Maine prisoner Deane Brown, 44, who was shipped to Maryland in 2006 after blowing the whistle on prisoner abuse in the Maine State Prison’s Supermax unit, is no longer in solitary confinement, though he remains far from Maine.
In July, Brown was transferred from Maryland’s supermax in Baltimore to the maximum-security Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, in the Maryland mountains. After a month he was released from "administrative segregation" into the general population — the first time he has enjoyed this status in nearly two years. Among his new privileges, he can make phone calls several times a week. His latest home is “cleaner and newer,” Brown said in a call to the Portland Phoenix. He added: “I’m surviving, battling.”
He even has won a small victory. In his federal-court fight to be returned to Maine, in which he is pressing freedom-of-speech, due-process, and excessive-punishment complaints, a judge, while dismissing several of his complaints, in late August kept alive a key First-Amendment claim — that Maine Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson had responsibility in denying Brown access to the news media and then transferring him from the Warren prison to Maryland in retaliation for his whistle-blowing.
In court documents, Maine prison authorities accuse Brown of “providing confidential information to the news media.” They also call him “one of the greatest threats ever to the security of the prison.”
“I’m a threat, but not to security,” he responded, in a May interview with the Phoenix in Baltimore. (For background on Brown’s whistle-blowing, see “Torture in Maine’s Prison,” by Lance Tapley, November 11, 2005.)
A bright, feisty individual, Brown, serving 59 years for burglary, alternates between principled but practical actions asserting his and his fellow prisoners’ rights as human beings against the totalitarian prison system and, on the other hand, gestures that on the surface seem almost suicidal.
Brown is diabetic, and not taking insulin might kill him; he is fighting in Maryland courts, though, for the right to refuse it. He claims that the way insulin is administered to him is unsafe; he wants to control his treatment. But a judge, at the request of Maryland Corrections, has ordered insulin be given to him by force, if necessary. Brown said he is resisting the injections “passively and verbally.”
He can chalk up a small victory in these protests, too: His state-paid Maryland lawyer, Joseph Tetrault, said a prison nurse was fired for incorrectly administering insulin to him.
Maine’s Corrections Department disclaims any responsibility for his treatment in Maryland. The Maine Attorney General’s Office wouldn’t comment on the latest developments in the federal case; it is defending Corrections.