Cruel? or just Unusual? Tim DeChristopher moved to Isolation.
March 29, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY—Lawyers for an environmental activist convicted of disrupting a federal oil-and-gas auction say the man has been put into isolation at a federal prison because of an unidentified congressman’s complaint.Tim DeChristopher was moved to an “isolation unit” March 9 at a federal prison in Herlong, Calif., where he gets little chance for exercise, writing or phone calls and has been let out only four times briefly in the past two weeks, his supporters at Peaceful Uprising said Wednesday.
The friends are organizing a protest in front of Salt Lake City’s federal courthouse for Thursday.
On the evening of Friday March 9th, Tim DeChristopher (climate activist currently serving a 2-year prison sentence for outbidding oil and gas companies at an illegitimate BLM auction in 2008) was summarily removed from the minimum security camp where he has been held since September 2011, and moved into the FCI Herlong’s Special Housing Unit (SHU).
Tim was informed .. that he was being moved to the SHU because an unidentified congressman had called from Washington DC, complaining of an email that Tim had sent to a friend. Tim was inquiring about the reported business practices of one of his legal fund contributors, threatening to return the money if their values no longer aligned with his own.
According to Prison officials, Tim will continue to be held in isolated confinement pending an investigation. There is no definite timeline for inmates being held in the SHU — often times they await months for the conclusion of an investigation.
In the SHU, Tim’s movement and communications are severely restricted. In the past two weeks, he has been allowed out of his 8 X 10 cell (which he shares with one other inmate) four times, each time for less than an hour. The SHU could have been designed by Franz Kafka. Tim is allowed one book in his cell, and four in his property locker. His writing means are restricted to a thin ink cartridge which makes correspondence extremely difficult. He can still receive mail from the outside, but has no other form of communication other than 15 minutes of phone calls per month.
In the same March week that an unprecedented heat wave made even President Obama feel “a little nervous,” imprisoned climate change activist Tim DeChristopher languished mysteriously in isolation at the FCI Herlong’s Special Housing Unit in California.
According to a press release from DeChristopher’s Peaceful Uprising organization, an unidentified member of the US Congress possibly engineered the troubling transfer of the courageous “Bidder 70″–who brought national attention to reckless public land auctions in Utah and climate issues–due to personal correspondence between DeChristopher and a friend over a legal fund contributor.
According to Peaceful Uprising, the confinement to isolation limits DeChristopher’s outside telephone communication to 15 minutes per month, among other restrictions, and raises issues of cruel and unusual punishment, especially considering the long waiting list for similar measures:Tim will continue to be held in isolated confinement pending an investigation. There is no definite timeline for inmates being held in the SHU — often times they await months for the conclusion of an investigation.
Unanswered questions abound over DeChristopher’s extreme treatment and the role of Congressional members. He still faces nearly a year and a half of incarceration–potentially all of it to be served in isolation now.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons won’t confirm or deny that DeChristopher is being punished.
One of his lawyers, Pat Shea, said Wednesday that prison officials in California told DeChristopher a congressman complained about an email the 30-year-old jailed activist sent to some of his supporters. Shea said prison officials moved DeChristopher to a special section of the prison pending an investigation.
“There’s no timeline for the investigation to start or end. He’s being kept mostly in 24-hour lockdown. My worry is they’re trying to drive him nuts,” said Shea, who was able to visit DeChristopher on Sunday.
DeChristopher was sentenced in July to serve two years for bidding on drilling leases near Utah’s national parks in an effort to keep the leases from being developed.
“My intent both at the time of the auction and now was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil and gas industry, to the point that it cut into their $100 billion profits,” DeChristopher said at his sentencing.
He was a University of Utah economics student when he attended the Bureau of Land Management lease auction in December 2008.
His bidding cost angry oil men hundreds of thousands of dollars in higher bids for their parcels, and DeChristopher ended up with $1.7 million in leases for which he couldn’t pay. He later offered to cover it with an Internet fundraising campaign, but the government refused to accept any of the money after the fact.
DeChristopher has said the administration of former President George W. Bush violated environmental laws in holding the auction. A federal judge later blocked many of his leases from being issued and they remain off the market.
According to Shea, a veteran lawyer and director of the federal Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton administration, this is what happened to DeChristopher: On March 5, he wrote an email to Dylan Schneider, the treasurer and volunteer coordinator at Peaceful Uprising, a climate activism group co-founded by DeChristopher.… In the email (you can read the whole thing below), DeChristopher discusses the fact that an unnamed corporate donor who contributed to his legal defense fund is exporting U.S. manufacturing jobs and laying off workers. DeChristopher is not happy: “I feel like I have some influence and hence some responsibility to do something,” he writes. “If they are saving money by screwing their workers, I can’t in good conscience accept some of that money.” He then says that he plans to send a letter to the owner of the company that made the donation, explaining why it bothers him. He writes, “This letter will include a threat to wage a campaign against them if they don’t reverse course and keep the plants open.”
Let’s be clear about what DeChristopher is doing here: He’s threatening to give back a $25,000 donation because the donor’s company is exporting jobs, thus tainting the donation in his eyes. Is this the action of a dangerous criminal?
According to Shea, five days later, on March 9th, DeChristopher was pulled out of his minimum-security camp and told he was being moved to a cell in Herlong’s Special Housing Unit (SHU). “When Tim asked why,” Shea explains, “he was told that a U.S. Congressman had called and told prison officials that he was threatening people outside of prison.” With that, he hauled off to the SHU, where he has been ever since. He shares his 8 x 10 cell with another man and, according to Shea, has been allowed outside the tiny cell only four times for brief periods of exercise in what Shea describes as “a dog kennel.”