Chew on This: Keen Mountain Sued for Violating Inmate Civil Rights by Denying Religious Meals
Written by: Sam Orlando
ROANOKE, VIRGINIA - For those who have not experienced prison, one might expect the daily serving of basic human rights with a side of fairness at your regulated state prison. Instead, at Keen Mountain Correctional Center, one inmate, El Presynt, found himself in a bureaucratic maze worthy of a dark comedy, all for the simple right to a religiously appropriate diet.
El Presynt, currently confined at the correctional center, had the audacity to expect his religious dietary needs to be respected. He submitted a "Religious Diet Request" on May 15, 2022, hoping to be placed on the "Sealed Religious Diet", according to the complaint.
You might think this is a simple enough request. Unfortunately, no one thought it necessary to respond to Presynt’s earnest plea for over a month. When Presynt finally saw a prison executive in the facility, Larry Meadows, the Institutional Program Manager responsible for programs involving, of all things, religious services, casually informed him that he hadn’t clarified "why he needed that diet."
Let that simmer for a moment. A prisoner's religious dietary request was denied because he didn’t explain his religious reasons, according to the complaint. As if to add insult to injury, when Presynt dutifully resubmitted his request with specifics, Meadows came up with a fresh excuse: Presynt had, at some point, mentioned he was Jewish but – gasp – had attended Wiccan services. Clearly, in the hallowed halls of Keen Mountain Correctional Center, one can't explore different facets of spirituality.
It's worth noting that Jewish mysticism and Wicca are not as distant as one might think. In many spiritual circles, elements of Jewish Kabbalah often overlap with Wiccan practices, both emphasizing the interconnectedness of life, the universe, and the divine. Both traditions can involve the use of ceremonial tools, chanting, and meditative practices to seek deeper spiritual truths and connect with higher powers. So, while Meadows might see a contradiction in Presynt's religious claims, those more familiar with spiritual practices would recognize the fluidity of belief.
And yet, in a twist that could be funny if it weren’t so blatantly unjust, a Caucasian prisoner, who is Jewish and attends Wiccan services (much like Presynt), was given the very religious diet Presynt requested. According to the lawsuit, Presynt didn't just take this lying down; he provided proof of these inconsistencies, including an affidavit from the aforementioned Caucasian inmate, Mr. Corinthian Sublett. Perhaps not so shockingly, the Regional Ombudsman concluded that Presynt's grievance was "unfounded."
The complaint reveals serious allegations of racial and religious discrimination. Presynt isn't just fighting for a religious diet; he's challenging the system's discriminatory practices under the Free Exercise Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and several other rights. The inmate seeks not just a change in his diet but also compensatory and punitive damages amounting to a staggering $1,225,000 against Meadows.
The big question remains: will the Court serve justice, or will it be another dish best served cold at Keen Mountain Correctional Center? Only time will tell.