President Obama joins Westword on supermax's banned publications list

Word that Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a prisoner at Florence' supermax prison facility, was denied a request for two books by President Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father, on the basis of national security shines a spotlight on the often bizarre rationale for keeping publications out of inmates' hands at high-security prison facilities.

In 2002, when Westword staffer Alan Prendergast wrote about Mark Jordan, an aspiring author who was forbidden to publish anything by prison supervisors, he spelled out some of the capricious policies at supermax:

ADX officials review all incoming mail and have traditionally invoked security concerns to ban certain publications, such as racist and anarchist tracts and even Prison Legal News, on the grounds that they could prove "disruptive" to prison operations. Several months ago, though, warden Michael Pugh declared that any article "that contains specific information written by or about an inmate or inmates and their causes" would be subject to confiscation as "third-party inmate-to-inmate correspondence." The new policy has been used to keep inmates from receiving particular issues of a wide range of mainstream publications, from Westword to the Christian Science Monitor to the New Yorker, simply because that issue contains an article that makes reference to a prisoner somewhere, regardless of whether the reference has any bearing on operations at ADX.

Jordan subsequently won a lawsuit over prison restrictions on printed materials -- although a later challenge to a ban on erotic material was largely rejected in 2008 was rejected by none other than Judge Edward Nottingham, who earned the nickname "Judge Naughty" for randy behavior once he took off his robes.

Not that Jordan's victory in regard to material not judged to be overly prurient caused supermax bosses to loosen their restrictions all that much. Prendergast notes that ADX prisoner Thomas Silverstein still hasn't been allowed to read 2007's "The Caged Life," an award-winning feature article about him.

Clearly, Westword is in good company when it comes to being rejected at supermax. But the President's inclusion notwithstanding, it's not a very exclusive club.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts