Monday, April 11, 2016
Words As Contraband (No Names. No Fingers. Yet)
The Arizona Department of Corrections has a long list of banned reading material. I have known that for quite a while. I am asked when I go through security whether or not I am carrying any banned books, magazines or other form of discourse. I say no, but I don't know exactly what is on the list, or why. The inmates, however, taste the bans firsthand. They are glad to tell me about the recent flurry of bannings. The DOC recently banned a garden magazine because it had ads for gardening tools that included shovels and hoes. Now these tools, in the wrong hands, wielded in a bad mood, could, theoretically, be used as weapons. Yes, weapons. (Doesn't matter that inmates have no access to gardens or tools...) Because of this, the magazines have been banned. Even with a subscription paid for by family, an inmate won't receive the banned Home and Gardens. A book about a mountain man describes a scene in which he "takes off his pants" before he crawls into his sleeping bag after a long day hunting elk and trapping beaver (no double entendre intended). This was seen as lewd and lascivious behavior, so that book got banned too. Another book that I know well, one that deals with prison writing workshops mentions a scene where a prison staff member and an inmate are caught in an intimate act. That book got banned too. In fact, if the book and magazine banning were applied to the prison library, according to the inmates, a good portion of the available material would disappear. And it's not only books that are going away. Educational programs have lost funding. Inmates that serve as tutors and teaching assistants have lost their jobs. Never mind the overwhelming evidence that education, reading, and writing can transform a life (as it did mine). If anyone speaks up about this, he gets a one way bus ticket to the hole in Yuma. That is the word from the inmates, the word that I have to pass on, dig into. Prisons have no accountability or transparency when it comes to which texts are banned or providing a rationale for those decisions. Here's a link to an article with a partial list of banned reading:
Requesting information can get volunteers like me banned from volunteering, thrown into the dustbin of persona non grata. Oh well, gotta be somewhere. Just sent in the request. We'll see.