Marc Emery may be in prison, but the powers that put him there have not been able to silence his voice, despite obvious attempts to do so. Emery, the seed vending-activist who was extradited to the U.S. with the Conservative Canadian Government’s approval, has been incarcerated in the U.S. for one year this past May.
He has relayed his experiences prolifically in blogs posted to the <www.freemarc.ca> website, and details the daily experience of imprisonment, and his own unique commentary on what is going on around him. Jodie Emery, Marc’s wife, has been sharing the experience online through blog-posts, and the Jodie Emery show.
They also share the details of the unjust punishments/retributions Marc and others have had to face within the system. One example of such iniquitous treatment occurred early on when Jodie recorded a phone call with Marc from SeaTac Federal Detention Center to post online as a pot-cast. Marc was put into solitary confinement for three weeks.
Solitary confinement doesn’t just mean that you are removed from the general population of the prison. It also means that you are not allowed to have books, television, phone or email access, and no contact from your family and friends. It is a cruel way to break a spirit, and have those conform to the rules as they are laid out. That cruelty extends to loved ones on the outside who don’t have access. It can be difficult to find out information on the state of a prisoner in solitary confinement, which, as you can imagine, was quite troubling for all of those who care for Marc.
Despite the rule not being found in any of the rule books given to Marc when he arrived, apparently there is a rule about “campaigning” from his prison cell, and they justified his solitary confinement with this guideline. Even after he got his hearing, despite the admission that this rule is not written anywhere, Marc was further punished by not having access to the phone for a while.
On another occasion, there had been complaints of the lack of time inmates had out in the fresh air and sunshine. Marc had these complaints published on his blog. The staff at the institution then covered all the windows in the facility so inmates couldn’t even see outside. A clear message about who was in charge, and likely an attempt to undermine Marc’s apparent popularity with other inmates.
In Nov. 2010, Marc was transferred to D. Ray James Institution, which is in Folkston, Georgia. This institution is for deportable aliens in the U.S. that break the law. It is populated with mainly Mexican foreigners for drug/white collar crime. Most were spanish speaking among the 1600 prisoners, with 12 others (besides Marc) being Canadians.
The institution is a for profit/private prison run by GEO Group. The for-profit prisons do not have to adhere to the bureau of prisons standards, and appear to be mostly accountable to their share-holders. Their standards are set by the expense, and as you can imagine, the corner cutting that takes place can be incredible.
D. Ray James is an overcrowded institution where the for-profit aspect is clear in the corners cut to save a few dollars. With a population of more than 1600, the visiting areas only had 24 tables for prisoners to have visits. Often visits were cut short due to lack of space, and other inmates waiting to see their loved ones. It is especially cruel in this case, as most inmate’s families travel great distances to see their loved ones and are cheated out of the available time due to cost cutting.
There were further injustices at this “concentration camp for foreigners” as Marc would refer to it, including the enforcement of arbitrary rules. On one such occasion, a new rule was enacted that during contact visits inmates had with their families, they were no longer allowed to actually touch each other. Incomprehensibly cruel, it took several weeks for the institution to lighten up and allow couples to hold hands during visits again, and is poignant for highlighting the utter disregard that prisoners and their families face during their incarceration.
It is in these moments that true character is revealed. Given the option to keep his head down and not risk retribution from the institutions he is housed in, Marc has consistently chosen to speak out on the forces that keep him chained, revealing the deeper truths of the institutions he has been serving his time in, and challenging the inner workings of the system.
His newsletter may have ultimately led to a slowdown of his mail while housed in D. Ray James, because security would read all of his incoming, and outgoing mail. On average, Marc would receive his those associated with the prison, including guards and management, read his newsletters—even going through some editions line by line with Marc, prior to publishing.
Marc has also been doing a great deal to help his fellow inmates. He has worked in the library, and is one of a handful of inmates who is qualified to work as a quasi legal aide to the Spanish speaking inmates, where Marc has assisted over 250 inmates with appeals, writing motions, writing immigration about citizenship papers, doing treaty transfer applications, property location requests, and so on. Perhaps he was too good at his work at the library, which was why he was pulled off library duty to pick-up garbage.
It took over a month for this to get sorted out as well. In the end, he was warned when he was reinstated to his work in the library that he was not to work evenings or weekends, and that he could not help anyone in his cell block with legal issues.
For his trouble, Marc was paid $5.20 a month. The work program is more like State sponsored slavery for foreigners. Oddly, it is illegal for any of those housed at D. Ray James to work in the U.S., however, in the case of the for profit prisons, inmates do the work, GEO group gains the income from the inmates work, and pays them less than the cost of a happy meal a month. If an inmate doesn’t want to work his assigned task, the company has the right to throw them in solitary confinement until he chooses to do his work.
In April, Emery was denied transfer to serve his time in a Canadian institution by the U.S. Government due to “the seriousness of the offence” and “law enforcement concerns.” It is a heart breaking development for all concerned, and means that Marc will not be home on Canadian soil again until at least July 2014.
Shortly after he received word of the denial of his transfer request, Marc was once again moved to another institution. This time, a medium security facility in Yazoo City, Mississippi. This particular facility is run by the bureau of prisons, and it sounds as though Marc’s situation has improved considerably.
He has traded his large dorm that he shared with 19 other men for a small cell and a single room mate. He has also gained access to email with the move as well, which is a huge blessing for Marc, Jodie, and the 29 other individuals he is allowed to correspond with using the prisons email system. There has also been some improvement in visitation facilities, and in general, having more English speaking individuals for Marc to talk with.
Marc welcomes letters from supporters and friends. He wants to hear about what’s going on in your life, the activism you’ve done, the little pleasures and joys of your day, and news about what’s happening in the world and your area. Prison life is just endless boring repetition, cut off from the outside. Nothing ever changes and nothing new ever happens, so Marc would really appreciate getting reports from the outside world.
Recently, Marc has taken up guitar, and is playing with a prison band aptly named “Stuck.” So, Marc is also interested in receiving guitar music to try his hand at. As well, the <www.freemarc.ca> website has a list of magazines that Marc is receiving, and a list of books on his wish list for supporters to send.
The expenses of traveling to visit Marc every two weeks is enormous for Jodie. The cost of flights to Mississippi and hotels, as well as keeping Marc’s commissary fund stocked so he can buy stamps, email/phone time, food, and other necessities, money must be a concern for them both. The freemarc website also explains how you can put money into the commissary to help out, or send Jodie some money to help with travel expenses.
In the meantime, while Marc works his way through the belly of the beast, we need to be on point back here at home to be sure that the Conservative Government does not undo all that Marc, and so many others have worked so hard, and sacrificed so much for. In July 2014, when he returns to Canada, we will have much to celebrate with his return, but lets be sure his homecoming is also a celebration of the positive change that has been ushered into Canada despite his absence.