Lockdown

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  December 14, 2006

But Brown made the mistake of bragging to two correctional officers on October 24 — at a time when he didn’t know about the alleged breakout plot, he says — that his next “news release” would be “an atomic bomb.” That evening he was placed in the Supermax “pending investigation,” he writes.

There is certainly more to be discovered about these events. But I — the Phoenix, the press — can’t fill in some details because I have not been allowed access to Brown for weeks, and the Corrections Department refuses to explain Brown’s Supermax incarceration or his transfer from Maine other than in hazy words about security threats.

Brown’s argument that the prison made an erroneous connection with Watland would seem to be bolstered by the unlikelihood that he would have been shipped to another state if he were under investigation, although Magnusson says “we can bring him back if we need to.”

Preventing dissent
Brown sums up the investigation, his Supermax stay, and his transfer to Maryland as payback by the officials and a means to shut him up. His extended Supermax suicide watch he sees as, partly, torture to extract a false confession of involvement in the Watland affair. His pro bono lawyer, Lynne Williams, calls him a “political prisoner.” He says he is now locked in a Maryland cell 23 hours a day, as he was in the Maine Supermax. “They sent me here to die,” he writes.

But shouldn’t I discount what Brown writes, since he, too, is a criminal? In this case, a man serving 59 years for a long string of burglaries. Yet he supplied me with a great amount of disturbing information that did indeed check out. And he demonstrated courage, now at great cost, in defying the prison. Truth and bravery are a lot more than I get from some prominent Maine politicians in my other journalistic role as a political reporter. In fact, nothing I have been told by any inmate about prison conditions has been proven false.

“He’s a good man,” says Camden attorney Christopher Maclean, who once briefly represented Brown. “Obviously, the authorities have singled him out to punish and shut him up.”

Nevertheless, a reporter should be able to closely question Brown and other prisoners in person on their claims. But for a month and a half corrections officials have kept me out of the prison, declaring all but one of the prisoners I want to see off-limits, for various reasons. For a long time, they didn’t even bother to respond to my e-mail messages listing prisoners I wished to visit. For weeks, they did not send me the new paperwork they said was necessary for a media visit to the one prisoner they said they would permit me to see, the brother of suicide victim Rideout. Like Deane Brown, I suspect retribution.

The latest stonewalling by prison officials is an e-mailed form with some new restrictions added specifically for me as a result of my reporting work. These new rules require I be monitored by prison staff while interviewing inmates, and would bar me from asking prisoners questions about other inmates. Beyond that, I would have to agree not to publish certain information — determined by prison authorities — even if the inmate said it in the interview. And I would have to agree to have my notebook confiscated if it contained information “not authorized” by prison officials. No respectable journalist would ever agree to these conditions.

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