Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Re-Examining Lucasville Conference Recap


On April 19-21, supporters of the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners held a three day conference to raise awareness and tell a more complete story about what happened twenty years ago at SOCF, and the legal repercussions that have deeply damaged many lives.

The Hunger Strike
On Thursday, April 11th, the 20th anniversary of the first day of the uprising, Greg Curry, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Keith Lamar (aka Bomani Shakur), and Jason Robb began refusing food, and demanding that the ODRC grant access to media outlets who've requested on-camera interviews with them. On the following Monday, three other OSP prisoners joined the hunger strike in solidarity.

There was significant outside media coverage of the 20th anniversary, and the hunger strike. The Associated Press ran 3 articles, including an interview conducted by phone with Siddique Abdullah Hasan. These articles went out on the wire and were syndicated nationally.

On May 6th, after hearing that the lawsuit would be going forward, and a final meeting with Warden Bobby (who was unable to offer anything) Greg and Hasan ended their hunger strike.

The Conference
The conference started with the world premiere screening of D Jones' film, The Great Incarcerator Part 2: The Shadow of Lucasville. Full of great archive footage and interviews, the film does an excellent job of telling the story and also offers context and analysis for the events. D was able to interview special prosecutor Daniel Hogan for this movie, who admitted that he does not know, and “doesn't think we'll ever know, who killed the hostage, officer Vallandingham.”

D Jones also videotaped the entire conference and intends to incorporate some of that footage into the final version of the Lucasville documentary, for which we hope to raise the funds to distribute and screen as extensively as possible.

After the screening, we presented the voices of prisoners. Alice Lynd introduced archive footage of George Skatzes's attempts to initiate negotiations with guards. Then Siddique Abdullah Hasan called in and spoke about Lucasville, and his case. Then we played pre-recorded statements from Greg Curry and Jason Robb, while projecting their photographs on the screen. Keith was supposed to call in last, but he didn't get the phone until too late, so we played and projected a statement he had pre-recorded as a back up. [links to Hasan and Keith's audio coming soon]

Denis O'Hearn also spoke about the current hunger strike, bringing some of his expertise in supporting hunger strikers in Turkey and the famous Bobby Sands hunger strike in Ireland.

Saturday morning, things began with a few interactive workshops hosted by Alice Lynd where people came up and acted out portions of the actual trial and investigation transcripts, so we could more directly see how the state recruited snitches and how juries were stacked with supporters of the death penalty.

Next, Vicki Werneke presented on appeals processes. Vikki is George's Lawyer, and is also an expert on Federal Habeus Corpus (which is the point in appeals that all the death sentenced prisoners are at). She presented on changes in the law and legal precedents which have made it increasingly difficult to win exonerations for death-sentenced clients.

Third, a panel of people who were incarcerated at Lucasville at the time of the riot convened, told stories and took a few questions. Kunta Kenyatta, Sam Oliver, and Ishaq Al Khair made up the panel. They discussed the extent of the racism and lawlessness of staff at SOCF, but also helped people recognize that correctional officers are in prison as well, and that the policies that provoked and endangered the prisoners also endangered the staff.

Lunch, thanks FNB!
We allowed that panel to run overtime, but there were clearly still a number of people with questions. We took a quick break and then reconvened, for Staughton Lynd's presentation of a summary analysis of the primary legal issues at stake in the court cases as they presently stand. Then we had lunch, which was provided by Food Not Bombs, an anarchist project based on acquiring food that would otherwise go to waste and feeding hungry people (often on the street, but sometimes for activist gatherings like this one).

After lunch, the panel of legal experts convened. Mark Donatelli, who came from New Mexico, described the Santa Fe prison uprising for whichhe worked on the legal defense team. He compared what happened in that case to Lucasville. In brief, there were fewer days, more deaths, more prisoners involved, better media coverage, and fewer convictions and no death sentences. Niki Schwartz, who represented prisoners in Lucasville negotiations, and Rick Kerger, who represented Hasan in state court until taken off the case by the trial court judge, shared their experiences and perspective. Finally Phyllis Crocker, who chaired the American Bar Association task force on death penalty, in Ohio talked about recent developments in how Ohio conducts death penalty cases.

Mark Donatelli, Staughton Lynd, Niki Schwartz, Rick Kerger, and Phyllis Crocker
Bonnie Kerness and Ojore Lutalo were next on the schedule, they intended to present art work and a video on isolation as a tool of political repression in New Jersey prisons, but their flight was canceled due to weather and they could not make it. So instead, we extended the question and answer period, which turned out well, because Keith Lamar got access to the phone and called in during the Q&A and was able to make a brief statement and participate in the questions and discussion.

Then people broke for dinner, off site, and returned for the screening of part one of D Jones's documentary series, Dark Little Secrets which discusses the prison system in a more general sense. We wrapped up with some spoken word poetry and re-convened on Sunday morning.

First thing on Sunday was Noelle Hanrahan sharing her knowledge from running Prison Radio and working on the Mumia Abu Jamal support campaign. Her key lesson was to always maintain positive relations and coordinate solidarity between different people who are participating in the support effort from different perspectives, for different reasons, and using different tactics and messaging. She also emphasized that supporters should always speak the truth to prisoners whose cause they are promoting.

On both Sunday morning and Saturday afternoon the conference attendees unanimously adopted a resolution calling for amnesty for all of the Lucasville Uprising prisoners.

Then two friends of Ben's who have a lot of experience running workshops and facilitating discussions came in to help us brainstorm and begin thinking about the future. That conversation was fairly general, but we also provided a couple of immediate actions people can take, and set a time and place for more direct and specific planning and implementation of ongoing support.

Follow up Meeting
On Sunday May 5th, the group convened in Youngstown to discuss future activities. Actions in development include:

Distribution and screenings of D Jones' film.
A lawsuit demanding media access to the Lucasville Uprising prisoners.
Packing the court room at Keith Lamar's oral arguments.
Considering starting a state referendum to abolish the death penalty.

The group's next meeting will be Sunday June 23rd, in Columbus, OH.
Contact if you'd like more information.

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