The Lucasville gas chamber: Torturing Ohio prisoners with war crimes chemical weapons

TDCJ-guard-fires-tear-gas-at-prisoners-by-ABC-13-Houston-0515-1400x875, The Lucasville gas chamber: Torturing Ohio prisoners with war crimes chemical weapons, Behind Enemy Lines
In Texas in 2015, a group of prisoners who were not doing anything harmful was hit by an armed guard with a potentially deadly tear gas rifle intended for outdoor use. Chemicals like tear gas, pepper spray and OC spray are chlorine-based weapons developed for warfare, with no place in our prisons or on our streets. In the Ohio case Rashid cites, the use of gas was ruled an Eighth Amendment violation. Photos of the use of gas in prison are extremely rare. – Photo: ABC 13 Houston

by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

The dictator’s motto

U.S. officials are quick to condemn other countries for human rights abuses, standards that they don’t apply to themselves. It’s the motto of the dictator: “Do as I say, not as I do!”

Take for example the big hue and cry they raised in 2017 over the alleged use of chemical weapons – chlorine gas – by the Syrian government against its own citizens during an actual civil war. In fact, Amerika and its allies bombed Syria in response to these alleged uses of gas.

As I’ve written in several past articles, chemical weapons – gases such as sarin, mustard, chlorine, tear gas and others – have been banned from use in war since the early 1900s.

Yet, on a daily basis, chemical weapons of the exact same military grade as chlorine gas and which are included on the banned list of war crimes gases are used on U.S. prisoners. These weapons, which are given such mild names as “tear gas,” “pepper spray,” “OC spray” and so on, are in fact quite injurious and deadly. 

I have written about many incidents where prisoners have been killed by gas attacks, such as Christopher Woolverton, whose murder with gas I witnessed in a Texas prison in 2013; also, the serious injuries caused by these gases such as visual damage, blindness and burning and scarring of soft tissue, especially after repeated exposures.

Chemical weapons – gases such as sarin, mustard, chlorine, tear gas and others – have been banned from use in war since the early 1900s.

Although their danger is hidden behind euphemistic names, these weapons, which are essentially unregulated, are constantly upgraded by U.S. manufacturers with untested ingredients to increase their caustic effects. Furthermore, the federal courts have recognized such small quantities as 5-6 grams to be the “estimated lethal dose” when deployed in enclosed spaces like prison cells.[i]

Yet, it’s inside U.S. prisons that these weapons are most frequently abused. Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, aka Lucasville prison, where I am confined, is a poster child for war crimes chemical weapons abuse.[ii] I should begin with a documented example.

The Lucasville gas chamber

Lucasville is an old prison having open front cells with bars, which provide no protection to bystanders when gas is sprayed in a cellblock. On Jan. 3, 2021, Jon Saulnier, No. 414006, was locked inside an open front shower stall in the K1 solitary confinement cellblock. 

The showers automatically time off after 10 minutes and only come back on when reset by guards. While Saulnier was locked in the shower, guards sprayed another isolated prisoner in the block with gas, which drifted into the shower contaminating him as if he had been directly sprayed. 

As he stood blinded, coughing, sneezing and suffocating, he attempted to summon guards by waving his hand and a towel in front of cameras outside the shower. 

No guards made security rounds or responded, leaving him to suffer for over an hour and a half in the haze of gas which had nowhere to dissipate to because all the windows were closed.

So, where are all the official human rights champions who rush to denounce other countries for their human rights abuses?

Later that day he filed a complaint through the prison’s Informal Complaint Resolution system about his treatment and the fact that guards deliberately abuse gas in that manner all the time. On Jan. 7, a captain responded, “justifying” Saulnier’s suffering and guards leaving the gas in the cellblock stating: “A directive was put out no windows to be open at no time, that’s why the windows were closed.”

By law, prison officials must contain and decontaminate areas where chemical agents are sprayed and provide protection and decontamination to bystanders. The federal courts have specifically deemed the treatment Saulnier suffered to constitute unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment[iii], which amounts to violations of his basic human rights. 

So, where are all the official human rights champions who rush to denounce other countries for their human rights abuses? Saulnier’s tortured experience is only one example of the general indiscriminate abuse of gas at Lucasville prison. 

I use this example because it is documented and officials put in writing their illegal actions and response. The abuse of gas is however much more flagrant, malicious and extreme.

On a daily basis, during movement through the prison en route to the chow hall, recreation and other areas, one smells gas that has been deployed against prisoners. I am in general population; however, gas is abused more frequently in the prison’s solitary confinement units. 

Several prisoners in my cellblock are trustees in the solitary cellblocks and report almost daily abuse of gas in “the hole.” Others who are trustees in my own cellblock, like Herman Duncan, refuse to work in solitary because in their own words they don’t want to witness or be called upon by guards to participate in the abuses of gas against other prisoners.

Frequently, prisoners are “bombed” with gas for no reason at all and met with escalated force by extraction teams who beat them.

The examples are many: from guards spraying blankets with gas and having trustees give them to targeted prisoners; to guards going into the pipechase areas behind the cells where ventilation shafts open into the cells and spraying the occupants with gas through the vents without warning; to guards who work in general population “pranking” those working in solitary by going into the solitary cellblock, spraying gas, then rushing out, leaving everyone to suffer contamination including their “pranked” colleagues and on and on.

A common pretext guards use to “justify” assaulting prisoners with gas is to jump back while standing or walking in front of a prisoner’s cell, pretending for surveillance cameras positioned at the ends of the tiers which cannot see inside the cells that the prisoner threw something or spit on them. In turn, the guards, all of whom carry canisters of gas on their equipment belts, spray the prisoner with gas.

Frequently, prisoners are “bombed” with gas for no reason at all and met with escalated force by extraction teams who beat them under the guise of “extracting” them from the cells as audio-video cameras, which are supposed to film the uses of force, are trained on guards’ backs, a wall or anywhere except on the prisoner who is being assaulted.

Weapons of the same grade that they bombed another country with just a few years ago for allegedly using on its own citizens.

On Christmas Eve 2020, Lucasville Warden Ronald Erdos had the prison phone system set where prisoners can make a 15-minute call only once per hour. This was in response to victims and witnessing prisoners placing calls, which are automatically recorded, to the outside reporting such assaults to loved ones and supporters as they were happening.

Why do they have these weapons?

Several prisoners who have been confined in Ohio for several decades remember a time, not 20 years ago, when Lucasville guards didn’t carry gas. So, of course it wasn’t abused as it is now. How indeed do officials justify the use of these weapons against U.S. subjects that are banned as war crimes from use in war? 

Weapons of the same grade that they bombed another country with just a few years ago for allegedly using on its own citizens. Yet they proclaim America to be a land of laws, not a dictatorship run according to the whims of men. 

Indeed, it is a land of lies that is definitely run according to the whims of a tiny number of rich men called capitalists, who subject Black, Brown and poor people to all manner of heinous and lawless abuses at the hands of a government that serves only their interests. 

Lucasville is but a symptom of their diseased system. But it serves as an example of why they should not be in power and is as good a place as any to direct exposure and protest to discredit their rule.

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win! All Power to the People!


[i] See Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756 (4th Cir. 1996)

[ii] As I have quoted from numerous reports on gas use inside U.S. prisons, gas is typically deployed against prisoners in quantities one hundred times greater than these recognized lethal doses.

[iii] See Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 904-05 (9th Cir. 2002)

Rashid Johnson, a prisoner in Virginia who was transferred to Oregon in 2012 and subsequently to Texas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and currently back to Virginia, has been held in segregation since 1993. While in prison, he founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and its successor, the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP). As a writer, Rashid has been compared to George Jackson, and he is also the renowned artist who drew the image that became the icon of the California hunger strikes. See his writing and art at rashidmod.comSend our brother some love and light: Kevin Johnson, 1007485, Nottoway CC, 2892 Schutt Rd, Burkeville VA 23922.