The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

USCF Resumes Service to Prison Inmates
14 January 2003
by J. Franklin Campbell

Shortly after I posted the following story about USCF eliminating correspondence chess for prison inmates, I received word from a reader that USCF still maintained a special discount for USCF memberships for prisoners. I also heard from the USCF correspondence chess department that the elimination of service was due to unspecified problems with serving prisoners and that the elimination of service was a temporary measure till the problems could be properly dealt with.

Then Scott Kissinger alerted me to the resumption of service to inmates, quoting a message received from Stephanie Colley, Assistant Correspondence Chess Director. I wrote to USCF Correspondence Chess Director Joan DuBois for a statement and received the following:

"USCF is accepting entries from our members who are incarcerated. Simultaneously we are work with our CC Committee and our Prison Committee regarding ideas to resolve some problems we incur with having players who are incarcerated in our CC program.

"USCF does offer a reduced membership fee to those who are incarcerated. It is $12.00 a year."

My thanks to Stephanie Colley, Joan DuBois and the USCF administration for clearing up this problem so quickly and resuming service to the prison inmates. -- J. Franklin Campbell

USCF Abandons Prison Inmates
by J. Franklin Campbell

I just received a letter from a prison inmate in Massachusetts. He has brought to my attention a distressing new policy of the United States Chess Federation (USCF) that I believe must be exposed to the correspondence chess community. As the leading chess institution in the United States, I believe the USCF has a certain moral responsibility to take a leading role in our approach to chess promotion, chess ethics and other facets of our behavior concerning chess in all its forms.

What should our attitude be towards our fellow chess enthusiasts who are incarcerated in penal institutions? I personally believe we should be interested in their welfare and do out best to rehabilitate them both for their sakes and for the good of our society. It is well known that chess contributes towards rehabilitation, and the personal value of chess for both recreation and education is certainly high. Many organizations offer special reduced membership rates for inmates to allow them to participate, even though they normally have very limited funds. I support this policy and am proud that my main domestic organization APCT has always maintained this approach. USCF has through the years failed to fully support correspondence chess with minimal exposure in Chess Life magazine, yet they have provided probably the best educational materials for new players, probably have the largest player base of any USA organization and run the popular Absolute Championship series of tournament for top players. Their potential has always been, and remains, extremely high. The unfulfulled potential of USCF has always been a major disappointment to me.

It is to be hoped that this new inmate-unfriendly policy will be quickly abandoned. As leaders in USA chess it would be unfortunate to see USCF remove cc from a portion of the population. Of course, inmates can turn to alternative USA organizations, which is my personal advice. Both APCT and CCLA offer good service for inmates and can be fully recommended.

Thanks to Richard Preman for bringing this situation to my attention. Following is the text of his letter to USCF and the text of the form letter he had previously received from USCF's Correspondence Director Joan DuBois.

Letter to USCF

To: Peter Kurzdorfer, Editor Chess Life

Dated: 20 December 2002

Recently I received a refund of my entry fee for a John W. Collins Memorial chess tournament. Said refund was accompanied by a letter (enclosed) from Joan DuBois indicating that incarcerated individuals have restrictions on them and, because of these restrictions, would no longer be allowed to participate in USCF cc. An additional comment regarding restriction on chess supplies leads one to believe that USCF will also no longer sell books, etc. to inmates.

USCF's mission statement states, "... USCF promotes the study and knowledge of the game of chess ... as a means for improvement of society ..." The recent decision to prohibit incarcerated individuals is a violation of USCF's mission statement. What is ironic, on the same day I received the aforementioned letter I received my issue of Chess Life (Jan 2003) in which Mr. Niro [the new Executive Director of USCF -- JFC] comments on some specific plans for USCF. He states a need to retain existing members, and USCF's prohibiting of the incarcerated is contradictory. How are we to remain active when we cannot participate in OTB tournaments?

The so-called restrictions, not specifically mentioned in the letter, can be reduced to one issue that would affect how USCF handles prisoners. That is, some states do not allow correspondence between inmates. USCF can easily remedy this problem by not pairing prisoners in the same section, a practice APCT has used for years. This would naturally make the wait for sections to fill for inmates longer. This wait could be reduced by restricting inmates to playing in one (1) section at a time ... a minor concession considering the alternative. Any other rule applied by correctional officials would, at the institutional level, prohibit cc and place it outside USCF's control.

USCF needs to see itself not only as an organization that promotes chess but one that acts as a role model for other chess organizations. If USCF sets such as example, what kind of message are they saying? What happens to us incarcerated people if APCT, CCLA or ICCF follow your example? Not only do we lose but society as well (see my letter Chess Life April 2002 p. 66). [this letter is reproduced below -- JFC]

It is my hope that USCF will rescind this policy and, if necessary, adopt a more viable alternative beneficial to all.

I look forward to reading your thoughts regarding this matter.

(signed) Richard Preman

Form Letter from USCF Correspondence Director Joan DuBois


Dear Chess Enthusiast,

We are unable to process your entry for a Correspondence Chess tournament.

The USCF has realized too many restrictions on processing CC entries for those who are incarcerated as well as restrictions regarding what chess supplies are allowed. One area of chess which you might consider exploring is to organize an over-the-board (OTB) chess club at your location through your recreation department. I am enclosing information which I hope you will find helpful in starting an OTB chess club.

Enclosed please find a refund of your correspondence chess entry fee.


Joan DuBois
Correspondence Chess Director

Mr. Preman's Letter to Chess Life Referenced Above
(published in the "Evans on Chess" column, April 2002)

I've been incarcerated over 20 years and was active in chess for most of that time. The typical citizen has the lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key mentality. People complain that prisoners are coddled with TV sets, gyms, etc., but what would happen if we didn't have things to fill our time? I'm here because of my inability to associate my actions with their consequences. Chess has helped me understand the relationship of cause and effect as well as the benefits of having a plan. The game can help break the cycle of violence. Unless convicts come out better than when we went in, nothing is achieved by prison except frustration and the creation of future victims.

Final Comments by J. F. Campbell

I agree with Mr. Preman that the USCF should be a role model for the smaller USA cc organizations. I am also disturbed that the form letter sent to him suggested an OTB alternative but no cc alternative. Surely, if USCF is going to refuse to service the needs of cc players in prisons, then they should suggest other domestic cc organizations that would satisfy their needs, not try to push the players into OTB. Of course, USCF is primarily (almost exclusively) an OTB organization, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I don't suppose we should look to the new Executive Director for help, though. Even though he has a cc background, as soon as he got this USCF opportunity he immediately forgot his serious commitments made to a major USA domestic organization. But, then, that's another story ...

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