A North Carolina Department of Corrections inmate, became an acclaimed "urban fiction" novelist, successfully publishing several novels from prison. On February 3, 2009 he sued the prison in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for punishing him for his writing and publishing activities after a corrections officer seized and destroyed a 310-page handwritten manuscript. Plaintiff brought claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, and 42 U.S.C. 1981.
While in prison serving a 23-year sentence, Plaintiff wrote"urban fiction" novels, which feature gangsters, drug pushers, explicit language, and violence. Critics have praised the genre and Plaintiff in particular. A major publisher published four of his novels before 2006. While he was writing from 2002 to 2006, he had no disciplinary infractions and prison officials commended him for "doing something positive."
According to his complaint, this all changed in May 2006 when the Department of Corrections transferred Plaintiff to Central Prison in Raleigh. In November 2006, a Captain (then Lieutenant) searched Plainitiff's cell and seized a handwritten 310-page manuscript and correspondence with publishers. Plaintiff, who is black, alleged the Captain used racial epithets during their encounters. Plaintiff was charged with violation of Prison Policy B.0700, "Inmates Conducting Personal Business."
During his stay at Central, Plaintiff alleged he received 30 disciplinary infractions relating to his writing and publishing. He was punished for corresponding with his publisher and when his publisher mistakenly mailed a royalty check to the prison. He claimed prison officials would not allow him to contact his publishers to tell them to stop correspondence. He spent time in administrative segregation for infractions related to publishing. In 2008, Plaintiff was transferred to Pasquotank Correctional Institution. Officials there did not discipline him for his writing and publishing efforts, and appeared to support him.
Because the Department of Corrections refused to give any guidance on policy B.0700, Plaintiff sought declaratory relief that the policy as implemented violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also sought an injunction forcing the Department of Corrections to create a policy that would allow inmates to write and publish literary works with or without compensation and to take ministerial actions related to publication such as securing copyrights. He also sought compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees and costs.
On March 8, 2010, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal and a settlement agreement. The court dismissed the case that day based on the settlement. The agreement awarded Martin $10,000 to cover any damages, fees, and costs. The agreement also required the Department of Corrections to overturn 10 disciplinary infractions Martin received for his writing and publishing activities. Finally, the Department of Corrections amended their policy B.0700. Under the new section, B.0705 "Manuscripts of Inmates," inmates can possess manuscripts and seek copyrights. If officers wish to confiscate a manuscript, at least two officers must sign off on the seizure. The manuscript must not be destroyed until the regional director of the Department of Corrections reviews the case. The inmate can pay to mail a seized manuscript to someone outside the prison. However, the policy does not allow inmates to publish manuscripts for compensation, nor can they circulate manuscripts among other prisoners.Eric Weiler - 05/22/2010