This article by Benjamin Galloway was originally published on HoneySuckle and appears here with permission.
When inmate Phillip Alvin Jones was barred from receiving Honeysuckle's latest issue by the Washington State Dept. of Corrections, it sparked a deep-dive investigation into prisoners' rights and censorship.
On May 7, prison officials at Washington State Penitentiary blocked prisoner Phillip Alvin Jones, 49, from receiving Honeysuckle Magazine’s most recent print edition, entitled 420. This act of censorship sparked a conversation of freedom of the press within prisons. At the Walla Walla, Washington prison, the intended recipient appealed the blockage for its infringement of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the press for incarcerated people.
Honeysuckle’s issue celebrated the 50th anniversary of 420, the national cannabis holiday, as well as a typical plethora of cultural deep dives on the cannabis industry, gender and sexuality, and racial politics, and was bought for Phillip Alvin Jones by his friend before the penitentiary blocked it. The magazine cover featured a portrait of the renowned rapper Lil Wayne, who created the GKUA Ultra Premium cannabis line, and shed light on topics such as the recent legalization of cannabis in New York and activists’ efforts for decriminalization.
In place of the magazine, Jones received a rejection notice from the Washington State Department of Corrections. The notice stated that Honeysuckle’s 420 edition contained illicit articles and images related to growing and consuming cannabis along with “pictures of nudity.”
The Washington State DOC does not explicitly state in their sent-mail policy that media coverage of the cannabis industry should be blocked. Instead, the department’s website states, “publications with content that violates any Department policy or facility-specific procedure will be referred to the Publication Review Committee for further review and a final decision.”
Washington State’s Department of Corrections policies are long, storied, and opaque, as many DOC policies are wanton to be. Only after scouring the 40-page Washington Administrative Code handbook can the policies in questions be found. Violation 655 states that the production or consumption of alcohol or drugs within prisons is considered a “serious violation,” while violation 728 prohibits sexually explicit materials.
The rejection notice goes on to list several pages of the issue in violation of DOC policies including the front cover which shows Lil Wayne holding a vape pen while vapor fills the air beside him, hardly a suggestion to grow hemp in the prison yard. The precarious space for interpretation is mirrored in the state’s cannabis laws.
Cover of Honeysuckle's 420 edition featuring Lil Wayne. Cover image (C) Baqi Kopelman
While Washington was one of the two first U.S. states to legalize recreational cannabis use, their policies span the …