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And in another ironic twist (JPay mail rejections)...

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mjuran
mjuran's picture
And in another ironic twist (JPay mail rejections)...

Yesterday I received a notice from JPay that one of the messages a pen pal had tried to send me had been rejected, reason: "explicit sexual content."

The notification then continued, with an exerpt from the message that had been rejected.  The excerpt was, indeed, "explicitly sexual" content.

(side note:  by prior agreement, I'm letting  my pen pal send me a few dozens of files of his personal writings and journals, to keep safe for him because he's anticipating getting an upgraded new JPay tablet and is afraid that when he transfers his files, he may lose them in the transfer.  It's happened to him before.  He gave me permission to read through his stuff, but I told him I didn't want to and wasn't going to, unless there was something specific he wanted to share with me.  I had been copying his messages over to my computer largely unread except for the titles, to organize them.  So until JPay helpfully blindsided me with this particular writing exerpt, I had not been intending to read it.)

Now I have sort of (though not fully) understood the logic of discouraging sexually titillating materials being sent into prisons from outside, lest the male inmates be driven mad with lust or something, or be able to satisfy their human sexual needs, but I was not aware of a rationale for prisons to reject outgoing smut or sexually explicit material, or personal memoirs, or anything else.  Yet, if they see a need to shield my eyes from the sexually explicit content of my pen pal's writings, how are they protecting me in this endeavor by actually sending me exerpts of the offending material to read?  It is a little baffling, no?

Selosa
Selosa's picture

Perhaps it's specific to that state or prison. I write to someone in Illinois and the idoc website says they are not interested in what is written except escape plans or illegal activities. Though we have never written sexually explicit stuff before.

mjuran
mjuran's picture

Yes, probably so.  I just think it is hilarious, to decide to censor something and then send the recipient a quoted excerpt from the material that was deemed in need of censoring.  I wonder who thought of that way of handling rejections?

VioletGrey
VioletGrey's picture

Super strange that they would send you an excerpt of the banned piece! 
Maybe they do it in case it's harassment, like standard to not let that go out to the general public. Like the prison version of getting a dick pic? Easier to censor it all? Hmm. I've never had anything rejected via Corrlinks or really snail mail for sexually explicit content, and there has definitely been some - wonder if JPay is more sensitive than Corrlinks? Or like the above person said, that the State is more strict with that type of content. 
 

Selosa
Selosa's picture

They probably sent you a sample so you would know what is not allowed and write accordingly.

Selosa
Selosa's picture

Perhaps you can check the state corrections website about mail rules and see if the prison is overreacting or not.

mjuran
mjuran's picture

Selosa, it wasn't something I wrote, so I really couldn't have any control over it.  All of this--and every bizarre case of having a letter rejected for content--has happened to me in Michigan, and I think that's a state with very uptight rules about things. I still don't know exactly what this piece was that was rejected for sexually explicit content, whether it's a piece of erotic writing or an event from his past he's writing about in the context of something else.  It wasn't a long enough sample to tell.  I don't see how it violates any safety regulations or would be a threat or risk in any way, though, for a prisoner to mail sexually graphic written content, though.  In theory they can reject anything for that reason, but usually they're looking at it from the point of view of the incoming mail, and screening for contraband, escape plans, conspiracies, coded messages, threats, and the like.  Sexual content, especially on the outbound side of things, being regarded as something to censor?  It just puzzles me.

ST4s
ST4s's picture

And so, the puritanical mail room cop has been hoisted on their own petard. Ironic indeed!

Carmen163
Carmen163's picture

Wow, this is utterly bizar and not allowed, I think. I found this comment regarding mail on http://www.aele.org/law/2007JBJUN/2007-06MLJ301.pdf:

 Correctional officials censored or removed mail which was critical of facility operations, or which complained of correctional conditions or discussed grievances, as well as letters dealing with or discussing religious and political issues, and letters thought to be "lewd, obscene, or defamatory." All incoming and outgoing mail prisoners sent or received was subjected to this censorship. The Supreme Court found these rules to be overbroad and unnecessary, while recognizing that there are legitimate interests in maintaining institutional order and discipline, and security interests in preventing escape and encouraging prisoners' rehabilitation. The Court found that, in order to be supportable, such regulations must further an "important or substantial governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of expression," and the limitation of First Amendment freedoms must be no greater than is "necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved." 

It seems to me that Jpay is violating the first amendment of freedom of speech. I would file a serious complaint. I mean, what's next; you being not allowed to write about the color blue because someone at Jpay doesn't like that color? It's ridiculous. 

mjuran
mjuran's picture

That's wonderful you found the specific case law dealing with this very subject, Carmen.  I'd have to agree with you that it seems a violation of a constitutional freedom of expression, and also intrusive on the right to privacy--both mine and his, if they are determining what to censor and what to put in front of my eyes whether I want to read it or not.  

I think it's the prison mail rooms doing the decision making on mail rejections, but JPay is the entity that issues the notice that a letter's been rejected, and they merely pass on any reason given by the prison for it.  I think they are just the messenger, in this and most other cases.  I don't understand the rationale for sending an exerpt of what's been censored to the intended recipient, that just makes the opposite of sense.  But I'm just going to chalk it up to Michigan mailroom madness.  They love to reject anything, for any reason.  The outgoing mail being rejected, though, that's a new one for me.

MDOC.Graduate
MDOC.Graduate's picture

MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.118:

Section D states:  "Mail shall not be prohibited solelybecause its content is religious, philosophical, political, social, sexual, unpopular, or repugnant. Prohibited incoming mail shall be rejected as set forth in the rejected mail portion of this policy."

"Mail" is defined in Section A:  Any written, typed, or printed communication of information, including magazines, catalogs, books, and photographs. Electronic messages received through the Department’s approved vendor are not considered mail for purposes of this policy.

Now you know.

louiseeeb
louiseeeb's picture

Hi you mentioned that your pen pal is in Michigan, it's weird because my pen pal was infact asking sexual questions etc but nothing was flagged between the both of us. Did you receive an email or something that warned you?  

 

 

 

mjuran
mjuran's picture

MDOC Graduate, now I'm supposed to know--what?  That JPay messages aren't mail and aren't subject to the rest of the "mail" policy?  That what happened is in violation of the MDOC's own policy, but there ain't nothing to be done about it, as usual?  I'm confused what you're saying.

Louiseeeb, I got an email notiication that an electronic message sent by my pen pal to me was rejected for "explicit sexual content."  I haven't seen his rejected message, except for a couple of sentences excerpted from it that JPay quoted me in its notice to me.  There was no other statement made by JPay, it was just a notice that a prisoner's message to me had been rejected.  I'm not in a sexual relationship with this inmate and don't discuss sexual matters with him as a matter of course, but once in a while the topic will come up in a normal way.  Those letters weren't censored.  I had  another inmate pen pal I used to write to in Michigan, some of his letters contained explicitly sexual things but none of his letters were ever censored for that reason.  In fact I've never had an inmate's letter to me censored or rejected, only mine to them.  And only in Michigan.  I have several pen pals and not a single letter rejection with any of them for any reason, only the pen pals in Michigan.  I think it's a waste of time to try to find the written policy that guides these matters, because there isn't one:  I believe it's all up to individual mailroom employees to decide what to reject and what to pass along, and they just do what suits their mood and personal taste.  That's my theory, anyway.  There's nothing in the policy guidelines that explains any of the mail rejections in Michigan.

 

mjuran
mjuran's picture

Perhaps I should explain that this pen pal has had a childhood in which he was sexually abused, and he's working on healing that traumatic past through writing about the things that happened to him decades ago.  I don't know if what was rejected by MDOC for smut is part of his writing self-therapy, but there's a fair chance it is.  I find the whole thing revolting...that the prison spies on everything and feels entitled to reject this and that based on whatever, misinterpreting and judging away as if they were petty little gods in charge of morality in prison. 

mjuran
mjuran's picture

I've been writing to prisoners in five states for over a year now, and this is my entire history of letters rejected for content (ALL in Michigan):  one photo rejected because it showed my female dog getting a belly rub (i.e. it exposed her genital area, although this was like .0005% of the photo, seriously);  one letter rejected TWICE because I'd quoted  from a Wikipedia article about a classic yet controversial film;  one letter rejected because I used too many numerals in one paragraph (they thought was talking in code, maybe?  I was telling him which letters I'd received and which not!) and now this, from the inmate not me, due to "explicit sexual content."  There's never a legitimate reason given, there's never a clear cut set of guidelines, it's just whatever the powers that be decide to do, in Michigan.  

ST4s
ST4s's picture

Hey MDOC.Graduate – fascinating and abominable how a corporation (Securus/JPay) can sidestep Supreme Court rulings (thanks for the legwork, Carmen) and the government of Michigan’s very own policy, by their very own hand. I’ll give you 10 to 1 that Securus/JPay helped write that policy. But that’s the drill here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I mean, look at how social media (read: corporations) consistently trample Constitutional rights via their terms of service, like, “our sandbox, our rules” and it’s all perfectly legit.

Take an example from recent history: how this was painted in full relief via the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol – how Facebook, Twitter, Parler, and others, flexed their corporate authority to throttle “free speech” by cancelling/suspending user accounts. It cuts both ways.

Mjuran, methinks you and your pen pal just need a different sandbox for this, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. And perhaps this Michigan/Securus “policy” would benefit from some scrutiny from the ACLU due to the unique circumstance: that a government collaborates with a corporation to deny fundamental rights to a (literally) captive segment of society.

MDOC.Graduate
MDOC.Graduate's picture

ST4s:  "our sandbox, our rules" is probably the perfect explanation, yes.  MDOC has decided that digital writing and media are different than "mail" so they and/or Securus came up with their own Policy Directive on how to scrutinize/censor it.  CO's/ARUS's/RUM's, they'll all screw with the convicts.  Maybe a unit officer decided he wanted some time off so brought in a slip for a bad back.  No problem, they'll toss him on "light duty" and send him to the mailroom.  Now he's checking all the email from his own Unit and there may be guys he doesn't particulary like.  You get the point.

MDOC.Graduate
MDOC.Graduate's picture

mjuran:  I didn't intend to upset you, I just posted the PD.  I'm just another ex-con trying to make it day by day.  Sorry for the confusion.

mjuran
mjuran's picture

No, I'm sorry, MDOC.  I didn't mean to sound curt with you and I did.  I just didn't express myself well, there was no offence taken and none given, I hope.  :)

MDOC.Graduate
MDOC.Graduate's picture

Nah, we're good :)  To be honest, I think prison is more frustrating for people on the outside than for us on the inside. lol

mjuran
mjuran's picture

MDOC, I'm wondering at your handle, did you really put time into trying to learn the ins and outs of the MDOC in a formal way, or do you mean you "graduated" from the school of "hard knocks" so to speak?  How do prisoners learn to live with these frustrations, on top of everything else?  I think for me as an outmate, it's harder to get a wrap on because I'm not taking the immersion course.  I'm suffering from the constant back-and-forth of the "free world rules" and the "prison rules" and there's such a basic disconnect between the two.  It is frustrating, for me, every time I come up against the fact that the prison world is so completely different from what we take for granted out here.  It takes time to acclimate and become accustomed. 

mjuran
mjuran's picture

The posts about the constitutionality or legality of rejecting prisoners' mail this way, has got me thinking about defining exactly what's going on here.  It seems to me that Yes, censoring written communications from prisoners based on content for solely sextual, pollitical, or religious content, or because it is "repugnant" or offensive to someone's sensibilities, is against existing governing law.  The issue is whether electronic communications such as JPay constitute "mail" for the purpose of prisoners being able to have communication with the outside world.  It's the prison facility itself, it would seem,that dictates whether electronic mail is considered "mail", when according to any logic I can think of, letters via JPay are exactly as much "mail" as letters via the US postal system.  JPay, Securus, and those other systems aren't really involved in this and have no stake in it as far as I can see.  I don't see what interest JPay would have in having more of their letters that they pass back and forth rejected, or not given the same protections as postal letters.  It would seem to be a matter of individual prison administrators making up their own policy regardless of whether it's  in compliance with the law, and no one enforcing the law.  But it could be enforced, or put to the test with a constitutional legal challenge, if someone had the energy or motivation to push for that kind of reform.

MDOC.Graduate
MDOC.Graduate's picture

@mjuran  Yes, I was an MDOC prisoner and completed parole.  This fall I'll have been out 16 years.  I did Reception/Quarantine at the infamous 7 Block.  That was definitely an "immersion course".  If Mankind has ever built a human kennel, that was it.  Cells stacked 5 stories high the length of a football field.  There were birds in the rafters and mice were common.  I went from there straight to Lakeland level II which was the polar opposite of 7 Block.  Without a doubt, the coolest, most open joint I was ever in.  After a couple months there, I was waived to level I down the street, lasted about 3 days before hitting the hole on a fighting ticket and was sent back to level II in Adrian where I was back in the shit.  Did most of my time there and after a brief stop back to level 1 I paroled and maxed out a few months into parole.  That's the short version of my background.

Prison is abnormal.  We're in our own little world/society while inside.  If we worried about every little piece of late mail we'd nut up and be in IMAX within a month.  At first I loved 4 p.m. count because that was mail time.  Most of the time I didn't get mail when I expected it so I guess I adapted.  I think we become experts at distraction and learn to tune out the "real world".  We might even grow to resent the outside world.  You allow prison to change you because that's the only way to survive.  As much as we like to think we walk out of there a well adjusted person, we're far from that.  I don't care if you did 2 years or 50, it changes you.

At first I found everyone's frustration here somewhat curious.  Then I remembered that you haven't been properly trained like I have so now I get it. 

Thanks for coming to my Ted talk :)

maxi
maxi's picture

Interesting topic. I'm not using Jpay but I remember there have been several Court Cases. And Jpay also asks for their cut if anything is to be published, considering it is their content. (I think you can look it up somewhere, with both my penpals we are clear that if any material is either case sensitive or should at some point get published, the inmate is better off sending the material through a lawyer to a trusted 3rd party).

As MDOC and ST4 say :  "our sandbox, our rules" is probably the perfect explanation, yes.  MDOC has decided that digital writing and media are different than "mail" so they and/or Securus came up with their own Policy Directive on how to scrutinize/censor it.  CO's/ARUS's/RUM's, they'll all screw with the convicts."

@ mjuran, also you don't see how "Securus or Jpay" have anything at stake? To get the deals with the prisons they "pretend" to have the best services and security. Pretty nasty when you think of all Mark Zuckerberg is accused of offering free services. But that's politics.

They aren't simple small IT non for profit organisations to provide messaging to help out prisoners. It's a major business.

maxi
maxi's picture

Here is one case where prison & Jpay defends themselves for why they decide to consider sexually explicit material an impediment to security...(and most prisons use similar arguments)

https://casetext.com/case/blake-v-jpay

 

Hey MDOC put your link to your Tedtalk

MDOC.Graduate
MDOC.Graduate's picture

Maxi - Just joking, I don't actually have a Ted talk.  If I did it would probably be the longest Ted Talk in history. lol

mjuran
mjuran's picture

Maxi, that's an interesting link to the court case and JPay, but it seems to involve a case of the prison not allowing a book (or a book cover) to be allowed IN to  the prison, rather than material being sent out of prison, or contesting ownership rights (copyright of material).  Even if it's a book authored by the prisoner himself. With what we've been talking about, I'm still not sure I understand where JPay is taking its cut of the whole thing, or standing to benefit, other than by being the successful bidder to provide prison services.  I do understand it's big business, and not some little nonprofit of do-gooders trying to be nice to prisoners by giving them a handy means of electronic messaging.  I just am unclear on how it affects JPay's bottom line, once they have a contract with the prison or the state to be the carrier.  I don't think they're the ones defining whether their service constitutes "mail" like other protected mail...I think that's solely the prisons, making that call.  JPay, et al, just go along with it.

MDOC.graduate, thanks for the "Ted talk", it was good to read and I'm glad to see you here able to add your perspective to things at times.  :)

maxi
maxi's picture

oops @mjuran, sorry for the confusion. Indeed the case I had read about isn't the link I posted. It's just an example of similar arguments used. I'd have to look it up. It was a case where Jpay was the plaintiff against someone (and I can't remember who it was) who had a book published and they claimed ownership rights.

Other than that well as for being the successful bidder, they will have to implement the service in accordance. (For example in the link I posted, the point is that most prisons use the same definition as "prohibited sexual explicit content")

So for example if I am Jpay, I offer that service by implementing AI or Text mining that will automatically flag the content with certain keywords used through in and outgoing mail.

I don't know if they have done it but it could be.

(For fun it would be interesting to know, lol, maybe ask your PP to rewrite and use different words to describe whatever he wrote, if it had a sexual connotation, and see if it goes through). But the way you explained it seems like an automated message based on a text-mining system.

Of course, a CO could also check and send the same message manually if he has a suspicion on the inmate, if he needs to play boss, etc...this happens pretty often apparently too.

In one of the interviews I listened too, the youtuber (I think Guerrero) was explaining how some CO played games on some inmates (sometimes even setting them up with fake mail just to make fun of the more vulnerable ones ...)

So there could be many reasons for it and it is certainly not always fair.