We read inmate mail regularly; some deserve consideration

Daily, we receive mail from inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the Ouachita Parish Correctional Center and other prisons. For years, we’ve read well-written pleadings from young men who have for one reason or another fallen between the cracks in today’s penal system.

Believe it or not, we actually read inmate mail. Those that appear credible, we try to get their story to volunteers in the community that will help us dig up information to prove or disprove their claims.

Because we send free newspapers to all Angola Life prisoners who request one, our inmate mail is regular.

Even this column is being read by scores of prisoners this week. They send the letters because they know they won’t be put in file 13.

From time to time, some of those letters come from Ouachita Parish. In one letter, perfectly written and documented, a group of inmates at OCC complained that the system is overcharging them in the OCC commissaries.

They sent over 25 pages of prices for items such as shaving cream, soap, batteries, and even feminine hygiene items (for females). They showed the regular price outside the prison and the price inside the prison. Remarkably the prison commissary prices at OCC are often three times the cost outside of the prison.

They prepared the document for a court filing, in perfect legal form, their intent is to sue the Ouachita Parish Police Jury and the Sheriff.

They request that we would help them address the issue by publishing their report or filing the suit in 4th District Court.

We forwarded their report, with the accompanying spreadsheets and rate charts, to the police jury through a police jury member.

If there is no action, we will run our own story. Following that, if the problem is not addressed, we will go to the parish courthouse and file the suit on behalf of the inmates as requested.

Not everyone in prison is guilty. Even those who are incarcerated should be treated as human beings. That’s the way we feel about it.

Over the years, those who write to us have developed an unofficial code to alert us about physical abuse and other problems they can’t mention openly because prison administrators read their letters before they are mailed.

Those that have been reviewed by the staff have a stamp on the outside. We assume all have been read, so we look for the codes.

Sometimes we receive complaints like the one from Angola prisoner Dion Mitchell, who has been in Angola for 35 years on charges of aggravated rape and kidnapping.

The state refuses to revisit his case, although the reported victim in the case has recanted and admitted lying on him. She told them that he raped her for over an hour and stole jewelry from her. She later said she lied for reasons of her own. There was no jewelry stolen either. The rape kit results did not point to Mitchell.

Mitchell read how we pushed for Gerald Manning in Monroe until the murder and rape charges against him were finally dropped, and he was released. He hopes someone sees his story, reads his documents, and helps him.

In Monroe, we are fortunate that District Attorney Steve Tew, Sheriff Jay Russell, and others have kept their doors open and have proven willing to review complaints we have presented them.

They have helped correct injustices done to some suspects; other cases didn’t get in the front door.

We are impressed that both of these officials don’t automatically assume that their cases are foolproof and the inmates are always wrong. That’s all anyone can ask.

Inmate mail keeps coming. We don’t answer them, but we put them in the hands of people who are passionate about justice.
Sometimes lady justice smiles on them.