Baldacci’s ‘political prisoner’

A life at risk
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  November 21, 2006

John Baldacci’s administration on November 13 sent the Maine State Prison’s chief human-rights advocate, inmate Deane Brown, to a dangerous prison more than 500 miles away, in Baltimore. Brown’s lawyer and his best friend believe this decision was in retaliation for his activism, and puts his life in danger.

Brown played a key role in revealing abuse of mentally ill prisoners in the Maine Supermax.

Saying he had “no conversation” with Baldacci about his decision to move Brown, corrections commissioner Martin Magnusson says he made the decision “because [Brown] was a very serious threat to the facility,” but he would not elaborate. He says Brown was not sent to Baltimore because of retaliation.

Associate corrections commissioner Denise Lord says more information on Brown’s transfer would be withheld until the completion of investigations into a recent Supermax suicide and an alleged attempt by a woman to bring a gun to her prisoner husband.

She says Maine has, on average, 20 prisoners in out-of-state facilities.

“This place is only for the worst, the most violent criminals in the state of Maryland,” says Chuck Cantone, a chaplain at the Supermax prison to which Brown has been transferred. Last year, a 20-year-old inmate there was killed; another inmate was charged with the crime.

Brown was sent to Maryland’s Correctional Adjustment Center — its highest-security prison — despite having been kept recently on “suicide watch” for several weeks in the Maine Supermax solitary-confinement unit, in Warren. In a suicide watch, a guard sits outside a cell and observes a prisoner’s movements. During that time, prison authorities denied the Phoenix access to Brown.

His transfer to Maryland “was attempted murder” on the part of Maine officials, says his distraught closest friend, Bethany Berry, of Rockland. She believes the prison put him at risk in his transfer not only because of the dangerous place to which he was sent, but also because of his poor physical health. He is a diabetic and has other ailments.

Cantone, the chaplain, says Brown’s medical records were not sent to Maryland by Maine prison authorities, so he has not been receiving insulin. Cantone was trying to get the records. Magnusson insists they had been sent with Brown.

Brown, 42, said he would rather kill himself than be transferred, Berry says. He was “‘too old and sick’” — she quoted him — to fight off rape and assault by other prisoners. He is not in solitary confinement in Maryland.

Brown had mentioned to the Phoenix threats of retaliation by prison officials for his speaking out. He was the prime source for the Phoenix’s prize-winning series of articles about Supermax abuse, which resulted in the corrections department promising reforms, though by prisoner accounts little has changed.

Brown’s lawyer, Lynne Williams, of Bar Harbor, calls him “a political prisoner.”

“You don’t have to be put in prison originally for your political beliefs to be a political prisoner,” she says. “If they’re punished for acting on their political beliefs . . . that, too, makes them a political prisoner.”

The Maryland prison’s warden has not returned phone calls asking for an appointment to visit Brown.

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