Prison Denies Condemned Man a Book on Sports

As a follow-up to my recent post about the impending—and seemingly unjust—execution of Kenneth Foster in Texas, I offer the following opinion piece (forwarded to me by my friend Karen) by Dave Zirin in the Star-Telegram that details another sort of injustice inflicted upon the condemned man:

Are words dangerous?

Who knew sports history could strike fear in the most fearsome prison system in the United States? But what other explanation could there be for the fact that the history of “America’s Pastime” is being denied to Texas Death Row prisoner Kenneth Foster Jr.?

Kenneth’s case has garnered international attention because both prosecution and defense agree that he was 80 feet away from the murder of Michael LaHood. Earlier in the evening, he had been driving the man who pulled the trigger, Maurecio Brown. In Texas, that’s enough to land him on Death Row.

Foster and I began to exchange letters on sports and politics after he read my book Welcome to the Terrordome.

“I have never had the opportunity to view sports in this way,” he wrote. “And as I went through these revelations I began to have epiphanies about the way sports have a similar existence in prison. The similarities shook me …. Facing execution, the only thing that I began to get obsessive about was how to get heard and be free, and as the saying goes — you can’t serve 2 gods. Sports, as you know, becomes a way of life. You monitor it, you almost come to breathe it. Sports becomes a way of life in prison, because it becomes a way of survival. For men that don’t have family or friends to help them financially …it becomes a way to occupy your time. That’s another sad story in itself, but it’s the root to many men’s obsession with sports.”

It didn’t matter whether he was on Death Row or Park Avenue — I felt smarter having read his words. But even more satisfying was the thought that thinking about sports took his mind — for a moment — away from his imminent death, the 11-year-old daughter he will never touch again and the words he will never write.

I thought that sending him my first book, What’s My Name Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the U.S., would be a good follow-up — but here is where the Texas Department of Corrections got its briefs in a bunch.

A form titled “Texas Dept of Criminal Justice, Publication review/denial notification” issued to Kenneth on Aug. 9 says that What’s My Name Fool? was banned from the row: “It contains material that a reasonable person would construe as written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes or riots.” [full text]