I am writing you to express my concern about the current situation of the American Indian prisoners at the Big Spring Correctional Institution, Texas. According to information coming from a reliable source, we know that the Native inmates are denied the right to practice their traditional religious beliefs and this in total violation of their constitutional rights.
Big Spring Correctional Institution is a private facility run by Cornell Companies Inc. That firm is under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to housing federal inmates. This kind of contract requires that privately operated facilities conform to the law, rules, and regulations that prevail in the FBOP prisons (i.e. housing/security; food; medical attention, recreation; education; the right to perform and practice all religions and worships).
The Native American traditional religious practices and ceremonies such as the cleansing and purification ceremonies (Sweatlodges) have proven to be very successful in the positive changes in attitude, behavior, and personality. The Sweatlodge teaches respect, responsibility and sobriety. The Pipe ceremonies and talking circles and individual spiritual counseling have also proven very effective toward spiritual healing, renewed dignity, and cultural pride. Also long hair worn in a traditional fashion; headbands; medicine bags; possession of sage, cedar and tobacco, and other practices are of the same sacred significance.
There are no Sweatlodge or Pipe ceremonies at Big Spring. The only items available are: one drum, one flute, some herbs but no tobacco. I can't believe that the Native American inmates are being discriminated against; I prefer thinking that this situation is only due to the lack of knowledge about their spiritual needs.
The Big Spring Chaplain, Mr Bemis, can get the FBOP policy N° 5360.01 “Practical Guidelines for administration of Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices (3/27/02)”. This technical manual has been written to assist chaplains and administrative personnel to correctly facilitate the religious beliefs and practices of inmates within a correctional setting. A chapter is specifically dedicated to the N/A beliefs. He also can get the “Manual of Native American Religious Practices in Secure Confinement”. This manual is a good source of information related to Native American religious practices. Mr. Bemis also can contact Federal prisons nationwide and ask assistance from other chaplains. At the F.C.I. Cumberland in the State of Maryland for example, there are Sweatlodge and Pipe ceremonies performed once a week. Finally, I can put him in touch with a spiritual advisor who will be able to guide him better than myself.
So, if the Big Spring C.I. officials want to take the required steps, this problem can be easily resolved.
No need to remind you that the religious freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and also by the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act” (RLUIPA) which provides a lawful remedy for prisoners who are denied the right to practice their faith. The constitutionality of this law has been disputed time and time again but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, at the end of May 2005, in a unanimous decision, that the RLUIPA is lawful. The prisoners are now equipped with a law that helps them to challenge prison religious policies that inadequately provide religious rights.
For information and to conclude, the “Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act” of 1993 (NAFERA) suggests in Title III, Section 301 Right: “Native American prisoners who practise a Native American religion shall have, on a regular basis comparable to that access afforded prisoners who practise Judeo-Christian religions, access to: a) Native American traditional leaders who shall be afforded the same status, rights and privileges as religious leader of Judeo-Christian faiths. b) Items and materials utilized in religious ceremonies and c) Native religious facilities.”
This issue needs careful consideration and, with this letter and my signature, I affirm my support for the Native American spiritual freedom. Thank you for your time and attention, I look forward to hearing from you soon.
APRES: Dear.....VOUS INSCRIVEZ LE NOM DE LA PERSONNE A QUI LA LETTRE EST DESTINEE, par exemple : Dear Mr Maldonado Dear Mr Holm Dear Mr Bernis (ces précisions pour nos amis qui ne sont pas anglophones). .LE CONTENU DE LA LETTRE ET LES ADRESSES AUXQUELLES VOUS DEVEZ FAIRE PARVENIR LE COURRIER SE TROUVENT DANS L'ARTICLE PRECEDENT .