North Carolina Settles Prisoner Lawsuit Over Destroyed Manuscript
Imagine you’re a novelist and you’ve just completed your latest manuscript — a fictionalized version of your life story — only to have the government seize and destroy all 310 handwritten pages. That’s what happened to Victor L. Martin, an “urban fiction” writer who’s currently incarcerated in the North Carolina prison system as a “habitual felon” after several theft-related convictions. Martin filed a federal lawsuit challenging the destruction of the manuscript as a violation of his First Amendment and due process rights, with the help of Raleigh-area lawyer Swain Wood along with the ACLU of North Carolina. According to Wood, Martin may have been singled out for punishment because of the gritty content of his novels.
Now, Martin’s lawyers have announced that they’re dropping the lawsuit after reaching a settlement with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. In addition to awarding Martin $10,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, and overturning 10 disciplinary infractions given to Martin because of his writing, the NC DOC will alter its policies on inmate publishing activities. From the ACLU press release:
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the DOC must change its policy to allow inmates to prepare a manuscript for publication, for outside typing, for copyrighting or for private use, so long as the inmate does not receive direct compensation for publication of the manuscript. This agreed-upon policy protects a variety of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and music, lyrics, drawings and cartoons and other writings of a similar nature. The policy also sets out guidelines for DOC handling of an inmate manuscript that might be confiscated for violation of any prison rule, ensuring that such a manuscript would be maintained and not destroyed without providing any notice to the inmate, which is what happened to Victor Martin. Finally, inmates may still receive compensation for published manuscripts, so long as the inmate authorizes a family member to handle all issues and correspondence related to the business aspect of publishing for compensation.