Texas Prison Bans Bryonn Bain’s Book

“While Mein Kampf and other Nazi and Klan favorites are available in prisons nationwide, we have not received ANY response to this appeal (see below) to stop the ban of my book by the Texas Department of Corrections…”

Director’s Review Committee
PO Box 99, Hunstville, Texas

Friday, March 17, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to appeal the “publication review/denial notification” sent to me earlier this week by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (#5e-2-12+) and effectively censuring my book titled, The Ugly Side of Beautiful: Rethinking Race and Prison in America (Third World Press).  The notification states the publication was reviewed on and then denied delivery on May 6, 2013 to Nanon Williams (#1306434) at the Ramsey One Unit prison in Rosharon, Texas.  Invoking Board Policy 03.91 on “Uniform Offender Correspondence Rules and Regulations”, the following terms were offered as grounds for the censuring of the book: “It contains material that a reasonable person would construe as written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes or riots.”  More specifically, the “racial content” of pages “2-6 and 9” has been characterized as constituting “objectionable material” deserving of this ban.

On the contrary, the essay cited on pages 2-6 (“Walking While Black”), has served as a source of widespread discussion and debate regarding issues of urgent concern to communities nationwide.  This article was first published in October of 2000 by the most widely read progressive weekly newspaper in the nation, The Village Voice, and received a record number of responses from over 100,000 readers across the world.  The article has also been reprinted and referenced in over a dozen publications and law review articles, copied and read in colleges and prisons around the country, and circulated among men imprisoned on Death Row in Texas for over a decade.  In addition, the list of “objectionable material” cited includes page 9 of the publication as well.  This is an excerpt from the transcript of a “60 Minutes” interview in which my family and I told our story of being racially profiled and wrongfully arrested to Emmy award-winning journalist Mike Wallace.  Since February 2001, this episode has been viewed by over 20 million.  More than twelve years after this interview was broadcast and the initial publication of this essay, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that either piece has led to a “breakdown of prisons” through disruptions such as strikes or riots.”  Furthermore, given that both pieces were intended to share my remarkable experience of racial discrimination and wrongful incarceration as a law student, it is unreasonable to regard these texts as “written solely for the purpose of communicating information” designed to somehow achieve “strikes or riots.”

Finally, the United States Supreme Court mandated in Turner v. Safley that the encroachment on freedom of speech within a prison must be “reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives.”   The objectives listed in this notification fail to support the citations referenced.  The “racial content” highlighted fails to meet the Court’s aforementioned 1987 standard, and is further protected by the Brandenburg v. Ohio first amendment ruling in defense of the use of comparable language in another potentially volatile context — and in a far more threatening manner (by the Klu Klux Klan) because it was not directed at inciting “imminent lawless action.”  Denying those imprisoned of their first amendment right to read, write, distribute, dialogue and debate books like The Ugly Side of Beautiful — which speak to and shed light on their experience from a range of perspectives – is unconstitutional and an impractical approach to the penological objective of rehabilitation.  Censorship of this kind cuts those incarcerated off from the outside world, denies essential opportunities to deepen literacy, delve into the realities of the world awaiting most, and diminishes their ability to prepare for transitioning into life after prison.


Bryonn Bain


Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association of New York
Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
Professor Gerald Torres, University of Texas Law School
Jill Abramson, Executive Editor, The New York Times
Anita Gates, Staff Writer, The New York Times
Jessica Lustig, Deputy Editor, The Village Voice
Will Bourne, Editor in Chief, The Village Voice
Professor Lani Guinier, Harvard Law School
Benjamin Jealous, President, NAACP
Bennett Johnson, Third World Press

Here’s the letter from Texas DOJ

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