Thursday, March 29, 2007
Interview with Siddique Abdullah Hasan
Martha Grevatt, member of the Cleveland branch of Workers World Party and the Cleveland Lucasville Five Defense Committee, sent Hasan interview questions. The following are excerpts from the first portion of Hasan’s responses. Two additional sections of the interview will follow in future WW issues.
MG: What can you tell us about the history of the Southern Ohio Correction Facility in Lucasville?
Hasan: In the years prior to and partially throughout my stay at SOCF, it had a very violent history. Blacks were either murdered or assaulted by both white staff and white prisoners. ... It was pretty much the Emmett Till syndrome, which was routinely displayed in the Deep South. But when the younger and more aggressive Black prisoners were sent to SOCF in the early ‘90s, these prisoners outright refused to accept the racism, bigotry and assaults which had become the norm. The table and mindset had changed and whites—both staff and prisoners—were now the victims of racial hatred and violence. This probably explains why so many whites were assaulted and murdered during the initial hours of the rebellion.
MG: How did the racial, ethnic and economic makeup of the town contrast with that of the prison population?
Hasan: The Appalachian town was exclusively a working class white community that had little or no experience in dealing with Blacks. The prison population consisted of poor whites and inner city Blacks who were poor as church mice. This makeup was a recipe for disaster.
MG: When it replaced the old Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, were prisoners subjected to a more repressive atmosphere from the beginning? Did this get worse over time?
Hasan: According to the older convicts, prison conditions at SOCF were very good initially; however, they became very repressive as years passed. Most of this came about due to the ongoing violence in the prison—violence that was usually instigated, along racial lines, by prison officials.
MG: What was prison life like at the time of the rebellion? What efforts had been made at negotiating a redress of grievances?
Hasan: Prison life and the atmosphere had become very tense due to overly repressive conditions. Warden Arthur Tate Jr. aka “King Arthur” was brought in to change the atmosphere, makeup and structure of the prison, and he immediately did. He dissolved almost all the constructive programs, and even stripped the college programs down to the bare bones; he prevented a certain class of prisoners from being able to enroll in vocational school; he instituted a policy which forced white supremacists and Black revolutionaries to randomly cell together; moreover, he adopted all types of repressive rules and regulations which were contrary to rehabilitation.
While this writer and other prisoners made attempts at addressing various problems and concerns with the prison authorities, Warden Tate was not the type of person who believed in negotiating in good faith. Instead, he adopted the uncompromising policy that SOCF was his prison and it was going to be run his way or no way. His hard-line policy is what actually triggered the prison rebellion.
MG: How did the rebellion start and how did it spread? How many inmates took part? How did it end?
Hasan: It can be summed up as starting over built-up rage and repressive conditions, conditions that are diametrically opposed to rehabilitation.
Anywhere from 18 to 24 prisoners partook in the initial rebellion, and it ended when three prisoner negotiators (myself being one of them) met with attorney Niki Z. Schwartz and negotiated a peaceful surrender.
There was never a plan to be a riot. Instead, there was an initial plan to be a “peaceful protest” about the planned forceful taking of the Mantoux Tuberculin Skin Test, which contains phenol, an alcoholic substance that is unlawful for Muslims to have injected under their forearm. This test was being made mandatory albeit other forms of testing were readily available and would have reached the same medical conclusion.
Although I will concede that the planned inoculation was the last straw which broke the camel’s back, there was a host of other injustices—disciplinary proceedings and administrative control placements that were unfair to prisoners; forced integrated celling with known racists; inadequate medical care; only allowing one five-minute phone call per year to speak to loved ones and friends; mailing and visiting policies that were unfair to prisoners as well as their families and friends; commissary prices that were always escalating, but prisoners’ payment for job assignments that has remained immobile for decades; etc.—simultaneously happening within the prison. Prisoners instantaneously seized the opportunity to make it a full-scale rebellion.
MG: What do you think it accomplished? Did the prison administration live up to its part of the settlement?
Hasan: The prison administration did not fully live up to their part of the settlement and the rebellion did not accomplish everything it desired; however, some demands and objectives were met and achieved.
While no amount of material achievements can match up to the punishment, retaliation and sentences prisoners received, the most important thing it accomplished was this: prisoners made it perfectly clear that they would not adopt a happy-go-lucky posture of sitting idle and allowing the system to continue to exploit them without stiff resistance. As one of our predecessors said, “If a man doesn’t stand for something, he will fall for anything.”
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