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January 27, 2009

Tarot cards in prison: dangerous or benign?

Image Mark W. Singson is a Wiccan. He needs his Tarot cards, for inspiration and meditation. The 45-year-old, tattooed, convicted robber is also an inmate at a state prison in Arkansas.  That's a bad match, as Arkansas prison officials view any kind of card as a potential gambling tool.

So, the perennial struggle between prison security and inmate religious freedom plays out again.

"If given my cards, I will keep them locked up along with my Chalice and other Religious items when they are not in use," Singson, a practicing Wiccan since about 1983, assured prison officials in a 2007 claim.

Singson added, according to a trial judge, that he "could remove any cards which contain gang-related symbols, such as a pentacle."

But prison officials denied him, saying he could check out his Tarot cards when needed from the prison chaplain. One prison official warned that cards might promote gambling, which in turn might "promote violence in the event someone loses and does not wish to pay." The security official further warned that Tarot cards, in particular, posed the danger of inmates "manipulating weaker-minded individuals with predictions concerning their future." Arkansas is one of the few states now prohibiting playing card possession by inmates; prison officials even remove the dice from board games like Monopoly, replacing them with spinners.

Singson said they didn't understand; Tarot cards are not supposed to be shared. He pledged not to  gamble, and even to eliminate individual cards. Prison officials held firm. Singson then sued the Arkansas Department of Correction on the grounds that his religious freedoms were being impinged. 

On Tuesday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Singson's bid. The appellate panel concluded that the prison's security considerations deserve deference.

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I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Mike Doyle

Thanks! Tell your friends!

Aradia

tarot cards belong to 1 being and aren't supposed to be handled by another, ever. the subject is allowed to touch a card but never to HOLD an entire deck. If someone HOLDS the deck they imprint upon it. The owner alone should HOLD the deck. So, why can't people in prison have them? Gangs use a lot of symbols. Why is the CROSS allowed in prison??? Doesn't one of the largest gangs on EARTH use it? Anyone remember a little gang called the KKK? OMG I own a CROSS! yikes

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mike

"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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