EL DORADO, Kan. - Are inmates at the El Dorado Correctional Facility being discriminating against due to their secular/humanist views? Inmate Robert Richardson believes this is the case and began speaking out and asking the secular/humanist community for help. I was asked by another group to have the Great Plains Chapter of AU review the situation and see if we could help resolve the conflict.
Mr. Richardson explained in his letter that inmates are allowed a privilege referred to as "call out" time. This time is reserved for like minded individuals to come together and hold discussions with one another. Mr. Richardson wanted permission for a group of inmates who are secularists/humanists to have the same opportunity for "call out" time that religious inmates enjoy. However, "call out" involves a special form that must be filled out [IMPP10-110] and approved by prison officials who are apparently not inclined to allow anyone but Christians their freedom of beliefs when it comes to call out time.
Previously to Mr. Richardson, a different inmate had filed the correct paper work for a "call out" time for a secular/humanist group. Mr. Richardson waited in anticipation for this group to be given approval. However, if an inmate is discharged and permission has not yet been granted for the "call out", it means the process must start all over again. When that inmate was no longer at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, Mr. Richardson protested about having to start the process all over again. I directed Mr. Richardson to fill out the proper forms yet again for this group, to take that argument off the table.
It doesn't take a great detective to notice this system is obviously flawed. Nonreligious inmates might never have the chance "call out" if state officials can purposely run the clock down to every nonreligious inmate's release time regarding approval thereby avoiding any appearance that prison officials are against such groups.
The state official overseeing the "call out" system is Gloria Geither with the Kansas Department of Corrections. After four attempts to reach Ms. Geither, she huffed into the phone that she was none too pleased that Mr. Richardson was contacting outside groups for help and spreading his whiny message all over the world. I was shocked by her callous and dismissive remarks.
It is terribly offensive to realize that Ms.Geither is earning her salary from my taxes,and is the very person whom Mr. Richardson is depending upon to do the right thing and approve his group for "call out". No wonder Mr. Richardson sought outside help in his efforts.
Not only has Mr. Richardson failed to make friends with Ms. Giether but he also informed me that the Warden at the El Dorado Correctional Facility is a fundamentalist Christian who he finds suspect when it comes to any objectivity to the situation.
There is no question the El Dorado Correctional Facility is clearly supportive of the Christian faith in particular. The facility just raised and constructed a one million dollar Spiritual Center that including such powerful individuals as Kansas Lt. Governor Troy Findley who thanks those who donated to the center so that " the men inside the center could learn to be honest and Godly men."
I find it inappropriate for a public official to be making comments that are clearly religious in nature and on the taxpayers dime if he is representing the state and all Kansans. I believe he was acting in his official capacity that day as the Lt. Governor. This is a fine example of how privileged religion is at the El Dorado facility and the climate Mr. Richardson is up against.
The logical step seemed to be a courtesy letter to the Warden to inform him of Mr. Richardson's complaints and to get his assessment of the situation. I wanted to be fair and not jump to any conclusions. Instead of a reply from the Warden explaining the situation I received a letter from the Chief Legal Counsel with the Department of Corrections.
You know when you get a letter from the legal department it is rarely good news. I was informed that every inmate wishing to have their religious group recognized for a "call out" must fill out the very long state form; IMPP10-110. However, the Chief Legal Counsel maintained that Richardson needed to fill out IMPP10-108 which is form giving lesser status to the call out since it does not recognize Mr. Richardson's group as a bona-fide religion group or belief to protect, but simply a kind of "club."
Mr. Richardson made the astute comment that if their group is only designated as a club this means the Warden can take away their privilege to meet for the most benign reasons such as " looking at the guard wrong, or accused of not doing a good job on detail that day etc.." In other words, what Mr. Richardson is noting is that the Warden has total control to deny a club to meet but a religious group is protected and cannot be denied-at least without a far more critical reason.
Although all the prison officials I contacted bragged that every prisoner is treated the same when it comes to their religious or nonreligious views at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, the facts present another truth. Christian inmates in El Dorado clearly enjoy a privileged climate with their beautiful new facility and chaplains on staff to support inmates.
In El Dorado, Kansas and in prisons all across America, humanists or freethinkers have no institutional programs to cater to their needs. Can you imagine the prison system setting up a "Center for Humanism" or providing discussions about why the Atheist life is a satisfying and moral life? It is rather ironic that most inmates appear to be Christian since and the assumption in our moral universe is that people of faith have better morals. Apparently not.
In addition to this controversy, Mr. Richardson has described another bit of information, and if true, is just as disturbing. He maintains that the librarian of the El Dorado Correctional Facility is-in his words a "strict fundamentalist" who purposely enters or logs into the computer certain books as "lost" she disapproves of for interlibrary loan purposes. This censoring of books that deal with evolution or titles that include works by secular/atheists such as Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris is very unsettling if true.
I asked the Warden to investigate this allegation but again, I was assured by the Chief Legal Counsel that this was just not the case and he bragged that the library had a whole nine books that were secular/humanist in nature. It is pathetic if nine works are all the library has on their shelves related to secular/humanist topics. As for his claim that the librarian is innocent of such allegations, we just have to take his word for it since there is no real oversight to what the prison librarian can or cannot do regarding censoring of secular/humanists works.
It is not the job or mission of the tax supported prison system to promote religion while discriminating against inmates who are freethinkers. This entire situation clearly demonstrates how religion is a privileged class in American society and an extra brownie point for prisoners when they are incarcerated.
Mr. Richardson should be allowed to have call out for the secular/humanists inmates as a protected religious class immediately and the state should stop stalling. The Supreme Court has already ruled on a case similar to his but Kansas prison officials are blatantly ignoring the law and violating the inmate's first amendment freedoms. When the legal department of AU informed the state that they had 30 days to comply to ensure that Richardson be allowed call out for a secular/humanist group they thumbed their nose at the suggestion and ignored the law.
It is obvious the state is counting on Mr. Richardson giving up or being discharged and the whole process would have to start over again; thus discouraging other inmates from even trying to jump through all the rules and procedures. I did not mention that since Mr. Richardson's filing and arguing for a secular/humanist group, he states he has been threatened and punished for his insistence that he should have be able to file a IMPP10-110 form and have it approved.
Secular/humanist inmates have just as much of a right to meet as Christian inmates do for call out. The Secretary of Corrections, the warden, and the chaplain at the El Dorado Correctional Facility should be held accountable for denying Mr. Richardson his right to freedom of conscience. The state of Kansas or perhaps the U.S. Justice Department should investigate Mr. Richardson's allegations since the state has ignored the 30 day notice they are violating established law.