 recap

I just want to thank everyone who sponsored me for this year’s Running Down the Walls 5K run for Political Prisoners. Many people donated their time, energy and money to support me and the NYC Anarchist Black Cross. This year’s run was wildly successful and a really fun day.

Almost 30 people ran, walked and biked this year making it one of the bigger ones. The rain was threatening all week but held out and although it was muggy, there were copious amounts of beverages and food provided by ABC. The vegan deviled eggs, jackfruit/pulled pork sandwiches, cupcakes, cookies and such helped me finish the race, for sure!

I would thank you all by name if I knew it was ok, but over 50 people generously donated to sponsor me this year and I appreciate all your love and support, knowing full well this was the first big event I was involved in since I got out. I trained for a month and it was not easy-running at 39 is a totally different animal than at 22! The early morning time alone was remarkably helpful in helping me sort out the puzzling set of emotions and thoughts that come with re-entering society after 6 years inside.

Thanks to my non-corporate sponsor Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center who provided me with a shirt to run in, a generous donation and lots of moral support. Thanks also to my extraordinarily patient race-day supporter, Turtle, who helped make everything way easier than it would have been. I am sure NYC ABC will be coming out with a report-back and there are photos to be seen here thanks to Tom Martinez who donated his photography services.

deviled eggs rdtw banner second wave tats and n


Letter Writing Night & Dinner for Lynne Stewart– Tuesday September 3rd

We fully encourage you to come out to this excellent letter writing event and dinner for Lynne Stewart, who is fighting cancer while imprisoned at a Texas federal prison.
For more information, check out http://lynnestewart.org


WHAT: Political Prisoner Letter-Writing Dinner
WHEN: 7pm sharp, Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
WHERECAGE – 83A Hester Street (UPSTAIRS) New York, New York 10002 (directions below)
COST: Free

You know this country has made little progress when corny ass pop stars are still comfortable with racist cultural appropriation while at the same time being used by the corporate media to distract us from the impending war about to be waged on yet another Middle Eastern country. Where the largest prison hunger strike California has ever seen is being wholly ignored by the same media. And where our elders are allowed to age and die behind prison walls, suffering the same indignity of ignore-ance. Speaking to the latter is where we come in.

As a collective organized around supporting political prisoners, we refuse to fall prey to the media’s inexcusable omission of our elders from their pages. To that end, we focus this week’s political prisoner letter-writing dinner on a comrade suffering behind bars– Lynne Stewart.

Lynne Stewart received a 28-month sentence in October 2006. The government appealed the sentence, and in 2009 Lynne was sentence to 10 years in federal prison. She is now in a federal medical facility for women in Texas, thousands of miles away from her home, family and community.

If for some insane reason you can’t make it out, but still want to support Lynne, you can write to her at:
Lynne Stewart #53504-054
FMC Carswell
Post Office Box 27137
Fort Worth, Texas

The deal, as always, is that you come bringing only yourself (and your friends and comrades), and we provide you with a delicious vegan meal, information about the prisoners as well as all of the letter-writing materials andprisoner-letter-writing info you could ever want to use in one evening. In return, you write a thoughtful letter to a political prisoner or prisoner of war of your choosing or, better yet, keep up a long-term correspondence. We’ll also provide some brief updates and pass around birthday cards for the PP/POWs whose birthdays fall in the next two weeks thanks to the PP/POW Birthday Calendar.

DIRECTIONS: Getting to CAGE is simple:
-From the J/M/ZEssex Street Stop: Walk west on Delancey Street (toward Essex Street, away from Norfolk Street) and make a left on Essex Street. Walk three blocks and turn right onto Hester Street. We’re two and a half blocks down, on the right.
-From the FEast Broadway Stop: Walk north on Rutgers Street (toward East Broadway, away from Henry Street), that becomes Essex Street, and turn left on Hester Street. We’re two and a half blocks down, on the right.
-From the B/DGrand Street Stop: Walk east on Grand Street (Toward Forsyth Street, away from Chrystie Street) and turn right on Orchard Street. Walk one block and turn right onto Hester Street. We’re a few storefronts down on the right.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Otherwise, we’ll see you at supper. This event is brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Anarchist Black Cross.



Running Down the Walls training update: Wednesday

With just a few days left before the big run I ran 28 minutes long and slow. Nothing too exciting.
NYC peops: come to run, eat vegan food & cheer me on!

: Running Down the Walls – 5k Run/Walk/Jog/Bike
WHEN: 2:00-7:00pm, Sunday, September 1st
WHERE: Prospect Park– Lincoln Road/East Lake Drive, east of the Terrace Bridge (see the below map for exact location)
COST: $10 registration (includes food and drinks afterwards)

From the Q or S Shuttle train, get off at the Prospect Park stop. Walk to Lincoln Road and turn right into the park. We’ll be about 700 feet away.


The event will be two laps around what is known as the Inner Loop, and will total five kilometers. For the curious, here’s what it looks like:


Weekend training update!

Running down the Walls is 8 days away and I am kicking up the training. Friday night was intervals: 1 minute of running followed by 2 minute jog. Did that 6 times and finished with 5 minute cooldown. Saturday afternoon: Ran 29 minutes at decent pace. Finished last mile *running* with a stack of books (see below)! I am determined! Come cheer me on, help support political prisoners and have some great food at the post-run picnic at Prospect Park, September 1st from 2-6pm. Sponsor me at https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=RY687ZGYPQXZ2