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Maine Prisoner's Blogging Pushes Free Speech Limits

Convicted murder Randall Daluz maintains a website. But once he is sentenced and moved to the Maine State Prison, his writings will challenge a recent policy by the Maine Department of Corrections that has forbidden inmates from publishing their work.

By Judy Harrison

"Hear me, folks, you don't need money to be wealthy. I am penniless right now. I don't even have enough money to buy a postage stamp to send my children a letter. Yet, I am wealthy, for I am in Christ."

This message is one that might be delivered from pulpits by evangelical preachers in churches across the country.

But this written interpretation of Romans 10: 8-9 -- a New Testament passage saying those who accept Jesus Christ as the son of God will be saved -- was delivered from the Penobscot County Jail by an inmate, Randall Daluz, who was convicted of triple murder.

While inside the jail last September, Daluz started his website, The Journal of a New Creation. He doesn't have access to the Internet. The wife of his spiritual advisor created the site and takes and transcribes Daluz's longhand religious writings and posts them for him under his name.

This practice is not against jail rules. But once he is sentenced and moved to the Maine State Prison in Warren, Daluz's website writings will challenge a recent policy by the Maine Department of Corrections that has forbidden inmates from publishing their work.

The policy, instituted by former corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte in 2014, is questioned by civil libertarians and free speech advocates as violating inmates' rights to freedom of speech and religion.

Daluz's writings also are being questioned -- by the family of his victims. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who prosecuted Daluz, said the victims' families have been told about the website.

"All the families are aware of it," she said. "Most do not believe it is sincere."

Questioned Policy

On May 28, 2014, after a month-long trial, Daluz, 37, of Brockton, Massachusetts, was convicted of three counts of murder and one count of arson for killing Nicolle Lugdon, Daniel Borders and Lucas Tuscano in Bangor in 2012, and burning the car in which they were killed.

A co-defendant, Nicholas Sexton, 34, of Rhode Island was found guilty of murdering Lugdon and of arson, but the jury, after deliberating nearly 45 hours over five days, could not reach a verdict on the other murder counts.

The shooting deaths of the three Bangor-area residents was described by prosecutors as a drug deal gone bad. Sentencing dates for Daluz and Sexton have not been set.

Although denied access to the Internet, Daluz is allowed to have someone else post his writings, said Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton. "He's not running a website per se from our facility," Morton said. "People have a right to exercise their religious beliefs."

His commentaries are posted for him by Terry Shuford, the wife of Tom Shuford, who volunteers at the jail and meets with Christian inmates who ask for spiritual guidance.

At the jail, as he will have to do at the prison, Daluz must mail his writing to the Shufords. Rules at both facilities prevent visitors and inmates from exchanging items.

Yet prison rules will prevent him from having a website.

Department of Corrections policy states that "under no circumstance is a prisoner to act as a reporter, publish under a byline, host or be a guest on a broadcast," Assistant Attorney General Jim Fortin said in an email. In Fortin's opinion, Daluz publishing his religious writing on a website would "constitute publishing under a byline."

Ponte issued a memorandum on March 27, 2014, stating that such postings to social media sites and websites violated prison policy under the byline rule. He also said that violators would be punished.

"This is to cease immediately and any prisoner who has already engaged in this activity is to notify the person(s) who did any posting to remove them immediately," he wrote.

There is nothing in Ponte's memo that indicates the content of any of the postings to which he referred. It could not be determined if any of the websites were religious in nature.

Since April 7, 2014, Ponte has been commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. Ponte was not available for comment Friday. A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the president of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville said the policy would appear to violate free speech and religious rights.

Daluz has a constitutional right to publicly express his views about his faith, but whether that includes having a website while incarcerated is unclear, according to Zachary Heiden of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act also protects an inmate's right to practice his or her religion.

"This policy raises a constellation of things concerning freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the rights of prisoners in general," Heiden said. "The Constitution protects all of us including those who are serving prison sentences."

Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said he did not see how the administration of the Maine State Prison could prevent a person from posting the writings, especially religious writings, of a prisoner. "The courts have consistently found greater First Amendment protection for a prisoner's outgoing mail than his incoming mail," he said.

In a 1974 case, the U.S. Supreme Court said that before censoring outgoing mail, a penal institution must show it has a substantial reason independent of censoring an inmate's writings. Any restrictions on outgoing prisoners' mail can't be any greater than is absolutely necessary to achieve that goal.

In that case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote: "The First Amendment serves not only the needs of the polity but also those of the human spirit -- a spirit that demands self-expression. When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded."

Heiden said that the ACLU of Maine would likely consider representing Daluz, if the inmate elects to make a legal challenge against the Maine Department of Corrections over the policy.

Spiritual Needs

The Shufords, who live in Brewer and attend Bangor Baptist Church, aren't as interested in Daluz's First Amendment rights as much as they are about his spiritual journey and development. The couple moved to Maine about two years ago after serving as missionaries in New Hampshire.

"We do this to glorify the Lord," Tom Shuford said.

Shuford became involved with ministry at the Penobscot County Jail through Bangor Baptist Church about a year ago. He meets with Daluz for an hour each day, five days per week.

"I never intended to visit him as much as I do, but God opened a door for that," he said. "I tell all the prisoners I meet with that I don't care what they've done, I'm there to meet their spiritual needs."

The couple said they believe Daluz's conversion is sincere.

"The hope is that people will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the website," Terry Shuford said.

As of June 11, 6,651 individuals from 101 different countries had visited Daluz's website since it was launched, she said. The number of pageviews totaled 28,841.

Tom Shuford said since Daluz began formal studies in a correspondence course that will allow him to earn an undergraduate degree, most of their hourlong meetings are about his academic studies.

Daluz said he hopes to earn his Master of Divinity degree and be ordained so he can minister to his fellow inmates as a pastor.

The Shufords declined to identify who paid for the domain name of Daluz's website. The couple, however, said Daluz did not bear the cost.

Daluz stated on his website that he is not guilty of the crimes of which he has been convicted, but that is one of the few mentions of it. He said he does pray for the victims and their families.

A native of Hyannis, Massachusetts, Daluz said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News at the Penobscot County Jail earlier this year he attended church as a child but drifted away in his teens.

Daluz said his return to God began after he was arrested by police in October 2012 in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

"In August 2012, I had a gun pointed at me," he said. "The gun clicked in my face. It seemed like a miracle. In April 2013, when we got the discovery, ballistics tests on the gun showed there had been a misfire. That confirmed it was a miracle."

He has maintained that Sexton shot and killed the three victims, then, turned the gun on Daluz.

"I'm lucky to be alive, and if he didn't run out of bullets, I'd be dead too," Daluz told police when he was arrested. It was not until he received the ballistics report that he understood the gun had misfired instead of Sexton having fired all the bullets, he said.

"When I arrived at Penobscot County Jail, they put me in holding on suicide watch," he wrote on his website of how he came to Christ. "Holding is where they keep the drunks and the 'crazy people.' It is a dark place, rank with the smell of urine and feces.

"On the third day, a man was getting bailed out and he stopped in front of my cell and asked me if I would like his Bible," Daluz wrote. "I accepted it and began reading Psalms every day. I felt the Lord speak to me through those words."

Daluz told the BDN that he hopes, through his ministry behind prison bars and on the website, "to be inspiring to other people."

"I want them to know that God can use you to turn whatever is garbage in your life and make it gold," he said.

Twisted Souls

A religious conversion behind bars such as the one Daluz experienced is not unusual. A 2011 survey of state prison chaplains by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life found that efforts by inmates to convert other inmates to their faith is a common occurrence.

It was not possible to determine how many prisoners in the U.S. have websites maintained by others outside the prison system. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which compiles data on the nation's jails and prisons, does not compile statistics on prisoner websites.

But Daluz is not the only convicted murderer in the country to have a website about his religious conversion.

Serial killer David Berkowitz, nicknamed the Son of Sam, writes for the website, which is maintained by an unidentified webmaster.

Berkowitz, who also does not have access to the Internet, was convicted of murdering six people in New York City in 1976 and 1977. He was sentenced to 365 years in prison and is in Fallsburg, New York.

In a section titled "My Testimony," he wrote that he gave his life to Jesus Christ in 1987, after he had been incarcerated for a decade.

The policy of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is similar to the one described by Morton. It does not allow inmates access to the Internet, but it does not read their mail and does not prevent others from posting writings of inmates online, according to Douglas Wilburn, supervising officer of the offender rehabilitation program.

Berkowitz's website includes something Daluz's does not -- an apology to his victims. Defendants in Maine are prohibited from having contact with the victims, and in Daluz's case the families of the victims, before sentencing.

Any statements on the website that addressed the families of victims about the effect his crimes had on them could be viewed by a judge as violating that condition.

Marchese, the prosecutor, said the families of the murder victims are unhappy that Daluz is able to maintain the website.

All the relatives but one of Lugdon, Borders and Tuscano declined to comment on Daluz's website, or his commitment to Christianity.

"From the beginning, I have said that the only good that can come of this tragedy for Daluz and Sexton is that they find God," Barb Pineau, Lugdon's mother, said in an email. "They are/were twisted souls and what they did is horrible beyond words, but God still loves them just as much as he loves me.

"That's how we are coping with the loss of our [Nicolle] and I hope everyone involved in this twisted tragedy has God in their hearts so they can get through it as well. Who knows, maybe he's sincere -- it's God he has to convince, not me. I can't control what happens to him, I can only control my reactions.

"If he's successful, when he gets to heaven he can tell Nikki he's sorry for the role he played in robbing her of her life on earth," Pineau said.

(c)2015 the Bangor Daily News



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