Victory! Indiana prison officials overturn ban on the ‘Militant’

By Brian Williams
February 10, 2020

A victory has been won in the fight to reverse impoundments of the Militant  from subscriber  Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, who is incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana.

“I am writing on behalf of the Indiana Department of Correction with regards to your January 15, 2020 letter,” said an email sent to Militant  attorney David Goldstein Jan. 29 by Jon Ferguson, state Correction’s chief legal officer. “We were able to make an inquiry into why the periodical was withheld and it was determined to be in error.

“Staff have been retrained in the matter and the withheld issues should be returned to Mr. Johnson in short order,” Ferguson wrote. “Thank you very much for bringing this problem to our attention.”   

The Militant  first learned about the impoundments from a letter received from Johnson Jan. 2 reporting that issues nos. 43-46 from the end of last year were being withheld from him, as well as other periodicals like San Francisco Bay View  and Socialist Viewpoint.

Johnson said that notices given to him informing him of the ban claimed the paper was “Prohibited Property” and a “Security Risk.” Prison officials never informed the Militant  of the impoundments, nor, in violation of their own rules, did they give any explanation to Johnson of what they found objectionable.

“I know that you all generally challenge such bans,” Johnson wrote, “so I want to give you all relevant information to support your challenge.”

In his Jan. 15 letter appealing the ban, Goldstein said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly held that the rights of prisoners to receive publications extends to the rights of publishers to reach willing subscribers.”

“From the moment we received Johnson’s letter asking for help in challenging the ban, the Militant   and other defenders of prisoners’ rights sprang into action to win this victory,” said Militant  editor John Studer.

“Johnson, like all prisoners, has the right to be politically active and to read the political views of his choice. And the Militant  has the right to send its paper to all its subscribers,” Studer said.

Indiana correction officials began receiving letters objecting to suppression of the Militant  and backing prisoners’ right to read the literature they want.

“Prisoners should have the same rights to read material of their choosing as those of us not behind bars,” Jerome Ulman, a retired professor from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, wrote. “The Bill of Rights applies to all citizens.”

Petitions signed by dozens of workers from Walmart stores in Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky, were sent in. “Prisoners should be allowed to read what they want,” said a letter signed by 21 workers at the Walmart store in Darien, Illinois, sent to the Indiana Department of Correction Jan 22. “The seizing of the Militant, other newspapers, and personal mail, is a violation of prisoners’ human rights. Workers behind bars need to be able to read material of their choosing, to think for themselves and to be part of the world.”

“I implore you to grant Mr. Johnson Bill of Rights,” wrote Bishop Dennis Lyons from the Gospel Missionary Church in Louisville, Kentucky, to prison authorities Jan. 22, and give him his “Militant Publication.”

“I have been a subscriber to the Militant  for some 45 years,” wrote Mindy Brudno, a rail worker from Athens, Ohio, in her note to the Indiana Department of Correction, “and cannot imagine any possible justification” for the impoundments.

Johnson became a political activist in prison and is a leader of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party. In an attempt to isolate him, prison officials have repeatedly transferred him around — from Virginia to Oregon, Texas, Florida, Virginia again, and now Indiana. He had been receiving the Militant  in Pendleton since November 2018.