#Human Rights
Virginia Department of Corrections
United States of America

Dreadlocks=Segregation in Virginia

Greetings In the Name of The Most High JAH Rastafari! Iver living, Iver faithful, Iver sure..

First and foremost, my name is RAS-Solomon Tafari. I am a twenty-eight year old Rastafarian male who is currently incarcerated in a VA state prison. I am writing this message to make you aware of an ongoing plight that you may not be aware is taking place within the VA D.O.C.

On Dec 15, 1999, the VA D.O.C. implemented a grooming policy requiring all male inmates to cut our hair to a one inch level and to keep our faces "cleanly shaved". There was never any consideration given regarding one's religion or religious tenets at the time this policy was implemented. For those who refuse to comply with the grooming policy, harsh penalties are imposed such as: all of the inmate's privileges (telephone usage, commissary and visitation) will be suspended. Inmates that refuse to comply will also be placed in segregation indefinitely and be reclassified to a higher security level.

Many of us have had all these penalties imposed on us. I, and a few others, have now been in segregation for eight years straight. While in segregation, we're confined to a very small cell and are permitted to leave the cell three times per week for a fifteen minute shower and for one hour each day five days per week for what prison officials term "exercise time."

Being in segregation for such a long period of time and having the above penalties imposed on us is having a detrimental effect on us, not only psychologically, but on our family relations as well. It is true, we have been convicted of crimes. We accept responsibility for our past actions that led to our incarceration. But at the same time, punishment must be balanced with compassion and rehabilitation.

Many of us do actually want to better ourselves so that we can hopefully return to society one day as productive citizens and responsible men. We owe this, not only to society, but to our families and loved ones as well.

Many of us that are incarcerated use religion to help us in this process of transformation. Why deprive us of this right?

To a Rastafarian, there is nothing more sacred than his or her dreadlocks. They (the dreadlocks) are a symbol of a vow the Rastafarian made to the creator to live righteously and to serve The Most High. This vow is the vow of the Nazarite and is derived from the Holy Bible, Book of Numbers, chapter six, verse five which states: "All the days of the vow of his separation there shall be no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be Holy and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow."

This ongoing persecution and downpression has been an ongoing issue for eight years now, far too long. We have contacted numerous people and organizations in an attempt to get help regarding this matter. However, we have received very little help and support. But what has been most hurtful is the lack of concern our own brothers and sisters within the international Rastafari community tend to display.

We must remember, when the voice of justice is silenced, then we'll all suffer the consequences in some form or another. Today it is us, but tomorrow it could very well be you.

We humbly ask that you please assist us in overcoming this current injustice in any way you can. To learn more about this situation and to learn how you can assist us, please send an email. Thank you for your time and patience.

RAS- Solomon Tafari

How to Help RAS Solomon

Peace, Love and Blessings

A portion of a letter from RAS Solomon:

In the last few responses you've sent me, a couple of people wanted to know if I've ever contacted the ACLU regarding this matter. Yes, I have. In fact, a class-action law suit was filed on our behalf by the VA ACLU in 2003. As a matter of fact, let me give you the run down concerning the details of our case. That way you'll have a better understanding of our situation.

As you already know, this grooming policy (864 grooming policy) was implemented in 1999. You already know the details regarding the implementation of this policy and the repercussions that came along due to not complying with this policy, therefore, I'll just give you the legal basis which our case is built upon.

In the year 2000, Congress passed this bill that was signed by President Clinton and became law, called the "Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act" (R.L.U.I.P.A) This law basically states that any institution (prisons included) that receives money or funding from the government cannot deny or place a burden on another's religion without providing them with a least restrictive alternative means for them to practice their particular religion, whatever it may be. In other words, an institution that receives federal funds cannot just outright deny you the ability to practice your religion and if they do have to place a burden on your religion, they must first provide you with a least restrictive alternative means to practice your religion.

In our situation, this was not done. A least restrictive alternative means for us to practice our religion was never considered when the grooming policy was implemented. The only alternatives we were given were to either remain in segregation and have the penalties (no visits, educational programs, telephone usage, etc.) placed on us or cut our hair.

After continuously writing the ACLU and several other legal organizations and lawyers for over three years, the VA ACLU finally decided to take our case. The case was filed in February 2003. (Civil Case No. 3:03CV164 Allen McRae et al vs. Gene Johnson)

At one point during litigation, the VA DOC challenged the constitutionality of the R.L.U.I.P.A. When they challenged this federal law, the US government became parties in our lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of the R.L.U.I.P.A. This issue was resolved by the US Supreme Court in June 2005, in which it was decided that the R.L.U.I.P.A. was indeed constitutional. The following year, a trial date was scheduled for our case. The trial occurred last summer in August. But check this: These people are so wicked that they didn't even let me attend my own trial. How can you have a trial and not allow the plaintiff to attend?

Anyway during the trial, the VA DOC director testified that he never considered inmates' religions and how the grooming policy would affect them when he implemented it. The judge ruled that the grooming policy does indeed place a burden on our ability to practice our religion, but when push came to shove, the judge ruled in favor of the VA DOC officials. The judge said that due to the security concerns and hygiene issues, the grooming policy is adequate. He said penalogical interests over-rides inmates' religious rights. We appealed the case to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. We are currently waiting to be scheduled a date to have oral arguments. Hopefully it will be some time in the very near future. JAH willing, we'll be victorious this time.

Switching vibes for a minute…

I noticed that in a lot of the responses you sent, the majority of the people wanted to know just how they could help us. You know the funny thing about it is that I've always focused on getting support, but I never really focused too much on what we'd do once we got the support. Here are a couple ideas I have in regards to how people can help us:

1) People can write letters to the VA DOC prison director complaining about how we are being treated and requesting that we be given immediate relief.

Mr. Gene M. Johnson
Virginia Department of Corrections
PO Box 26963
Richmond VA 23261-6963

2) I was thinking of trying to get a petition circulating on the internet detailing what we are going through and requesting relief. After the petition gathers a great deal of signatures, send copies to the governor and our state representative. My main thing is to bring more attention to our plight and to compel the DOC to make some changes regarding the grooming policy.

Governor Tim Kaine
Patrick Henry Building 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond VA 23219

I appreciate any help and support!
Bless Bless RAS Solomon Tafari (AKA Allen McRae)

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The Allow Rastafarian Dreadlocks in VA Prisons without Penalty petition to Virginia Department of Corrections was written by Corner of good will and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.