It's Prison Friday at Scission and I am just going to let this post from the San Francisco Bay View speak for itself.
From Bomani Shakur
By anyone’s estimation, 20 years is a long time. But 20 years spent in solitary confinement is torture.
As many of you may or may not know, there was no physical evidence linking anyone to crimes. No fingerprints, no DNA or any other kind of forensic evidence that conclusively connected anyone to any of the crimes that were committed during the 11-day uprising.
Since we didn’t receive fair trials through the criminal justice system, we intend to retry our cases in the court of public opinion.
If the state has its way, they are going to kill me soon. However, inasmuch as my life is not for them to take, I intend to fight them, to stand up and speak truth to the power that has delivered me to this evening.
From Staughton Lynd
Our focus this morning has been a detailed discussion of what happened before and during the 11 days and in the trials that followed. My comments are intended to build a bridge between that analysis and the broader perspectives that will be offered this afternoon. I will divide my remarks in four parts.
Three prison uprisings
There have been three major prison uprisings in the United States during the past half century.
Who is to blame?
In a summary booklet Alice and I have produced, entitled “Layers of Injustice,” we argue that the Lucasville prisoners in L block, considered collectively, and the state of Ohio share responsibility for the tragedy of April 1993. Both sides contributed to what happened. Events spun out of control. Neither side intended what occurred.
- In 1989, Warden Terry Morris asked the Legislative Oversight Committee of the Ohio General Assembly to prepare a survey of conditions at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee received letters from 427 prisoners and interviewed more than 100. Such was the state of disarray in 1989 that, four years before the 1993 uprising, the CIIC reported that prisoners “relayed fears and predictions of a major disturbance unlike any ever seen in Ohio prison history.”
- After the murder of educator Beverly Jo Taylor in 1990, a new warden was appointed. Warden Arthur Tate instituted what he called “Operation Shakedown.” A striking example of the pervasive repression reported by prisoners is that telephone communication between prisoners and the outside world was limited to one five-minute outgoing telephone call per year.
- The single feature of life at Lucasville that the CIIC found most troublesome was the prison administration’s use of prisoner informants, or “snitches.” Warden Tate, “King Arthur” as the prisoners called him, expanded the use of snitches. In 1991 the warden addressed a letter to all prisoners and visitors in which he provided a special mailing address to which alleged violations of “laws and rules of this institution” could be reported. Six alleged snitches, a majority of the persons murdered during the rebellion, were killed in the first hours of the disturbance.
- The immediate cause or trigger of the rebellion was Warden Tate’s insistence on testing for TB by injecting a substance containing phenol, which a substantial number of Muslim prisoners believed to be prohibited by their religion. Alternative means of testing for TB by use of X rays or a sputum test were available and had been used at Mansfield Correctional Institution. In its post-surrender report, the correctional officers’ labor union stated that Warden Tate was “unnecessarily confrontational” in his response to the Muslim prisoners’ concern about TB testing using phenol.
- Before Warden Tate departed for the Easter weekend on Good Friday, three of his administrators advised against his plan to lock the prison down and forcibly inject prisoners who refused TB shots. The warden did not adequately alert the reduced staff who would be on duty as to the volatile state of affairs. Slow response to the initial occupation of L block let pass an early opportunity to end the rebellion without loss of life. It was two hours after the insurgency began before Warden Tate was notified. The safewells at the end of each pod in L block, to which correctional officers retreated as they had been instructed, turned out to have been constructed without the prescribed steel stanchions and were easily penetrated.
- Sgt. Howard Hudson, who was in the administration control booth during the 11 days and was offered by prosecutors as a so-called “summary witness,” conceded in his trial testimony that the state of Ohio deliberately stalled when prisoners tried to end the standoff by negotiation. Hudson testified in Hasan’s case: “The basic principle in these situations … is to buy time. … [T]he more time that goes on the greater the chances for a peaceful resolution to the situation.” This assumption proved – to use an unfortunate phrase – to be dead wrong.
- By cutting off water and electricity to the occupied cell block on April 12, the state created a new cause of grievance. The prisoners’ concern to get back what they had at the outset of the disturbance became the sticking point in unsuccessful negotiations to end the standoff before Officer Vallandingham was murdered.
- On the morning of April14, spokeswoman Tessa Unwin made a statement to the press on behalf of the authorities. Ms. Unwin was asked to comment on a message written on a sheet that was hung out of an L block window threatening to kill a hostage officer. Rather than responding “No comment,” she stated: “It’s a standard threat. It’s nothing new. . . They’ve been threatening things like this from the beginning.” According to several prisoners in L block and to hostage officer Larry Dotson, this statement inflamed sentiment among the prisoners who were listening on battery-powered radios. In the judgment of the officers’ union, in their report on the disturbance:
As anyone familiar with the process and language of negotiations would know, this kind of public discounting of the inmate threats practically guaranteed a hostage death.
When an official DR&C spokesperson publicly discounted the inmate threats as bluffing, the inmates were almost forced to kill or maim a hostage to maintain or regain their perceived bargaining strength.
- In 2010, documentary filmmaker Derrick Jones interviewed Daniel Hogan, who prosecuted Robb and Skatzes and is now a state court judge. Hogan told Jones on tape: “I don’t know that we will ever know who hands-on killed the corrections officer, Vallandingham.” Later Mr. Jones asked former prosecutor Hogan: “When it comes to Officer Vallandingham, who killed him?” Judge Hogan replied: “I don’t know. And I don’t think we’ll ever know.” Nonetheless, four spokespersons and supposed leaders of the uprising have been found guilty of the officer’s aggravated murder and sentenced to death.
Who did kill Officer Vallandingham?
With the help of Attorney Niki Schwartz, three prisoner representatives accepted a 21 point agreement and a peaceful surrender followed. The agreement stated in Point 6, “Administrative discipline and criminal proceedings will be fairly and impartially administered without bias against individuals or groups.” Point 14 added, “There will be no retaliatory actions taken toward any inmate or groups of inmates.”
What is to be done?
So, what can we do?
The first task is to make it possible for the men condemned to death and life in prison to tell their stories, on camera, in face-to-face interviews with representatives of the media.
I urge all present not to be distracted by official talk about alternative means of communication. The state tells us that the men condemned to death can write letters and make telephone calls. But the media access that these prisoners seek is the kind of exchange that can occur in courtroom cross-examination. The condemned are saying to us, “Before you kill me, give me a chance to join with you in trying to figure out what actually occurred.”