- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2003

LIVINGSTON, Texas — William Bryan Sorens may not be the best-known writer in Texas, but he certainly is the best-known journalist in the Texas prison system.

Maybe that’s part of his problem.

Sorens, 48, who says he earns several thousand dollars a year writing articles for magazines and newsletters, said the Texas prison system has ruined his enterprise because they have shut him down. He was disciplined recently for operating a business against prison policy.

He said he knows several other inmates who get paid for literary work.

The restrictions placed on him, he said, are a violation of his First Amendment rights, and he plans to file a lawsuit against the state to regain his “freedom.”

Sorens has served almost a third of his 60-year sentence for rape in Dallas in 1984 and is due for his first parole hearing in November. But a series of events since February has clouded his situation, he said.

Simply put, Sorens said he has been targeted because he has written extensively about prison conditions, particularly the rising, violent anti-American attitudes among Islamic prisoners.

“To most of them, Osama bin Laden is a hero,” he said. “They are already at war with society.”

Sorens says he never discusses his philosophy, religion or anything substantive with any other inmates — and he doubts any of them have seen his writings — but he sees the prison tightening up.

“I think they’ve got an agenda,” he said last week, “and that agenda is to cut back on liberties as much as possible in here.”

Sorens, with graying hair and deep blue eyes, says prison officials have made it abundantly clear he cannot receive money for his journalistic endeavor.

In the past, he has handled assignments for Playboy and Penthouse, but most of his writings have been for Christian and white nationalist publications. The Playboy article was his biggest success, a 2001 piece titled, “Hardcore Hate,” attributed to John Doe.

Penthouse planned to use a story on prison censorship by Sorens in its August issue, but a few weeks ago — with Sorens’ current difficulties mounting — editor Peter Bloch decided to hold the piece and revise it for later this year.

“I felt it was silly to run a piece about censorship in the abstract when he was being directly affected,” Mr. Bloch told the Associated Press.

Penthouse recently hired journalistic old pro Dick Reavis of the San Antonio Express News to write a sidebar piece to go with that Sorens story. Mr. Reavis interviewed Sorens last week.

Sorens said the prison knows of his job because many of the payments were sent to his Inmate Trust Fund and he mailed manila envelopes filled with his work to editors all over the country.

“It wasn’t that we were investigating any case,” Michelle Lyons, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said last week. “His mother actually gave him up. She called and was upset that he had had some materials seized from him — things he needed to write articles — and she said this was his major source of income. That’s when officials took a closer look.

“I think she thought she was helping, but she really ended up hurting him.”

The materials his mother mentioned were taken in February during a lock-down of several days. That is when Sorens began writing to numerous news media outlets. His typewriter ribbons, radio, headphones, cables, antennae and personal papers were returned five weeks later, he said.

“I think it was the media attention that made them cut back,” he said, referring to a letter from a warden who told him he would be disciplined 60 days instead of a year for his “operating a business from his cell.”

For the prison, it is a simple matter, said the TDCJ spokesman: Rules enable inmates to earn outside money, whether from art work; making western boots, belt buckles or saddles; or writing, but it has to be authorized. All money must go to the Inmate Trust Fund, which the inmate uses for personal items.

To be authorized, an inmate must have a good, clean record and obtain a “piddling card,” (the practice of selling anything by prisoners is called “piddling”).

Sorens said that because “everybody knew what I was doing,” he didn’t think he needed the piddling card.

He worries that his disciplinary mark will put off his November parole hearing.

“They can’t do it within a year of having a disciplinary mark,” he said last week.

Not so, Miss Lyons said. “The November hearing is set.”

Realistically, though, few can remember when a Texas felon, guilty of an aggravated offense, has ever won parole on his first try.

Back in Dallas, the man who prosecuted Sorens in 1984, then-assistant District Attorney Winfield Scott, 63, said he recalled the trial and investigation vividly. He called Sorens “one of the most interesting” criminals he had encountered in about four decades of criminal law work.

“I hope he never gets released,” he said. He said he considered Sorens not only a serial rapist who attacked many women, but also a “true sociopath.”

Paul Watler, a Dallas lawyer who represents many news media firms in various issues of libel, the freedom of information and the First Amendment, said Sorens might have trouble proving he has been stifled.

“It sounds like he has had the right to freely express himself. He’s writing to newspapers and magazines, and doing interviews,” Mr. Watler said. “Generally, the First Amendment grants one the right to freely express opinions, not the right to make money.”

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