Monday, October 30, 2006
Racial Solidarity Threatens Prison Officials
Four hundred seven prisoners took over a portion of a prison in Lucasville, Ohio, for 11 days in April 1993. When it was over, one guard and nine prisoners had been killed, making it the longest prison uprising with loss of life in recorded U.S. history.
It seemed that only Ohioans were riveted to the drama as it unfolded. This was partly because the events in Lucasville took place at the same time that 83 Branch Davidians were being incinerated by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in Waco, Texas.
What held the Lucasville rebellion together was unity between Black and white prisoners, as reported by Staughton Lynd in “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising” and elsewhere.
George Skatzes, at that time a member of the racist Aryan Brotherhood, was approached by a Black prisoner within the first hours of the takeover because he had been known to mediate disputes among prisoners. White and Black prisoners were on opposite sides of the gym and the atmosphere was tense.
Skatzes, who had never been a public speaker, put his arm around the Black man and said to the assembled inmates: “This is against the administration. We are all in this together. They are against everyone in here who’s blue [the color of the prisoners’ uniforms]. ... If they come in here, they’re going to kill all of us. They’re going to kill this man and me, no matter what color we are.”
Later, when Skatzes was out in the prison yard as a spokesperson, he announced: “We are oppressed people; we have come together as one. We are brothers. ... We are a unit here, they try to make this a racial issue. It is not a racial issue. Black and white alike have joined hands in SOCF [Southern Ohio Correctional Facility] and become one strong unit.”
The Ohio State Highway Patrol officers who entered portions of the prison after the siege told afterward of signs and slogans written on the walls: “Black and White Together,” “Black and White Unity,“ “Convict Unity” and “Convict Race.” This forging of unity across racial barriers adds to the reasons why the Ohio system of (in)justice has been so determined to make an example of the Lucasville Five.
The imam of the Sunni Muslims, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, negotiated with prison authorities during the siege, as did another member of the Aryan Brotherhood, Jason Robb. Their efforts contributed to a negotiated settlement to the siege. This settlement included a 21-point agreement that the warden had to sign, after which the remaining five hostages were released and prisoners came out in groups of 20. Their reward for preventing a bloodbath, ironically, is the death penalty.
Skatzes was also convicted and is on death row. Together the five prisoners falsely convicted in connection with the deaths that took place during the uprising are known as the Lucasville Five. The other two of the Five are Black, so the Five reflect the make-up of the prison population in Ohio: roughly 60 percent Black and Latin@ and 40 percent white.
The solidarity among the Lucasville Five has held strong. As reported by Lynd, they share legal materials and are actively concerned for each other’s health. They have gone on hunger strikes together to protest the conditions of their confinement.
One of the fasts was accompanied by a list of demands that started with proper medical treatment for George Skatzes. After about another week, only Skatzes and Hasan were still fasting. The prison approached both individually to state that the concerns would be addressed.
But neither of them would eat until told directly by the other that he was ready to eat again. Hasan said: “I chose to stay on the fast to let them know that I was down with George’s struggle, too, and I would not sit quiet and let the system mess over him. ... [T]hey got the message and know that we are one.”
The Lucasville Five’s convictions are based entirely on perjured testimony extracted from other prisoners under threat that they would be sent up on capital charges if they didn’t sculpt the facts to the prosecution’s liking. A growing number of supporters are calling for their convictions to be overturned and them to be set free.
Messages of solidarity, along with stamps and envelopes to facilitate responses, can be sent to S.A. Hasan (#R130-559), Keith Lamar (#317-117), Jason Robb (#308-919), 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 the co-sponsor of a 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 his address above. Much of the material for this article is derived from Staughton Lynd’s “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising.” For more information, go to www.workers.org/2006/us/lucasville-five-1026/
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