Saturday, April 27, 2013

1993 Never Ends: The Lucasville Uprising, 20 Years Later

This essay may or may not have been written by Sean Swain (see footnote). It was posted to tonight.

1993 Never Ends: The Lucasville Uprising, 20 Years Later

By _____ _____*

I remember the images of the prison beyond the razor-wire beamed to me through my idiot box as the guards, in a panic, went cell to cell, slamming doors that easter morning. At Mansfield Correctional, we watched the spectacle unfold, seemingly unreal, enduring the emergency lock-down. Normal prison operations ended.
They have not yet resumed.
“Normal operations” is a term often blasted over the prisons' loudspeakers, one that indicates that whatever event that just occurred and required special attention has been resolved and that everyone in the prison environment can resume functions as before. It is only a term now. There is no substance to it. “Normal operations” have not been resumed since 1993.
The Lucasville Uprising, for all practical purposes, has continued for the last twenty years. In terms of prison operations, the prisoners still control the cell-block and the guard hostages are still held. “Lucasville,” a single-word epithet, excuses or justifies every policy or procedure that the prison complex undertakes, as if the utterance of that single word, “Lucasville” is all the explanation needed.

The Lucasville Uprising is not an event that happened twenty years ago, an event with causes that can be analyzed or lessons to be applied in the practical world of prison operations; instead, the Lucasville Uprising is a constant and ever present specter that haunts every corner of the Ohio prison complex, a narrative, a mythos, burned into the collective psyche of the prison establishment. It has transcended the mundane events that unfolded in a specific place at a specific time, and it now represents something more- to invoke the words “Lucasville Uprising” to prisoncrats is analogous to invoking, “Remember the Alamo.”
For workers in the prison complex, the words “Lucasville Uprising” represent the traumatic experience when their collective “we” was under “attack” by their “enemy.” It has the same traumatic power for the prison complex as a bloodied nose to an unsuspecting schoolyard bully whose effort to expropriate milk-money were never resisted. And in the throes of that proverbial bloodied nose, the Ohio prison complex has, for two decades, exacted its revenge upon every captive in its mismanaged control. In so doing, the prison system has not analyzed the Lucasville Uprising in order to gain insight into its true causes and thereby prevent a repeat of history, but has, instead, greatly intensified, statewide, the very repressive forces and dynamics, the childish maliciousness of the arrogantly and ineptly powerful, that instigated the Lucasville Uprising in the first place, thereby greatly increasing the probability of repeating history again and again.
The last two decades, Ohio prisoncrats remain “stuck” in 1993, unable to move past the Lucasville Uprising, engaging in a campaign of thinly veiled retribution sure to provoke more prisoner resistance. This campaign is represented by the initial removal of weights and recreation equipment shortly after the uprising, to the removal of tobacco, the serious cuts to food portions, the end of food and sundry boxes from home, and the general atmosphere of hostility that underpinned all of these gradual encroachments.
In the last two decades, there has been a statewide shift in the prison system's approach, one in which prisoners are reduced to the state of non-humans, not just in terms of material conditions, but in terms of fundamental rights. A case in point:
Shortly after the Lucasville Uprising, the Correctional institution Inspection Committee, a committee of the Ohio General Assembly with a civilian staff to investigate prisoner complaints, undertook to “reform” the prison grievance procedure. This effort was a consequence of reliable indications that the Lucasville Uprising occurred in part because the prison population largely understood the grievance procedure to be ineffective, and with no recourse to resolve grievances took direct and desperate action. So, to avoid further such uprisings, the CIIC proposed to “fix” the grievance process.
That grievance process, rather than being “fixed,” has instead been incorporated into the harassment and repression machinery of the prison system. The inspectors, apathetic and unresponsive at the time of the Lucasville Uprising, are now openly inimical to prisoners, stalling prisoners' exhaustion of grievances in order to prevent prisoners from proceeding to court; and in the period of time that prisoners are preventing from filing litigation, inspectors often prompt staff to employ harassment and retaliation designed to break the will of prisoners to litigate. In this way, inspectors no longer protect the rights of prisoners, but instead protect the “bottom line” of the prison complex, insulating it from the consequences of it's abuses.
The CIIC itself, facing a system that defies reform, has surrendered in its efforts and has taken the image of the system it set out to reform more than the system has taken the image of the CIIC. So much so, the CIIC itself has passively permitted situations that are recognized as “the simple torture situation.”
The employment of torture has become acceptable state wide. The construction of the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), a so-called “supermaximum security” institution, was justified on the argument of housing the Lucasville Uprising prisoners; with the opening of OSP, Ohio joined the dubious ranks of states that employ known psychological tortures over durations of time designed to cause mental illness in those who experience them. This coincided with a general shift in what treatment became “acceptable.” In 2002, Richland Correctional's use of Torture Cell 182 drew the attention of the CIIC's then-Senator Robert F Hagan, in 2013, the deaths of 2 prisoners on Torture Cell Row at Mansfield Correctional in a period of just 30 days did not evoke the same bewilderment.
When the federal civil rights action Austin V Wilkinson led to the State of Ohio creating specific guidelines for ensuring that the tortures of supermax deprivation were reserved for “the worst of the worst,” it seemed the era of using supermax to neutralize prisoner whistle-blowers and political prisoners was over. But less than a decade later, prisoners face indefinite supermax placement for conduct such as writing a rap verse, or for publicly challenging the legality of questionable prison policy. The prison system's disciplinary process has been transformed into a weapon to punish prisoners for reporting abuses or for litigating.
Given the prison system's conduct, and given its complete intransigence when it comes to reasonably resolving even issues of fundamental prisoner rights through its own processes, the courts have been overwhelmed with prisoner litigation. The solution has not been to reform the prisons or investigate the increase of rights violations, but instead has been the proliferation of new laws to limit, obstruct, delay, or eliminate prisoner litigation by making it too costly. The solution has not been to find ways to enforce established rules and protect basic rights, but instead to create and rely upon irrelevant procedural justifications for dismissing prisoner claims.
As a consequence of all of these developments in the two decades since the Lucasville Uprising, prison conditions have greatly degraded and all possible avenues for redress have been effectively foreclosed. While use of the grievance process or civil rights claims once resulted in no effective change, it now results in retaliation and the seizure of all meager funds available to the prisoner, leaving prisoners in worse condition for raising claims.
Further, in an era where prison staff have retaliated by spraying pepper spray into a restrained prisoner's rectum, or the use of supermax security to silence whistle-blowers, prisoners face more than just harassment or financial penalties for objecting to what objectively comes closer and closer to concentration camp conditions.
For the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 1993 has continued for 20 years and there is no end in sight. The narrative that the machinery of the prison complex tells itself, its false mythology of victimhood, its refusal of admission that it was the principle cause of the Lucasville Uprising it provoked, has made future such uprisings inevitable, reducing its prison population to inhumane and intolerably oppressive conditions.
Unlike the Nazi regime and their concentration camps, Ohio has not yet begun to dig mass graves.
But there are many individual graves.
And there promises to be more.

* This statement may or may not have been written by Sean Swain, but Sean Swain is an Ohio prisoner and cannot write truthfully without facing deprivations and torture. In 2008, he was subjected to torture at Toledo Correctional for writing a book. His torture was approved by US District Judge Jack Zouhary, who dismissed Sean's claims in Swain v Fullenkamp, et al., because Sean's ideology is selectively not afforded constitutional protection. In 2012, Mansfield Correctional administrators held Sean on Torture Cell Row, where 2 men later died, and have approved Sean for supermax placement because he wrote an article questioning the legality of Jpay policy, an article posted at He now faces death at supermax for telling the truth about the crimes of his captors.
As a consequence, whether Sean Swain wrote this or not, and no one is saying he did, his name cannot be associated with this work for fear of further retribution and torture.
In a free country, this footnote would not be necessary.

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