Friday, May 21, 2010

Daniel McGowan - Urgent Appeal from a Secret Prison May 21, 2010

After three years in prison and hundreds (thousands, even) of letters mailed out, I have gotten to the point where there is little to write about. Prison life is remarkably static—so unchanging in its daily routine—that news resonates here in a pronounced way. The early part of April brought some major announcements that will profoundly affect my life here in the Bureau of Prison's Communication Management Unit (CMU). Finally, my friends will be saved from the endless litany of letters about what TV shows I watch, Prison drama, my workouts and books I have read that week!

In February, after completing 18 months of "clear conduct" here, I requested a transfer to a "normal" prison (that is, one without punitive restrictions on my contact with the outside world). My request was denied on April 5th and did not come as a major shock. The written rejection notice did not offer a reason for my denial; instead just informing me that I can apply again at my next "program review." I am not the only one who has had my transfer request denied and who faces the paradox of being held here without any explanation why. Despite twenty months of "clear conduct" (the BoP term for no disciplinary sanctions) and participation in classes, I am still being held here at the government's discretion.

On March 30th, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed suit on my behalf against the BoP regarding this unit (Aref v. Holder, D.C. Circuit). The suit raises a number of substantial constitutional claims and violations of federal law. Also included in the suit are fellow prisoners at this CMU, the other CMU at Terre Haute, my wife Jenny and another prisoner's wife. The suit is asking for injunctive relief--that the court intervene and fix these constitutional violations. While this is a positive step in addressing the massive problems with the concept of the Communication Management Unit, the journey through the courts is a slow and somewhat tedious affair.

Just one week after the lawsuit was filed, the Bureau of Prisons released proposed rules for the CMU, opening a 60-day comment period for the public (BoP Docket # 1148-P, Communication Management Units). The unfortunate part of this proposal is that they represent a huge reduction in communication for prisoners. The new rules would set the following standards:

1) Only one phone call per month (to immediate family).
2) Only one hour, non-contact, visit per month (with immediate family).
3) Only one, 3 page letter, to and from a single recipient per week.

These rules are remarkable and fly in the face of the BoP's supposed ideas on the positive aspects of communication between prisoners and their community, family members and friends. The proposed rules are far worse than the current conditions, and current conditions are bad enough. I can assure you that attempting to maintain healthy, close relationships on 2 phone calls a week and 8 hours of non-contact visits a month is exceedingly difficult and expensive. (My family lives 1,100 miles from this prison creating bills of $600+ for a two day trip). The irony is that most of the men in this unit do not even have communication violations so why the reason for the new rules? Normally, a government agency (such as the BoP) proposes rules before implementing a policy. In this case, the CMU has been in operations for nearly three years. Not only is that an obvious violation of federal law but the proposed rules have an air of mean-spiritedness and retribution.

You can submit public comment on these proposed rules easily online at or by reading the rules online and sending your comments to:

Rules Unit, Office of General Counsel
Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW.
Washington, DC 20534

Please be cordial and to the point with your comments. If you need help or talking points for your comments, do not hesitate to contact the organizations below.
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), 212-614-6480.
Family & Friends of Daniel McGowan

Daniel McGowan
USP Marion CMU
PO Box 1000
Marion, IL 62959

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