By: Boston Woodard
Every now and then, someone or something comes along bringing hope and beneficial information to thousands of prisoners in California. In the case of a small grassroots newsletter, the SJRA-ADVOCATE, both someone and something has arrived for us.
The SJRA-ADVOCATE (Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocacy) is published by Barbara Brooks out of Olivehurst, California. Only a year old, the SJRA-ADVOCATE has been a bounteous well of information and helpful legal case law. The SJRA-ADVOCATE provides meticulously chosen case summaries of pertinent court actions important to us as prisoners. There are frequent updates regarding the “three-judge panel,” pending legislation, education resources, family advocate group connections, opinions, profiles, classifieds and so much more.
Brooks is the mother of a “three-striker,” who was sentenced to 25 years to life for a nonviolent offense. She has been actively working to get rid of the three-strikes law since 1996, and she will not give up. She decided to create the SJRA-ADVOCATE as a way of helping the cause, trying to get the word out about sentencing and justice reform issues.
According to Brooks, the SJRA-ADVOCATE is being mailed to nearly all California state prisons and inquiries are coming in from other states as well, including Maryland, North Carolina, Washington and Texas. Brooks has also been in contact with Paul Wright, publisher of Prison Legal News (PLN) magazine, a widely circulated prisoner advocacy publication (www.prisonlegalnews.org). PLN magazine has covered every aspect of prison life and has weathered many a battle to continue to delineate prison life for all of us. Wright has been a friend and an ally to Brooks, advising and informing her on issues associated with publishing prisoner advocacy news.
I had the privilege of writing articles for the SJRA-ADVOCATE in the beginning months of the newsletter, and with Brooks’ blessing, I will continue contributing in the near future. Presently, I have my own First Amendment battle with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Woodard v. Haviland, in the Eastern District Court of Sacramento.
Recently at the California Correctional Center (CCC) in Susanville, the SJRA-ADVOCATE (so far, two issues) was censored and banned by the CCC’s mailroom sergeant, R.L. Fleshman. I believe Sgt. Fleshman violated California Code of Regulations (CCR) 3135 (b) “Disturbing and Offensive Correspondence” by disagreeing with the “sender’s and receiver’s morals, values, attitudes, veracity, or choice of words,” which, according to the site, cannot be cause for Sgt. Fleshman to disallow my mail (SJRA-ADVOCATE).
Furthermore, also written in CCR-3135 (b), “Correctional staff shall not challenge or confront the sender [Brooks] or receiver [me] with such value judgment.” This according to their own written rules.
I have two citizen’s complaints against Sgt. Fleshman under Penal Code Section 148.6 for violating my rights under the U.S. Constitution. The complaints were filed on my behalf by the law firm representing me on my pending civil suit against Solano State Prison officials for similar rights violations. I will continue advancing my complaints to an administrative remedy or a court intervention.
Brooks and the SJRA-ADVOCATE are experiencing tactics prevalent throughout the CDCR regime. The unlawful and unwarranted blue-penciling of information that would expose miscreant, dangerous or unprofessional behavior by prison staff is real.
In the case of the January 10 and February 10 issues of the SJRA-ADVOCATE, Sgt. Fleshman, rather than redact an article or disallow the “material that meets disapproval criteria,” elected to unilaterally censor both entire issues. In addition, Sgt. Fleshman not only failed in his duty to forward a completed CDCR Form 1819, the “Disapproval Form,” to me (as prescribed by law), he shortened my 15-day time limit for choice of “disposal” to seven days (in writing) on the 1819 form. I had my friends and editors read the issues in question, and “nothing met the criteria” to ban them.
In Volume 1 of the SJRA-ADVOCATE, Brooks wrote, “I hope you are enjoying this little newsletter because a lot of love went into it.” She went on to say, “It is my way of helping with the cause, trying to get the word out about sentencing and justice reform issues.”
The SJRA-ADVOCATE is a nonprofit entity and does not get grants. Brooks is not paid for the enormous amount of work and research she puts into this “little newsletter.” She lives on a modest retirement while doing her part to get the infamous three-strikes law changed and, in the process, provide helpful and important information to prisoners throughout California.
Brooks is a sincere woman who addresses her readers/subscribers by writing “dear loved ones” in her “Note from Barb” column in the SJRA-ADVOCATE. This is how she greets all of us, and she means it. Behind Brooks’ humility is a woman driven to do everything in her limited power to contribute to all of our well-being and justice.
In the March 2010 issue of the SJRA-ADVOCATE, Brooks writes that “this month is SJRA-ADVOCATE’s first anniversary. No one can call us a ‘fly by night.’ How exciting and thankful that all of us together accomplished this. Truth is getting out there about California’s prison issues, and this is a powerful tool!”
In the past year, Brooks was interviewed on or by KSCO 1080 AM (Santa Cruz), KPFK 90.7 FM (Los Angeles), KPOO 89.5 FM (San Francisco), the Salinas Valley News and others, bringing important attention to the 16th anniversary of the three-strikes law. I hope Brooks is given more opportunities to speak on this issue and others.
During phone conversations with Brooks, I learned that she has had to hurdle many obstacles but has taken it upon herself to create the SJRA-ADVOCATE, proffering truth to an unknowing public about the prison system. This forum needs our support and appreciation. The SJRA-ADVOCATE is growing and will continue to do so with our help. There are lots of people who I admire, respect and look up to, and Barbara Brooks is one of them. To me, she is a hero who has my full support.