Monday, January 22, 2018

Seeking books 'designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption'

Grits loved the Dallas News' coverage of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's 10,000+ banned books list, both for books dubiously banned and for those allowed. But my Reasonably Suspicious podcast partner, Mandy Marzullo, noticed an interesting tidbit the stories didn't highlight. We discuss it in the podcast which will be out this week. Lauren McGaughy reported that the book Freakonomics was banned for:
"racial content" that could be construed as being "written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption." 
This was reported without comment, but there are at least two problems with this determination. First, there's no mention whatsoever of race or "racial content" in the actual TDCJ policy (which is quoted near-verbatim and linked in the story). Both were put in quotation marks by the mail clerk who rejected the book, but only one is quoting anything. There's no legitimate justification for rejecting a book under TDCJ policy based on "racial content," which means the policy isn't really being enforced and the mail clerks and review committees are using subjective (in this case, race-based) criteria to make their decisions.

Second, the idea that the book Freakonomics was "written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption" is absurd and laughable on its face. Not only was it not written solely for that reason, the authors might find it surprising to learn that anyone, anywhere, ever interpreted their writing that way. Meanwhile, Mein Kampf and books by David Dukes get in without a hitch. (No "racial content" in those books, I'm sure!)

In a lot of ways, TDCJ has promulgated a stupid policy. (After McGaughy's coverage, and interest from House Corrections Committee Chairman James White, that policy is now under review.) Can anyone name a book "written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption"? If so, I'd like to read it. Grits has never heard of such a thing.

Even books like Angela Davis' autobiography, for example, which in part describes her own efforts to organize California prisoners to disrupt that prison system in the '70s, wasn't written "solely" for the purpose of communicating that information; it was part of a broader black power movement whose purposes where diverse and extended far beyond the prison yard.

I'm curious: if anyone knows of some devilish manual that meets the precise description in that policy, including the "solely," please leave the title in the comments. As I write this, I'm not certain such a volume exists.


Anonymous said...

"Green Eggs and Ham"...clearly racist, meant to incite riots among institutionalized inmates. And Sam-I-Am is the architect instigator supplying motivation.

"Would you like them,
Here or there?"

Translation - Would you rather be in prison, or free?

Would you like them
In a house?
Would you like them
With a mouse?

Translation - the "Big House" = prison that is fraught with unsanitary rodents or rats; See also "snitches" who will report you to prison guards to garner favor (Not to be confused with Sneetches, Star-Bellied or otherwise, which also describes those institutes that capitalize on antagonizing racial disparities.)

Would you eat them
In a box?
Would you eat them
With a fox?

Translation - Again, box = jail cell, fox = unethical guards willing to violate Civil Constitutional rights of inmates to maintain theoretical order.

Further mentions by Sam-I-Am of cars, trains, boats are all references to "freedoms", or means of gaining freedom provided that the inmates can overcome the metaphorically depressing rainy weather or the incessant bleating of the goat (i.e. John Q. Public) who are indifferent to the hardships of incarceration.

I do so like green eggs and ham!
Thank you!
Thank you,

Riot ensues.

Steven Michael Seys said...

The people who are forced to receive mail filtered through the State Mail System clerks on TDCJ units know the criteria for censorship is subjective and arbitrary, and the appeal process seldom results in a sensible decision. So long as there's low pay and lower oversight, the people who sort and censor prisoners' mail will continue to do so on the basis of their own personal prejudice.

James S. said...

You're right, it's ridiculous. If anything, the Freakonomics chapter entitled (IIRC) "Why drug dealers still live with their mothers" should be required reading for people who still think crime pays.

Anonymous said...

They deny serious self help books for inmates. Especially psych orientated.
Prison Masculinities, Texas Tough, Houses of Healinng, any many books designed for discovering personal motivations. Less AAA and more TA..

He's Innocent said...

My spouse once was denied his issue of Rolling Stone based upon AC/DC (I think?) being on the cover of it. It took weeks of me hounding the "review staff" in Huntsville to give it back. He'd been looking forward to that issue precisely for that profile of a group he loved.

They also refused a book about the history of TDCJ.


@Anon 5:02am - excellent assessment of Green Eggs and Ham book by that inciter Seuss!

Charlie O said...

I sent an inmate a copy of "Fried Green Tomatoes" by Fannie Flagg a few years ago. It was rejected for having "racial" content. The book is a work of fiction with an anti-racism message. The people making these decisions are morons.