Lucasville Prison Rebellion 20 years later: an interview wit’ political prisoner Imam Saddique Hasan
Lucasville prisoners lead spreading hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary
BULLETIN: The hunger strikers situation is urgent. As of April 21, Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) had already lost 28 pounds! He and Hasan remain on strike. No update is yet available on the other hunger strikers. Sign the online petition at http://www.change.org/
petitions/ohio-department-of- rehabilitation-and- corrections-allow-on-camera- interviews-with-lucasville- uprising-prisoners#
by The People’s Minister of Information JR
Twenty years ago, there was a prison uprising in a U.S. concentration camp commonly known as Lucasville to the community and prisoners but as Southern Ohio Correctional Facility on paper. A number of people were murdered including a correctional officer and several prisoners who collaborated with the prison administration.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us how long you have been locked up and a little bit about your arrest?
Imam Hasan: I’ve been behind enemy lines for 29 years. My arrest came as a result of a 1983 crime of aggravated robbery with a gun specification. In short, a motor vehicle was commandeered at gunpoint, and no one was harmed. The above crime happened in Cleveland during the autumn, but I was able to post bond and was granted authorization by the court, as well as my bail bondsman, to return to my home in Savannah, Georgia. For the most part, this is why my trial did not commence until the autumn of ‘84.
M.O.I. JR: Prior to ‘93, how long had you been locked up? How long did you have to do? What were you doing with the time?
Imam Hasan: I had been imprisoned for nine years prior to the year in discussion. I was given the maximum sentence of 13 to 25 years for my alleged crime – that is, 10 to 25 years for the aggravated robbery and a mandatory three-year sentence for possession of an operable firearm during the commission of a felony. My time, prior to ‘93, was wisely spent reeducating myself and preparing for my reentry back into society.
To be more specific, I had secured my GED diploma and had immediately enrolled in data processing and, later on, in college classes; became a member of the African Cultural Organization (formerly Black Culture Club) and, shortly thereafter, was appointed its public relations director; took up public speaking courses; initiated some stringent studies toward becoming a certified scholar in Islamic jurisprudence and Sufism (spiritual purification and enlightenment); and, finally, was working on an apprenticeship in masonry, plumbing and electrical wiring. In addition to my own academic, oratorical, religious and vocational pursuits, a portion of my time was spent providing academic, moral and spiritual training, purification and development to those prisoners who sought my tutelage.
I’ve been behind enemy lines for 29 years. I had been imprisoned for nine years prior to the year in discussion.
M.O.I. JR: For the people who know nothing about Lucasville in Ohio, can you give the people a little bit of history about the institution, so ‘93 can be put in a political and historical perspective?
Imam Hasan: Actually, the name of this infamous maximum-security prison is the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF); however, to the convict and inmate population it is called Lucasville or Luke. The prison is in Lucasville – a small Appalachian and conservative city 80 miles directly south of Columbus – and the city inherits its name from Robert Lucas, Ohio’s 12th governor.
The prison sits on 1,625.4 acres of land – 22 under roof – and, in September of 1972, this newly state-of-the-art facility commenced housing some of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC)’s most fearsome and notorious prisoners who came from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. The designed capacity of Lucasville is 1,638 cells, but the prison was overcrowded at the time of the uprising, namely, to 146.3 percent of its capacity.
Not only was Lucasville overcrowded, but the entire Ohio prison system was overcrowded. In fact, the inmate-to-correction officer ratio was 8.8 to 1, compared to the national average of 5.1 to 1.
Its Black prison population has always exceeded 60 percent, while both its minority staff and correction officer populations have never exceeded 10 percent. So what you had was predominantly former white farmers, who had very little or no social contact with Blacks, overseeing and managing a predominantly Black population that emanated from inner cities throughout Ohio.
The designed capacity of Lucasville is 1,638 cells, but the prison was overcrowded at the time of the uprising, namely, to 146.3 percent of its capacity.
Indeed, a recipe for disaster. Put another way, you basically had two very distinct cultures and ethnic groups that diametrically opposed each other on almost every front. This explains why the prison officials treated Black prisoners like “Black dogs” that they could either randomly beat up or occasionally murder for trivial things and thereafter giggle among themselves, or why they covertly and overtly promoted racial strife among Black and white prisoners.
So prisoner deaths, stabbings, rapes, assaults and other violence were the norm. It was a very vicious cycle. At one time, Lucasville averaged about five to seven murders per year, and many of them involved whites killing Blacks. But Black prisoners were not the only recipients of this racial hatred. Black prison employees were also mistreated. For example, they were made to feel unwelcome by their coworkers, and some even had their tires slashed.
This ongoing racism was displayed when and after the only Black guard captured during the rebellion was released in exchange for a live prisoner broadcast on national TV. The guard grabbed the microphone and stated that “the Muslims had nothing to do with the guard’s murder, that they protected him [the released guard], and treated him humanely.”
This was the institution’s history, political backdrop and racism that Blacks were forced to live and work under for over two decades. It’s interesting to note that in the aftermath of the rebellion, the prison authorities decided to institute a mandatory cultural diversity class for all its employees. Well, it was a little too late.
JR: What led to the uprising in Lucasville in ‘93 that resulted in an officer and some inmates being murdered?
Hasan: Just like it takes a mixture of ingredients to make up the ideal male-female relationship, it was a mixture of ingredients that prompted the war between prisoners and prisoncrats. Many of these ingredients can best be understood by perusing my answer to your last query.
While Warden Arthur Tate’s uncompromising stance to administer mandatory TB testing to all prisoners under his jurisdiction and control may have ultimately been the straw which broke the camel’s back, there was a long train of abuses that spearheaded a full-scale rebellion. Contrary to the popular view the media sold to the public, the rebellion had absolutely nothing to do with the Muslims’ refusal to take the Mantoux tuberculin skin test, a test that contains an alcoholic substance (phenol) and that is religiously forbidden for Muslims to have injected under their forearm or into their system.
Instead, the rebellion was prompted by conservative guards’ elitist attitude and blatant racism toward inner-city Blacks.
The Muslims’ intention was to initiate a peaceful protest to bring Central Office’s attention to Warden Tate’s unrealistic and unsympathetic position to infringe on our First Amendment right. However, when prison guards abandoned their posts, as well as their once-loyal colleagues, young Black prisoners decided in an impromptu manner to change the game. That is, they impulsively decided to attack the guards and, in their own words, “pay those racist motherfuckers back for all the abuses they’ve dished out to Blacks” since the inception of SOCF.
The rebellion was prompted by conservative guards’ elitist attitude and blatant racism toward inner-city Blacks.
Now after the initial scene of pandemonium – where guards’ blood flowed profusely throughout L-block and where snitches’ souls were violently snuffed out – young revolutionaries made it perfectly clear that the war was not about prisoners against prisoners, but about prisoners against the administration and its sympathizers.
This is the synopsis of a story that is all too common behind enemy lines, when it comes to Black prisoners versus white guards and administrations.
M.O.I. JR: Why do you think you and your four comrades were charged and convicted of the murders, although the evidence points to the fact that as negotiators during the rebellion, y’all helped save lives instead of taking them?
Imam Hasan: Long before it was even over, we were targeted by the state as the primary leaders of the rebellion. In my case, since I was a well-respected and influential Imam (prayer leader) of the Sunni Muslims, and since it was the decision of some Muslims to stage a peaceful protest in order to bring Central Office’s attention to Warden Tate’s inconsideration toward our religious beliefs, it was anticipated that I would become a scapegoat for the action of others.
As for the others, they were either catapulted into the position of spokesmen by their respective leaders, or they opted to become spokesmen in order to avoid a massacre. History has taught me that the worst seems to come out of people during this type of crisis; thus it’s my honest opinion we were targeted because we were singled out as leaders and spokesmen.
In the eyes of the state, why not those at the forefront, i.e., the leaders and spokesmen? In personally looking back, it sometimes seems that it wasn’t a good idea to risk our lives nor our freedom to save the lives of others, especially not when we face the possibility of paying with our own lives. But religiously speaking, as a practicing Muslim, I know in my heart I did the right thing.
M.O.I. JR: Can you describe when your trial was and the political climate surrounding the trial?
Imam Hasan: By the time my trial had commenced in January of 1996, you already had the first World Trade Center bombing that happened on Feb. 26, 1993, as well as other sporadic attacks on American institutions in other parts of the world. These attacks were regularly aired by the national media, and almost every American household was regularly expressing its fears and resentment toward Muslims.
The prosecutors’ diabolical plot and scheme was obvious to everyone in the courtroom, including my trial judge, who formerly worked in their office as a prosecuting attorney. The racism was so consolidated that you had Black prospective jurors being asked three times as many questions as White prospective jurors, all in an attempt to find fault in them so they could be removed for cause.
In fact, when the prosecutors were unsuccessful in removing a Black juror for cause, they attempted to use one of their peremptory challenges; however, the judge would not allow them to remove this particular juror because he had an immaculate profile and was more than qualified to sit on my jury. Plain and simple, the prosecutors’ intention was to secure my conviction and my lynching by an all-white jury.
M.O.I. JR: Do you see yourself and comrades as political prisoners? Why or why not?
Imam Hasan: In the aftermath of the rebellion, the state of Ohio was under enormous political pressure to bring to justice the person or persons who were responsible for murdering prison guard Robert Vallandingham. The political pressure was so intense that a local citizens’ committee sought to ensure that whoever was condemned to death would be executed as rapidly as possible. This same committee also drafted a petition to Gov. George Voinovich, to President of the Ohio Senate Stanley Arnoff and to Ohio Speaker of the House Vernal G. Riffe to accept their responsibility to carry out the wishes of the voters of the state of Ohio.
One of the prosecutors, who is now a state judge, recently stated to a documentary filmmaker, “I don’t think that we will ever know who hands-on killed the Corrections Officer Vallandingham.” This is not what he and other prosecutors told our juries.
When no prisoners initially came forward with any information leading to the guard’s killers, the state bowed to public pressure and decided to lay the blame for the murders at the doorsteps of the prisoner leaders and spokespersons. This is how I, along with my colleagues, ended up being charged with various murders.
One of the prosecutors, who is now a state judge, recently stated to a documentary filmmaker, “I don’t think that we will ever know who hands-on killed the Corrections Officer Vallandingham.” This is not what he and other prosecutors told our juries. So yes, we are innocent men who are political prisoners.
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every other Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at email@example.com.
OSP prisoners join hunger strike to mark 20th anniversary of Lucasville Uprising and demand media interviews
by Ben Turk
April 16, 2013, Youngstown, Ohio – At least 21 prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) refused all three meals on Monday, April 15, in solidarity with the four Lucasville Uprising prisoners who’ve been on hunger strike since April 11.
Warden David Bobby says no additional prisoners are officially hunger-striking, because none have refused nine consecutive meals, but he said numerous prisoners have refused meals off and on during the hunger strike.
The four prisoners who are on hunger strike are Greg Curry, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb and Bomani Shakur. All have been held in solitary confinement since receiving convictions after the Lucasville Uprising in 1993. They are demanding media be granted access to sit-down interviews with them.
Statement on the hunger strike recorded by Hasan for the Re-Examining the Lucasville Uprising Conference
The warden also met with the prisoners on Monday to hear their demands, but he has not begun negotiations with them. When asked, Warden Bobby said that he does not have final say regarding media access. The decision is made by Director Gary Mohr and the Office of Communications at ODRC Central Office.
According to JoEllen Smith at the Office of Communications, there are many reasons media requests may be denied, and she insists that the same standards are applied to any and all requests. The prisoners from the Lucasville Uprising insist that this is not the case. They say other prisoners on death row and other prisoners at OSP are granted much more media access and that their constitutional right to equal protection under the law is being violated.
Supporters of the Lucasville Uprising prisoners are organizing a conference this weekend re-examining the facts of the uprising and the investigations following it. More information about the conference is available at Re-ExaminingLucasville.org.
The hunger striking prisoners request that people please call and email both JoEllen Smith and Warden Bobby to demand that media access be granted.
- JoEllen Smith: (614) 752-1150, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Warden David Bobby: (330) 743-0700, ext. 2006, David.Bobby@odrc.state.oh.us
Supporters are also asking people to write the Lucasville prisoners letters of solidarity:
- Siddique Abdullah Hasan, R130-559, OSP, 878 Coitsville Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505
- Jason Robb, 308-919, OSP, 878 Coitsville Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505
- Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar), 317-117, OSP, 878 Coitsville Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505
- Greg Curry, 213-159, OSP, 878 Coitsville Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505