Thursday, October 19, 2006

Freedom Sought for Lucasville Five

By Sharon Danann Cleveland Published in Worker's World Oct 19, 2006



On Oct. 12, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in U.S. District Court seeking a hearing for prison imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan, known in court documents as Carlos Sanders.

The ACLU brief was based on exhaustive research by advocate/attorney Staughton Lynd, who has also written a book about the events, “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising,” from which much of the information in this article is taken.


Hasan had been convicted and sentenced to death on the testimony of an inmate who stated that Hasan had been responsible for the decision to kill a guard during the April 1993 rebellion at the state prison in Lucasville, Ohio. That alleged witness has since recanted his testimony against Hasan.


The prosecution had threatened him with a heavier sentence, including a possible death sentence, if he did not change the facts as he observed them at the time of the siege to put the blame on Hasan instead. The prosecution knowingly based its case on perjured testimony. Lynd presents compelling evidence that Hasan was framed.


In addition to Hasan, four other men were given the death penalty for their roles as leaders and spokespersons during the rebellion. Hasan’s case is the closest to exhausting its appeals.


Justice requires that the convictions be overturned and that Hasan and his brothers walk free.


Prior to the rebellion, overcrowding was making the prison a pressure cooker. Lucasville was designed to hold 1,540 inmates. When the uprising began, there were 1,820, with 820 “double celled,” including 75 percent of the highest security level prisoners.


According to findings of an investigation at the prison, the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, “double celling of the inmate population was voiced by a vast majority of both staff and inmates as a cause of the disturbance.” In addition, one of the Lucasville Five, Keith Lamar, recalls that the warden had scrapped all the educational and other positive programs.


Lynd quotes testimony of prisoners that guards beat prisoners to death, and that weapons and fights among inmates were common in Lucasville.


Shortly before the uprising, Hasan was a spokesperson for the Sunni Muslim prisoners on the issue of TB tests. In one type of test, an injection is used that contains phenol, an alcohol. Alcohol is prohibited by the Sunni Muslim faith.


The Muslims were willing to undergo chest X-rays, sputum analysis and urinalysis, all of which are actually more specific for active TB. But the Lucasville prison warden was prepared to go ahead with a plan in which Muslim prisoners would be forcibly given the injection-style TB test. This was to happen on a Monday. The uprising took place the day before.


Mumia: ‘They did not betray each other’


In negotiations with the prison administration during the 11-day siege, Hasan represented the Sunni Muslims; George Skatzes and Jason Robb spoke for the Aryan Brotherhood. Racial divisions were set aside and convict unity was forged, resulting in a negotiated settlement.


Death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has written about the Lucasville Five: “They rose above their status as prisoners, and became, for a few days in April 1993, what rebels in Attica had demanded a generation before them: men. As such, they did not betray each other; they did not dishonor each other; they reached beyond their prison ‘tribes’ to reach commonality.”


Hasan and Namir Abdul Mateen, also known as James Were, were tried in Hamilton County, the county that includes Cincinnati, even though they were indicted in another county. Professor James Liebman of Columbia University, in a study of serious reversible error in capital cases, states that Hamilton County has “the seventh highest death-sentencing rate in the nation among relatively populous counties. Hamilton County has twice the death sentencing rate of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and the state as a whole, and nearly three times the death sentencing rate of Franklin County (Columbus).”


Cincinnati is notorious for its racism. The killing of young Black men by Cincinnati police officers resulted in a Justice Department investigation. It was a hostile venue for the defendants. In addition, the judge did not allow testimony on prison conditions that may have caused the uprising.


Immediately after the Lucasville uprising, a new category of prisoners was created: “high maximum security.” The Lucasville Five were among the first inmates to be transferred to a brand-new supermax prison in Youngstown, Ohio.


A death row cell there is the size of a parking space for a compact car. The door is solid steel, not bars. Inmates spend 23 hours a day in their cells. Even so, the prisoners managed to grab some of the guards and stage a small uprising. The SWAT team that responded beat Robb until his skull was fractured and he wasn’t recognizable, except by his tattoos.


Youngstown, now part of the “Rust Belt,” is home to a cluster of new prisons. The plan is: demolish the steel mills, throw the workers in jail, and hire other former steelworkers to be the guards.


A campaign to free the Lucasville Five is building.


Messages of solidarity can be sent, along with stamps and envelopes to facilitate responses, to S.A. Hasan (#R130-559), Keith Lamar (#317-117), Jason Robb (#308-919) and James Were (#173-245) at the Ohio State Penitentiary, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505-4635.


And to George Skatzes (#173-501), P.O. Box 788, Mansfield, OH 44901-0788.


Hasan is co-sponsor of the Web site prisonersolidarity.org and also has a Web site at www.ohiodeathrow.com/carlos_sanders.htm.


Keith Lamar has written a book, “Condemned,” which can be obtained from him at the address above.


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