Off Limits

Prison break

It's easier to get out of United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum -- ADX, as the maximum-security prison in Florence is known -- than it is to get inside.

If you're a publication, at least.

As recently as this summer, Westword was banned in accordance with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' Program Statement 5266.09, Incoming Publications, which states that "the Warden may reject a publication if it is determined detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it may facilitate criminal activity." In this case, the warden was worried about a May 23 story by Alan Prendergast, which detailed how Timothy Stoakes, a 33-year-old convict in the Colorado Department of Corrections system with a history of theft, forgery and other nonviolent crime, wanted to invoke his "right to euthanasia."

You might think a taxpayer-dollar-saving, self-imposed death penalty for prisoners would be the sort of thing the penal industry would want to encourage -- but you'd be wrong. Michael Pugh, then warden of ADX, rejected that issue of Westword -- just as he's rejected copies of not just this Denver weekly, but the Christian Science Monitor, the New Yorker and USA Today. In fact, any story about an inmate is often enough to get a publication banned, in recognition of the warden's concern that it contains "third party inmate to inmate correspondence."

Prison-break instructions in the cartoon on page 32 of the New Yorker!

But in the meantime, one of ADX's most notorious inmates -- and that's saying something of a place that once housed Tim McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, concurrently -- had no problem getting his own manuscript out of prison and into print. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose 35,000-word manifesto published in the New York Times and the Washington Post back in 1995 was a key piece of evidence in solving the crimes and putting a stop to his seventeen-year bombing career, this spring sent a handwritten missive to John Zerzan, one of the editors of Green Anarchy, an environmental newsletter based in Eugene, Oregon.

Zerzan had visited Kaczynski in jail in Sacramento -- prior to the deal that sent the bomber to ADX -- and had been corresponding with him since then. So he wasn't particularly surprised when he received the manuscript, and while he didn't particularly agree with the content of "Hit Where It Hurts," either, he published it in the spring/summer issue of the newsletter.

"The purpose of this article," Kaczynski writes, "is to point out a very simple principle of human conflict, a principle that opponents of the techno-industrial system seem to be overlooking. The principle is that in any form of conflict, if you want to win, you must hit your adversary where it hurts....

"I have to explain that when I talk about 'hitting where it hurts,' I am not necessarily referring to physical blows or to any other form of physical violence. For example, in oral debate, 'hitting where it hurts' would mean making the arguments to which your opponent's position is most vulnerable. In a presidential election, 'hitting where it hurts' would mean winning from your opponent the states that have the most electoral votes. Still, in discussing this principle, I will use the analogy of physical combat, because it is vivid and clear."

Particularly to those 23 victims who survived being on the receiving end of a Unabomber package. (Three died in the blasts.)

Although Zerzan has yet to hear any reviews from the Bureau of Prisons -- or from Kaczynski himself -- following the publication of the Unabomber's latest screed, the national media has been filling him in. The Washington Post, for example, told him that under BP rules, "an inmate currently confined in an institution may not be employed or act as a reporter or publish under a byline." Which means the bureaucrats could be going after Kaczynski.

"But that talks about a professional journalist," Zerzan says, pointing out that the prisoner's missive was more like a letter to the editor -- a very long letter to the editor. "He couldn't make any money."

Fox News followed with an interview in which Zerzan was drafted to speak for the Green Anarchy group, which focuses on prison support work as well as environmental causes. "How can you publish this terrorist?" the reporter asked Zerzan. "We had two different rejoinders, but he didn't let us give either," Zerzan remembers. "The mainstream media disallows open information."

The same issue of Green Anarchy -- "free to prisoners!" (and also to anyone who logs on to -- that leads off with Kaczynski's piece features another article of interest to Coloradans, both in and out of prison. "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" is excerpted from an essay by University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. "Looking back," Churchill writes, "it will seem to future generations inexplicable why Americans were unable on their own, and in time to save themselves, to accept a rule of nature so basic that it could be mouthed by an actor, Lawrence Fishburn [sic], in a movie, The Cotton Club. 'You've got to learn,' the line went, 'that when you push people around, some people push back.' As they should. As they must. And as they undoubtedly will. There is justice in such symmetry."

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help