In February, somebody went into the locked office of Bilal Ansari at Niantic’s J.B. Gates Correctional Institution and defaced a picture of him by whiting out his face and writing a racial epithet on it.

Ansari is an African American and a Muslim chaplain.

In March, a co-worker reported to prison authorities the presence of an audio file on Ansari’s office computer titled “Jihad or Terrorism.” People who have listened to the file – including non-Muslims – say it is a scholarly examination of the vast difference between the two words, but Ansari’s computer was confiscated and his office closed off with yellow tape.

Oddly, no one thought to break out the yellow tape when the earlier hate crime – the defacing of Ansari’s photo – was reported, though the department is investigating the incident, and they’ve referred it to the state police, as well.

Ansari, who has filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, says such incidents are only a sampling of what happens to Muslims in the prison system. Other Muslim chaplains – who won’t go on the record for fear of the retaliation that appears to have dogged Ansari – say they have been intimidated, stretched too thin to handle important Jumu’ah prayers on Fridays, and forced to worship under circumstances that don’t respect the needs of their faith. They say the department needs female Muslim chaplains – there are none – and that Muslim employees and inmates have been verbally harassed.

Ansari says he has been written up for incidents that were blown out of proportion. Recently, he received a performance review of unsatisfactory, which he disputes.

“This is still America,” said his attorney, Cynthia R. Jennings of New Haven. “We still have First Amendment rights. The question becomes: When is it going to stop?”

While state Department of Correction officials won’t comment on a pending case, Brian Garnett, the department’s external affairs director, called the photo defacement “vile” and “bigoted” and said the department, one of the state’s most racially diverse, would dismiss anyone found guilty of discrimination.


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