In an earlier mormonmatters post (here), I examined the rise of Mormons as criminal defendants in court opinions. Not surprisingly, most LDS criminals do not give up their religious affiliation once they go behind the wall. Instead, they find themselves with plenty of time on their hands. They often use that time to act as their own lawyers. What are the deprivations over which Mormon prisoners have gone to court? How do they compare with other similar American religions?
I counted about 25 Mormon prisoner cases, dating back to the 1960s. The Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses had slightly more (34 cases each). The Christian Scientists had fewer – four cases.
It is interesting to see how spread out the LDS prison population is from these cases. In the late 1960s, a Mormon named, Kenneth Taylor, an inmate at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, sued because prison regulation forbade his receipt of the Deseret News . A few years later, Edward Fallis, incarcerated within the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, objected to the refusal by prison authorities to allow Mormon Family Home Evenings whereby a Mormon elder and his family would “adopt” a convict and visit him in prison for counseling . On behalf of himself and 101 other prisoners, Jack David Stovall, an inmate at Fountain Correctional Center in Atmore, Alabama, sought LDS religious services in the prison .
Over the next 20 years, Melvin A. McCabe and Mark Madsen, inmates of the Idaho State Correctional Institution, filed a lawsuit seeking to conduct LDS worship services in the prison chapel, to hold LDS group study classes; to hold banquets on religious holidays; to distribute literature of the Church, to confer with LDS ministers on a personal and group basis; to grow facial hair, to have special dietary considerations, and to receive and keep in their possession all Church books and pamphlets . Similarly, James Allen Boyd, an Arizona state prisoner, claimed that the Mormon Church mandated that he study scriptures with his wife daily, hold family prayer with his wife daily, hold family home evenings with his wife weekly, and “render physical affection to his wife while he is in prison” . Andre Brigham Young, a civilly committed patient at the Special Commitment Center at Monroe, Washington, a resident treatment facility for persons civilly committed pursuant to Washington’s Sexually Violent Predators Act, claimed he was denied the assistance of a Mormon religious volunteer . Paul D. Gibbs, a Michigan state prisoner alleged that as a Mormon, he was a target of assaults by black gangs at his institution . The most recent lawsuit involved an Arkansas inmate who challenged the prison limitation on one religious book, claiming that, as a Mormon, he needed both a Bible and a Book of Mormon to worship properly .
The Adventists prison lawsuits have mainly involved food – pork-free of vegetarian  – or relief from having to work on Saturday . A few went further and requested access to books and religious publications , music cassettes , Adventist religious services , communion and foot washing , the right to view the Adventist “Three Angels” television network , and to be free from unwanted sexual contact . The Jehovah’s Witnesses lawsuits sought meetings , religious materials , photocopying privileges , relief from certain medical procedures , and relief from the rules that forbade talking about religion with fellow inmates . Like one of the Adventist prisoners, a Jehovah’s inmate sought relief from unwanted sexual contact . Another wanted to practice Tai Chi . One Witness prisoner claimed that he could not practice his faith sufficiently unless he was allowed out of prison on weekends to knock on doors . The Christian Scientist inmates alleged improper transfer based on their religion , and forced medical procedures .
Are there currently enough Mormon outlets in prison? While Mormon prisoners in Utah have sued over the lack of LDS chapel and educational activities , several have claimed there was too much, suing based on the claim that Mormon prisoners enjoyed preferential treatment . A Hawaii prisoner sought to join the club without officially joining, falsely claiming to be a Mormon because it would have entitled him to certain types of activities and benefits .
To be sure, prison can be a spiritual life-changing event of some Mormons. Remember my earlier statement about how most Mormons do not give up their religious affiliation when they go to prison? Some do. A few became Muslims after they were in for a few years .
A Connecticut prisoner went through what was arguably a more significant transformation. Originally an enthusiastic Mormon, Michael Scatena in 2000 brought a lawsuit over the prison’s failure to provide him access to certain materials in the practice of his LDS faith. He claimed that he has requested a self-help Mormon Religious Instruction book and a Mormon religious cassettes both of which are available at no cost through the use of an 800 number, along with a tape player, without success . A year later, after several disciplinary infractions and a transfer to another prison, he sued again, this time with a complaint filled with anti-Semitism. He sought non-rabbinical food and liquid staples that are free of the Jewish religious kosher food symbols known as “(U)” and “K” and, second, to provide him with a raw fruitarian diet (in the form of a vegetarian diet) as prescribed by the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist organization. He argued he was neither Jewish, nor did he wish to participate in any Jewish religious customs, such as being forced to consume food and liquid staples “along with the common fare or regular diet the Department of Corrections [department] serves because they violate his religious beliefs as a member of the [World Church] and as a former Mormon” .
Prisoner lawsuits rarely get attention. Most are brought in federal court, and they make for some of the most banal controversies for U.S. District Court judges (much like asylum cases for the U.S. Courts of Appeal). Still, they are interesting for what they say about one aspect of overlooked Mormon culture. My sense is that if simple requests like free Mormon tapes will prevent prisoners from becoming white supremacists, it seems a small price to pay.
My favorite is the JW who wanted to be let out on weekends to knock on doors. Maybe next a Mormon should seek a two-year prison furlough to serve a mission?
Thanks for all of your recent posts on these legal themes, Jeff. They’re fascinating to consider, even if I have no brilliant comment to offer.
These posts are extremely interesting to me. I’m surprised there were no cases about LDS prisoners wanting to wear the temple garment.
“I’m surprised there were no cases about LDS prisoners wanting to wear the temple garment.” 🙂 No comment.
Jeff – your posts are fascinating!
Yes, fascinating. Thanks.
Oh, my favorite is definitely Jame Allen Boyd. Nice try, my friend, but even Mormons can’t claim a religious basis for conjugal visits.
Very interesting. Not sure that too many prisoners were endowed prior to being sent to prison, and if they were, they probably understood that they would be ex’ed dis-fellowshipped while there. That shouldn’t stop one from suing for that right however. lol.
Are all crimes excommunicable offenses? (I’m not familiar with the policies.)
One of the cases involving the argument that Mormon prisoners are given preferential treatment in the Utah State Prison was brought by a very angry guy named Treff, who I remember from my criminal tax prosecuting days in Utah. He put a bullet in his wife’s head and was on his way to do the same thing to Carol Fay, the IRS District Director, when he was arrested. I think he still sends Judge Jenkins love letters from prison. We got him for the attempted federal murder of a government official. I can tell you if he was ever a Mormon, he would have been excommunicated (Treff, not Judge Jenkins).
If you guys thought these cases were interesting, wait until you read about the wild Mormon conspiracy lawsuits on Saturday.
As the younger brother of “the angry guy named Treff” (deceased) a former IRS employee in Salt Lake City, Utah who was indeed convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter in the death of his wife and attempted federal murder of a government official (former Salt Lake District Director, Carol Fay), as well as one count of using an unregistered explosive device and one count of using a firearm in the act of committing a violent crime (a law enacted during the term of Ronald Reagan), I’d like to comment and perhaps clear up a few things.
1) The prisoner was actually Jewish, and during his time in USP as well as various Federal facilities fought hard for the same religious freedoms as any other prisoner. He eventually was granted his request for Friday Night Sabbath services and a kosher meal while serving time for his federal convictions. This is not to say that I believe inmates should or shouldn’t be treated equally, or that their treatment should be based on religious, racial, sexual or moral beliefs. I’m simply saying that USP Draper was certainly operating in the “Dark Ages” during his stay there in the late 80’s through early 2000’s.
But it should also be said that although I loved him deeply because he was a phenomenal brother to me who helped me learn to walk with crutches and live a pretty normal life despite my Spina Bifida birth defects, I often told him that ultimately he put himself in the situation of being treated unfairly by the prison system because he chose to commit the crimes he did.
2) I know for a fact that he was convicted of the federal crimes because a) his mental state during the trial caused him to make very poor decisions (including representing himself, berating the judge and prosecuting team, and his general attitude towards the IRS; b) because he was coerced to take his part in the crimes against Carol Fay by so called “friends” of his who were known tax protesters that he was in contact with shortly before the crimes were committed. I’m sure of this because I met one of the female tax protesters immediately after his arrest and then received several calls from this same person to my house in San Diego; she wanted to know what I knew about the ongoing investigation. To this day, I am not completely positive that he, himself actually committed the crimes, but instead as he told me “allowed these tax protesters to use his vehicle, wear his jacket and fire a few rounds of a gun he had purchased originally to commit suicide with”; and c) because these tax protesters threatened the life of his children should he decide to tell the truth during the trial. They were actually in the courtroom and my brother pointed them out to me and my family.
3) It should also be said that the fire for the terrible “crime spree” was ignited when he was unethically passed over for a promotion at the Salt Lake City office of the IRS. Although I can’t say it was because he of his religious beliefs (more likely because he just wasn’t like everybody else there – the music he liked, the way he dressed, and because Carol Fay disliked his wife who also worked for the IRS at the Provo office and served as the president of local Treasury Employees Union chapter. But I can state here unequivocally, he was indeed passed over for the position incorrectly. Although Carol Fay threatened me (as a temporary IRS employee) with jail time and a large fine if I had seen his test or oral interview scores, during the year I lived with my brother, I absolutely did see the scores and paper work in his file. Since I was living in his home and was his brother, of course he would have shown me his copy of his employment file. And it was obvious to me that someone changed his scores after doing some basic computations to make sure he was not the next in line among the five applicants for the promotion. Unfortunately (following the foolish advice of my brother and his wife) I signed a statement that I did not see anything.
4) I believe he was the only Jewish employee in the Collections department at the IRS Salt Lake office and possibly the entire building. That would make reasonable sense considering the religious demographics of Utah which have always indicated that Mormons are quite substantially the largest religious group in the state.
At this point, with both my brother and my dear, sweet sister-in-law both gone, and Carol Fay long since retired, I see no point in continuing this dialog any further. It is a very, very sad even in Utah IRS history which to this day only causes pain and sorrow for those of us who are still reminded of that terrible day in 1986. My brother was not an evil man, just very unhappy about his failing marriage and the loss of a good career at the IRS.
I now ask that you seriously consider removing your comment about the “very angry guy name Treff” (as well as my statements above) within a reasonable time, so we may all move on. Thank you.
My dad counsels prisoners on a fairly regular basis. Recently an incarcerated investigator wanted some “Mormon bling.” The CTR ring was considered a weapon and not allowed, but he was allowed a Young Women’s medallion.
I recently attended a fireside of a mormon who 20 years ago was sentenced to prison for fraud. Fraud had been committed by his boss and he was framed and left holding the bag. He had been given legal advice to cop to lesser charges in order to avoid the chance of prison. The judge apparantly wasn’t in on that gameplan and as soon as he plead guilty he was sentenced to prison. He was told by his Bishop and Stake President, that even though he could still hold a temple recommend, he could not wear the temple garments in the prison. It was an interesting and faith promoting story from a mormon perspective and very eye opening to hear of what goes on in prison.
Fascinating research and writing!
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