Sequim for the Win

Thank you for putting Sequim, Wash., on your cover [“High Noon in Clallam County,” by Sasha Abramsky, Feb. 21/28]. For a small town, this is unusual. Even though I’ve spent most of my life just 17 miles away in Port Angeles, there was much I didn’t know about our “younger brother.” But I do know about my hometown. We have a big drug problem and a lot of white racism and religious bigotry, and the Democratic Party does nothing about it. If Democrats lose in 2022 and 2024, it will be because of their neglect of small towns.
Bill Bokamper
port angeles, wash.

We are writing to thank you for Sasha Abramsky’s hard-hitting article on our success in ousting the QAnon-connected “Gang of Four” from the Sequim City Council on November 2. Our victory is a model for how we can defeat the Trump Republicans who scheme to strip millions of their voting rights in the upcoming midterm elections and make rural America their reliable “base.”

A few points in the article need to be stressed. Abramsky led his exposé with an interview with Dr. Allison Berry, a public health officer for the North Olympic Peninsula, who was threatened with assassination by anti-vaxxer fanatics. Our grassroots movement defended her, and voter support for her courageous leadership was a major factor in our landslide win.

The election was also a victory over white supremacy. So-called Save Our Sequim (SOS) began spreading their racist poison two years ago, their main targets being the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the opioid MAT clinic soon to open in Sequim. When the tribe’s family clinic took the lead in providing thousands of Covid-19 vaccinations in Clallam County, we submitted a draft proclamation to the city council thanking the tribe for their leadership. SOS and Sequim’s QAnon now ex-mayor, William Armacost, publicly rejected the acknowledgment, and in response, a broad grassroots coalition organized and fought back. Several months before the election, we formed the nonpartisan Sequim Good Governance League, which played the key role in recruiting the five “Good Governance” candidates. It was the unity and high visibility of this coalition that won the day. Voter turnout was 58 percent, very high for an off-year election.

“Good Governance” candidate Vicki Lowe is the first descendant of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe ever elected to the Sequim City Council. We call her “Sequim’s daughter.” If other communities form multiracial and multigenerational coalitions, work to educate voters, and mobilize them in defense of democracy, we can win a nationwide victory next November.

Tim Wheeler
Acting Chair 
Voices for Health & Healing
sequim, wash.

A key takeaway is that progressives worked with moderates and, gasp, even some moderate conservatives. This is a winning strategy in much of the country, but is seldom championed in articles.
Charles Rosengard

Miscarriages of Justice

Tom Gogola’s piece on my friend Jarvis Jay Masters, who’s been on death row in San Quentin, Calif., for more than three decades, notes that Jarvis, his supporters, and his lawyers say he’s innocent but gives no basis for this claim [“Free Jarvis Jay Masters!,” online, Jan. 7]. I wish it had. Lots of prisoners say they’re innocent, but the evidence in Jarvis’s favor is overwhelming for anyone who examines the case, as I have.

He was convicted in a stunningly shoddy trial that excluded exculpatory evidence, violated legal precedent in various ways, and relied on an infamous prison snitch and implicated witnesses who’d changed their stories beforehand or recanted after, or both. The California legal system has since ignored further evidence that he is not the person who sharpened the weapon with which a prison guard was killed in 1985. I might add that the goal isn’t to commute Jarvis’s sentence to life; it’s to free him.

Rebecca Solnit
san francisco, calif.

Gogola Replies

For this article I set out to provide readers of The Nation who might not have heard about Masters’s case with an article that aimed to lay out a brief but damning account of this miscarriage of justice, both in the justice system itself and in the media. The article I produced contained the following facts that his supporters and lawyers have also highlighted in making the case that he is innocent of the crime that landed him on death row: The state of California cited his case in a capital punishment study in a critical section focused on the high likelihood that innocent people have ended up on death row; the weapon he allegedly sharpened was never found; key witnesses recanted their testimony; Masters got the death penalty while the actual killers got life without parole; Masters was in his cell at the time of the murder; and a judge cited Masters’s past criminal history as a reason to sentence him to death. Lastly, I did not argue in the piece that Governor Gavin Newsom should commute Masters’s sentence.

Tom Gogola
tivoli, n.y.

The Right to Communicate

As the founder and CEO of Smart Communications, which was featured in Michelle Chen’s article “Why Prisons Are Banning Letters” [online, Feb. 9], I wish to clarify a number of key points.

We believe that just because a person is incarcerated, they shouldn’t be denied access to modern-day communication technologies. Our messaging system, which delivers safe and expeditious communications between inmates and their families and their legal representatives, is by far the choice preferred by inmates for outbound and inbound communications. In 2009, we created the very first two-way inmate e-mail system, which has proven to be the fastest and least expensive form of communication available. It means no cost to the taxpayer or correctional department and a much lower cost to inmates and their families than the current US Postal rate cost of $0.58 per standard letter, versus $0.50 per e-mail message. Inmates still have the option to send mail via the US postal service, and at those higher rates.

It’s a fact that traditional postal mail has become very dangerous in prison systems, given well-established methods for soaking paper in dangerous and often lethal drugs and chemicals such as K2 and fentanyl, among others. This threat is completely eliminated with our MailGuard system. We’ve further introduced new technology that digitizes and automates inmate request forms, including medical requests, while also providing inmates easy access to law libraries and resources they need to pursue their legal rights.

The end result is that inmates and families benefit from having safer, faster, more convenient, and cheaper communications, while also having access to a wider range of communication options that also hold correctional agencies responsible in a documented and transparent way.

Time marches on and prison systems need to keep pace, utilizing technology in ways that create efficiencies, reduce costs, and ensure the safety and dignity of those in their charge.

Jon Logan
st. petersburg, fla.

Chen Replies

There is no doubt that technological advancements have given incarcerated people and their communities more options for communicating. E-mail and other online platforms can be effective instruments for staying connected with the “outside” world. However, the issues that advocates raise in the article primarily center on (1) the cost of such technology to the end users, which, for incarcerated people who have little or no income—or their loved ones, who may be impoverished as well—can be prohibitive, and (2) the limitations on access to a more traditional, inexpensive, and accessible form of communication, paper mail, and the fact that a digital image or an e-mail does not replace that sentimental value. So while the potential of these new technologies is enormous, prison authorities are often implementing them in a way that critics say places an undue burden on the incarcerated and their loved ones. There could be an opportunity here, however, to make these technologies more accessible to the incarcerated not as a consumer service, but as a human right.

Michelle Chen
new york city