Private Prison Punished Me for Being a Satanist, Ex-Con Claims
A New Mexico private prison discriminated against a Satanist inmate, confiscating her clothing and calling her “the devil herself,” she claims in a new lawsuit.
Monica Lujan has practiced Satanism since she was a child, her lawyers say, but the chaplain of the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility punished her for her beliefs. After being booked for low-level drug offenses, the prison allegedly confiscated nearly all of Lujan’s belongings, leaving her with one pair of underwear, and no bedding for four months.
“I’m going to confront the devil herself!” a prison chaplain allegedly yelled after Lujan’s repeated requests for a Satanic bible.
A practicing member of the Church of Satan since she was 13, Lujan had made Satanism a central part of her life. The religion, her lawyers explain in the suit, does not promote belief or worship of Satan as a literal being, but rather a metaphor for the individual. The practice calls on believers to participate in group rituals with other Satanists. But the prospect of a Satanic gathering was too much for some corrections officers, Lujan said.
When she arrived in August 2013 at the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility, a prison run by the private Corrections Corporation of America, Lujan reportedly asked for a copy of the Satanic bible. Her repeated requests were denied every time. Lujan also reportedly asked to practice rituals with other Satanist inmates, as her religion dictates. Again, her requests were rebuffed. A prison chaplain and a corrections officer told Lujan that the New Mexico Department of Corrections “prohibited the practice of Satanism,” her suit reads.
But Satanism is explicitly written into the Department of Corrections’ inmate rights policy. Satanism is one of the prison system’s 19 officially recognized religions, along with Pagan faiths like Asatru and Wicca, the department’s own documents show.
These guidelines allow corrections officers to provide inmates with essential religious materials including religious texts like the Satanic bible, “unless they are denied for security reasons,” New Mexico’s inmate rights policy reads. Practitioners of Native American religions, for example, are allowed ceremonial pipes and pitchforks. Asatru adherents are allowed a “strong cardboard” model of Thor’s Hammer (up to 12 inches tall).
But after Lujan filed an official complaint demanding her right to worship, corrections officers allegedly continued to deny her bible, this time on the grounds that it was a security threat. Lujan’s already-tense relations with the prison chaplain turned toxic.
Allegedly calling Lujan “the devil herself,” the chaplain stormed Lujan’s cell berating her in front of her neighbors and doubling down on his claim that Satanism was prohibited behind bars. He demanded she never ask him to officially recognize Satanism again.
Then the searches started. Supposedly on the chaplain’s orders, Lujan was stopped and searched five times in the prison hallways. Finally a raid on Lujan’s room revealed what corrections officers described as contraband: a drawing of a pentagram, a prayer book, and a photocopied segment of the Satanic bible, which came as a gift from another inmate. Allegedly in retaliation for keeping Satanic artifacts, corrections officers seized the rest of Lujan’s property. They confiscated her shampoo, soap, coffee, sanitary napkins, bedding, and nearly all her clothing, leaving her with a single pair of underwear. Officers also seized Lujan’s legal documents, including letters from her defense attorney. If Lujan protested, one officer allegedly told her, she could be placed in solitary confinement for her remaining four months at the prison.
Lujan stayed out of solitary. But for her final four months behind bars, she lived without even the bare essentials, washing her one pair of underwear in the shower every day while her clothing remained confiscated. Even after her release, Lujan says none of her possessions have been returned.
Lujan is not the first Satanist to claim discrimination at the hands of the New Mexico Department of Corrections. In 2014, a Satanist filed a $140,000 suit against the state, accusing corrections officers of restricting his right to worship.
Lujan, who is represented by the New Mexico ACLU, is suing for unspecified damages.
The New Mexico Department of Corrections, which did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment, told a local ABC affiliate that it allowed Satanists the same rights as people of other faiths.
“We recognize multiple religions, that includes holy days, property inmates are allowed to have, and how they practice that religion,” spokesperson Alex Sanchez said.
But Lujan’s legal team said Satanists aren’t feeling the acceptance behind bars.
“Defendants subjected Ms. Lujan to illegal retaliation that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in their chosen religion,” her lawyers wrote.