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Fla. DOC overrules rejection of journalist’s memoir about her time in prison

The book was flagged for containing content viewed as “dangerously inflammatory in that it advocates or encourages” unrest


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By Amanda Rabines
Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — A book that was banned from being circulated inside correctional facilities across Florida will soon be hitting the library shelves in state-run prisons.

Earlier this month, Florida Department of Corrections’ Literary Review Committee overruled two separate rejections of a memoir that recounts the journey of a formerly incarcerated reporter’s time in the New York state prison system.

The book, “Corrections in Ink: A Memoir by Keri Blakinger” was flagged in September for containing content the LRC viewed as “dangerously inflammatory in that it advocates or encourages” unrest or violates FDC rules or laws. The LRC also said the book contained content that “otherwise presents a threat to the security, order or rehabilitative objectives of the correctional system or the safety of any person.”

The committee, which is made up of six members, referred to two sections in the book. The first section is a four-page passage that details how another detained woman invented an imaginary pet chicken so others would think that she was mentally ill. It also cited a two-page excerpt that describes how a jail officer tormented an incarcerated woman with what he considered to be a joke search of her cell, destroying her property.

“It’s beyond charitable to call the prison and FDOC’s original position as ridiculous,” said Corene Kendrick, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who co-signed a letter in support of Blakinger’s appeal. “Prison officials can prohibit publications that contain instructions on making weapons, escape plans, or engaging in illicit activities like dealing drugs in prison. But her book does none of these things.”

Blakinger’s appeal was rejected at a December LRC meeting that upheld previous findings and cited further grounds for rejection, this time picking out content that described sexual conduct.

FDC policy prohibits publications that contain almost any form of sexual conduct, including but not limited to sexual intercourse, masturbation or “any act or conduct which constitutes sexual battery or simulates that sexual battery is being or will be committed.”

At the request of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon, a special meeting of the LRC was held on Feb. 3 to reconsider the LRC’s rejection, during which the committee voted to overrule the rejection.

“On one level, I’m always slightly surprised when a prison system does the right thing. But in this case I was optimistic this would be the outcome because this particular stage of the appeal moved forward at Secretary Dixon’s request,” Blakinger said. “He didn’t have to do that, and it stood out to me. It’s always refreshing to see a prison system proactively taking a step to do the right thing, no matter how small.”

FDC did not respond to questions asking for comment on Secretary Dixon’s decision.

Florida’s prison system bans more books than many other states, according to a study released in December by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. According to their database, about 54,000 books are banned by prison systems in 18 states across the nation, and Florida tops the list.

The state has restricted more than 20,000 books. When combined with Texas, the two states account for about half of the banned titles, according to the report. The year-long project was originally intended to include all state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but not all institutions tracked banned books or, if they did, the departments sent unusable data.

FDC policy states books will be rejected if they present a safety threat, depict nudity or describe methods of escape, among other factors.

Publications on the banned list include Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Playboy magazines. But the inclusion of other titles, like “The Awakening of Malcolm X: A Novel,” “Betty Crocker’s Good and Easy Cookbook” and the special-interest language book “Star Trek: How to Speak Klingon,” have drawn criticism as examples of needless censorship.

“Time and time again, the courts in the U.S. have found that prison officials’ broad and vague restrictions on legitimate publications are unconstitutional,” Kendrick said. “We are glad that FDC realized that any restriction on Blakinger’s memoir would have run afoul of federal and Florida constitutional requirements.”

Blakinger said she hopes her book’s journey into prison could help or inspire incarcerated people’s journey out of prison. That’s why she promises to send donated copies of her book to each of FDC’s correctional institutions.

“As soon as Florida sent a response indicating that my book would be allowed in, I responded by asking how I can arrange to send in copies to each prison’s library,” she said. “When I wrote my appeal letter, I offered to do that and I absolutely meant it.”


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