Revolution #223, January 23, 2011

Letter from a reader:

Ohio Prisoners Protest Inhumane Conditions

On January 3, 2011, four prisoners launched a hunger strike at the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, to protest the 17 years of horrible isolation and inhumane treatment. The four men, Bomani Hondo Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb, and Namir Abdul Mateen, were sentenced to death for their alleged part in the killing of 9 inmates and 1 guard in the 11 day major prison uprising at Lucasville in 1993. While the actual circumstances behind these deaths is not known, there is no credible evidence that any of these men were involved. The real  reason for the death sentences is that they were in different degrees activists and leaders in the uprising.

After enduring years of dehumanizing treatment and isolation, they are saying, “NO MORE!” and began the hunger strike. (Because of serious health issues Namir Abdul Mateen was unable to go on the hunger strike. George Skatzes, the 5th man who got the death penalty for the rebellion is at another prison because the authorities think he might commit suicide.) For 16 plus years, they have been confined to their cells for 23 hours a day. They cannot have any physical contact with relatives and friends who visit, and they are not allowed to be around other prisoners at anytime, including during “recreation” time. They are being punished for their involvement in the 1993 uprising and are being treated worse than the more than 100 prisoners on death row. One demand is for them to be put in with other death row inmates who they say are getting better treatment. Prisoners on death row can walk around, have collective meals outside their cells, and have some slight physical contact with their visiting family and friends. Bomani has been told by prison authorities that he will be kept in social isolation until they execute him.

Just before the hunger strike began, Bomani Shakur stated, “When the uprising [1993 rebellion in Lucasville] was over, and all was said and done, five of us were singled out as leaders and sentenced to death....[W]e have undergone penalty on top of penalty, been kept from fully participating in our appeals, from touching our friends and families, denied adequate medical treatment, and so many other things that are too numerous to name. In a word, we have been tortured. And yes, I am aware that the word ‘tortured’ is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.”

The 1993 uprising was the result of years of prison abuse and clampdown. In 1990, after a white teacher was allegedly killed by a prisoner, the prison authorities carried out Operation Shakedown. Lines were painted on the floor on which prisoners had to march to meals; there were special post office boxes set up by the warden so that prisoners could snitch on each other, and prisoners were allowed one brief telephone call at Christmas time per year. Then in 1993, Muslim prisoners protested being inoculated with a TB shot that contained alcohol, a substance that cannot be ingested according to the Muslim religion. When the authorities refused to comply with the demand not to take the shots, 400 prisoners took over a cell block for 11 days, during which all kinds of pent up outrage of the prisoners were expressed. The uprising was against many prison conditions. For playing an important role in the rebellion, the system has never forgiven the Lucasville 5.

After the rebellion, the state built the supermax in Youngstown which had no outside recreation area. When Staughton Lynd, a lawyer and author of Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising asked Wilkinson, head of the Ohio prison system, about the fact that there is no way for the inmates to go outside, feel the rain, see the sun and exercise, he replied,”Well, the Lucasville riot began on the recreation yard.”

Then came the railroading of the 5 men the authorities claim led the rebellion and had a hand in the killing of 9 inmates and 1 guard. During the trial of Bomani, the prosecution did not provide discovery, which means that the prosecution is supposed to give the defense information that might be exculpatory. The prosecution gave the defense lawyer a list of 50 names and a list of interview summaries, 3 or 4 sentences and then said they can’t tell which prisoner gave which summarized interview because that would be a security risk.

Bomani’s appeal centered around the issue of discovery and his petition for habeas corpus. In the appeal hearing, Staughton Lynd had a statement by a prisoner which said, “I was there. I watched the events for which LaMar [Bomani Shakur], was convicted. LaMar had nothing to do with it.” In other cases, prisoners were coerced by the authorities to target the 5 men for being leaders of the uprising. (For more details and overview surrounding the 1993 Lucasville rebellion, see Staughton Lynd’s book, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising.) At this point Bomani has lost his last appeal and says he is now closer to being executed.

An open letter to Ohio prison officials on behalf of the Lucasville prisoners on hunger strike has been signed by a thousand activists, academics, artists and others from the U.S. and around the world. It states in part: “Keeping men in supermax isolation for long periods clearly violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.”

As we go to press, Staughton Lynd told Revolution that prison authorities have agreed verbally to some of the demands, including that the four men can be out of their cells 18 hours a week and can be   around other prisoners, the ordinary death row inmates; however, they cannot play any sports with them or eat with them. They can be in an area with others to talk, but no group activity. As of February 1 they can have semi-contact visits; that is, there will be a plastic opening for inmates to hold their loved one’s hand. The inmates will have access to computerized research on their legal cases. They will have the opportunity for a one-hour phone call every day. It was much less before. They will have access to everything in the commissary and they can receive packages from friends and family.

However, the state did not give in on the demand to be put onto death row with the other 125 men. And there is no signed agreement between the prisoners and the prison authorities. We encourage readers to remain vigilant, and stay tuned for updates at

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