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Support Prison Artist Leonard Jefferson!

July 11, 2010

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Leonard Jefferson is a prolific artist who has used his art to provide analysis and commentary concerning Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system and his lived experience behind bars. His art is typically small/medium-sized pen & ink drawings of prison settings; he has used his art to do outreach to the general public by sending it to various individuals and organizations, including human-rights groups.


In April 2009, he completed the drawing Sista-matized, (displayed above), which was confiscated from him during a cell search in July 09 at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Albion, at the discretion of the corrections officers who were conducting the search. The reason they gave on the official prison paperwork was that the drawing was “racial artwork”. Mr. Jefferson filed requests and grievances for the return of the drawing, which were denied. The justification given on the final denial by the Secretary of Corrections’ office (the head of the PA state prison system) was that the drawing had “negative connotations towards Corrections Officers, Judges, and the Criminal Justice System”. That is to say, they didn’t like it because it calls these people and groups perpetrators of racial oppression and genocide.
Mr. Jefferson finished the necessary paperwork in October ’09, and filed a pro se (representing himself) civil suit with the county court, asking for a list of redresses– including court costs, damages ($1000), the return of his artwork and an order preventing the prison from further arbitrary confiscations. As of June, 2010, the suit is still in litigation. He continues to create art that has negative connotations towards corrections officers, judges, and the criminal justice system.
Write him!
Leonard Jefferson
CL-4135
SCI Albion
10745 Route 18
Albion, PA 16475

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How to send letters of support:
-Complete and sign the letter (better yet, write one in your own words!) and send it to the presiding judge:
Honorable Judge John Garhart
Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, PA
140 West Sixth Street
Erie, PA 16501
-then send copies to:
Leonard Jefferson(#CL-4135)
SCI Albion
10745 Route 18
Albion, PA 16475-0002
Secretary of Corrections Jeffrey Beard
2520 Lisburn Road
P.O. Box 598
Camp Hill, PA 17001-0598
Superintendent Raymond Sobina
SCI Albion
10745 Route 18
Albion, PA 16475-0001
Human Rights Coalition
4134 Lancaster Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19104
attn: Support Committee
Human Rights Coalition thanks you for your solidarity and support!
Questions/comments? Email HRC Support Committee at: hrc.philly.support@gmail.com
From:
To:
Honorable Judge John Garhart
Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, PA
140 West Sixth Street
Erie, PA 16501
Honorable Judge Garhart,
We are writing to this court to show our support for Mr. Leonard Jefferson as an artist and a citizen, and to stand up for Mr. Jefferson’s right to express his political beliefs through his art.
Leonard Jefferson is a man confined at SCI Albion, a state prison in western Pennsylvania. He is the artist who created Sista-matized, an illustrated depiction of the Pennsylvania justice system. This piece demonstrates a perspective shared by many of the racial bias and modern-day system of enslavement within the US prisons. Mr. Jefferson’s work of art was confiscated from him by prison staff on July 5, 2009, on the basis that it was “racial artwork”; that decision has been supported by the Secretary’s Office of the Department of Corrections. The Secretary’s Office of the DOC has offered this rational for the confiscation of the illustration: Sista-matized has “..negative connotations towards Corrections Officers, the Courts, and the Criminal Justice System”.
We believe that this action on the part of the Department of Corrections runs counter to the basic tenets of our society, specifically our right to free speech and expression. While prison officials are charged with maintaining the safety of the facilities they oversee, we cannot allow that duty to serve as a mandate to silence views and opinions that are unpopular. Doing so is not just illegal in our society; it tears at the very core of our values. Whether or not individual staff members disagree with the content of the art, or institutions deem such content politically objectionable, it is our constitutionally-guaranteed right as American citizens to make art that contains “negative connotations towards Corrections Officers, the Courts, and the Criminal Justice system”, just as it is our right to create art that contains social and political commentary on race relations. As artists and citizens, one of our major functions is to call into question the basic values and common practices of our society. By creating Sista-matized, Leonard Jefferson has demonstrated one of the foundational values of our vocation, and we are proud to support his artistic and political expression.
We ask this court to uphold Leonard Jefferson’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to create art that has political themes and social commentary, and to ensure that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections not be allowed to act as extralegal arbiters of what is or isn’t acceptable “free speech”.
Yours truly,
Name Address/Contact
__________________________________ _________________________________

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