New York Civil Rights And Criminal Defense Lawyers

How one inmate changed prisoners’ rights forever

On Behalf of | Tuesday Apr 25, 2017 | Prisoner's Rights

Just because you’re an inmate and serving time does not mean you don’t have rights, and it certainly does not mean you can’t make a difference in the world. Ex-inmate Martin Sostre is proof of this fact. The prisoner received clemency in 1976 from New York’s then-governor. Before receiving clemency, he began a successful campaign for prisoner’s rights from his New York prison cell.

Sostre was first arrested in 1952 on drug charges. For that offense, he was sent to the Sing Sing correctional facility. While there, he studied Constitutional law, African American history, philosophy and other legal topics. After combining his street smarts with this newfound knowledge, he became an outspoken advocate for prisoners’ rights.

Sostre’s status as an inmate activist wasn’t always easy. One time, prison officials subjected him to solitary confinement after he tried to get religious concessions for his affiliation with the Nation of Islam. He also had his victories. In 1961, he won a lawsuit against a prison warden who denied religious rights owed to prisoners. This lawsuit set a precedent for future lawsuits against prisons.

Sostre was later released from prison and opened a leftist bookstore, which he ran in Buffalo until authorities raided it in 1967. The raid resulted in more drug charges against Sostre, and another jail sentence that was supposed to last decades. While in prison the second time, Sostre continued to file lawsuits on behalf of his fellow prisoners, and he developed a hero-like status among people serving time across the nation. They saw him as their advocate. One historian states that Martin Sostre achieved more to safeguard the rights of prisoners than any other single person in U.S. history.

Are your rights being violated as an inmate in a U.S. prison, or do you know an inmate whose rights are being violated? You can be like Sostre and fight back in court for the legal rights that you or your loved one deserve.

Source:, “From ‘Politicized Prisoner’ to Inmate Hero,” Jenn Gidman, April 18, 2017