A prisoner in Illinois has been in solitary confinement since July for possessing "copious amounts of Anarchist publications" and "handwritten Anarchist related essays," according to prison documents.
Mark "Migs" Neiweem is a prisoner at the maximum security Pontiac Correctional Center who, in addition to the publications and his writings about the prison industrial complex, was also found in possession of anarchist symbols including a "Circle A" and "Circle E" (the latter, which stands for equality, is described in prison reports as representing "class warfare, the 99%").
"I've been doing this work since 1979 and I can't think of another case where someone has gotten a disciplinary report for something so obviously political as this," says Alan Mills, who is Neiweem's lawyer and a professor at Northwestern.
Neiweem also had documents in his cell from the Anarchist Black Cross, which the Illinois Department of Correction says is "a political organization and openly supports those who have committed illegal activity in furtherance of revolutionary aims." That's a menacing way of saying that the group writes letters to prisoners and solicits donations so they can buy food from the prison commissary.
A postcard written by Neiweem and sent out to his supporters by Anarchist Black Cross.
Prison officials spent months investigating Neiweem, combed through his cell, and even used a confidential informant to obtain more information on his anarchist views. According to a disciplinary report dated August 8, 2013, Neiweem was identified by the Intelligence Unit as an anarchist, and the confidential informant reported that he was attempting to recruit other prisoners to "be part of a collective."
At a disciplinary hearing, where Neiweem was not allowed to have an attorney present, he was found in violation of two departmental rules: possessing gang symbols, and possessing "written material that presents a serious threat to the safety and security of persons or the facility."
Neiweem isn't accused of plotting to harm guards or other prisoners, though; his political beliefs alone are described as a threat.
"At no point did they even ask him 'what is anarchism,'" Mills says. "If they actually read what he wrote, they would have gotten a very different impression of what anarchism really means."
For Neiweem, anarchism means solidarity and mutual aid – people putting their faith in each other, rather than cops, courts, and politicians. It means opposing "patriarchy, homophobia, sexism, racism, genocide, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, capitalism." In a public statement, he said that the support he has received while in prison has only reinforced those anti-authoritarian beliefs: "All of these acts of solidarity continue to prove how beautiful our humanity and 'the people' really are, and display why we need not a State and a force to regulate and stunt our growth, to keep us from experiencing our full humanity."
The prison review board did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Neiweem was moved to solitary on July 13th. His punishment includes 6 months of segregated housing, no access to the prison yard, and no contact visits for 6 months. In an unusual move, he was later given a cellmate: a white supremacist.
"They're in a very small cell with no ability to leave during the day," says Rachel Unterman, who works with Neiweem's support committee. "[Prison officials] are pretty much doing whatever they can to make him miserable however they can. But he's in incredibly good spirits."
Unterman says she did not know Neiweem before he was in prison, but she volunteered with Occupy Chicago and helped organize the protests against the NATO Summit in 2012. In the lead up to that protest, Neiweem and others -- dubbed the NATO 5 -- were targeted by undercover cops and arrested. Police accused them of attempting to possess incendiary devices; civil rights advocates questioned the heavy hand that police informants played in the case.
As part of his punishment, Neiweem was also told that he would have his "good time" revoked, meaning he would not qualify for early release. Unterman and other activists organized a call-in and letter-writing campaign. In a small victory, the Illinois Department of Corrections recently reduced Neiweem's lost good time from 3 months to 1 month. He is scheduled for release on December 12, 2013.
However, he still has about 10 weeks left in solitary confinement.
"I reach my arms out and touch both walls with room to spare," he said in a letter to his legal team. "I don’t know the dimensions but it’s by far the smallest cell I’ve ever been in. The front is steel plates with some holes drilled in them and the tiny view is of a brick wall 8 feet away. No light but the one they leave on nearly 24 hours a day…
"Please send pictures of people, places, and things. These walls are ugly."
Will Potter is the author of Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.
Follow Will on Twitter: @will_potter