614 – Chorka • 23

Meet Kevin Singer. He beat his brother-in-law to death with a sledgehammer and now he can’t play Dungeons & Dragons.

In 2004 the Waupun Prison in Wisconsin got a letter from an inmate saying that the prison should look into Singer’s D&D group. The inmate’s letter claimed that Singer was trying to attract new players and that the so-called “DM” was probably using D&D to start a gang. The prison immediately confiscated all of Singer’s gaming books and gear.

Singer sued the prison, and the case eventually found it’s way to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where just a few days ago, he forever lost the right to play.

On Singer’s side were eleven other inmates who testified that no gang related activity had ever been attributed to D&D in the prison. While the court agreed factually with everything they said, ultimately their input was discounted because they were inmates. Three D&D experts (who knows what that means) testified that no gang related activity anywhere had ever been attributed to Dungeons & Dragons. Again the court agreed, but discounted their input because they were not corrections experts. One gang expert who knew nothing about D&D, said that while he was personally ignorant of the game, it sounded dangerous to him.

So… just to sum up… one gang expert who thought it might be dangerous trumps 3 gaming experts with 36 years of actual evidence to the contrary, and one inmate who writes a letter opining that D&D might be gang related beats eleven inmates with their own evidence who don’t… because the eleven are inmates and not to be trusted. Perhaps an excerpt from the court’s ruling may shed a little light:

“After all, punishment is a fundamental aspect of imprisonment, and prisons may choose to punish inmates by preventing them from participating in some of their favorite recreations.”

Of course this would have made a lot more sense if Waupun Prison had taken away Kevin Singer’s D&D because they were punishing him instead of acting like it was about gangs. Even more to the point, I don’t care if a convicted murderer ever gets to play Dungeons & Dragons again. Beat your brother-in-law to death with a sledgehammer, lose your gaming privileges, I’m standing behind that. But don’t go saying smack about my game or I’ll pop a cap in your fucking ass.

42 Responses to 614 – Chorka • 23

  1. What in heavenly tarnation have you pulled off, mister Kev?

    Now…it seems to make sense why there was not even ONE mention of a Paladin…well kept, Kev. So…does that mean that, since the group shifted paradigms and are now 4th Edition characters, he won’t become a Paladin anymore? Or does that mean the multiclass feat for Paladin is on the loom?

    Also, I agree about what you speak about the prison incident. The court attempted to state that the reason why the inmates were deprived of gaming was not because of the psychological problems it supposedly carries (thanks in no part to the mud campaign of several people who apparently don’t understand the idea of fantasy), nor because it fomented gang activity, but because it was deprivation of benefits. By itself, it has a modicum of sense, but it’s used in the worst of all concepts; I mean, why D&D (and other tabletops, as well) can’t be used as a way to provide rehab to the inmates? Not everyone there wants to play basketball, or football, or go with hard sports. Books are fine, but they at times incite further isolation. Being a game that requires, depending on the edition, a good amount of teamwork may open them to complete rehab; why the judge couldn’t just state that and give a good image to us gamers goes beyond me. I suppose the judge said it so that he wouldn’t catch any flames from any side (the fundies with their anti-D&D campaign, as well as the gamers), although in the end it failed its purpose.

    I heard somewhere one of the reasons behind this had to deal with “D&D as an escapist game, and that may foment escapist thoughts and possibly intentions” (not exactly as the original). Punishing someone who’s already deprived of liberty, and whose future is fundamentally screwed because of his crime even further, without watching for any kind of double standard, and probably removing one good way to strip them from further criminal activity just begs for a serious wall-banging. If that’s a privilege that must be revoked, then remove the privilege of outside visits, or basketball, or sports, or gym…heck, while at it, remove the privilege of free food, entertainment and whatnot. Sounds silly, but at least it won’t invoke a double standard and the collective facepalming of people.

    Though, I shouldn’t say this. As things go, someone may take it actually as something serious

    • So help me here, the judge agrees that no gang-related activity took place, but he still wants to take Singer’s “privileges” away to punish him for…. what wrongdoing exactly? Because being in PRISON isn’t punishment and deprivation enough, or what? So, they’re going to randomly prevent all other inmates from playing D&D, too? And also from reading books, watching TV, playing baseball, playing videogames, or breathing? Yes, I’m sure that’ll help re-integration into society. [SARCASM] Not that the American penal system didn’t abandon this ideal (of reforming inmates for re-integration) a long time ago and is now merely the Prison-Industrial-Complex.

      I’m not a law expert (plus I’m German, not American), but it seems to me the judge’s “logic” is circular and mean-spirited, and his decision is against the law, because you’re not allowed to punish someone for the same crime (murder in this case) twice, or arbitrarily increase the sentence. Instead, with American law being what it is, this judge created a precedent case where in the future prisons can arbitrarily take inmates’ recreation away (you know the stuff that keeps them from losing their mind and becoming aggressive) and have it be legal (instead of a disgusting display of power and control over inmates).

      And while the judge took Singer’s gaming books away, can’t one of the other players simply supply the books for the gaming session? Or did the judge actually forbid Singer to participate in any D&D game (or any other game) in the future? That would mean the judge also took away Singer’s right of associating with and talking to certain other inmates, again without any misconduct taking place.

      I note that the judge only forbade him to play Dungeons and Dragons. Again, probably because none of morons had heard about the existance of other roleplaying games. So, the inmate group could play diceless. Or, you know, respect the letter of the judgement and stop playing D&D… and instead switch to d20 Modern Urban Arcana. Or Milleniums End (where you play modern mercenaries handling military-grade weapons, ahahaha). Or Werewolf. 🙄

      • The court actually said that just because it had never happened in 36 years didn’t mean it never could.

        In America anyway, it is perfectly legal to take away a prisoner’s recreation as a tool to encourage better behavior. It’s effective too.

        Taking the books away hits on one of the key effects of this trial. If it is done for punishment (and though it was not mentioned above, Singer was not considered a troublemaker and had not been in trouble when his books were confiscated) then Singer can’t play D&D. If it is done for possible gang-related activity then no one can play D&D. Ever.

        I’m not certain what other games were ruled verboten, but they did stress the nonexistent “hierarchical” nature of the game. Presumably any game that also does not have this nature would not be allowed. Or would be. Since the ruling is clearly either arbitrary, misinformed, or made for reasons other than those given, it’s hard to say what would and wouldn’t fly in the future.

  2. Oddly enough, I know a person who has spent many many years with D&D, AND who is an expert on criminal gangs by profession.

      • I also know a cop who plays D&D. He’s a very level-headed good hearted type. Definitely the kind I trust with the law.

      • Funny enough I too once knew a cop who played fantasy based games. He busted out this game, Dungeon, a long time ago when I was about 12 or so. It was a board game, but was basically D&D. He was a friend of my aunts. I think he had a crush on my other aunt. And I think he had arrested my cousin or uncle or both at some point. Nice guy. My cousin and uncle? Complete douchers.

  3. Sorry Kevin but you’re wrong to deny RPGs to inmates. D&D is free (TV costs money) and exercises your mind (stupidity is what got ’em in there). Hurting prisoners makes things worse for society in general. We learned this the hard way in the Middle Ages. Here’s how California works: First I let all the murderers and child molesters out of prison. Then I say: I’m (wait for it) Tough On Crime. So I’m going to pass laws that put pot dealers, kleptomaniacs, junkies, and poor kids who mug rich people in jail for decades. To protect YOU, the people, from this crime wave of murder and rape I just caused (Hitler anyone?). Then I’ll keep letting the worst ones out. Aren’t I cool? Don’t think so? But look, I took an 18 year old kid who stole a TV set. Then I raped him (the guards and inmates took turns), we gave him AIDS, made him join the Crips, then forced him to kill another prisoner. Now he’s in your neighborhood, looking for a JOB. Am I cool yet? Vote for me I’m TOUGH on crime!!!! Let me torture him all day, just don’t let him read about Drizzt if that’s OK… he might get ideas.

    • I’m finding that a little difficult to parse, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really represent my point of view. Allow me to restate:

      I have no problem with prisons controlling prisoners by witholding recreational activities if they misbehave. I don’t think this is equivalent to throwing innocent people in prison and letting murderer-rapists free… but if it is I promise to rethink my position.

      • Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like a ranting fool in a forum there:) I was referring to your quote: “Beat your brother-in-law to death with a sledgehammer, lose your gaming privileges, I’m standing behind that. ” There are only two camps of thought regarding the treatment of prisoners. #1: They screwed up, so let’s make them suffer as much as possible, especially where it’s convenient for us. The problem is, if you follow this train to the end, the logical conclusion is to painfully execute anyone who commits a crime. It’s cheaper. And it’s been tried – it led to the French Revolution. Basically the worse you treat your prisoners the worse your criminals behave. The #2 option is much harder: accept that prisoners are a product of our flawed society, and we will never be free of them. Accept that the damage they’ve inflicted can never be repaid, and work on fixing the problems that made them criminals in the first place, INCLUDING being nice to the prisoners you’ve got. Hope that clears up what I was trying to say.

        • Yes it does. I agree with this as well, although it will never, ever happen. (At least not until human beings evolve into something else.)

  4. No, Freya, that’s not the same as being a Fallen Hero. That’s being a Fallen Woman. 😉

    Still, I call bullshit on the paladin thing. Bunker’s player is totally making that up to cheat fate, right? Or cheat the Unseen DM, in this case. He’s probably speculating that Mr. Unseen DM never read his character’s background.

    • Go back and look at the player bios under the “What is HOLE” tab at the top of the page. I haven’t changed the first paragraph of Bunker’s entry since I wrote it, which was before the comic actually came online.

      • * blink blink* “He has a secret”. Okaaay… I didn’t remember that. I stand corrected. 😐

        *reads the rest of the page* Oh hey, new descriptions and pictures! Martin’s and Zobby’s are hilarious. 😆

        *dances around singing* “Martin’s in love with a pa-la-din…. the warlock’s in love with a pa-la-din…neena neena!” *points and laughs at Martin* 😉

  5. I am currently in a campaign which started a couple years ago, my character had a page-long background with a few potential hooks (family, several events in his past, a few enemies, a couple friends etc.) which I provided to the GM. Of course, none of it was ever used… and I remember pulling once something, a bit of knowledge likely, justifying it to the GM by “Yeah, it is in his background” when it was not explicitly mentionned at all.

    On another other side, we have one of our player ( a young woman) who has about 50% of the campaign revolving around her character (the other players would have 25%, 13%, 10%, 2% (<- yours truely)). I am not talking about participation, just stuff crafted purely for a specific character.

    So either Bunker is, as Christina says, using a bit of his ignored background or Chorka is yet another campaign bit dedicated to him 😉

    I sure hope they don't ban RPGs in the prisons here because that is totally what I am going to spend my time at if I get caught on my future bank-robbery or weapon smuggling.

    • Yeah, when the economy turned south and my retirement account started looking rather sparse, I (jokingly) started telling people that my back-up retirement plan was minimum security prison. I’m not sure what crime yet, but nothing involving computers (I want my Internet time) and nothing with a chance at the death penalty. Something with a nice long sentence, though.

      But *NOW*, with this ruling, I’m not sure if that retirement plan is such a good idea. Unless I can still play GURPS or something…..that might be ok.

    • Bunker never ignored this bit of background, he was actually trying to keep it secret. It is why he got so extra bent out of shape when he learned that Samantha had killed Glandiri.

  6. With the evidence as presented, this ruling is BS.
    Here is where you go out and create a prison gang, find the little SOB that wrote the first letter, and give him a nice visit from Mr. Shiv.

  7. Prisons are against any hierarchical individual activities. If the Prison had D&D sessions then there would be no problems, but because a single prisoner created rules to govern other prisoners this creates an environment where the Prison is no longer in complete control of a prisoners behavior, this is a big no no. It may not necessarily put any persons at risk, but the threat of massed group thinking has the opportunity to create underlying cultures that could potentially incite hostility.
    ____The idea is that no one prisoner is allowed or has the power to control any other prisoner. Even though groups of prisoners have a tendency to gather together based on seriousness of the crime, time, ethnicity, or simply opportunity within the Prison culture, this all is still part of a single system controlled by the Prison and at any one time can be altered. Unfortunately no system is perfect and small groups of prisoners can form together, their influence is still of the Prison, and is still controllable to an extent.
    _____RPG’s break all the delicate strings that help control the inmates by giving them an alien culture to identify with, respect, and change their behaviors (for good or bad). The Prison does not have direct control over this alien system and is therefore a threat to the Prison’s well-being.
    _____If the Prison had their counselors or guards be DM/GM then this would be acceptable because it is directly controlled by the Prison. Another issue is the violence that comes with RPG’s, and this is another big no no, the system is their to punish hostile acts, not reward acts of violence through gold, items, and experience points. It would be a very care-bear session of D&D if properly played in Prison, but then they have Counselor Sessions that do this already, just not with orcs and goblins.
    _____So the way they argued D&D could be a bad gange influence was crap and they should be smacked, but the reasons for it, although deeply underlying in their argument, do have some fact. So it is unfortunate that they bad mouthed D&D and could have drastically argued better about the reasons for banning D&D.

    Bunker being a Paladin… totally saw it coming… he is too nice to be a straight up fighter. Plus what fighter uses only a sword, I always used a Great Axe!

    • That’s still nonsense.
      Roleplaying is not “hierarchical”. Anyone can be game master. Otherwise you’ll have to ban all team sports too, because oh my god, the football referee “governs” the players! Singer didn’t invent the D&D rules, either.

      Since when were prison orderlies supposed to have complete control over their prisoner’s imaginations? What’s this, Orwell’s 1984?

      And “a threat to the Prison’s well-being”? A prison is only a building.

      If you think only the prison guards should be game masters, then you’re subscribing to a very outdated and annoying idea of roleplaying, namely, that the Game Master’s word is Law and that the game master is playing *against* the players, trying to fuck them over if they don’t do things his way, instead of everyone working together to have fun.

      Funny how the idea of denying prisoners respect and trying to cut all their social ties will make them more violent, not less.

      I grant you that the theme of D&D of “rewarding” fictional violence with fictional gold and levels may not be a message a prison wants to see, but hey, then they’ll have to ban all video games too, including Pokemon (you gain points for enslaving little creatures and forcing them to fight in blood battles).

      • In most D&D groups there are many DMs. The hat gets passed around so that everyone gets to play, which is generally considered the superior end of the deal. In my own group we switch off between myself and Lloyd, so that both of us can play every other week.

        Now while I’d stop short of saying that the DM is everyone’s butt-monkey, it is clear that the DM’s position is more difficult, time consuming, and mentally exhausting. In short, a player works for himself, and reaps the benefits of his own efforts. The DM works for everyone, and they all enjoy the benefits of his creations.

        Players work for themselves. DM works for the players. You tell me who’s in charge.

  8. Only thing I can say about the D&D ban is that sucks for those guys. I’d think you’d need something to take your mind off of the shit stick that is now your life in prison, and then they don’t let you do it. Eff that.

    As for the comic, I laughed my ass off when she mentioned the handjob. I haven’t laughed that hard at the strip in a long time. Kudos for that.

  9. The solution really is quite simple.

    There are a LOT of different game systems out there. If nothing else, they could make up their own one from SCRATCH. Since it explicitly bans D&D, well, go to town! I’m sure the courts will get really sick of seeing it when you keep finding those loopholes and eventually throw out all the cases.

    Step 1: GURPS. So on and so forth, until RPGs get banned. So then you come up with “Huggy Bear’s Grand Candyland Adventures” which rewards XP and items for solving puzzles is probably not going to get taken seriously in court. It’s not an RPG, it’s a puzzle game! “The March of The Insects”, a scientifically accurate tabletop war game teaching the inmates about insect fighting strategies… On and on and on.

    Fight the (horribly misused) power!

    • The court case arose over D&D, but I don’t know what the ruling covers. I’d imagine that the prison would feel free to remove anything that looked like D&D though. Unfortunately conversation also looks like D&D…