Seventh Circuit Upholds Prison Ban on Dungeons & Dragons
Siouxsie is geeking out over this one.
Kevin T. Singer, an inmate at Waupun and an avid D&Der, brought a lawsuit challenging the D&D ban. He argued that the ban violated his First Amendment rights.
To support its position, Waupun relied an affidavit submitted by its “gang specialist,” Captain Bruce Muraski. Muraski averred that he banned all D&D play when he received a tip from an anonymous inmate (more likely a vindictive guard) that playing D&D was promoting gang-related behavior.
Siouxsie can speak from personal experience. D&D gangs are not so scary or dangerous. Typically D&D gangs arm themselves with polyhedral dice, sharpened pencils and hand-drawn maps. Siouxsie will concede that D&D gangs are known for violence in the form of dice throwing. They are also known to carry really cute figurines, which are sometimes hand-painted by the gang members themselves.* (*This figurine-painting phenomenon may be more common among D&D gangs with female members, so this may have absolutely no relevance to Waupun’s D&D gangs.) More broadly, people who spend too much time playing D&D are generally preoccupied, passive and too engrossed in their quest to bother other people.
Capt. Muraski also surmised that D&D play would allow the inmates to escape the real-life correctional environment (code for “have fun”). Capt. Muraski theorized that this “escapism” could lead to hostility and violence. And that this could make it more difficult to rehabilitate the inmates. Although not mentioned by Capt. Muraski, he likely was influenced by Tom Hanks’s D&D-fueled decent to madness in the film “Mazes and Monsters.” The movie, it should be noted, was based on inaccurate newspaper reports, which claimed that a college kid disappeared in steam tunnels while playing D&D.
To counter Capt. Muraski, Mr. Singer amassed a number of affidavits from inmates who testified that there was no D&D-related gang activity in prison. Mr. Singer also submitted a “trove” of testimony by role-playing experts to refute Capt. Muraski’s theories. And Waupun officials conceded that there was no evidence to support their fear.
Similarly, Mr. Singer attempted to rebut Capt. Muraski’s testimony about the effect of D&D on inmate rehabilitation. Mr. Singer submitted affidavits from a number of knowledgeable people, including the chair of the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games, a literacy tutor, and a role-playing game analyst. The testimony referenced many scholarly works showing that role-playing games can have positive rehabilitative effects on prisoners.
Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Waupun. The Seventh Circuit relied on the single affidavit from Capt. Muraski and held that the proffered justifications (preventing gang-related behavior and preventing escapism) were rationally related to an across-the-board D&D ban. And because these justifications were related to legitimate penological interests, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the ban was valid.
Though legally correct, the Seventh Circuit’s application of the very deferential rational- basis standard is analogous to the actions of a cruel and unfair Dungeon Master. And while the holding may be legally correct, it is intellectually dishonest (at least a little bit). D&D has nothing to do with gang-related activity in prison. Prisons cause gang-related activity.
Unfortunately, Mr. Singer was unaware that no matter how numerous and well-equipped his party of experts might be, he would never be able to defeat the affidavit submitted by Waupun’s sole witness.
So be it.
As for Waupun, it should have been more creative in how it handled its inmates’ desire to play D&D. Waupun lost a real opportunity here. D&D teaches cooperation, logic, and diplomacy and keeps people engaged and occupied. Of course, if all Waupun hopes to do is warehouse and punish inmates, then its regulation is just fine; but if its goal is something different, then it should reconsider its ban.
Figurine Photo Credit:
D&D Gang Photo Credit: