Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sept 1, 2009

Dear Sis~

The first thing you need to understand about our yard (outdoor recreation) situation is this: Prisoners in any long term confinement status (which most courts have construed as anything longer than 30 days) have a constitutional right, under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution to a minimum of one (1) hour per day of outdoor recreation. This is a health issue (physical and mental health). This one-hour minimum has been established by the Federal courts around the country, including the federal prison system, over the last 40 years, as a result of many federal lawsuits brought by prisoners. Every state in the nation, except Florida' Death Row, recognizes this standard. In Florida, for the last 25 years, we on death row have only received four (4) hours per week, in two 2-hour sessions. Often, we'd get less than 4 hours as our yard was often cancelled (inclement weather, holiday, or any imagined reason) and never made up. I recall, in the 1990's, going 3-4 weeks in a row without any rec, followed by one or two rec sessions, then another 2,3,4 weeks without any rec. On Death Row, rec is really all we have; it's our one chance to get out of our cage, feel some sunshine, get some exercise and feel human. Many of us have been in tiny cages for 10, 20, 30 years now. Even the terrorists suspects held at Guantanamo Bay get at least one hour per day. Many, many medical studies have been conducted by the most prestigious medical experts in the field which have universally concluded that the one hour per day is the minimum to maintain good physical and mental health...
Ok, up until 1981, the FSP administration gave Death Row hardly any rec, and the rec was held on a tiny, fenced-in muddy area, about 20' x 20'. Then a Death Row prisoner, named Bob Sullivan, filed a federal lawsuit in 1981 (Bob was later executed). Judge Scott appointed an attorney, William Sheppard, to represent Bob, and Sheppard moved for class-action certification, which was granted. The litigation dragged on for the next 18 years, going to the Federal Court of Appeals twice, and during this time Sheppard collected well over $500,000 in attorneys fees and costs. Around 1983, Sheppard got the state to sign a consent decree, ostensibly settling the case. Under the consent decree, Sheppard sold us out, agreeing to a sub-constitutional four hours of rec per week. The consent decree also guaranteed us rec in a larger yard, which was built for us (it's only 80' x 90'), with a basketball goal and a volleyball net. That's the yard I've been walking around in for the last 20 years. I tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the 4-hour provision in the consent decree (remember the consent decree was already in effect when I arrived on Death Row, and I was bound by its terms, even though I never had any input into its formulation). By then, the case was styled Dougan v Singletary (i.e., the Dougan case). I was mad as Hell about the sub-constitutional 4 hours per week provision, but all my years of efforts to re-open and modify the consent decree failed (Sheppard fought me on this; this case was his cash cow and he cared nothing about our rights or recreation).
Ok, then in 1996 the Republican-led US Senate passed the PLRA (Prison Litigation Reform Act) whose sole purpose was to greatly reduce and discourage any type of prison-related lawsuits. Among other things, the PLRA allows the state to dissolve any consent decree two tears after it was issued, and it basically requires all federal judges to grant such a motion. So, overnight, around the country, all the states filed motions to dissolve all prison consent decrees (even though many of them were exhaustively crafted after years and decades of litigation). Florida moved to dissolve the Dougan consent decree, and this was granted in 1999. In 2001, the Dougan case was officially closed. So, after 20 years, we were right back to square one. For the next 8 years, FSP continued to abide by the terms of the consent decree (4 hours per week in the "Big" yard, with cancelled sessions made up) even though the decree was dead. Then, just 2 months ago, the FSP administration suddenly decided to start messing with our rec. I guess it took them 9 years to realize the consent decree was dead. Now, they making us rec in tiny, one-man cages (but only for one of our two weekly sessions) and they announced they will no longer make up any cancelled yard sessions. So, now that I know the consent decree is dead (I didn't know this, being in Virginia for the last 9 years), I'm going to file suit to get our one-hour-per-day minimum. The prison has now opened a can of worms and I intend to get what we should have gotten back in 1983 when Sheppard sold us out. My goal is to get an attorney (I'm working on that), then get my case certified as a class action suit for all Death Row prisoners. An attorney will make some good money (just as Sheppard did) because we will win, and as the prevailing party, the attorney will be entitled to all costs and attorney fees. The state should have left us alone, (and I would never have done the research and learned that the Dougan case was closed) but now I intend to get us adequate and meaningful recreation. Right now, I'm exhausting my administrative remedies (the grievance process) which is mandatory prior to filing suit. Them I'll file suit (I have to hustle up the $350 filing fee), then I'll get an attorney, either on my own or appointed. ASo, now you know the short version of my next legal project!
Love, Bill

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