A changed man: Law professor spearheads MSU Civil Rights Legal Clinic

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Daniel Manville is a strong advocate for civil rights, and the rights of prisoners. He knows the issues only too well — he walked that path himself, spending almost four years in prison in the 1970s.

Manville, assistant clinical professor at Michigan State University College of Law and director of the MSU Civil Rights Clinic, specializes in this area because of his own experiences, and the injustices he saw while confined and after his release.

Upon release from prison, Manville did not feel his confinement had left a lasting impact — until paranoia set in as early as his first week of freedom.

“Everywhere I went I ‘knew’ that people ‘knew’ I was an ex-con — I felt that every time someone laughed, they were laughing at me,” he says. “I left prison without any confidence in myself. All of these negative feelings were instilled by the manner the prison system treated those confined.”

During his time in prison, Manville earned an associate’s degree from Jackson Community College/Jackson Prison Educational Program, and bachelor’s degrees by correspondence courses from Central Michigan University and Wayne State University College of Lifelong Learning, so that he would not have a blank spot on his resume.

“Yet, while applying for jobs I had such a negative view of myself that I just knew they wouldn’t hire me,” he says. “I came to believe that almost all people leaving prison have had instilled in them these negative concepts of themselves so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy we would fail when returned to society.”

Manville went on to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice from MSU; and a J.D. from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C.

“I studied criminal justice as a follow-up to my having been imprisoned, and I was drawn to law by the social injustice I saw on TV in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, with racial discrimination and violence against blacks.”

After clerking at the National Prison Project in D.C., Manville went on to work there as a research associate, then as a staff associate, and enjoyed traveling to different states for litigation and meeting prisoners. He also served as editor of the Prison Law Monitor, a monthly national publication pertaining to rights of prisoners.

“I learned a lot as to prison conditions, how to challenge them, how to be patient, and that usually — even when you win — you take two steps forward but three steps backwards,” he says.

“Yes, you could change unconstitutional conditions but it might not happen in your lifetime. In class action cases the court works at the pace of a tortoise, allowing prison officials numerous opportunities to not comply with the court orders.”

Manville, who hails from Newberry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, enjoys being a member of the Spartan law faculty.

“It’s a place where you’re allowed to develop what you decide is needed to be done, and you have a lot of freedom. The people you work with are fantastic — it’s such a cross-section of people and if you need advice, help, guidance, people are there to offer it. The students generally want to learn and want the opportunity to actually provide help to those with less than they have.”

His MSU Law students learn about the prison system and how it functions, providing representation to those whose civil rights have been violated.

“They learn there probably are some people that need to be confined but there are many that don’t, especially with the sentences imposed,” he says. “They learn about the limited rights prisoners have. They learn the importance of knowing the rules of the court and that many battles in litigation can be won by knowing the rules. Students learn that, even though they are very busy, they must be caring people for their clients.”

Prior to MSU, Manville was an adjunct professor and clinical staff attorney in the Civil Rights Clinic at Wayne State University Law School.

He later served as a visiting professor in the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, with clients at the Federal SuperMax Prison, where Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and other well-known inmates are imprisoned.

“There were a lot of interesting cases,” he says. “All the cases I was involved with were representing incarcerated terrorists, except for one case, an individual placed on no human contact for 24 years when we brought a lawsuit to challenge that. Life in prison is very, very hard.”

Manville taught Personal Injury and Torts Litigation and Civil and Appellate Practice as an adjunct professor at Henry Ford Community College. He also taught Evidence in the Legal Technician Program at Antioch School of Law, and was an adjunct instructor of Evidence for Police at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor.

A member of several professional legal groups, including the American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, American Constitution Society, National Lawyers Guild and the Prisons and Corrections Section of the Michigan State Bar, Manville has published numerous articles and litigation manuals in the area of prisoners’ rights and has also been a guest speaker around the country and in the media.

He recently updated “Protecting Your Health & Safety: A Litigation Guide for Inmates” for the Southern Poverty Law Center and completed the fourth edition of the “Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual,” published by Oxford University Press.

“The manual is more than a work of love — it’s written for those confined who are very restricted in having access to legal materials,” he says. “This is especially true for those in confinement in segregation, which further restricts access to legal materials. The manual shepherds someone from knowing what the law is and is not, to how to file a lawsuit, how to do a trial - every aspect of the trial — and how to take the case through an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his spare time, Manville enjoys fly-fishing, photography, college sports, attending community theater productions, and working out.

His battle to remedy deficiencies of the correctional system and to improve re-entry and rehabilitation programs continues.

“It’s hard for me to believe that I spent 3 years, 4 months, 20 days and 17 minutes in prison — it’s as if I had a dream where I was confined, but never actually was,” he says. “However, my prison life is still a part of me and I will take it to my grave. I can’t just walk away from what I did and what prison did to me.

 “I feel I’ve had such a small impact on a system that so needs to be changed,” Manville says. “Many tell me that this isn’t true. However, like most things in life, it’s our personal perception that matters most.”

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