Wayne Murphy says he's gone to UW's Memorial Library at least 10 times a year since 2001, doing research for his writing.
"I looked for book publishers, writing workshops, tips from successful authors," says Murphy, who in 2008 self-published a novel called Crackin' Up under the pseudonym Swank Master.
Murphy got into the library, as members of the general public do all the time, by showing his ID and getting a visitor's pass. And, by all accounts, he never caused any trouble inside.
That wouldn't surprise anyone who's met him. Murphy, 50, is well spoken and polite, thoughtful and intelligent.
But Murphy is also an ex-con. Eighteen years ago he committed a serious crime, for which he spent eight years in prison. He's held jobs since being released, in 2001, and has mostly stayed out of trouble - until a relapse last fall led to operating-under-the-influence and disorderly-conduct charges, some time in jail and a trip to rehab.
In the process, Murphy was evicted and his belongings were lost, including his state ID. And so the next time he showed up at the library, newly sober and looking to resume work on his second novel, the only ID he had was an "Offender" card from rehab.
Murphy says he visited the library numerous times after his release in mid-February, showing this ID and a letter to establish his address, and had no trouble getting in. But it was always in the afternoon, when students did the checking.
On March 22, he went in the morning and encountered a non-student gatekeeper. "She reacted visibly," recalls Murphy. "She seemed to be scared."
The staffer went to get Dineen Grow, the library's user services supervisor. Murphy says Grow quizzed him on why he wanted to use the library and said that henceforth he would need a student or faculty sponsor to enter.
Grow deferred comment to Memorial Library director Lee Konrad, who confirms that Murphy was "red-flagged" for scrutiny because of his offender ID. "He might have been coming here for years, unknown to us," he says.
Murphy left the library and went to get a new state ID. But the next day, he says, the library turned him away because his name was on a list of problem patrons.
"I was devastated, and my feelings were hurt," says Murphy. "It felt like I went back 80 years in time to another country, instead of being in America in 2010."
Konrad says Murphy is not necessarily banned, but must first "demonstrate to us what his purpose is and why he needs to use the library." Murphy says he already explained all this and now can't go back anyway. That's because Grow contacted campus police, who called his parole officer, who banned him from the library.
Linda Eggert, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, confirms that the campus cops reported Murphy for using the library, which he needs DOC permission to do. Murphy says he got this long ago, from his former agent.
But Murphy's main beef is with the Memorial Library, against which he's filed a state discrimination complaint.
"There is nothing that says if you have a felony you cannot use the library," he notes, correctly. He argues that people "who have paid or are paying their debt to society" should not be excluded from public places for reasons unrelated to their conduct within them.
Konrad agrees that most people are on the list because of behavior, which wasn't the case here. "Security matters," he notes, "are inherently subjective."
City to socialists: Pay for free speech
Chris Dols is not happy with how things are turning out. For years his group, the UW-based International Socialist Organization, sold its Socialist Worker newspaper on State Street and elsewhere. Now he feels it's being unfairly made to "jump through hoops" and pay large amounts to continue exercising what should be First Amendment rights.
As Isthmus reported ("Madison Cracks Down on Socialists," 9/10/09), the Madison Police Department has since 2008 been issuing citations to the paper's vendors, sometimes for vending without a license and sometimes for setting up a literature table without a permit.
Recently the city agreed to dismiss its citation against Dols - but only if he goes another six months without a violation. Another ISO member, Dan Ratliffe, lost his fight against a lit-table citation in Municipal Court.
But last month the city issued Ratliffe a street-use permit to allow a table, on Saturdays only in the 400 block of State Street, for a one-year period. The cost: $150.
And last week, a resolution was introduced to the Madison Common Council to let the group obtain a street-use permit to sell papers. If the council agrees (the matter won't be decided until June 15), the socialists will have to pay $300 for this privilege.
"The city's ordinances permit licensed vendors to sell anything from hand-rolled burritos to hand-blown glass pipes, yet they prohibit people from [selling] political newspapers and books [without paying for a permit]," says Andrea Farrell, a local attorney representing Dols and other ISO members. "So ISO must now try to obtain an exemption from these ordinances."
Meantime, the group is not selling its paper on State Street, for fear of fresh fines. Farrell, who's appealing the Municipal Court ruling against Ratliffe to circuit court on First Amendment grounds, thinks that's a shame:
"It is disappointing that in an era where the Supreme Court is upholding the First Amendment rights of corporations, the city of Madison is making it exceedingly difficult and cost-restrictive for young people and university students to engage in political expression and the sale of political literature on the public sidewalks of State Street."
So how, in a city that lays down the law against newspaper-selling socialists, can the Overture Center get away with affixing rubber lion footprints on sidewalks to help lead patrons of The Lion King to its door?
Madison General Ordinance 26.06 allows writing in chalk on city sidewalks and streets (which didn't stop police from citing an activist for doing so). But the prints seem to fall into the class of markings that are not allowed.
As with most such matters that don't involve activists, enforcement is likely complaint-driven. And who would complain about a thing like this?
Going vegan for God
The good folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are always looking for converts. And so when the Virginia-based animal rights group saw that the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton won top honors from the U.S. Green Building Council for a new building, it dashed off an email urging the monastery become even greener by eschewing meat and dairy products.
The email (PDF) also raised the issue of animal suffering and quoted some pro-animal comments made in 2002 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. "Going vegan," it advised, "is the best way to protect God's creation and God's creatures."
PETA spokeswoman Ashley Gonzalez says it worked: "We were pleased to hear from Sister Mary David Walgenbach that the monastery is moving in the direction of becoming a completely vegetarian place of worship and that the sisters are sympathetic to PETA's cause."
Walgenbach did not return calls from Isthmus. Gonzalez says PETA has responded by sending the monastery "some mock meats and other tasty vegan foods" and a vegan cookbook.