Bryan Gilliam knows that crime doesn't pay; the 20-year-old is serving a five-year sentence for car theft.

Now he may be learning that truthfulness doesn't pay, either.
While incarcerated at Fort Grant, a minimum-security prison near Safford, Gilliam took training to become a legal assistant. That, combined with the fact that his father, Steve, is a 22-year veteran of the United States Postal Service, gave Gilliam reason for pause when he heard that prison officials were burning mail addressed to inmates at Fort Grant.

He brought the matter to the attention of the media and the state Department of Corrections ("Post Toasties," March 23). The DOC investigated and found that the mail-burning had, in fact, occurred. Three Fort Grant prison employees received mild punishments for their role in torching mail.

Bryan Gilliam's punishment for bringing the matter to light may not be so mild.

When Steve Gilliam didn't hear from his son for two weeks, he got worried. So for Mother's Day, Steve took Bryan's grandmother on the four-hour trek from Phoenix to Fort Grant to visit Bryan.

But Bryan wasn't there. On May 10, he was transferred temporarily to the Special Management Unit at Arizona State Prison-Eyman, in Florence. Department of Corrections spokesman Jim Bentley calls it a "supermaximum security" unit.

Prior to the mail-burning imbroglio, Gilliam hadn't been written up for anything more severe than talking back to a guard, Bentley says. But in the past month, he was written up five times for "repeated disobeying [of] direct orders of staff," and he's under investigation because prison officials found "contraband" in his quarters. Bentley would not say what the contraband was, but did say the investigation has nothing to do with the mail-burning incident.

Steve Gilliam doesn't buy that. He says his son had been a model prisoner. Bryan was working on his college degree. He was allowed to leave Fort Grant on his own to do groundskeeping for the City of Bonita.

"Now, lo and behold, the bullshit with the mail comes up, my son is now a maximum-security risk," Steve Gilliam says.

Steve Gilliam says he was told that no other inmates who reported the mail-burning were moved to other facilities.

Bryan had urged fellow inmates to write and sign affidavits testifying that they had witnessed the burning of mail, hadn't received mail and had been given mail salvaged from a burn pit. He sent the affidavits to his father, who turned them over to DOC.

On April 10, DOC internal affairs investigator Robin MacIntire concluded that third-class mail belonging to inmates had been burned--in violation of the Hook Decree, a 1973 settlement agreement between DOC and inmates that details prisoners' rights to receive mail.

But no one was punished for violating the Hook Decree. Last week, DOC spokesman Mike Arra confirmed that two prison officers and a lieutenant were punished--the officers each were given eight-hour suspensions without pay; the lieutenant was reprimanded in writing--for taking inmates' catalogues and magazines home, and for using inmates to assist in burning mail. Since 1985, Fort Grant has had a policy of burning nonforwardable mail belonging to former inmates.

U.S. Postal Service officials declined to investigate, saying that because the mail had already been delivered to the prison, it was no longer their concern.

Arra says there will be no policy changes as a result of the investigation.

James Hamm thinks there should be.
Hamm, a paroled murderer and co-founder of the prisoner rights group Middle Ground, says, "We're appalled at this whole thing."

He calls the investigation a "whitewash," saying it should not have been handled internally. Hamm doesn't believe any mail--not even third-class mail belonging to former prisoners--should be burned.

"Let the post office handle it. They're the people who have policies and procedures," Hamm says. "They're the people who've been doing this. They've been specified by Congress as the agency to handle it.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at