Just as the dawn of the new year barely broke over that distant horizon that is our as yet undetermined path forward, the phrase “I am Charlie” has become a call of unity throughout the western world as those outraged over the senseless mass execution of journalists and staff of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, fanatically stood as one in zealous protest over this malicious attack upon the exercise of free speech.
In Paris alone, over a million men and women gathered on the Place de la Republique, with millions more around the world marching in solidarity, and with the notable exception of a representative of the United States, the leaders of 40 nations stood hand-in-hand leading this march for freedom. Only later would President Obama publicly apologize for not sending an envoy to represent America, as if it was nothing more than a trivial oversight.
But was it really an oversight, or did America’s absence in this united message that Freedom of Speech cannot be suppressed by acts of violence actually reflect a truth few wish to confront - that like so many other fundamental principles that the western world considers “basic human rights,” America’s commitment to the concept of free speech is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors show intended to project an image that is anything but the reality that exists behind this curtain of manufactured deception.
Not everything is always as it might appear to be - and this is especially true for the perpetuation of propaganda American feeds the rest of the world, too often condemning other countries for their own history of human rights violations while arrogantly exercising their own distorted views that allow America to stand alone amongst the western nations in putting its own citizens to death through the practice of capital punishment, depriving alleged terrorists of any pretense of a fair trial while indefinitely holding them under oppressive conditions of a military base known as Guantanamo Bay. And then there’s the truth that in America today millions of citizens are prohibited from exercising free speech, and those who do dare to speak out against this government sanctioned suppression are subjected to extreme consequences that the rest of the western world would condemn as barbaric and inhumane. And nobody seems to care.
What I’m referring to is the millions of prisoners currently incarcerated in state and federal prisons across America. It is a fact that the United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the world. Florida alone currently incarcerates well over 100,000 men and women under objectively oppressive conditions with thousands held in long term solitary confinement designed to brutally break both body and spirit, for years at a time. Per capita, Florida has more condemned prisoners facing execution than any other state, including Texas and California, and Florida is now aggressively pushing for a record number of executions.
But Florida is indicative of most other states and the federal prison system, as it is common practice to severely restrict prisoners’ exercise of free speech, and uniformly, there are extreme consequences imposed on those few prisoners who might dare to speak out against the system.
My own experience is comparable to that of countless others who have also found themselves targeted for retaliation after they dared exercise this pretense of free speech. After over 30 years on Florida’s death row (please check out: www.southerninjustice.net) I have often been subjected to the consequences that result from speaking out against the abuse of prisoners, on numerous occasions even physically beaten and threatened with death for no other reason but that I refused to remain silent and I continue to refuse to be coerced into silence.
In this particular piece I will focus only on the most recent experiences, which will sufficiently show how “free speech” for millions of Americans is nothing more than a myth - that the very government that claims to be the model of promoting free speech actually systemically suppresses the speech they don’t want the rest of the world to know about. And because we are prisoners, nobody really cares.
Almost a year ago today, Warden Diane Andrews showed up at my solitary cell accompanied by her hand-picked entourage and ordered me to “cuff up” (standard protocol for when any death-sentenced prisoner is removed from their cell). I immediately complied and was then escorted to the other end of the death-row unit and placed in what we call the “Hannibal Lector” cell - a fully enclosed “high security” cell completely stripped of everything except a solid concrete slab comprising a “bunk” and a sink/toilet combo, and nothing else.
I then, and only then, learned that my transgression warranting this extreme punishment was that a few weeks earlier I wrote the Miami Herald newspaper protesting their coverage of the execution of Thomas Knight, aka Askari Muhammad, who was put to death on January, 2014 for killing a guard on Florida’s death row in 1981. Apparently, Warden Andrews subjectively interpreted my letter as somehow constituting a “threat to staff,” thereby justifying this ultra-high security status. I wasn’t that surprised as Warden Andrews had a history of responding in extreme fashion to matters she found inconsistent with her totalitarian agenda, and it wasn’t the first time I personally felt her wrath. (Please read “Holidays in the Hole”)
For the next six weeks I remained in that “Hannibal Lector” cell, and was only finally removed when I was abruptly transferred to Florida State Prison, which many of us call the “Alcatraz of the South.” (Please read “Alcatraz of the South Chap. 1-6) As is only too typical for governmental bureaucrats, it took months before Warden Andrews’ superiors finally got around to reviewing her actions taken against me, and ordered all action terminated upon finding that there was nothing to support any alleged infraction... they concluded that Warden Andrews’ actions were “unfounded.”
Finally removed from this heightened security status and transferred back to the main death row unit at Union Correctional, it came as no surprise to me that numerous Florida newspapers revealed that Warden Andrews was under both state and federal criminal investigation in relationship to staff working under her using excessive force, even killing one inmate by “gassing” him to death. (specifically referred to in “Holidays in the Hole”)
With Warden Andrews under criminal investigation, staff wanted to suppress any further exposure of the systemic abuse of prisoners in Florida. That especially meant silencing those few such as myself that refused to be silenced. Once again, staff unexpectedly showed up at my solitary cell, this time delivering a copy of a “disciplinary report” written against me by Warden Andrews’ Senior Classification officer, Mary Mahoney, alleging that I violated prison rules by allowing my previously published book, “To Live and Die on Death Row” to be sold on a website. There was no dispute that I was not responsible for another party offering my book for sale, but rather they disingenuously interpreted a rule that requires prisoners to inform the mailroom if a book is to be published. My failure to inform the mailroom was itself construed as a “major violation” that resulted in my being once again placed in the “hole” for 30 days, deprived of all but the most basic “privileges” of food and clothing.
These are just a few of the examples of the consequences of exercising “free speech” if you’re a prisoner in America. And my own experiences are only too common throughout the prison system. Although some would argue that the fact I can write about this experience as I am now doing shows that I am allowed to exercise “free speech,” they conveniently ignore that by writing this I will undoubtedly again be subjected to extreme punitive action - and there are very few like myself who will bear this cross - by predictably imposing punishment upon those few who do dare speak out, prison officials deliberately silence the majority and that is government sanctioned suppression of free speech.
It’s a simple truth... free speech does not exist if and when there are consequences imposed upon those who do dare to speak out. And across America today it is the government (i.e. prison officials) that is prohibiting the millions of prisoners in America today from speaking out.
Gathering in crowds even a million strong and proclaiming “I am Charlie” amounts to nothing more than hollow rhetoric devoid of any meaningful substance if at the end of the day the crowds go home an forget about the cause. To allow deliberate suppression of free speech to continue anywhere, especially when imposed upon millions of men and women in America today, should be as aggressively condemned by just as many who marched in the streets of Paris.
But it won’t happen, as even in the western world, while we claim to zealously guard against encroachments on these basic human rights, these same masses remain blissfully oblivious to the same deprivations of fundamental freedoms and basic human rights when they are imposed upon prisoners. This epidemic of apathy undermines that very foundation upon which this illusion of “free speech” stands, as no society can deliberately disenfranchise millions of its own citizens and still call itself a free society.
If you would like to have a free copy of my book, “To Live and Die on Death Row,” you can download it at www.southerninjustice.net
In that I am now facing probable imminent execution, I would ask that you sign a petition protesting my intended execution, as I am innocent of the crime for which I have been wrongfully convicted and condemned. To sign this petition, just click HERE