Troubled Over Bridgewater

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  September 13, 2010

In 2008, Jones, a prison-reform activist who, at the time, was serving his life sentence at Old Colony, collaborated with Boston's Center for Teen Empowerment on the educational film Voices from Behind the Wall. In the documentary, he and other OCCC prisoners told cautionary tales of their trials on the street and behind bars. The film was made with the DOC's permission, but inmates claim the effort angered Old Colony staffers. Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner later suggested officers were dismayed that the film "linked [inmates] to the community in a positive way."

Jones was one of many inmates who clashed with OCCC staff over attempts to organize and educate minority inmates. Inspired by the prisoners at Walpole who four decades earlier converged as Black African Nations Toward Unity (BANTU) to study African-American history and resist systematic oppression, in 2008 Jones and other Old Colony inmates formed the African Heritage Coalition (AHC). The AHC alleges that through arbitrary sanctions, officers and administrators sought to cripple their group, which by early 2009 had grown to numbers in excess of 80 members. In May of that year, Jones charged, in an audio clip posted online, that officer harassment of inmates had reached its "highest level ever," and complained, "They're tearing down anything we try to do that's positive." The day after his tirade went public, Jones was placed in segregation.

Six days later, Jones' appeal for outside help appeared to have been answered: he received a visit from State Rep. Gloria Fox. Accompanied by Jones's girlfriend and collaborator Joanna Marinova, Fox had come to discuss claims of officer misconduct leveled by AHC members. The day after that meeting, Jones was relocated to MCI-Norfolk.

A civil action will examine whether OCCC officers manipulated the media to retaliate against Jones. In May 2009, the Boston Herald ran a page-one story titled "Fox in the Big House," in which reporter Jessica Van Sack wrote: "State Rep. Gloria L. Fox is under scrutiny for allegedly sneaking a murderer's girlfriend — previously bagged for engaging in 'sexual acts' with the killer con — into [OCCC]." Citing two confidential sources, the article claimed that Fox, the state rep from Roxbury, used her legislative privilege to bypass security checkpoints for the purpose of escorting Marinova into restricted areas where she could see Jones. In the month that followed, the Herald trumpeted the story despite proof in disciplinary reports that charges of "sexual acts" between Jones and Marinova had in fact been dismissed by OCCC supervisors. Marinova is suing the Herald and WHDH-TV7 over the story, claiming the outlets based their reports on false information that was maliciously leaked by OCCC employees.

1008_herald_main
A CIVIL ACTION will examine whether Old Colony officers manipulated the media’s reporting on a visit by State Representative Gloria Fox (above) to retaliate against a prisoner.

A complete loop
With aggravation building between inmates and administrators, in June of 2009 Commissioner Clarke and Governor Patrick visited OCCC to interview both sides. Among the grievances reported by inmates at the meeting, and that were recorded by AHC members, including Roxbury native Mac Hudson: OCCC employees "use policies and practices to discriminate against minorities in every facet of their institutional life," from job assignments, re-entry programs, and visitation policies to meal quality and recreational opportunities. Most damning were allegations that officers conspired against certain groups and individuals by manipulating the disciplinary process. Yet the DOC has no official report from this meeting, and refused to make the commissioner available for comment. Instead, a spokesperson tells the Phoenix that "Clarke is not aware of such [racial] tension."

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