Lucasville Five Hunger Strike Begins
--An interview with author Staughton Lynd
By Angola 3 News
January 3, 2011
In 1993, the maximum security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio was the site of an historic prisoner rebellion, where more than 400 prisoners seized and controlled a major area of the prison for eleven days. Nine prisoners alleged to have been informants and one hostage correctional officer named Robert Vallandingham, were murdered. Following a negotiated surrender, five key figures in the rebellion were tried and sentenced to death. Known since as the Lucasville Five, they are Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were), Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders), Bomani Hando Shakur (Keith Lamar), George Skatzes and Jason Robb.
The Lucasville Five are now back in the news with an announcement last week that four of the five will be participating in a simultaneous "rolling hunger strike," beginning today, January 3. They are using the hunger strike to protest their convictions (having always maintained their innocence) as well as their living situation, which is more restrictive than for most prisoners on Ohio's death row. The statement issued by the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network explains that "the hunger strike will proceed in an organized manner, with one prisoner, probably Bomani Shakur starting on Jan.3. The hunger strike becomes official after he has refused 9 meals. Therefore the plan is that 3 days later, Siddiquie Abdullah Hasan will start his hunger strike and 3 days later, Jason Robb will follow. Namir Mateen has a great willingness to participate and plans to take part to the extent that his diabetes will allow."
Staughton Lynd is the author of the 2004 book, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising, which asserts that the Lucasville Five are innocent men, who were framed by the State of Ohio. In a review of Lucasville, the news website, Solidarity, concludes that "Lynd presents sufficient evidence and argumentation to cast more than reasonable doubt on the convictions of the Lucasville Five." The book's "immediate agenda is to mobilize public opinion to achieve amnesty for the Lucasville Five. In the 1970s, the governor of New York was compelled to grant amnesty to the Attica rebels based upon revelations of state malfeasance. Lynd contends the Lucasville Five's death sentences should be wiped clean on the same grounds."
In the foreword to the upcoming second edition of Lucasville, being released by PM Press in February, death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal writes that the Lucasville Five "sought to minimize violence, and indeed, according to substantial evidence, saved the lives of several men, prisoner and guard alike"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."
Angola 3 News: Can you please give us some historical background on the 1993 uprising and the subsequent convictions of the Lucasville Five?
Staughton Lynd: There were revolts at the old Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus in the late 1960s. The state government decided to build a new maximum security prison in a town called Lucasville, just north of the Ohio River separating Ohio and Kentucky.
The new prison housed between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners. More than half the prisoners at the new Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) were African Americans from cities like Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown. Lucasville was all white and inevitably, most of the correctional officers at the new prison were Caucasian.
'Luke' developed a well-deserved reputation for violence. There was a horrible incident in 1990 when, in a sequence of events that remains ambiguous, a black prisoner followed a white teacher into a women's restroom. White guards broke down the door to the restroom and, as they did so, the prisoner cut the teacher's throat.
The State sent in a new warden who instituted 'Operation Shakedown.' Prisoners were allowed one short telephone call a year, at Christmastime.
In April 1993 the new warden proposed to test all prisoners for TB by means of an injection. More than fifty Muslim prisoners protested. They said the injection would contain phenol, a form of alcohol; that this was forbidden by their religion; and that there were alternative means of testing for TB, by sputum or X ray. Warden Tate said it would be done his way, by injection, beginning Monday, April 12.
On April 11, Easter Sunday, prisoners returning from the recreation yard occupied one large housing block, L side. Guards were overpowered. Persons severely injured in the takeover, both guards and prisoners believed to be snitches, were carried out to the yard. Eight officers were held as hostages. In the course of an 11-day standoff, nine prisoners and one hostage guard were murdered. There was a negotiated surrender.
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