Just got word that Soja has ended his hunger strike

From: Redbird Prison Abolition:
Nov. 4th 2013

UPDATE: Just got word that Soja has ended his hunger strike.

“I ended my hunger strike Nov 1, 2013, after a long discussion about my property and the harassment, I agreed to come off strike if my property was brought to me, which was given to me a short while later.

However, my issues with the harassment wasn’t taken too serious in my opinion. I was only told that he would keep his attention on the issue and be fair if something was to happen. At that point  his attention won’t stop something happening to me if that’s what is planned.”

Statement by Cornelius Soja Harris about his peaceful hunger protest that he started on Oct. 12th

Statement by Cornelius Soja Harris, October 31st, 2013:
Because of the lack of fear in my heart and the victories I achieved at trial several months back, I am now a marked man, Every official at OSP from the correctional officer to the warden has violated their own policies when it comes to me. I have experienced some of the worst conditions a man can experience in prison; however, I have managed to control the extreme violence I am capable of inflicting on my tormentors, but everything has its limits, even patience.
I have been refusing food since the 12th of October, and it don’t look like there’s an end in sight. My demands are simple:
          I am asking the administration to put separations on me and the officers who were involved in the criminal cases I recently went to trial for, and
          To hand over my clothing items that were recently sent to me a few days ago. I was authorized to order these items by the former warden Bobby because my property was destroyed by officers several months ago. Deputy warden Remmick is trying to blackmail me with my clothing items, stating I will get my clothing items when I ride out of state.
          My final demand is that all of my informal complaints be fairly investigated and the officers who threatened and harassed me be punished, and all the fake conduct reports they wrote on me be tossed out.
I have tried to compromise with these people over and over, but compromise with such an enemy is impossible. They want me to surrender my pride, courage, individuality, self-respect and my self-determination, and that I can not do!
I am asking for the support of my comrades on the outside who care about the quality of justice.
I will continue to fight for myself regardless, but I know the power is in the people, and my people is who I want on my team.
Written by Cornelius Harris, October 31st, 2013, sent to the editor of Ohio Prison Watch.
Address:
Cornelius Harris
# 525945
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505
What can you do?

Tel. of Warden Jay Forshey: (330) 743-0700, ext. 2000
Please call the prison and ask to speak to Warden Forshey, and please politely ask that he orders the humble things Cornelius Harris asks be done. You can email the Warden by writing his first and second name separated by a dot, followed by: @odrc.state.oh.us 
We heard from the Warden that he is trying to meet with Cornelius. Also that the harassment allegations are being investigated by the institutional inspector. – We wonder how independent the inspector is, but we hope that the harassments will stop. We want to trust the warden that he does everything he can to make sure no one is being harassed by staff, being that a prisoner is in a situation of dependency and that any (mis)use of power against a prisoner (or any human being) is detrimental to the prisoner, his or her development, human dignity, and that is in itself bad for all of humanity.

Please also write to Cornelius Harris #A525945 to let him know you support him. He can also be reached via Jpay.com.

Note from OH PW: Cornelius Soja Harris wrote also that the first shift shines the light in his eyes every time they do a security check, and refuses to take him to recreation. They also use racial slurs against him such as: “nigger”, as well as disrespectful terms such as: “bitch”, “fag,” “piece of shit.”

Soja on Hunger Strike Against Continued Torture and Retaliation – refusing food since Oct. 12th!

From: Redbird Prison Abolition, Oct 21st 2013:

Cornelius “Soja” Harris, the supermax prisoner who endured multiple extended hunger strikes early in 2013 is again refusing food.

Harris requested a transfer to a safer facility, where he wouldn’t be targeted for retaliation by staff, as he had been at OSP for years. The prison administration refused to transfer him in-state, but approved a transfer to a prison in Maryland.

Harris initially accepted the transfer, but requested more information about the prison he’d be going to, what conditions were like and whether or not he’d be on 23 hour a day solitary confinement as is the case for prisoners at OSP.

The UN has classified this type of long term solitary confinement as a torture method, but it remains increasingly common in US prisons. Harris refuses to comply with torture, and has thus been targetted by OSP staff. Harris said he would refuse to ride out, unless he had assurance that the torture of solitary confinement would cease in the Maryland prison.

In response OSP staff threatened to hurt Harris and destroy his property. Harris responded to these threats by going on a peaceful hunger strike. He has been refusing food since Oct 12th, OSP officials say that they have met with Harris about the hunger strike and are awaiting a date for the transfer to Maryland, where standard reception procedures will take place to determine his security level and conditions of confinement. In the meantime, other staff are interfering with the delivery of a clothing box that one of Harris’ supporters had sent to him.

Please call the prison and request that Cornelius Harris’ demands be met and that Lt Bright, who threatened Harris, not be allowed access to Harris or his property.

Call 330-743-0700 and dial ext 2006 for the Warden’s office. The secretary will likely transfer you to Officer Remmick’s voicemail, where you can leave a message. Reference Cornelius Harris’ prisoner number: 525-945.

You can also write support letters to Soja at:

Cornelius “Soja” Harris 525-945
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown OH 44505

Or via Jpay.com

Loss of Hope

Reblogged from the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Aug. 6th, 2013

My name is Vicki Adams Werneke and I am a Federal Public Defender. My colleague Joseph (Joe) Wilhelm and I represented Billy Slagle. 

This Friday, August 9, will mark my 20th year of doing capital work. I was hoping the date would be celebrated with the saving of another life, and by all accounts it would have been. Sadly, as happens with our clients at times, he lost hope. Apparently Billy wanted to die on his own terms. Although I can’t fault him, I am dismayed and a little angry that he made that decision. Anyone who has been in this macabre business very long knows the emotional roller coaster that the clients and defense teams go through when trying to save a life. The roller coaster in Billy’s case had many high moments and many low moments.

Two years ago we conducted a clemency hearing with compelling reasons why Billy should not be executed. He was just 18 when the murder happened, and at that young age he was already a chronic alcoholic. In fact, he was highly intoxicated on drugs and alcohol at time of the crime. Billy came from a very dysfunctional family and with 90 proof roots. He did not enter the victim’s house with any intent to do her harm, just steal from her to get money for more alcohol and drugs, and was very remorseful from the beginning. At that time two years ago, the Governor did not make a final decision on clemency, but instead granted a reprieve because of the lethal injection litigation. The new execution date was set for August 7, 2013.

In the interim two years, Billy reconnected with his family. He had always been withdrawn and getting him to talk was difficult at times. He was always respectful, he just didn’t show emotion or want to be a bother to anyone. But in those two years, he was more communicative and talked about his dreams for what he would make of his life if given an opportunity to live the rest of his life in prison. He knew that he would never get out and would have accepted a life imprisonment without parole. He talked about learning his native language, so he could talk to his aunt. Our office got him a book and CD set so he could start learning. He wanted to work with animals and dreamed of being involved in the program that inmates are allowed to train service dogs. His family talked about he rescued injured animals when he was a child and how good he was with them. Billy talked about how he wanted to help his nieces and nephews and be the patriarch of the family.

In preparation for the clemency hearing in July, we approached the county prosecutor to see if they would at least not oppose our clemency request. The prosecutor had made many public statements that he was approaching capital cases differently, but we weren’t sure whether that meant newly indicted cases or older ones like Billy’s. To our great surprise, the prosecutor actually joined our request! His written response indicated that he agreed clemency was warranted in Billy’s case. The Parole Board still had a clemency hearing and the prosecutor said reiterated his support for a commutation of sentence and explained why the office was taking that position. The prosecutor also told the Board that the murder victim’s family supported the prosecutor’s position. It was incredible and we were so hopeful. So was Billy.

The parole board issued their report on July 16 and the vote was 6-4 against clemency, which meant we had 4 votes for clemency! Of those 4 board members who voted for clemency, 3 were on the board in 2011 and had voted to deny clemency. We were disappointed that 6 members voted against, but again were hopeful. So was Billy.

But then Governor Kasich denied clemency on July 24. No explanation given other than “nothing had changed in two years.” We were devastated and felt like we had been punched in the stomach. So was Billy.
Circumstances had changed in two years, but I guess it didn’t matter to Governor Kasich that the county prosecutor stated Billy was not the worse of the worst and did not deserve execution. I guess it didn’t matter that the victim’s family was in favor of clemency.

Since the prosecutor supported clemency, we reached out to him again to see if he would agree to a judicial proceeding that would result in Billy’s sentence being modified to life imprisonment. The assistant prosecutor said he would discuss it with Prosecutor McGinty and get back to us. We waited as long as we could, and on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, we filed a Request for Leave to File a Motion for New Trial asking the trial court to vacate the death sentence. We hoped the prosecutor would not oppose the motion and we could work out a deal where Billy would be resentenced to life imprisonment. We also filed a Motion for Stay of Execution with the Ohio Supreme Court and a Motion to Vacate the Sentence. The thought was to give every court and judicial officer the tools to do the right thing and stop the execution. The judge summarily denied the motion the Motion for a New Trial on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, without a response from the prosecutor. We learned of the denial when I checked the online court docket at 4:30pm that day, which showed the order was posted at 2:30 that afternoon. No call from the court and so far not even a copy of the order in the mail.

In the meantime, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the prosecutor to respond to the stay motion and the motion to vacate by Friday, August 2, 2013, at noon. The prosecutor responded late in the afternoon on Thursday, August 1, 2013.The prosecutor said they were opposing our motion seven though they admitted that at the clemency hearing they were in favor of a sentence commutation.

On Thursday, August 1, 2013, we filed a notice of appeal of the summary denial of our request for leave to file a Motion for New Trial. The same day, the Court of Appeals sua sponte ordered the briefs to be filed by Monday, August 5, 2013, by 9:00 am and that oral argument would be at1:30 pm. We were pleased, although knew it would have been difficult for us to win. We still had hope.

Our investigator Jan and I went to the prison on Friday, August 2, 2013, to visit with Billy. I shared with him the responses from the prosecutor to our stay motion and the motion to vacate. I also gave him the brief that Joe was filing with the Court of Appeals that day. He was very sad and obviously disappointed, but there was no indication that he was thinking of taking his life. I had documents for him to sign so we could take further appeals and he signed them without hesitation. I tried to give him hope, but also to prepare him for the worse. I told him we had the oral argument on Monday and that we were still fighting for him. Billy has always been somewhat withdrawn so it wasn’t unusual for him to not be very talkative. He was grateful for our visit, but was ready to go back to his cell after about an hour. I told Billy God didn’t want him executed. After Governor Kasich denied clemency, Billy told his family he didn’t want them to visit in person anymore. However, he did call them every day.

While Jan and I were driving the long 4 hours back to Cleveland, Joe called me. At about 5:00that evening, Joe had received a call from Prosecutor McGinty and his two assistants. Apparently one of the assistant prosecutors from the 1988 trial told McGinty that there had been a plea deal offered to Billy’s trial attorney back then. If Billy plead guilty, they would agree that he would be sentenced to life imprisonment with parole after 30 years. The assistant prosecutor said Billy’s trial attorney rejected the offer. However, it appears that Billy had never been informed of the plea deal. Billy even told us that had he been given a deal back then, he would have taken it. He did not know that he could have plead guilty back then and been spared the death penalty. About an hour after Joe talked with McGinty, one of the assistants called asking if we were going to file another stay motion with the Ohio Supreme Court. Joe replied “Of course”, especially based on this new information. The prosecutor told Joe they would not oppose the motion, meaning the Ohio Supreme Court would most likely grant the motion and the execution would be stopped. We would have been able to work out a deal where Billy’s death sentence would be vacated and he would have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

This was great news! Joe and I worked on Saturday to prepare a strategy and the pleadings .However, we were not able to tell Billy because we didn’t have access to him after hours. We didn’t tell his family out of concern that if the information leaked, others would try to stop the support from prosecutor’s office. We sent an email to the case manager at the prison requesting a phone call first thing Monday morning.

But then Sunday morning, the world shattered. I was in church with my dad and my phone kept vibrating in the middle of the sermon. I could tell I was getting phone calls, but didn’t look at my phone. As soon as I could find a discreet time to take a glance at my phone, I saw a text message from Jan telling me that Billy’s sister called to tell us that he had hanged himself. He was gone.

No one from the prison called us, his attorneys. I learned that after they called Billy’s family, the prison media person called the press. By the time I got out of church, it was all over the news.

There are lessons to learn from this case for everyone. I hope those in position to make the final decisions about a man’s life or death take heed of these lessons. The roller coaster of emotions that I, as a lawyer, experience is heart wrenching—but that is only a fraction of how Billy felt. Even in a case where there is no question of guilt, there remain serious questions about whether the death sentence was the appropriate punishment and the cat and mouse games played by those in power. Hope is a powerful thing and loss of hope can be deadly.

Governor Kasich: Please Stop the Execution of Billy Slagle!

This comes from an email received on July 22nd. We urge the Ohio governor to stop the execution of Mr Billy Slagle:

Native American Billy Slagle, a pen pal of mine, is on death row for a crime he committed in 1987 when he was just 18 years old. A psychiatrist testified at trial that his emotional age was only 12. Billy’s tragic life leading up to the murder of Mari Ann Pope– a life marked by abuse, neglect, drug and alcohol abuse– explains why this young man of 18 years had not emotionally developed beyond age 12. He became already an alcoholic at the age of four. No one can blame alcoholism on a child of four years.
According to the 2011 Parole Boards’s report Joseph Wilhelm of the Federal Public Defender’s Office told the parole board that “Slagle was a broken person who had a broken brain from chemical addiction, a broken childhood from abuse and neglect and was emotionally retarded”.
A federal appellate judge said prosecutors were “most vile” during the murder trial. U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore described Slagle’s trial in CuyahogaCounty as infected with unfairness, and said his conviction should be overturned because prosecutors in Cleveland repeatedly made inflammatory comments during the trial.
Judge Moore, the only member of the panel with a Cleveland tie and former Case Western Reserve University law professor, was highly critical of remarks prosecutors made that portrayed Slagle, an American Indian, “as a nonbeliever or a believer of dubious faith.”
U.S. Circuit Judge John Rogers, who delivered the majority opinion, said 15 improper comments were made during the trial, but found none were strong enough to cause a miscarriage of justice.
Some of the comments included statements that Slagle “has no conscience” and that his life “has been one big lie” and that he was “one of the greatest threats against community and civilization.” The prosecutors also belittled defense witnesses, calling one expert on alcoholism a person who offered “only liberal quack theories.”
I was sorely shocked to get to know that Ohio Parole Board recommended in a unanimous vote in 2011, that the Governor of Ohio should deny Billy Slagle’s clemency request.
After a stay of all executions in Ohio from 2011 to 2013 – due to juridical problems with a new execution protocol – the Ohio Parole Board voted 6-4 to turn down a new request for clemency for Billy Slagle on July 16th, 2013, despite the mitigating circumstances, although even Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty asked the Ohio Parole Board to recommend clemency to the Governor of Ohio to commute Billy Slagle’s death sentence to life without parole. I endorse his request wholeheartedly taking into account the mitigating circumstances of Native American Billy Slagle who was a teenager and chronic alcoholic when he committed the crime.
Billy Slagle is not the teenager anymore who committed a crime in 1987. Billy Slagle is no alcoholic anymore. He is a grown-up kind man who has spent more than the half of his lifetime on death row. He has changed entirely, and feels deep remorse for the crime that he committed as a juvenile of 18 years. 

“I’m neither inherently evil nor a bad person, but rather someone that has made a terrible mistake and wishes that I could take that night all back,” Billy Slagle wrote in a statement to the board in 2011. I know my friend Billy deserves the mercy of the Governor of Ohio!
Please ask Governor Kasich to stop the execution of my friend Billy despite the denial of the request to recommend clemency to him by 6 members of the Board!
Remembering the words of the New Testament “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) I am imploring Ohio to show clemency to Native American Billy Slagle! 

Please urge Governor Kasich to spare the life of Native American Billy Slagle!

Thank you. 

Solidarity with prisoners in California from a supermax-prisoner in Ohio

This was sent to us as a call for solidarity and support for the California prisoners who are going on a hunger strike as of July 8th, by Greg Curry in Ohio, who has been held in the supermax since his false indictment and conviction following the Lucasville prison disturbance of 1993. Greg and others have had to resort to hunger strikes many times to fight for basic rights. 

7-1-13 For Distribution:

Why should a prisoner in Ohio or Minnesota, or New Mexico, support California prisoners as they move into a crucial stage of struggle for their just do?

My humble opinion is: how could any prisoner think that these apartheid-style policies being used in California won’t come knocking in Florida, WV, Illinois, or any prison system, at any given time? Remember California is said to be a liberal (in terms of political policy) state. How many conservative governors are envious of such harsh prison policies right now?!

I urge all of you in every prison and your able-bodied supporters (each of you can ask one of your friends, supporters outside who are in good health) to support this July 8th hunger strike in some form, but don’t wait till this kind of policy pays you a visit… 

Remember Lucasville 
Justiceforlucasvilleprisoners.wordpress.com

Greg Curry (Ohio State Penitentiary)

Gregcurry.org

Greg Curry #213-159
OSP
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road,
Youngstown, OH 44505

Lucasville Media Access Hunger Strike Ends

May 6th, 2013
For Immediate Release to the Public

From: Siddique Abdullah Hasan and Gregory Curry:

Lucasville Media Access Hunger Strike Ends
[click on link to hear the voice version by Hasan]

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO– Today, at 3:15 p.m., Greg Curry and I, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, decided to end our almost month-long hunger strike. The strike commenced on April 11, the 20th anniversary of the Lucasville prison uprising. The sole purpose of our strike was to vigorously challenge the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) continuously denying us to have direct access to the media- that is: on-camera interviews with the media.

While both death-row and non-death row prisoners in Ohio are granted on-camera access to the media, those who have been reailroaded and convicted of crimes stemming from the Lucasville Uprising have continuously been denied equal protection under the law. 

And though ODRC policy permits its prisoners to meet with the media to discuss their criminal cases, this policy has not been applicable to those of of convicted of riot related offenses. In fact, in 2003, the then-prison chief, Reginald Wilkinson, made it perfectly clear to Kevin Mayhood a staff reporter at the Columbus Dispatch that: “no inmates convicted of riot crimes will be permitted to speak with [them].” This blanket and collective denial is contrary to ODRC’s own state-wide Media Policy, which Mr. Wilkinson’s successors have been unconstitutionally enforcing his vindictive directive. 

We want to thank all our supporters, as well as some reporters in the media, who have been agressively assisting us in challenging this unconstitutional media blockade.

We also want to thank the various organizations who have expressed interest in this matter– that is, the flagrant violation of our first amendment guarantees which protect freedom of speech and redress from government excesses.

Finally we want to thank Warden David Bobby for negotiating with us in good faith and for being the liaison between us and his hard-line superiors at Central Office.

Because of these factors, we decided to end our hunger strike and allow this crucial matter to be litigated through the court. God willing, we will be granted a resounding legal victory against the prisoncrats who wish to silence us in a deliberate ongoing attempt to prevent us from revealing the truth about our criminal convictions, convictions which are a serious affront and travesty of justice. Until then, I remain…

In the trenches,

Siddique Abdullah Hasan.
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