Prison Radio
Dontie Mitchell

“Silencing the Unique Collective Voice of Prisoners.”

A decision and order dated December 5th, 2019, the United States Justice Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed several of my claims raised in my amended complaint. For those of you not familiar, whenever you file suit in the federal court system, you use what is called a complaint to plead your causes of action.

That is, what was done to you and how it violated your rights under the law. In my amended complaint—which superseded my original complaint—I raised several class action allegations, but they all can be summed up to this: the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for years has instituted and affirmed policies, practices, procedures, and customs, systematically, and unreasonably depriving prisoners of their personal liberties and freedoms protected under the United States Constitution. These policies, practices, procedures, and customs are designed to silence, humiliate, and destroy the dignity of prisoners. And to keep hidden from public view, the pervasive abuse and mistreatment of prisoners, as well as the incompetence and corruption of prison officials and staff.

In my amended complaint, I show how I am being personally affected by these illegal and unconstitutional departmental policies, practices, procedures, and customs. The one thing prison officials and staff fear most is the public power of the unique collective voice of prisoners.

So prisoners like me are a threat because I have the ability to organize a unique collective voice of prisoners and to harness its public power to expose the pervasive abuse and mistreatment of prisoners. And to share incompetence and corruption in prisons’ officials and staff. I have been targeted by prison officials here, who worked to marginalize me and suppress my voice. They can’t move against me with bogus disciplinary charges or with violence because this prison is already under scrutiny due to high profile incidents of prison brutality leading to the death of one prisoner.
So, instead, prison officials have refused to give me permission to establish a prison chapter of UFD, which is a mutual self-improvement fraternity I use to positively organize, motivate, inspire, educate, and mentor young prisoners and to steer them away from gangs, drugs and violence.

Prison officials also refused to allow me to run for the inmate liaison committee, which meets monthly with the prison administration to present the concerns, complaints, and requests of the prison population. Prison officials will not allow me to run for the inmate grievance resolution committee, which is made up of two prisoner representatives and two staff representatives who, together, are supposed to work to help resolve the individual complaints of prisoners.

And prison officials would not allow me to be the inmate facilitator of the Shiatsu Netsu study group I spearheaded the effort to get started. Instead, they appointed another prisoner who knows next to nothing about Shietsu Netsu. All of these actions against me are to prevent me from being in a position to teach, lead, and organize other prisoners and legitimate efforts to assert and vindicate our rights.

So I filed a federal civil rights action to expose this, but the Northern District is biased against impact litigation filed by incarcerated pro se litigants. And the Prison Litigation Reform Act signed into law by Bill Clinton further limits our ability to assert and vindicate our rights in federal courts. For example, in order for me to appeal the biased and unjust ruling of the Northern district, I have to pay $505. Poor prisoners are made to pay the full filing fee and 20% increments of any money we receive. If we have more than one filing fee to pay, the percent we must pay increases by 20% each time. I already have two filing fees so 40% of all my money is collected and I only make $13 every two weeks. If I file this appeal, 60% of my 13 biweekly wage will be garnished. This doesn’t include the expenses for postage and copies. I also have a need to depose prison officials about their actions to show there are inconsistencies in the decisions and reasons for them that this causes too.

The biased judges and corrupt prison officials know we incarcerated pro se litigants are at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to prosecuting our lawsuits. Can I really afford to appeal the biased rulings of the Northern district? And where are the prisoner legal services organizations at? Like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Prisoner’s Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society in New York city or the Prisoners Legal Services of New York.

We cannot have true prison reform, nor hope to abolish prisons if prisoners are unable to organize our unique collective voice. 24 years ago, a prisoner by the name of Jason B. Nicholas tried to form a prisoner’s legal defense center to educate the public about important legal issues related to prisoners, to educate prisoners about the law, to lobby for prison reform, and to engage in impact litigation. New York state prison officials refused to allow Nicholas to form the center. Arguing that it might, I repeat, might generate significant security risk. And federal court sided with prison officials because Nicholas couldn’t afford an expert to refute their argument.

Finally, for those of you who claim to fight for prison reform and prison abolition. Battles such as the one I am waging are essential to that fight. If prisoners are not allowed to organize their unique collective voice, and use the public power and use—let me say that over—and prisoners are not allowed to organize their unique collective voice and use the public power it would generate to advocate for ourselves. Then no real prison reform can be had.