Baldwin State inmate files lawsuit after forced to cut ‘sacred dreadlocks’

awomack@macon.comOctober 11, 2013 

Bryan Kawand Sims

A Baldwin State Prison inmate filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging his rights have been violated by prison guards who have forced him to cut the “sacred dreadlocks” he grew as a follower of the Rastafarian faith.

Bryan Kawand Sims is seeking relief that will allow him to grow his hair 3 feet and to have a 1-inch “patch” on his chin, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Inmates are prohibited from having hair that is longer than 3 inches on top or “long enough to extend onto the collar of an ordinary shirt” that covers the ears or eyebrows, according to the Offender Orientation Handbook.

Facial hair also is banned with the exception of mustaches kept trimmed to not exceed the edge of the mouth, according to the handbook.

Reached for comment Friday, a Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

In his handwritten complaint, Sims alleges he met with a counselor in June to change his religious preference on file with the Department of Corrections.

On two occasions -- in July and September -- he met with a prison chaplain to verify his religious practice and file an affidavit, according to the lawsuit.

But, on July 17, he was handcuffed and “locked in a cage” after refusing to shave his chin. In the cage, a guard “muscled” Sims down and his hair and face were shaved by force, according to the lawsuit.

Although he’s requested twice to be granted a religious exemption from prison grooming rules, Sims alleges he’s been denied and the prison won’t recognize Rastafarianism.

On Oct. 1, a guard verbally harassed him with threats of violence and a lockdown if he didn’t cut his hair, according to the lawsuit.

Sims claims he is forced or threatened to cut his hair and shave weekly.

Sims, who has been at the Milledgeville prison for 13 months, is serving a life sentence after being convicted in Douglas County Superior Court on charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, cruelty to children and possession of a firearm, according to the lawsuit.

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