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Morning Spew

New York State Prisons Pretend They Didn’t Just Try to Silence Incarcerated People

Did they think they were being sneaky? Plus, links for your weekend.

9:35 AM EDT on June 9, 2023

Two cars parked in NYC that are covered in quite a lot of bird poop.

(Hell Gate)

Earlier this week, New York Focus published an article detailing how the agency that controls the state prison system issued a directive preventing people in New York's prisons from publishing "creative work, including books, art, music, poetry, film scripts, and other writing" while incarcerated, without being subject to a months-long process of approval by prison superintendents.

The policy gave the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision the power to block any work from publication, with New York Focus reporting that such works could be blocked if they  violated "any of a number of broad rules—including bans on mentioning the artist or author's crime."

The consequences of such a policy are obviously concerning: If incarcerated people can't report on what's happening inside of New York's prisons, who will? If New York can utilize prison labor to produce products that are sold outside of the state's prisons, why shouldn't incarcerated people be able to create art that's published outside as well? After the New York Focus article raised these obvious questions, on Wednesday, the department rescinded the policy, claiming it was "not being interpreted as the Department intended," even though the outlet confirmed the agency's interpretation of the policy in their first story. According to DOCCS, the policy was actually to encourage creative arts projects. Uh-huh.

When Hell Gate reached out to DOCCS for further clarification–what they meant by "interest [sic] stakeholders," what their intentions actually were, and what will be the policy on publishing creative and journalistic projects here on out—DOCCS reiterated that they will "identify and engage with advocacy organizations and service providers to revise the policy as it was originally intended."

Well, Die Jim Crow is a Brooklyn-based record label that releases music by formerly and currently incarcerated musicians. According to BL Shirelle, Die Jim Crow's co-executive director, New York, despite its "progressive veneer," has always been an exceedingly difficult place to work with artists—even more so than places like Mississippi and South Carolina.

"Through a decade of DJC work, it's worth noting that New York state has never allowed us access to record any incarcerated musicians," Shirelle told Hell Gate over email. "I have noticed over the years that the most 'liberal' states have some of the most iron-clad policies when it comes to silencing prison-impacted people."

Shirelle added, "They may speak with inclusive words, but their policies tend to be anything but. Please do not be distracted by their philosophical ideologies—most times it's never put into practice."

Silent Jungle, a member of hip-hop collective The Masses, which works with Die Jim Crow, said in a statement that being able to release music while incarcerated is "a form of resurrection."

"Working on our album gave me an additional purpose and drive every day outside of the grind of the prison routine," they said. "I could always escape into the creative process of songwriting or beatmaking. And along the way I learned so much on so many levels."

Here are some links to start your weekend:

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