Illinois $50 State's Attorney Fee Applies Only to Habeas Proceedings

By Mark Wilson

The Illinois Supreme Court held in September 2013 that a $50 State’s Attorney fee authorized in habeas corpus cases does not apply to non-habeas collateral proceedings.

After an Illinois trial court dismissed a post-conviction petition filed by state prisoner Omar Johnson, he submitted a petition for relief from judgment under section 2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure.

The state moved to dismiss the petition and requested that Johnson be assessed filing fees and court costs under section 22-105(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure, for filing a frivolous petition.

The trial court granted the state’s motion to dismiss and assessed fees and costs against Johnson, including a $50 State’s Attorney fee pursuant to section 4-2002.1(a) of the Counties Code, which authorizes the fee in habeas corpus cases. Johnson appealed, lost in the appellate court and the Illinois Supreme Court granted review.

The Supreme Court interpreted section 4-2002.1(a) to determine whether the legislature had intended the fee to extend beyond habeas cases to all collateral proceedings.

“Giving the term ‘habeas corpus’ ... its plain and ordinary meaning,” the Court concluded the fee “only applies to the various types of habeas corpus proceedings.” The Court held that “collateral proceedings such as a section 2-1401 petition and a post-conviction petition” are not habeas proceedings, and the legislature did not intend for the fee to “apply ‘generically’ to all collateral proceedings.”

As such, the state Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the trial and appellate courts, and remanded with instructions to vacate the $50 State’s Attorney fee. See: People v. Johnson, 2013 IL 114639, 995 N.E.2d 986 (Ill. 2013).

Although a legal victory, the ruling may be small consolation for Johnson, who is serving natural life plus at least 60 years.

(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)

Interview With Bluelegs

Artwork by Lyle Bluelegs / Image courtesy

Artwork by Lyle Bluelegs / Image courtesy

By Anthony Tinsman

Artist, activist and educator Lyle Bluelegs is nearing the end of his 151-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. A first time offender and land owner on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he is a descendant of the Lakota/Sioux. "Sioux isn't even a word, it's a suffix," he corrected my spelling as I took notes, reeling out some story behind it as well: "It's a French word for the tribes who wouldn't convert to Catholicism, meaning (essentially) snake-worshipers; then it was shortened to the single suffix -es, which is spelled Sioux in French. It's not even a word." He smiles deeply, wrinkling the blue-faded feather tattoo that runs down his square cheek. "I didn't know that," I scribbled it down. We were sat at a long table in the library, sort of tuning out the riot of game-score arguments and banter among the inmates who socialize there. Bluelegs also instructs an ACE course -- 'Lakota Language' -- based on independent study of his heritage. His knowledge and patience from distraction showed in just a few minutes of speaking with him.

What Bluelegs wants to write about, and express in his art, is how the character of convicts is portrayed, especially on the reservation: alienated and outcast – because of conviction, their sentence, and "the concept that you have to be convicted of a big-crime to be federally indicted.  On the reservation it's seen like 'you must of did a big thing to get the feds involved,’ when the truth is they dictate everything you do," he explains. It's true. I've seen other 'natives' indicted for assaults (some with weapons, a knife in this instance, when I was in Muskogee County Jail), typically landing in State court. But reservations are Federal lands. Due to the federal control of reservations, many of the residents are caught in a tough situation when someone calls the authorities. "Any charge is federal," Bluelegs notes.

Bluelegs' descendants earned their name, supposedly, for donning a pair of cavalry trousers gathered at the end of Custer's Last Stand. "That's what they told me," Bluelegs says. His art, in turn, celebrates the warrior heritage of his people. His letter and portrait in remembrance of Russell Means, activist and actor, was featured in Lakota Country Times. He received favorable feedback online from fans of his art, a sharply drawn graphite portrait, but not everyone appreciated that it came from a prisoner. "The concept for my letter was education and warriors, Means was a warrior because he was an activist, because he brought education to the young."

Means wrote several books, one titled A Thousand Lies Your Teacher Didn't Tell You which moved Bluelegs in particular. Rosalie Thunder (Sicang Lakota), a language activist, artist, educator and co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign, is another inspiration to him. "Vine Deloria Jr., a Lakota Scholar, is another one," Bluelegs begins throwing names out faster than I can write. "Mike Carlow Jr., founder of the Language Revitalization Program -- 'tuswecu tiyospaye' – traveled out to Germany to revitalize indigenous language, he's sent me books about our language." He explains that Carlow is also the spiritual advisor for the Natives in Forrest City. They are a small group of about a dozen natives from across the U.S., brought together for the first time by the Criminal Justice System. "I study everything he sends us."

Bluelegs’ grandfather played a role in his grandson’s re-direction. His grandfather’s name was Benjamin Godfrey Chips, author of many books after his own imprisonment, who recently died. Bluelegs swallows thoughtfully when speaking about him. "He made a CD speaking and singing about his spirituality - 'Inipi wakay’ – he really helped educate me about identity, and how I was born into a struggle." Bluelegs has shared some of his thoughts about the problems on his reservation with an organization called Street Consequences. In 2013 he did a call-in highlighting the rampant alcohol-abuse and other issues at Pine Ridge. "Nobody really takes notice of it. People need jobs out there, and someone has to help them." He is still piecing it together and wants to cover more on the topic. He's looking for the right outlet.

I noticed a portrait (B&W) on the cover of a magazine Bluelegs kept flipping over. He shrugged, pulling it out from under some papers. "I want to send this magazine some art, an article, I don't know what yet." Flipping through Native Magazine, a well-made step beyond the newsprint pages of Lakota Country Times, I saw some of the heroes he'd mentioned. After tabling ideas, he smiled and agreed to write the editor this week. Some people just need a break, some time to re-direct and the will to take it. "Let me know what happens." I said. Bluelegs’ problem isn't ideas, he has plenty to tell them. "Be professional, and be personal, but narrow it down, do several pieces, they'll consider it," I advise. He nods, agreeing that important topics must be spoken about AND written about.


Submit your stories for consideration. Stories containing writing tips, experiences with writing a book, publishing or promoting a book from prison are requested. Submissions should be 500-800 words. Include a signed agreement allowing the editor/author and future publishers to use your story. Send typed or handwritten submissions before January 1st to: Mr. O (Attn: Submissions) 649 N. Rupple Rd., Fayetteville, AR, 72704.


Author:  Anthony Tinsman is a PEN award-winning author and the designer of Take a Load Off, an evidence based prisoner re-entry program taught in federal prison. He is an advisory Board Member to the ICBRP (International Board of Recovery Professionals).

He is serving a mandatory minimum 35-year sentence for Armed Bank Robbery. He is a first time offender.

Tinsman's published work includes Hungry Robot, a children's bed-time story. His next book – Book Of Prosper – is a collaboration with Michael Collins and will be available later this year.

A Shooter, His Victim and Race

Ian Manuel / Image courtesy

Ian Manuel / Image courtesy

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Debbie Baigrie was a stay-at-home mother of two. Ian Manuel was a lost 13-year-old boy raised in a dysfunctional environment, who had already been arrested 16 times.

Baigrie is white and Manuel is black. Today Bairgie and Manuel share an unlikely close relationship with each other.

July 27, 1990, Tampa, Florida, Baigrie left her house for a night-out with the girls for the first time since giving birth to her second child. Manuel was headed out from the projects where he lived with his single mother. For Manuel it was initiation night; he was joining a gang.

Manuel’s gang initiation included a .32-caliber gun one of his gang member friends gave him.

Baigrie encountered Manuel as she walked across a parking-lot. Manuel yelled “give it up!” as he shot the gun, aiming at Baigrie. Her screaming startled Manuel into crazy repeated gun fire, randomly hitting Baigrie in her jaw, ripping through her teeth and exiting through her cheek. Baigrie clumsily fled on high heels as blood flowed from her face, cascading down the front of her blouse.        

At 13, the young black man had just sealed his future of spending the rest of his life behind bars. Fate and stereotyping would have Manuel locked behind bars with a 65-year sentence. Being black and already having an extensive criminal past at the brink of adolescence was not in Manuel’s favor. 

Baigrie was a victim of a shooting and Manuel was a victim of a brewing cauldron of social injustices. Mass incarceration legislation had already sent six-times as many Americans to prison since 1970.   

Even though Manuel had barely made it past his 13th birthday at the time of the shooting, he was charged harshly as an adult --- life without the possibility of parole. Manuel’s current lawyer, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, confirms the 13-14 year-old population sentenced to a life without parole for a no homicide crime is preponderantly African-American.

Manuel was placed amidst seasoned criminals more than twice his size. He lived in a sea of violence and feared for his life.

Manuel’s unusual relationship with Baigrie, one that would last for decades, was initiated by Manuel just before his second Christmas behind bars when he placed a collect call to Baigrie.  

Accepting the charges was an uneasy decision for Baigrie --- especially since she was looking at ten years of agonizing reconstruction surgeries for her jaw. The bullet Manuel put through Baigrie’s jaw had ripped out five of her teeth along with most of her gum.  

Baigrie accepted the charges out of curiosity and a persistent desire for an answer to the question, “Why did you shoot me?”

The sole purpose of Manuel’s call was to apologize and wish Baigrie a Merry Christmas.

Manuel’s humble answer to Baigrie’s question was, “I made a mistake.”

Manuel’s mistake has cost him a painful life of incarceration. Since age 15, Manuel has remained continually in solitary confinement for an array of misconduct charges. Manuel, now 33, did not fare well in prison, attempting and failing at committing suicide many times.

Eventually, Manuel returned to the prison’s general population, was given the opportunity to earn his GED and did very well. He has written an autobiographical essay and enjoys drafting poems.

Surprisingly, Baigrie posted Manuel’s memoir on her Facebook page. She is the only remaining person in Manuel’s life that resembles family. Manuel’s parents and brother have since passed away during his incarceration.

Despite Baigrie’s family’s allegations that she must have a mental disorder to correspond with Manuel, she is an advocate for Manuel’s early release.     

This problematic waste of life -- young black men disproportionately locked-up for long periods of time -- has been happening for many years. Not only is Manuel being blocked from paying back society with his talents and intelligence, but society continues to pay for his juvenile mistake with a price tag of $47.50 per day.

If Debbie Baigrie and Ian Manuel can somehow reconcile a violent situation with humanitarian compassion difficult to understand, maybe there is a glimmer of possibility for the rest of the human race.

Debbie Baigrie / Image courtesy

Debbie Baigrie / Image courtesy

Prison Law Blog Founder Under Fire: FCI Petersburg Strikes Out Against Christopher Zoukis

Sangye Rinchen and Christopher Zoukis

Sangye Rinchen and Christopher Zoukis

By Randy Radic

We at the Prison Law Blog are on high alert following a series of retaliatory incident reports against Christopher Zoukis, PLB founder, by FCI Petersburg staff. Due to the significant amount of inquiries received, we've decided to present the facts of the evolving situation.

First Incident Report

On October 10, 2014, Mr. Zoukis was issued an incident report for allegedly conducting a business. The alleged business was the publication of an interview at The Huffington Post, along with him inquiring about the number of likes and tweets that the interview received. The incident report was written by SIA J. Negron and issued by Lieutenant J. Del Valle-Sojo. On October 14, 2014 -- the next available business day -- Mr. Zoukis was seen by the Unit Disciplinary Committee (UDC). This UDC body was chaired by Unit Manager Angela Tomlinson.

Correctional Counselor Felecia Brown was the other UDC member. During this hearing Mr. Zoukis was not permitted to call any witnesses, present any documentary evidence, or make a statement. He was only permitted to sit for a reading of the incident report and be pronounced guilty.

At the end of the UDC hearing, Mr. Zoukis was found guilty of the alleged misconduct and sanctioned to 90 days loss of email. As Unit Manager Tomlinson was making a copy of the incident report for Mr. Zoukis, he inquired, "Out of curiosity, what in this seems like a business to you?" Unit Manager Tomlinson responded, "Truth be told, I didn't read any of the attachments, but the description [of the attachments in the incident report] seems credible."

The sanctions were not imposed until several days later, when Unit Manager Tomlinson had a chance to discuss the matter with FCI Petersburg Legal Technician S. Harris. While Mr. Zoukis was not permitted to present any documentary evidence of his innocence, Unit Manager Tomlinson did assert that she would expunge the adverse findings if Legal Technician Harris felt that it should be expunged and that Ms. Harris would be permitted to submit evidence if she wanted to (that is, after the guilty finding had been made; a very unusual, and probably imaginary, protocol).

Second Incident Report

On October 17, 2014 Mr. Zoukis was issued a second incident report for allegedly conducting a business. This time the alleged business -- a purported new one -- was a letter that he sent to an author requesting permission to update an out-of-print book and publish it online for free. Mr. Zoukis was clear in his letter that he didn't want the author's prison preparation manual to fade away, and that he wanted to make it available to soon-to-be-prisoners and their families for free. This incident report was written by SIS Technician A. Holderfield and issued by Lieutenant J. Del Valle-Sojo. When issuing the incident report, Lt. Valle-Sojo exclaimed, "Who's out to get you?" The retaliatory motive was clear.

On October 20, 2014 -- again, the next available business day -­Mr. Zoukis was seen by his unit's UDC. Unit Manager Tomlinson again chaired this hearing, along with another FCI Petersburg official (who is not being named due to her not being a part of the retaliation). At this hearing Mr. Zoukis was again not permitted to call any witnesses, present any documentary evidence of his innocence, or even make a statement in his defense.

At the conclusion of this second UDC hearing, Mr. Zoukis was pronounced guilty and sanctioned to 90 days loss of visitation and commissary. During this hearing Unit Manager Tomlinson -- a 22-year Federal Bureau of Prisons veteran who has conducted hundreds, if not thousands of UDC hearings -- made three phone calls in an attempt to ensure that she was following the proper protocols. It is presumed that she called Legal Technician Harris and DHO W. Bennett. The hearing ended with her stating, "I'll see you next time." It is our belief that this alluded to future retaliatory incident reports.

Where The Cards Lie

Following these two UDC hearings we at the Prison Law Blog, including Mr. Zoukis himself, launched an aggressive advocacy campaign against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and FCI Petersburg in particular.  This has included interviews and articles in various media outlets, along with outreach to various prisoners' rights groups, several of which have already spoken up on Mr. Zoukis' behalf. These have included, FedCURE Director of Programs and Case Management Jack Donson, and Executive Prison Consultants' Executive Director Richard Zaranek. It's clear that Mr. Zoukis has widespread institutional support in this matter.

As for Mr. Zoukis, he has started the appeals process and looks forward to obtaining expungements of the adverse findings. In 2012, FCI Petersburg officials used the disciplinary system in an attempt to silence Mr. Zoukis. After 5 months in the hole, all of the guilty findings were expunged from his record. We at the Prison Law Blog anticipate the same outcome, just without the time in solitary confinement.

Burning Books: What The Future Holds

The future of Christopher Zoukis is certain: he will fight the Federal Bureau of Prisons and FCI Petersburg actors as long and as hard as it takes. To this end he has retained attorneys Alan Ellis, Todd Bussert, and Steve Rosenfield to litigate against the Bureau of Prisons and bad actors at FCI Petersburg. He'll have his day in court, and we at the Prison Law Blog will be right behind him when he does.

What is less certain is the direction this story will take. FCI Petersburg staffers SIS Technicians P. Vaughan and A. Holderfield recently seized all incoming copies of Mr. Zoukis' latest book -­College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American  Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) -- in an attempt to intimidate and censor Mr. Zoukis. The FCI Petersburg Mail Room has started opening his legal mail, suggesting that prison officials are attempting to understand his litigation strategy.

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

In Solidarity: We Stand With Christopher Zoukis

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a sickness, as do many other departments of corrections. This sickness leads them to believe that prison writers like Christopher Zoukis are the enemy and must be crushed. This belief leads correctional officials to attack incarcerated writers with incident reports and the loss of channels of communications.

We at the Prison Law Blog understand this. We know what is and what is not occurring. We understand that Mr. Zoukis has done nothing wrong, that he is being attacked for exercising his First Amendment rights. This we find deplorable.

As prisoners' rights advocates, we find this type of conduct unsurprising. As prison law experts, we find it unconstitutional. And as friends and supporters of Christopher Zoukis, we are saddened that he must go through these tribulations seemingly alone, and during the holiday season at that. But we will not lose faith. We will continue in the struggle. FCI Petersburg officials might be able to cut off Chris' email and bar him from receiving visits, but they can't take the lead out of his pencil or the ink out of his pen. In this we find comfort beyond words.

Note: Christopher Zoukis can be reached at the below address. He welcomes written interview questions, letters, and other correspondence from fellow prisoners' rights advocates and supporters.

Christopher Zoukis

P.O. Box 1000


Petersburg, VA 23804

Officials On Offenders

Fred Janney / Image courtesy

Fred Janney / Image courtesy

By Anthony Tinsman

Fred Janney retired from the Michigan Department of Corrections as a psychologist in 2008, after 21 years of service. He is a founding member of the Anthroposophical Prison Outreach which began in 1998. He authored ‘Self Development in the Penitentiary’ which contains 6 exercises based on Randolf Steiner's large body of work. "These exercise are among the most primary and basic for developing strength of character and self-confidence" Janney writes.

Writing in a clear, candid voice, Janney delivers practical and innovative exercises in his handbook, distributed freely by the Anthroposophical Prison Outreach organization. The exercises included are: Control Of Thought, Control Of Will, Control Of Feeling, Positivity, Openness, and Harmony. His goal is to provide prisoners with the ability to align these characteristics into a permanent lifestyle. "Make time and energy available for your inner life to grow, it's essential for your personal rehabilitation." he advises.

Janney isn't alone in this message. Other officials, like Christine Money, warden of the Marion Correctional Institute, and author of ‘Bringing the Outside to the Inside’ (an essay featured in Chicken Soup For The Prisoner’s Soul), and former warden Tekla Dennison Miller (, who focuses on women's issues, juvenile and criminal justice reform and the death penalty in her memoir The Warden Wore Pink (published by Biddle Publishing, responsible for the first edition of Prisoners' Guerilla handbook To Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada by inmate Dr. Jon Marc Taylor) also encourage prisoners to overcome the "negative waves coming at you from the outside world or your inner doubts" as Janney puts it.

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

Organizations like The American Prison Writing Archive ( value writing that takes a thoughtful, constructive position, even on passionately held ideas: To do this they seek submissions from prisoners, prison employees, and prison volunteers. They seek authors who "write with the authority only first-person experience can bring.” You'll find officials who don't defend the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality, nor 'carceral humanism,' instead you see the plea for prisoners to wise-up and do the right thing. Again and again.

Janney practices what he preaches, having been a student of Anthroposophy since 1980. His message is simple, officials are often overlooked as key-players in rehabilitation. They are the resource-holders inside prison, they are also the only normal civil role-models available that are in daily contact with prisoners. And prisoners take a solid step through the stressors of prison by interacting with Officials in constructive ways. Because of this, the assertive narrative in Janneys work is biased towards personal rehabilitation, and something more.   


Submit your stories for consideration. Stories containing writing tips, experiences with writing a book, publishing or promoting books from prison are requested. Submissions should be 500-800 words. Include a signed agreement allowing the editor/author and future publisher to use your story. Send typed or handwritten submissions before January 1st to: Mr. O (Attn: Submission) 649 N. Rupple Rd., Fayetteville, AR, 72704.


Author:  Anthony Tinsman is a PEN award-winning author and the designer of Take a Load Off, an evidence based prisoner re-entry program taught in federal prison. He is an advisory Board Member to the ICBRP (International Board of Recovery Professionals).

He is serving a mandatory minimum 35-year sentence for Armed Bank Robbery. He is a first time offender.

Tinsman's published work includes Hungry Robot, a children's bed-time story. His next book – Book Of Prosper – is a collaboration with Michael Collins and will be available later this year.