NATO Summit protester released after 19 months in prison

From Uptown People’s Law Center

CHICAGO – Mark Neiweem, a 29-year-old native Chicago activist, was released this morning, December 12, from Pontiac Correctional Center after serving 19 months of two concurrent 3-year sentences.

In the lead-up to the NATO protests of May 2012, Neiweem was one of several activists targeted by undercover police officers for his political views and as part of a larger effort to justify the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on police during the NATO summit.

In April 2013, after surviving 11 months of abuse, neglect, and coercion while in pretrial detainment at Cook County Jail, Neiweem pleaded guilty to a probation violation charge from a previous conviction and to solicitation and attempted possession of an explosive or incendiary device.

Neiweem entered the Pontiac prison facility with a medium security status and had no record of violence, but prison staff soon moved him to segregated housing and placed him under investigation. They cited him with two serious disciplinary infractions: “Gang or Unauthorized Organization Activity,” for his possession of ‘unauthorized’ anarchist symbols and friendship with another anarchist in the prison; and “Dangerous Written Material,” for his possession of ‘unauthorized’ anarchist literature, which had previously been approved by the Pontiac mail room.

As a result, Neiweem has spent the past 5 months in segregated housing. Alan Mills of the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, who represented Neiweem within the prison system, was distressed at this misuse of segregation in Illinois. “Segregation is supposed to be used for those who are too dangerous to house in the general population,” Mills explained. “Instead, Illinois uses it to punish thousands of prisoners like Mr. Neiweem – people who are no threat to anyone.”

Mills continued, “He did not try to escape; he did not hit a guard; he did not assault or threaten another prisoner. What he did was read and write about his political beliefs. He used his time in prison to better understand himself and the world we live in. It was for this – reading and writing – that he was punished.”

Prisoner advocacy activist Rachel Unterman, who has coordinated support efforts for Neiweem since his arrest, organized a call-in campaign to Illinois Department of Corrections Director S. A. Godinez and Governor Pat Quinn to demand accountability for Neiweem’s treatment while in custody. At first threatening to revoke a year or more of “good time,” prison officials recommended only 3 months revocation in response to public pressure. Ultimately, Neiweem served only 30 days beyond his original parole date, having won a final legal appeal restoring 30 days good time just last week.

“Prisons are designed to dehumanize inmates, to make them invisible and powerless,” Unterman said. “We simply proved that Mark had a community watching out for him and that his mistreatment would not go unnoticed.”

Furthermore, Unterman explained, Neiweem’s own beliefs kept him centered during his time in segregation, as he fought to be released on schedule. “Mark has been unwavering in his political and ethical convictions,” she said. “His strength and determination not to give in to these unnecessarily punitive tactics have kept me – and the activist community at large – inspired to stand in solidarity with him.”

Three remaining defendants, dubbed the “NATO 3,” are scheduled for trial in January. A fifth defendant, Sebastian Senakiewicz, previously accepted a non-cooperating plea agreement and served 4 months in a boot camp for non-violent offenders. He now resides in Poland.

“We are beyond excited to welcome Mark home,” Unterman concluded, “and we look forward to a day in the near future when they are all free.”