Prisoners successfully overcome repressive policy: IDOC Watch update

The following news report by IDOC Watch correspondent Landis Reynolds was first published on the IDOC Watch blog on June 4, 2024 under the title, “Legal challenge forces confession and change in oppressive picture policy.”

In August of 2023, IDOC passed a policy targeting photos sent to prisoners from their families, placing ridiculous requirements that allowed mail rooms to deny 90 percent of the photos sent by their loved ones. Photos of children in Halloween costumes, parents on the beach in a bathing suit, a brother in a hat, a wife in a hoody were all routinely denied as “inappropriate.” This policy was not intended to promote a safe, wholesome environment for reformation. The policy was meant to destroy the very fabric of the relationships that are so instrumental to life and motivation for prisoners.

Prisoners immediately began seeking relief, within the system, through mechanisms designed by the very authors of their oppression. Grievances were summarily denied or outright ignored. Inmates were told to make a suggestion for a change to Central Office at the next policy review, which was a year away. During this time prison mail rooms continued to “strictly enforce” the policy. Understand, acquiescence is cooperation, surrender is collaboration.

“Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless…” The law is a two-edged sword. It was used to fuck many of us over. But when used intelligently, surgically, it can become kryptonite against an oppressive system.

Incarcerated legal advocates crafted a lawsuit targeting not only the bogus denial of photos, but also policies meant to hinder email communication. Mere days after the lawsuit was filed in Federal court, the Commissioner issued an Executive Directive Immediately overturning the repressive policy. Christina Reagle, the Commissioner for IDOC, did not suddenly grow a heart. Nor was the policy rescinded because it was the right thing to do. It was a strategic move made in an attempt to avoid exposing IDOC’s abuses for the world to see. An attempt to avoid a judicial decree capable of removing their ability to violate rights with impunity.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Any person, system, group, or entity with unchecked power will ultimately become corrupt and abusive. This especially true for a system that from its very inception was designed to be inhumane and oppressive. Democracy is based on adversarial systems or dialectics. When I say ‘democracy’ I do not mean ‘representative democracy,’ as capitalism defines it where the people are voiceless. I mean true democracy, grassroots government.

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines an “adversarial system” as, “A procedural system… involving active and unhindered parties contesting with each other…” In prison we feel hindered.

We feel powerless. But we are only as powerless as we allow ourselves to be. We are required, called, destined to put the prison system to an adversarial test. We are called to challenge every abuse, every oppressive policy. Chattel slavery lasted four hundred years because millions of poor souls FELT as if they had no recourse.

Powerlessness is a feeling; its a state of mind strategically imposed on us. It is never a reality. As long as blood pumps through your veins you are not powerless. Especially when there are thousands in your very situation with blood pumping through their veins, also.

At first, the prison system did not hide the fact that it was evolved form of slavery. It was only when prisoners put the system to an adversarial test in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, through various forms of struggle when changes were extracted and the American prison system took on the veneer of a rehabilitation model. Now, the American prison system is actively and energetically shedding the rehabilitation model. This generation must step up and use various forms of struggle, especially legal struggle to put the system to an adversarial test. Lives depend on it.

“To cooperate passively with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressor” -Martin Luther King Jr.

About the author

Landis Reynolds is currently incarcerated at Correctional Industrial Facility. You can can contact him via GTL Connect here or by writing to him directly at:

Landis Reynolds #157028, CIF
5124 W Reformatory Rd
Pendleton, IN 46064