Understanding the Difficulty in Getting Fair Media Coverage

John Swinton, former Chief of Staff of the most powerful and prestigious newspaper on earth, The New York Times, when asked to give a toast to the "free press" at the New York Press Club stated: "There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

In July of 1998, Shery Swiney, wife of Alabama life inmate and former cop, wrote to "US News & World report, in an effort to get them to cover the attempted murder of Patrick by Prison Authorities, in retaliation for the article he wrote entitled "Too Late to Debate." She also urged them to investigate the corruption involved in the investigation of the murder of his ex-wife and her lover, and the organized and retaliatory conspiracy to frame him by vested interests in the State of Alabama. She included many supporting letters by the public, including a letter to then Alabama Governor Fob James. Please read the letters below, then continue:

Thursday, July 02, 1998

Letters Editor

U.S. News & World Report

2400 N Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20037-1196

Ladies and Gentlemen:

HEADING: Cop in lockup for exposing corruption...still trying to help the public and look at the price he is paying!

I've been up almost 24 hours round the clock since last Friday, trying to stop one man from being abused in one prison in Alabama. It hasn't worked. The abuse continues to escalate. The actions against this prisoner are in retaliation for an article he wrote. This is a Freedom of Speech, First Amendment violation of the worst kind. When in America has a person's life been seriously jeopardized for writing a news article? I'm enclosing the article for your information. I hope you will publish it for Americans to read.

I'm also enclosing other letters for the purpose of background information into this case. Finally, I'm enclosing my previous letter to US News dated Tuesday, March 24, 1998 (for your reference).

THE VIOLATION:

On Friday, June 26, 1998, Patrick Swiney - a prisoner at Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama - was placed in lock up for courageously writing an article describing prison civil rights violations and allegations of graft and corruption. The order to lock him up came from the US Marshal's office. The US Marshal was ordered by Chief Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr., Southern District Court of Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, to place Patrick Swiney in lockup pending an investigation based on an allegation that Mr. Swiney's letter to a judge was threatening in nature. Because the allegation is without merit we also look forward to a speedy resolution of that matter This article contains no threats to anyone whatsoever except to publicly expose the inhumane conditions within the prison and allegations of graft by a prison staff person and his wife, who holds a contract with the prison.

Mr. Patrick Swiney was not allowed a phone call to contact his family or an attorney. He was simply placed into isolation - known as the "hole" which is literally a hot box, outlawed years ago. This is of great concern to us, given Patrick's chronic health problems. The hole is a 5x8 concrete box without air conditioning or ventilation. The heat indices in Alabama during this time of year are 110 degrees and more. They put him in the hottest box in the block. They did this because he wrote the truth about the abuses at Holman. They did this to shut him up for good.

By this inappropriate and illegal action, Mr. Swiney's life was in jeopardy because he is a heart patient, 53 years old, who also suffers with inflammatory spinal arthritis and emphysema.

In addition, prison officials took away his address book. They took away his medication. They took away his drinking cup. Taking away one's drinking cup might not sound like much, but when you haven't got one, it becomes vital to survival.

They also took away his bed space in population and gave it to another inmate. They gave him a top bunk. This, for a 53 year man who is in poor health.

From Saturday, June 27, 1998 through Monday, June 29, 1998, Mr. Swiney remained locked up in isolation. The prison refused to issue any information to his family, friends and community who continued to suffer the pain of being alarmed and outraged by the unwarranted reaction to the Patrick article. On Monday, June 29, 1998, the US Marshal read the letter in question for the first time, and saw there were no threats whatsoever to the judge. The US Marshal, seeing nothing at all threatening about Mr. Swiney's article, subsequently reversed the order to the prison, with instructions to place Patrick Swiney back into population. Patrick Swiney is in danger in population - the place where the abuses in his article take place. He is a former police officer. He needs to be moved to a Federal Facility where he will be provided with appropriate medical care.

On July 1, 1998, Orders came from Captain Pouncy at Holman Prison to Correctional officer Edwards. Officer Edwards is now specifically assigned to make sure Patrick Swiney is run outside into the hot Alabama sun each day. One hour after Patrick was run out today, he was called to Dr. Wilson's office (Wilson is the prison doctor). Dr. Wilson told Patrick that Warden Jones told him to take Patrick (a heart patient who just spent the weekend in the hot box - the "oven" - for writing an article) off "no duty" status so he (Warden Jones) can put Patrick to work. Dr. Wilson asked Patrick if he could do any work (as though he didn't know) and Patrick said, "Dr. Wilson, if you will have a freeworld cardiovascular specialist examine me, I will abide by whatever that doctor recommends." Patrick also told Dr. Wilson about being in the "hole" for writing his article, losing his old bed space, and the rest of the story we've all been suffering with over the weekend. Patrick explained to the doctor about the retaliation he's been enduring which prompted him to write the article. He said, "If a Federal Judge can get so pissed off as to get me thrown into the hole for that article, just what do you think Warden Jones is going to do to me now?" 

Some people are saying Patrick should never have written that article. That he should have just taken the abuses and remained quiet. Is that what any of you would have done? That's not what I would have done. Yes, exposing the truth is dangerous with officials who prefer to dehumanize. Now I call upon the officials who do not dehumanize, to step in. Something must be done. A man gets falsely accused, thrown into prison, abused badly, becomes terribly ill after 10 years of abuse, writes about it to the world, gets thrown into a non-ventilated 5x8 concrete box over the weekend - in the dead of Alabama's summer - because of what he wrote, nearly dies in the process...and now Warden wants to finish him off by putting him into slave labor. Nice. Real nice. Real American. Real Christian. Oh, by the way, there are young and healthy ones there at Holman who are unassigned and are not called to work...not that I advocate slave labor for anyone. Point being, it isn't like the prison is lacking bodies to work. It is that the prison wants to harm Patrick Swiney, plain and simple.

The treatment and reaction toward Patrick Swiney for writing about the prison conditions in Alabama is a Freedom of Speech violation. The world and this country now know how Alabama abusively treats its prisoners. We want this to stop now. We want these public officials to perform their duty. They were not hired by American tax payers to abuse the people in their care. They were hired to house them, rehabilitate them, and ready them for their re-entry to society.

Patrick Swiney is my husband. I want him to live long enough to receive the justice he deserves so he can come home. He needs medical attention badly. He, himself, doesn't think he has much time left. He's not depressed...just angry that they would be so blatant about this. Obviously Warden Jones feels he is protected.

Sincerely

Sherry L. Swiney

Executive Director

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

June 29, 1998

Governor Fob James

State of Alabama

600 Dexter Ave.

Montgomery, AL 36104

Governor:

Persecuting Patrick Swiney for complaining about prison conditions in a letter to a journal is not a respectable standard.

This country rest first and foremost on a Constitution, which rests first and foremost on a Bill of Rights. Nothing else can be constructive until basic human rights are respected. A threat to the rights of one person is a threat to the rights of all.

The concern is more than whether the same thing is going to happen to everyone else. Basic injustices are not tolerable when imposed upon even one person. Here are some of the reasons why:

One, it is a sin to sin against anyone including Satan. Besides creating unnecessary cruelty, it does more harm to the perpetrators than to the victims. The perpetrators are deranged by sin permanently, unless they repent.

What sin does to the perpetrators is create forces in their souls or minds corrupting everything else they do. They then have to perpetrate more sin to justify the earlier sin. In other words, to justify inhumane prison conditions in Alabama, you have to prevent a prisoner from complaining to society and persecute him some more. If you don't repent, the sin doesn't end there, and it wouldn't have begun there.

So corrupted standards corrupt everything else. Then instead of doing constructive things to solve society's problems, all the time and money is spent on promoting and justifying corruption, which leads to more corruption.

And it's not a local issue. If corruption can be tolerated one place, it spreads to other places. In other words, if you can persecute prisoners in Alabama, then eventually prisoners will be persecuted in South Dakota. And of course, it is a relative concept, which means prisoners are not being dealt with fairly in South Dakota, when they are being persecuted in Alabama.

And if basic rights are not respected in Alabama, then it becomes impossible for people to interact properly. If a person does business in Alabama or goes to Alabama, there is the danger of his rights not being respected. That's why the basic rights are supposed to be universal and not vary from place to place.

Then there is creeping corruption. If some corruption is tolerated sometime, somewhere, then more corruption will be tolerated all the time everywhere. This is why corruption and violation of basic human rights must be rooted out at its core wherever it exists. 

What it all means is that persecuting prisoners is not an acceptable social standard; it is a threat to everyone everywhere; and it should not be tolerated by anyone anywhere.

Gary Novak

Within three weeks, Sherry received the polite, but final refusal from "US News" in which the took the cautious stance that they "simply do not have the resources" to investigate Patrick's allegations. Unfortunately, despite the suggestions that Sherry check into the TV News Magazines, mainstream news outlets have shifted into a "safe" mode following the upheavals of the '60s and '70s, and have all but ended the concept of investigative reporting. Reporters work crime beats, or official sources, and depend on those sources for a continuing supply of breaking news. To oppose those sources through exposé is considered an unnecessary risk, and can often result in a cut-off of a reporter's access to vital sources...a career-ending sanction!

And, thanks to the democratization that the Internet allows us, we now have the opportunity to get our word out when we are cut off from media sources. We must never give up this noble fight, and never be discouraged when our stories aren't accurately reported.

Sherry, I'm sure, feels no ill-will toward US News & World Report.She merely needs to re-double her efforts until the mainstream news has no choice but to report widespread corruption in Alabama, and continued torture of her disabled and illegally incarcerated husband.

Rick Jackson

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