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P.E.N. Club Supports John

P.E.N. Club Supports John image
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The American Center of the P. E. N. Club, a world association of writers with 80 Centers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas has written a letter to Michigan Governor Milliken urging that he commute John Sinclair's sentence. The P. E. N. center has in the past organized protests over the imprisonment of Soviet authors: Solzhenitsyn, Daniel Sinyavsky and Amalrik, as well as interceded for writers in Greece, Nigeria, Brazil and Taiwan. This is the first time it has been forced to intercede on behalf of an American author. The letter follows:

January 8, 1971

Dear Governor Milliken,

I am writing to you on behalf of a young writer who is currently serving a nine and a halt year term in a Michigan prison, for possession of marijuana.

I am Chairman of the Writers in Prison Committee of the American Center of International P. E. N. Slightly over a thousand writers belong to the American chapter. They include some of the most important names in American literature, such as the playwrite, Arthur Miller; the historian, James Thomas Flexner and the novelist, John Updike. There are sixty chapters of P. E. N. around the world from South Korea to Yugoslavia. The Writers in Prison Committee plays a vital role in P. E. N. 's primary purpose - to permit the free expression of literary creativity, and to defend writers who have been imprisoned for their political or literary opinions. Recently we have protested the imprisonment of writers in countries as various as Brazil, Taiwan, Greece and Russia. In politics, P. E. N. is neutral.

John Sinclair is a revolutionary, in his ideology, a member of a considerable group of citizens loosely described as the Left Wing. He is also a poet of talent and sensitivity. He has been invited to read his poetry at colleges as distant as the University of California, and the Artist's Workshop he created in Detroit was considered by many reputable writers, such as poets Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg, one of the most promising centers of poetic-musical experimentation in America. Differing with the present government position, John Sinclair honestly believed that drug use, particularly marijuana, stimulated and heightened his creativity. Thus he carne into conflict with the laws of the State of Michigan.

Since John Sinclair was sentenced on July 28th, 1969, there has been considerable debate on the use of marijuana, and a steady trend toward milder punishment for its use, in the legislatures of numerous states, in the federal Congress, and in the courts.

We therefore urge you out of compassion, and in response to our assurance of John Sinclair's high regard and value among his fellow writers, to commute or at least sharply reduce his sentence.

We invite you, as Governor of Michigan, to survey punishments imposed on others for possession of drugs, even so called hard drugs, to see if there is any case of so lengthy a sentence in Michigan's last decade. We have not heard of any cases in the history of Michigan which have resulted in 9 12 - 10 year sentences for possession of any drug, and certainly no one has ever been sentenced to that length of time for possession of two marijuana cigarettes.

At a time when Americans of every political creed are struggling to create a spirit of reunion and communication between all parts of our country, we think this gesture on your part would be greeted with gratitude and the strongest approval by thousands of young people, who now consider John Sinclair a political martyr, imprisoned for his Left Wing beliefs. We do not believe you will allow these beliefs to influence your judgement in this serious matter. But there is one aspect of John Sinclair's case which helps to promote this belief in his martyrdom, among young people. The evidence against him was obtained by a police informer, using the tactics of entrapment. It seems to us that this fact casts a moral cloud over the state's case, making our request for a re-examination and possible commutation of John Sinclair's sentence all the more urgent.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Fleming


Writers in Prison Committee