Monday, December 7, 2009

The Meaning of Lucasville

by Mumia Abu-Jamal, December, 2009, printed as the Forward to Staughton Lynd's book on the Lucasville Uprising.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, political prisoner on death row.  . 

 The name evokes an aura of fear, of foreboding, of something strangely sinister. That this exists is a testament to how the state has set aside sites of invisibility, where people know, in fact, very little of substance, yet know enough to know that this is something to be feared.

Yet Lucasville exists simply because millions of people, like you, the reader, allow it to exist. It exists in your name.

Amid the silence which greets its mention is the silence of ignorance, an ignorance which serves the interest of the state but not of the people.

“Lucasville” is written to dispel that silence, to go behind the walls erected by the state – and its complicit media – to show its true face. It reveals how and why a deadly riot occurred there, which snuffed out 10 lives.

Yet, there is a reason why Lucasville is not the latter-day equivalent of Attica. The five men who are the focus of this work – who have been called the Lucasville 5 – worked, against great odds, to prevent an Attica, where over 30 men perished when the state unleashed deadly violence against the hostages taken, and falsely blamed it on prisoners. They sought to minimize violence and, indeed, according to substantial evidence, saved the lives of several men, prisoner and guard alike.

Yet, as the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

The record reflects that these five men could’ve been any five men, drawn from the burgeoning, overcrowded population of Lucasville. Why these five?

They didn’t snitch. Or, to be more precise: they didn’t lie.

Was the state actually soliciting lies when they talked to prisoners? According to the sworn affidavit of one John L. Fryman, two members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol made it abundantly clear what they were looking for when they came upon him as he lay, wounded, in the SOCF prison infirmary:

“They made it clear that they wanted the leaders. They wanted to prosecute Hasan, George Skatzes, Lavelle, Jason Robb and yet another Muslim whose name I don’t remember. They had not yet begun their investigation but they knew they wanted these leaders. I joked with them and said, ‘You basically don’t care what I say as long as it’s against these guys.’ They said, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’” – from Chapter 5.

Several prisoners reported similar conversations. They learned to say what those guys wanted to hear. And the Lucasville 5 were born.

What makes them remarkable is not just what they did in the hours of conflict and chaos – although, considering the possible alternative, it is indeed remarkable. They calmed men down and demonstrated that the uprising was not racially motivated. They tried to provide mixed and collective leadership. They strove to keep the peace in a place designed for permanent turmoil. That Muslim and Aryan, Black and White, Country and Rural could see beyond these easy labels, and begin to perceive each other’s humanity, is, in itself, a remarkable achievement, especially when all hell is breaking loose.

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.

And therein lies the rub.

They therefore had to make Hasan the bĂȘte noire, the boogieman, the leader who created chaos.

Secondly, George Skatzes became a public enemy. Why, one wonders? He wouldn’t incriminate other guys.

In a word, he wouldn’t stand by his white-skin privilege and dime out some brothers. The D.A. even hinted as much, telling the jury:

“Mr. Skatzes had his opportunity and he chose not to take it. Had Mr. Skatzes taken it, … Mr. Skatzes … would be up there on the witness stand testifying and Mr. Lavelle could be sitting over there [at the defendant’s table].” – from Chapter 4

George, at the time a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had not followed the “rule” of white solidarity. He did not play the game.

That is his deadly crown.

One hundred and fifty years ago, a man named John Brown and a Black and White squad of armed men struck the armory at Harper’s Ferry to strike a fatal blow against slavery. It is interesting that when Brown was captured and tried, he was charged with – among other things – treason.

Whom had he betrayed? He betrayed deeply held notions of what whiteness meant.

About 50 years ago, when World War II was winding down, the U.S. government, at a military prison in France, appointed several upper-class German prisoners of war as guards over Americans who were being held there.

Imagine that: Nazi POWs, guarding U.S. Army prisoners, just days after they were both killing each other.

Such an historical event tells us all we need to know about class, and underlying ideology. Imagine what it meant to the German officers. Imagine what it communicated to the American prisoners!

In prison, we see the outer society at its clearest and sharpest. There are few illusions there.

“Lucasville” will hopefully destroy other illusions.

This essay will be published as the foreword for the upcoming second edition of “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising” by eminent historian and lawyer Staughton Lynd, a book the publisher, Temple University Press of Philadelphia, calls “a textbook case for what is wrong with the death penalty.” The second edition will be published by Oakland-based PM Press,

© Copyright 2009 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s brand new book, “Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A.,” available from City Lights Publishing, or (415) 362-8193. Keep updated at For Mumia’s commentaries, visit For recent interviews with Mumia, visit Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews. Send our brotha some love and light at: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Greene, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg PA 15370.

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