November 09- Human Rights Coalition call for support:
Artist's right to free speech under fire in PA state prison
PA state prison guards, supported by the prison administration and the Secretary’s Office of the Department of Corrections have confiscated artwork from a prisoner. Why? Because it depicts the artist's perspective on the existence of racial oppression within the PA criminal justice system (a viewpoint quite unpopular with prison guards and administrators). The artist has filed a civil suit against the Department of Corrections, asking for the return of his artwork and for the court to issue an order preventing further confiscations. The Human Rights Coalition is reaching out to you to show your support for freedom of speech and expression.
Leonard Jefferson is a prolific artist who has used his art to provide analysis and commentary concerning Pennsylvania's criminal justice system and his lived experience behind bars. His art is typically small/medium-sized pen & ink drawings of prison settings; he has used his art to do outreach to the general public by sending it to various individuals and organizations, including human-rights groups.
In April 2009, he completed Sista-matized
, a drawing depicting a row of men caged in a cell block; superimposed is the image of a black female prison guard- who is obviously distraught- and below, a courtroom scene in which the judge, jury, prosecution, and public defender are robed and hooded Klan members. The defendant is a black man with a sign across his back that reads, "nigger". On the desk of the prosecutor is a copy of a book entitled Genocide for Dummies; on the side of the book is printed "Property of the DA's office".
This drawing was confiscated from him during a cell search in July 09 at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Albion, at the discretion of the corrections officers who were conducting the search. The reason they gave on the official prison paperwork was that the drawing was "racial artwork". Mr. Jefferson filed requests and grievances for the return of the drawing, which were denied. The justification given on the final denial by the Secretary of Corrections' office (the head of the PA state prison system) was that the drawing had "negative connotations towards Corrections Officers, Judges, and the Criminal Justice System". That is to say, they didn't like it because it calls these people and groups perpetrators of racial oppression and genocide.
Mr. Jefferson finished the necessary paperwork in October, and filed a pro se (representing himself) civil suit with the county court, asking for a list of redresses-- including court costs, damages ($1000), the return of his artwork and an order preventing the prison from further arbitrary confiscations.
What you can do-
(any or all of the following):
1. Copy, fill out & mail the letter of support
, or use it as a template to write your own & send it to the judge & "cc" list included below.
2. If your organization has lawyers on staff, have them file an "amicus curiae" brief with the court on the subject of art, racial & political themes, social commentary & the role of the artist in society.
3. Display Sista-matized
in a public place with an explanation of the situation & of the importance of supporting artists who put their safety and lives at risk to tell the truth as they see it.
How to send letters of support:
-Complete and sign the letter
(better yet, write one in your own words!) and send it to the presiding judge:
Honorable Judge John Garhart
Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, PA
140 West Sixth Street
Erie, PA 16501
-then send copies to:
10745 Route 18
Albion, PA 16475-0002
Secretary of Corrections Jeffrey Beard
2520 Lisburn Road
P.O. Box 598
Camp Hill, PA 17001-0598
Superintendent Raymond Sobina
10745 Route 18
Albion, PA 16475-0001
Human Rights Coalition
4134 Lancaster Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19104
attn: Support Committee
Read about Leonard's struggle for freedom here
Human Rights Coalition thanks you for your solidarity and support!
Questions/comments? Email HRC Support Committee at: email@example.com