Intro Letter: 1, 2
In the State of Ohio
In the County of Scioto
I, Sean Swain, being duly sworn according to law, hereby depose to state:
1. I am competent to testify to the facts related herein, to which I have direct knowledge.
2. I write this declaration for filing in a pending civil rights action, as it appears that defendant prison officials are going to great lengths, including the creation of crises, in order to prevent my personal appearance before the federal court, a personal appearance that would ultimately expose the false characterizations of me that defendant prison officials have fostered in my absence.
On My Writing
3. I am a writer. I have always been a writer. When asked in school what I wanted to be, my answer was that I wanted to be what I already was: A writer. I stuttered as a child and as a consequence of that, I became painfully shy and very quiet. I was terrified to speak, for fear of ridicule. It is not easy to be different as a child. But, I could write. I could communicate on paper without stuttering, and I found that I was as good at it as anyone else—better than most, in fact.
4. When I eventually outgrew my stutter, I was still a stutterer on the inside. I always felt somewhat alien, different, and my writing became a refuge of sorts.
5. In high school, I ended up on the school paper—by accident. Paul Rogers was the school newspaper’s advisor, and he was also the owner of the local paper. Rogers was going to law school at the time to become a First Amendment lawyer. He became my mentor.
6. Paul Rogers taught that good journalism is “something to offend everyone.” It was the duty of the writer to challenge conventional thinking, to push people out of their intellectual comfort zones. I remember a poster over the desk of the local paper’s editor, featuring the faces of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, and the Ayatollah K[h]omeini. At the top, it read, “THE EXPERTS AGREE…,” and at the bottom: “…CENSORSHIP WORKS.”
7. Paul Rogers instilled in me the principle that the writer serves a very important role in society. The writer does not keep those in power honest, but instead makes those in power act honestly. That is, everyone wielding power is intent on reducing the population to slavery and tyranny, and it is only the eternal vigilance of the writer, acting as a check on that tyranny, that keeps any population free. The writer works in defense of human liberty against tyranny.
8. This orientation informed how I viewed my place in the world. My identity as a writer is inextricably tied to this principle, and it matters not where I am located, whether inside a prison or out. I am a writer. I often attempt to explain this by telling people that I am not this way because I am a writer; I am a writer because I AM this way.
9. I have been imprisoned since 1991. I am not an inmate or an offender or a criminal or a prisoner. I am a writer, a writer who happens to be in prison. The fact of my imprisonment, for me, is a matter of geography; I am on one side of a fence rather than the other. This in no way impacts who I am or what I do.
10. Raul Rogers also insisted that I learn the First Amendment. It was his firm belief that a writer had a duty to know the legal limits of his craft. As a consequence, Paul Rogers forced me to take and pass tests related to the First Amendment that he himself took in law school. As a consequence, at the age of 16, I could describe all of the limits of free speech and the exceptions to free speech, and the standards of review for those exceptions.
11. Upon coming to prison, before writing anything for publication, I applied what I knew of the First Amendment to determine the limits of prisoner protected speech, and how prisoner speech protections differed from persons in the free world, particularly related to political speech in a public forum. Given my predisposition and inability to compromise on matters of principle, and given the fact that those in power never appreciate writers, I fully anticipated that I would earn the animosity of my captors. I expected this. As a consequence, I made a particular effort to be rule-abiding in every way possible. I did this not because I necessarily agree with the rules or with the regimen or with the larger program that the rules serve, but I did so in a concerted effort to deprive my captors of easy excuses to subject me to punishments and thereby encroach on my ability to communicate. In other words, knowing that prison officials would want to “stick it to me,” I did not want to make the process of “sticking it to me” a justifiable one.
12. In school, teachers on several occasions wanted to accelerate me through to a higher grade. By the process proposed to my parents, I would have graduated at age 13. My mom refused to accelerate me, as school also involved social learning which is best done when children are with others of their same age. But, at any rate, by the testing conducted at that time, and by the testing conducted by the U.S. military later, I was told that my I.Q. is approximately 137. Also, every Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory Test I have ever taken demonstrates that I am “normal” in all scales, indicating I do not suffer from any kind of psychological dysfunction. I apply my intellect and reason to being meticulous about abiding by all prison rules and malting sure my writing and other communication conforms to the strict standards of First Amendment protection. Again, I do this not because I appreciate or agree with my captors, but to deprive them of legitimate cause to “get me.”
13. I do not conform to U.S. Supreme Court precedents related to prisoner speech because I believe the Supreme Court “got it right,” or because I think those limits to be the appropriate limits of free speech. I do it because I am a writer, and writers write; and for me to continue writing, to continue speaking truth to power, to continue doing what I believe to be an important job that is a benefit to the social order, I cannot allow my captors, my adversaries, my enemies, the excuse to shut down my communications. So, it is in this light that my conformity to the First Amendment must be absolute at all times.
My Writing in Prison
14. In the 1990s, I wrote reports for Catholic Justice Fellowship which prompted the Ohio Catholic Conference to support parole reform legislation. I was Secretary of Catholic Justice Fellowship until it was forcibly disbanded by the ODRC [Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction] for its effective lobbying and outreach. I was a member of the Advisory Board for Citi[z]ens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, and my writings appeared regularly in their newsletter, “Against All Odds.” In 2002, I was personally honored by Rosa Parks, who nominated me for placement on the Wall of Tolerance for my peace work in prison.
15. While I was subject to irregular treatment, it was not until 2008 that prison officials directly targeted my writings and subjected me to disciplinary action explicitly for writing. In that instance, prison officials targeted my writings and attributed to me a passage that appears nowhere in my writings, alleging that this passage (that I did not write) equated with encouraging a work stoppage. The written work in question, FREEDOM, now appears online at seanswain.org.
16. Prison officials attempted to send me to supermaximum security for writing a passage that provably appears nowhere in my writings. I was subjected instead to irregular conditions in segregation for 70 days.
17. In 2009, when my writings went online at seanswain.org, I was irregularly placed on the prison “gang” list. Later, in 2012, prison officials subjected me to torture as punishment for my writing of an article that exposed the illegality of JPay policy. In their first story, prison officials admitted to targeting me for what amounts to protected speech until I retained counsel, at which time prison officials then un-admitted what they had already admitted. After torturing me, my captors sent me to Ohio’s super-maximum security prison, alleging no less than six times that I was “violent,” despite any reference to a single act of violence.
18. I contend that “torture” is violence.
19. After I went to the supermax, friends invited me to participate in The Final Straw radio show, where I provide a five-minute segment, weekly. Prison officials then blocked my phone communication and thereby blocked my participation in the radio show for 8 weeks. Afterward, prison officials attempted to justify this obstruction by claiming that I engaged in three (3) instances of misconduct, all of which provably never occurred, and none of which were in any way related to phone use, while my radio segments were.
20. Upon learning of a YouTube project that I planned, prison officials blocked my video visits. In a court hearing, prison officials alleged that I engaged in misconduct for which, in reality, I had never been so much as accused, and prison officials misrepresented the video visit feature in several determinative ways in order to get the court to affirm prison officials’ ban on my video visits.
21. Beginning May 5, 2015, all of my outgoing communication was blocked. I was later accused of rule violations which are not supported by the facts presented in the conduct report. I was found guilty of a non-existent “threat” as justification to block all of my communications indefinitely.
22. I have experienced a pattern of prison officials falsely accusing me of non-existent “violence” and non-existent “threats” in order to justify blocking my communications. The speech that prison officials target de facto conforms to all U.S. Supreme Court conditions for First Amendment protections. As a consequence of these abuses, prison officials, now with the approval of the federal courts, abuse their authority to make me cease to exist as a social being beyond prison walls. I am, in a social sense, being forced out of existence. This is a kind of social assassination. As I am a writer, and as writers write, being forced to silence is, in essence, being forced out of existence. A writer who no longer writes, who can no longer transmit writings to others, is a non-being.
23. I am a writer. I do not know how to be anything else. Despite my meticulous adherence to all U.S. Supreme Court precedents regarding protected speech, I am silenced anyway. That silence appears to be permanent.
24. As prison officials’ targeting of my writing is now partly justified by the targeting of my “ideology,” I believe it is important for me to also address what my ideology is, in some detail, so that I may disspell the mischaracterizations put forward by prison official defendants.
25. My “ideology,” or, more accurately, what prison officials perceive my “ideology” to be, has been the central crux of state agents’ efforts to target and silence my communication. As point of fact, I do not believe that I possess an “ideology”—at least, not in the way an ideology is most commonly understood.
26. At one time, I possessed an “ideology.” When, in the 1990s, when I was a self-identifying liberal democrat, or later, a socialist, I viewed the world through a specific prism of ideas, and I had the tendency of forcing the reality I viewed to conform to the ideas, rather than modifying my thinking to conform to the reality I faced. I then possessed an ideology, a prism of ideas that influenced how I understood the world.
27. I have since abandoned systems of “belief,” or ideologies. I now accept as fact that which I cannot disprove. I approach questions of social and political organization in the same way I would approach other things of importance. I accept that gravity is true, for instance; and I accept that the earth is round rather than flat. I accept the earth revolves around the sun. These are truths I cannot disprove and I must accept them, however it is I may feel about those truths. So, I reveal in the subsections that follow, the “proofs” that I must accept because I cannot disprove them, regarding social and political organization.
28. All modern political ideologies make reference to “freedom.” Most often, the “freedoms” that any given party present are merely a list of priorities to conflict with another party’s priorities of freedoms. In contrast, I find it important to define what freedom is. I borrow the definition presented by Ward Churchill, that freedom is “the absence of external regulation.” In the absence of external regulation, one is “free” to make one’s own choices; there exists no “external” regulator to impose upon the individual. It stands to reason then, that where “external regulation” exists, there is an absence of freedom, and to the degree that external regulation occurs, there is less freedom.
29. I value freedom, the absence of external regulation. I seek freedom. Any compromise of freedom, any acceptance of “external regulation,” results in a state that is not freedom, but a state of varying degrees of slavery.
30. Because freedom and external regulation are opposites, this can be expressed in a kind of graph. We can imagine an absolute point, “freedom, the absence of external regulation,” and also an opposing point, “absolute external regulation, absence of freedom.” These absolute points would then be connected by a line that represents the continuum between these two absolute states: 31. By this illustration, “freedom” and “external regulation” are opposites, opposing forces, and the interplay between these opposing forces is represented by the line connecting them. The more freedom and less external regulation, the closer one is to the absolute point of freedom; the less freedom and more external regulation one experiences, the closer one is to the absolute point on the opposite end of the spectrum.
32. This, to me, is not so much an “ideology” as it is a simple truism.
33. Having established this truism, the implications follow: That which “externally regulates” is an external regulator, a thing that regulates that is external to the individual being regulated. To regulate is to govern.
34. Most common, in human affairs, that which we understand as an external regulator we refer to as “government.” It matters not who does the governing or how that authority to govern is established. It can be a shepherd who kills a giant with a slingshot or a peasant who pulls a sword from a rock; the son of an oil magnate appointed by his father’s minions or a community activist promising change and hope. Whoever it is that runs it, and however it is that it operates, that thing that regulates us is called “government.”
35. Revisiting the graph, we can substitute words. Freedom is “the absence of government,” which is an external regulator; the opposite of freedom is “absolute government.” To be regulated is to be governed, and to be free is to experience the absence of external regulation or government. Now, in view of this, we see that freedom and government are opposites, opposing forces. Where government exists, less freedom exists; where freedom exists, there is an absence of government.
36. That political philosophy that advocates for absolute freedom, the absence of external regulation or government, is most-often referred to as “anarchism.” Only an anarchist, one who opposes the existence of government, occupies the absolute extreme, “freedom.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who advocate for a complete absence of freedom, the transcendence of government, are called “fascists.” That political construct where the State is central and all human freedoms are subsumed by the existence of the State is called “Fascism.” All other political philosophies, composed of some compromise between the two forces of freedom and government, occupy the continuum between these two extreme points.
37. I accept this to be true, not because of how I feel about this information, but because I am unable to disprove it. I accept the truth of what I have presented here for the same reason I accept gravity, the shape of the earth, and its trajectory around the sun. Freedom and government are opposites. As I seek freedom, as an absolute, for myself and others, I am opposed to the existence of an external regulator, government. I occupy the extreme point, “freedom.” Freedom, then, is my “ideology.” The word “anarchist” is used by the slaves who occupy every point of non-freedom on the spectrum to describe me. Continue reading USA: Sean Swain’s twelve-page deposition to the courts