A Message from Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) from Ohio’s death row about injustice, racism, and getting on with life

5 September 2015

Hello everybody:

Well, I finally received and read the court’s decision. What can I say? It’s so blatantly bogus that it’s almost impossible to form words to describe how I feel. It’s tragic. I mean, I’ve read the State’s theory quite a few times over the years, and I’ve refuted it every step of the way. But to now have it stand as the final word on the matter is a real slap in the face (to say the least). This system is such a joke, and these people, with their fancy titles and fancy robes, are nothing but a bunch of racist idiots with power—a power that they don’t deserve. And I’m expected to continue this charade by filing this or that motion, writing to this or that person, as if appealing to these people’s supposed conscience really means something beyond reducing me to a sniveling fool. I’m done with that. I’m done pleading and begging for my body, as if “my life” is something that they can truly take. My life is the sum total of all the thoughts and feelings that reside inside my mind, and they can never touch that.

We’ve given these people (?) way too much power over us, entrusted them with too much that is too precious, only to have them use, abuse and confuse us over and over again.

Why? Why do we continue to believe in this dream, this lie that we live in a post-racial society that recognizes only human beings? When will we ever wake up and see that all they have ever done is hide what’s real by revealing what’s false? I mean, contradiction after contradiction, and we swallow it all. Why? And this is how we’re expected to live our whole lives: watching little boys get gunned down at the playground for playing with toy guns—and no one is held accountable. How is that justice? A man standing on the sidewalk selling cigarettes (in the richest country in the world, no less) is murdered in broad daylight, on video, for everyone to see—and still no one is held accountable. And I’m supposed to be shocked and surprised that I lost my appeal?

Let’s get real. They’ve been killing niggers for centuries around here—hanging ‘em, burying ‘em, tar and feathering ‘em. . .  And ain’t I just a nigger, a THING? No? Well, tell that to the Supreme Court who, in 1875, declared that Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom because HE WAS NOT A PERSON, BUT PROPERTY. Better yet, tell it to Eric Garner’s family who, instead of receiving justice for their loss, were given a bag full of money to bury their grief, as if he was some kind of farm animal.

Make no mistake: when it comes to the so-called “justice system” in this country, we’re still stuck in the 1800s; the only thing that has changed is the vantage point from which we view what we choose to see. So look closely, adjust your scope, and you’ll see the tree and the rope. They’re still hanging niggers in America!

Over 100 of you showed up at my oral arguments last December and saw with your own eyes how ridiculous this whole thing is; the State couldn’t defend what they did. Many of you left with an optimistic feeling, believing that there was no way such a mockery could be rewarded with a victory. I feel your pain. It’s the same pain I felt after the blindfold was ripped from my eyes twenty years ago when a man, testifying at my trial, got on the stand and claimed to have had microscopic microchips embedded in his brain. There’s no way a jury is going to find me guilty of this, I told myself. But find me guilty they did—and then they sentenced me to death! Believe me, I know what it means to be disillusioned. Indeed, for the past twenty years, I’ve watched the so-called “wheel of justice” roll over my rights while my alleged attorneys have done nothing but sit back and collect a fee to auction off my life. Trust me, this whole process has been nothing but a sham.

Case in point: Three weeks after oral arguments were heard in my case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on another case in which the principal issue, once again, revolved around the withholding of exculpatory (favorable) evidence. In this case, a Mr. Darryl Gumm admitted to the kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder of a ten-year-old boy. However, since the State neglected to divulge to Mr. Gumm’s attorneys that other suspects—two of whom reportedly confessed to the murder—were initially pursued, Mr. Gumm was granted relief. He was also granted relief on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, after the prosecutor improperly elicited testimony from Mr. Gumm’s ex-roommate who testified that he (Mr. Gumm) “fucked a horse” that belonged to the roommate’s family.

Now, I think we can all agree that there’s nothing more deplorable than the rape and murder of a 10-year-old child (to say nothing of the horse!)—and yet, in reviewing his claims, the Sixth Circuit, notwithstanding Mr. Gumm’s confession, was correct in granting him relief since the State violated his Constitutional rights by not turning over evidence that contradicted their theory of events. This is the exact same thing the prosecution did in my case (and worse), and I, likewise, should have received relief. In fact, not only did Mr. Gumm and I have the same issue, but we had the same attorney, the same federal judge, and appealed to the same court (I wish I was making this stuff up).

On his initial appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, Mr. Gumm’s convictions were upheld (as were mine), after which an appeal was filed in federal court. Here, Mr. Gumm was appointed an attorney named Kate McGarry (as was I), who diligently pursued his claims, even after his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Chief Magistrate Michael Mertz  (same judge as I) presided over the case and recommended that Mr. Gumm receive relief. The State appealed to the Sixth Circuit, who ultimately upheld the District Court’s decision to grant relief to Mr. Gumm.

I present this case and its particulars, not to judge or castigate Mr. Gumm (obviously, he’s a very sick man), but to illustrate the arbitrary and capricious (and racist!) way in which “justice” is meted out in this country, and why the death penalty cannot be administered fairly.

Unlike Mr. Gumm, I never confessed to any crime; indeed, when the State offered me a deal, I rejected it outright and demanded a trial. I said it then, and I say it now: I didn’t kill anybody during the riot. But instead of turning over evidence that would help prove my innocence, the State played a game of mix and match, mixing random witness names with random excerpts of statements, and then told me to figure it out on my own. They never attempted to treat me fairly.

In 2007, when I was called back for an evidentiary hearing, I was allowed, through my attorneys, to put Lead Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier on the stand. He was the one who had fashioned the guidelines by which exculpatory evidence was turned over. Therefore, getting him on the stand was pivotal in proving that I was deprived of my right to due process. Under examination, he admitted that he had devised a Brady scheme that was decidedly narrow; to wit, in order for a statement to be viewed as favorable to my defense the witness had to “specifically exclude” me as a suspect.

In other words, if a witness came forward and claimed to have seen one of the murders, his statement was not viewed as exculpatory unless he specifically stated, “By the way, Keith LaMar wasn’t there.” This is crazy. Why would anybody, testifying to what they saw, think it necessary to specifically exclude me if they didn’t see me? And if they didn’t see me, how could they automatically assume I was a suspect? It didn’t make sense—unless, of course, the whole purpose behind narrowing the qualifications was to stifle and hinder the defense.

Because of what Piepmeier revealed on the stand at my evidentiary hearing, attorneys representing other prisoners who were sentenced to death after the riot (S.A. Hasan and George Skatzes) were able to convince the court to put their clients’ cases on hold while they combed the prosecutor’s files to determine for themselves what exactly was wrongfully withheld—and whether or not it was exculpatory.

It was the only fair and reasonable solution to circumvent the preposterous provisions that were established by the State (note: this all happened in 2011, over four years ago, and their cases are still on hold!). But when I asked my attorney, Kate McGarry, to file the necessary motions that would put my case on hold and allow me to go back and review the files, she refused (after initially giving me her word that she would). Why?

To put it plainly: racism. Kate McGarry is a racist. That’s the real reason why she didn’t diligently pursue my claims, and why I lost my appeal. I mean, how else to explain it? A white man admits to the kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder of a ten-year-old boy, and she goes above and beyond to protect his rights. Meanwhile, I’m swinging in the wind, strung up in a tree of lies.

About being a racist, I’m sure Kate would vehemently deny such an accusation. But racists very seldom acknowledge that they are racist. Once, while engaged in casual conversation, Kate broached the subject of Trayvon Martin’s death, wanting to know what I thought about it. I told her point-blank that it was racist bullshit.

“How can you justify killing a teenage boy who’s walking home drinking pop, eating Skittles?” I asked. She went on to explain George Zimmerman’s side, as if there was a plausible excuse for why he did what he did. That was the first time I saw it.

On another occasion, I asked Kate about a Senate bill that was being proposed in Arizona, having to do with improperly stopping suspected illegal immigrants. I wanted to know if she was in favor of something that would effectively violate the rights of large groups of Mexicans. She said something to the effect that, “those people enjoy our freedoms, but they don’t want to pay taxes. . .” She went on to tell me about a time when she was having one of her houses built and suspected that there were a few “undocumented workers” on the site.

“Did you go out and stop production? “ I asked.

“Oh, no, I didn’t do that,” she replied, without the slightest sense of hypocrisy in being willing to benefit from their cheap labor while at the same time denying them the right to live as human beings.

Imagine what it felt like coming to the realization that I was being represented by a racist. And before I’m accused of singling Kate out, let me be clear: this whole process was steeped in racism, from the strategic selection of the all-white jury to the hand-picked racist judge that presided over my trial. And that’s the true truth.

So, here I am, standing on the other side of a very long and treacherous journey. What now? In thinking about what to do with what remains of my time, I think it’s important to turn my attention to the movement to abolish the death penalty. Indeed, if we are ever going to move beyond the 1800s, we have to end this barbaric practice of State-sanctioned murder.

There will be a 7-day Walk to Stop Executions (October 4-10) from the Death House in Lucasville to the State House in Columbus to show opposition to capital punishment, and I want to encourage all of you who are able to come out and show your support. We have to stop this thing, and only we—standing together!—can do it. So please show your support. You can find more information at: http://walkagainstthedeathpenalty.footprintsforpeace.net.

In addition to that, I intend to increase my efforts to reach out to at-risk youth. I’ve had several opportunities to phone in to juvenile detention centers and talk with groups of young men who’re at the beginning of this road, and it’s been a very meaningful exchange. I want to double my efforts there and get them some books that’ll teach them about what it means to be alive. A very good book called “Between the World and Me” (Ta-Nehisi Coates) just came out, and I want to get as many copies as possible into juvenile detention centers.  It’s a powerful piece, written to the author’s 15-year-old son about the perils of inhabiting a black body in a racist country.

To raise money to purchase the books, I’m putting up for auction one of the paintings I recently finished, a piece I’m calling “Chillin’ on Green Court,” a reference to the projects where I spent most of my formative years.  It took me 117 hours to complete, and I’m hoping you all will support me in my desire to get some books in to these young people. They need our help. The auction can be found online at Ebay through September 25th at: http://csr.ebay.com/sell/success.jsf?itemid=121760895747&mode=AddItem&draftId=483016342002

I also intend to resume writing my own manuscript. While awaiting the decision, I found it hard to concentrate on writing, which is why I took up painting. Now that the federal court has said what it has to say, I need to get back to my life. I refuse to allow these people, and this situation, to distract me from my purpose. They put me in this madness to make an example out of me, to show other rebellious souls what they’ll do to them if they resist. They tried to break me, to strip me of my strength and rob me of my smile, all so that they could parade me around as a warning to others. But, look! I’m still standing! I’m still smiling! I’m still fighting!

It ain’t over,

Signature of Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) Keith LaMar (Bomani Shakur) summer 2015 KeithLamar's mile 2015 KeithLamar with friends 2015   Bomani Shakur

New Film Sheds Light on Lucasville Prison Uprising Cases:

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Crime and Punishment

By Bomani Shakur

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
– Dostoyevsky

If what Dostoyevsky says is true (and I believe it is), then America, which boast the largest prison population in the world, is perhaps the most uncivilized country there is. A bold statement, I know, especially coming from someone who has spent the past twenty-three years behind bars. But if what Dostoyevsky says is true, then what happens inside these places is crucial to understanding what kind of society we live in; and who better to speak to the reality of prison life than someone who is living the experience?

But no one wants to learn about the madness that predominates inside these places. People – average, law-abiding citizens- are losing their homes, jobs, and are struggling to survive, and the last thing anyone wants to hear is how hard prison is for a bunch of criminals. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” is the prevailing sentiment and attitude. It never occurs that the rising incarceration rate is connected to the same economic and political policies that resulted in the home-foreclosure crisis and the rise in unemployment.

When people think of crime, what usually comes to mind is a poor person inflicting pain upon another poor person. Very seldom, if ever, do we stop and allow ourselves to consider the forces that create crime; trapped by the pull of our own necessities and fears, we live reactively, focusing on the effects instead of the causes of what we see and believe—and so we remain divided. And it’s precisely because of this division that we are our own worst enemies—divided, they rule us!

But who are “they”, and what do they have to do with the way in which we see and treat each other?

Howard Zinn, in his book A People’s History of the United States, tells us who they are and how they use us against one another:

“[T]he wealthiest one percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled…”

Hence, in the context of a capitalistic society, crime is the result of an unequal distribution of wealth. As such, a distinction between guilt and responsibility must be made. For instance, a person can be guilty of selling drugs but not at all responsible for creating the conditions wherein selling drugs is the only viable option of survival. Indeed, when one lives in a society where profit takes precedence over human potential, one’s very existence becomes a crime; and whether this takes on the form of selling drugs, stealing food, or joining a gang to fight over turf and limited resources, the goal is to stay alive.

I grew up in poverty, born to a marginally educated black woman who, because of a lack of opportunity, sought to raise me and my three siblings on welfare. In the whole 42 years I’ve been alive, I’ve only seen my father one time. By the age of ten, I was stealing food from the neighborhood grocery store in order to survive. I was thirteen when I took my first joyless joyride in a stolen vehicle, which ultimately led to my being sent away for the first time. By the time I turned seventeen, I had been living on my own for several years and selling drugs in one of the most impoverished, drug-infested neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio. A few months after my nineteenth birthday, in 1988, the year crack cocaine became an epidemic, I was involved in a shoot-out over money and I killed a rival drug dealer. For this, I was sent to prison to serve a life sentence for murder.

In a nutshell, this is the story of my life, and if any of it was unique, the telling of it would be inconsequential, an unnecessary recounting of my own personal troubles. However, what makes my story significant is that it’s the exact same tale told by millions of poor people who grow up in the slums of America, which points to the possibility of there being something larger than one’s personal troubles at work in the process to determine where one ends up in this society.

In his groundbreaking work on The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills, using the example of unemployment, explains the difference between personal troubles and societal issues:

When, in a society of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of the man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of society, and not merely the personal situation of a scatter of individuals.

Applying the same logic, it should be considered an issue that black people – in a country wherein they only represent thirteen percent of the population—make up 50 percent of those who are sent to prison. It is likewise an issue that virtually 100 percent of those behind bars are poor and come from economically deprived sections of society.

In addressing this issue, it’s not enough to point the finger at a bunch of so-called criminals and, without first looking at the economic and political institutions of society, claim that they are the sole cause of their predicament.

Despite what those in power would have us believe, no one starts out with the goal of becoming a criminal and spending the bulk of their lives behind bars, and in and out of prison. As individuals, we make choices based on what we perceive our options to be; and those options, be they good or bad, are a product of the society we live in.

“When a society is industrialized,” explains C. Wright Mills, “a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise and fall, a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a man takes new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesman becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar man; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father.”

Similarly, when a society is deindustrialized, a steel worker becomes a corrections officer; a would-be college student, a drug dealer. When communities are decimated and hemmed in by poverty, families take new heart or fall apart. When a fictitious “War on drugs” is declared on the inner-city, penitentiaries are built in rural areas and filled with criminals; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father.

Contrary to what we have been told, this is how life (under the system of capitalism) unfolds – not in a picnic basket of unlimited opportunity, but in a crucible of socioeconomic forces that force us to assume positions of survival. Thus, a steel worker becomes a corrections officer, not in pursuit of a lifelong dream but in order to feed his family. A boy growing up in the ghetto becomes a criminal/gang banger, not to glorify crime but in order to survive. And what C. Wright Mills would have us understand is that the various permutations that we as individuals undergo are directly connected to the economic and political permutations of the system.

When corporations, through Congress, lobby for the enactment of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), removing obstacles for corporate capital and goods to move back and forth between Mexico and the United States, they do so with full knowledge and understanding of the economic consequences. Cheaper labor means greater profits; but it also means the closing of factories, a lower standard of living, a subpar educational system, and an increase in crime, as normal, everyday citizens scramble to survive. And what do those in power do in order to address the ramifications of their decisions? They build more prisons.

With the advent of deindustrialization in the 1980s, the prison population in the United States more than quadrupled, peaking at 2.5 million and surpassing both South Africa and Russia in per capita prison populations. During the same period (1980-2007) – while 30 million people languished below the poverty line – the United States produced 1,000 billionaires, and 227,000 millionaires with the combined worth of $30 trillion, more than the GDP’s of China, Brazil, Japan, Russia, and the EU put together. This is how the system of capitalism works: the rich get richer, and the poor get screwed – i.e., fucked in the anus sans grease!

In his book Understanding Power, Noam Chomsky talks about what he refers to as “superfluous populations,” which is a very intellectual way of calling people “trash.” From the perspective of the rich, whose main objective is to accumulate wealth, human beings are useless when they no longer contribute to profit-making, so as a result, explains Noam Chomsky, they want to get rid of them—and the criminal justice system is one of the best ways of doing it.

So prisons—it must be understood—aren’t about controlling crime and punishing those who commit it; they’re about controlling the poor. Looked at correctly, it’s not an exaggeration to say that what is going on now is very similar to what was going on in the 1940s when Hitler was exterminating the Jews. The only real difference is that those who are now being thrown away are considered “criminals” which, let’s face it, makes it a whole lot easier to accept. But just as Hitler created the justification for the mass extermination of the Jews, so, too, have those in power created the justification for the mass incarceration of the poor.
When Ronald Reagan declared the so-called War on Drugs in the 1980s, a finely honed strategy of imposing mandatory sentences for particular kinds of drugs (read: crack cocaine) was used to lock up those from predominantly Black and Hispanic communities. For instance, a young man in the ghetto gets caught with a kilo of cocaine or twenty thousand dollars in cash, and he is sent to prison for twenty years. In the meantime, nothing is said about the chemical corporations who make billions of dollars from sending the necessary chemicals to Latin America in order to manufacture the very drugs that are destroying inner-cities throughout the United States.
And what about the bankers who launder billions of dollars in drug money through American banks? According to the O.E.C.D. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), it’s estimated that a half-trillion dollars in drug money gets laundered internationally each year—more than half of it ($260 billion) through American banks. But are any of these people in prison? The answer is NO! And the reason why none of these people are in prison is because those in power determine what constitutes a crime and, more importantly, who gets categorized as criminals. A white man laundering billions of dollars in drug money is a businessman. A black man selling drugs in the ghetto is a criminal; and for his “crimes,” he is sent to prison.

And what happens to that Black—poor White or Hispanic—man when he enters America’s prisons? If he makes it through orientation without being raped, he’s lucky. It’s a brutal world in here, and unless one is totally devoid of common sense, one very quickly learns that there is safety in numbers. In other words, the picture repeats and expands, and it’s the ghetto streets all over again. But in here the police operate without restraint, and the old adage about “absolute power corrupting absolutely” is on full display, Not a day goes by without someone being sprayed in the face with mace, shot with a pellet gun, or thrown down a flight of stairs.

A few weeks ago, while watching the news, I witnessed a group of college students in California being sprayed in the face with mace because they had the audacity to protest against the rising cost of college tuition, student-loan debt, and the uncertainty surrounding future employment. In New York City (and around the country), I witnessed members of Occupy Wall Street being forcibly evicted from their camps, some (as in Oakland California) being shot with pellet guns, thrown atop automobiles, and kicked and shoved about like cattle. Watching these things, it occurred to me that this is what Dostoyevsky must have meant when he said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Indeed, what many Americans witnessed and experienced for the first time is something that those of us in prison witness and experience on a daily basis.

So why are normal, everyday citizens being treated as criminals, and for what crimes are they being punished? From the perspective of those who own society, it’s considered a lack of appreciation when slaves rise up to question their masters; and of course when people come together and begin to talk earnestly about the inequity of the system, they automatically represent a threat to the status quo and must go. Then we learn how thin the veneer of civilization really is, and how fragile our so-called freedoms are.

When eyes are burning with mace, when blood is dripping down the face, it all becomes frighteningly clear: capitalism is a sham; and whether in or out (of prison), as long as we live under a system that views everything and everybody as a commodity, we’re all doing time. And that, at the end of the day, is the real crime—not that some of us are locked up, but that none of us are free!

————-
Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) #317117
O.S.P.
P.O. Box 1436,
Youngstown, OH 44501
Dec. 2011

United We Stand! Ohio to California Solidarity!

United We Stand!

By Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan
Ohio State Penitentiary
June 30, 2011

Revolutionary Salute & Shields Up! It has come to our attention that the brothas at Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit will commence an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011, to protest the inhuman and dehumanizing treatment and conditions they’ve been forced to endure for 25 years. Further, it is our understanding that their protest has been inspired by the successful hunger strike that two of my comrades and I participated in during January of this year, where we received massive international support from those on the outside who believed in the righteousness of our protracted struggle to fight to secure the same privileges as other condemned prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP).

The call has been made, by those at Pelican Bay State Prison, for prisoners throughout the state of California who have been suffering injustices to join them in their peaceful strike to put a stop to the blatant violations of California prisoners’ civil and human rights. Moreover, their call made it perfectly clear that “if [California prisoners] cannot participate in the strike, then [they should] support it in principle by not eating for the first 24 hours of the strike.” While their heartfelt plea was not made to Ohio prisoners, a growing number of us at OSP have decided to join them in their peaceful protest. We hope and pray that our united stand with those brothas at Pelican Bay will have a domino effect throughout the nation—that is, where prisoners in other states, as well as their outside supporters, will come together and stand united with the oppressed soldiers at Pelican Bay.

Their injustices have been going on for far too long. How long? Too long! Twenty-five years is too long for human beings to be subjected to the cruel terms and dictates of their oppressors.

Regarding their challenges and the protracted nature of their struggle, we urge those brothas to brace themselves for the battle ahead. There will be no easy victory, yet those soldiers at Pelican Bay must be determined to stay the course and to go forward in the spirit of past and present revolutionaries to change the oppressive conditions of their confinement, no matter how difficult the circumstances may become. As Comrade George L. Jackson wrote: Revolutionary consciousness is the only real hope of those oppressed by the system.

Power to the oppressed people!

Enclosed herewith are some statement in support. In addition to these statements, I know that a growing group of us will be displaying our solidarity by refusing our three meals on Friday, July 1. We didn’t know if a longer hunger strike would help or overshadow their protest; thus we opted to support them in principle. Shields up!:

I salute and support your peaceful demonstration! Even though we’re in different state we still face the oppression that the bureaucracy known as the Department of so-called Rehabilitation and Correction imposes upon us through overtaxing us for phone calls and commissary as well as reducing food rations and things of this nature. In solidarity I give you my oath to support your cause by refusing all my meals for a 24-hour period. Stay strong and keep your heads up in your cause!

J. (Slingblade) Lacewell

From Ohio State Penitentiary to Pelican Bay State Prison. Despite the distance, our cause is the same. I, among others here, vow to refuse my meals for at least 24 hours on July 1, 2011, in support of the non-violent protest at Pelican Bay. Comrades, you’re not alone in struggle, forward march!!

Gary “G. Rilla” Roberts

”A Salute to the Brothas in Pelican Bay”:

Change, in the form of resistance against the countless injustices overlooked by the outside world in America’s prisons, has no doubt been long overdue. For years the mentality of many prisoners has been “only I” need to do my time & nobody else’s, but the conditions & flagrant injustices within these prisons affect all of us. We are all a part of the same fabric of oppression within these walls; we all experience the same or similar conditions in some form or fashion. That’s why I believe it’s very necessary for us to come together, put down the knives for a moment & demand the kind of meaningful change needed to produce better conditions & to combat abusive “power holders” in ways that foster collective resistance. Case in point – the brothas in Georgia (work stoppage demonstration) & the brothas out in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). I recognize the call to action & the stance of resistance. The prison administration doesn’t care; regarding how prisoners are treated, it’s up to us to change our environment.

To all prisoners across America, wake up, stand up & dare to resist! Resistance on all fronts needs to be the action taken to bring forth some form of change. Even if it’s only a small change, mission accomplished!

Injustice will no longer be accepted or tolerated, period. May those brothas in Pelican Bay State Prison achieve their goal by taking a stand in the face of abuse, disrespect & mistreatment. As an act of solidarity for the cause & for prisoners in general, I choose to go those 24 hours without any food in support of the Pelican Bay SHU unit brothas’ demonstration.

Ronnie “Shakur” Johnson

Here Bomani Shakur, one of the Lucasville 5, sends his message of solidarity and hope to the California prisoners who commenced a hungerstrike yesterday, on July 1:
Published on:
Kersplebedeb-Sketchy Thoughts

Ask anyone who has ever been on a hunger strike, and they will tell you that the process of intentionally starving oneself is a very painful ordeal. Typically speaking, it is a protracted form of suicide; taken too far, the body will shut down and die. And yet, there are places on this planet where the idea of death is preferable to continuing down a path that offers no hope or relief from suffering. I live in such a place; I know.

In January of this year (2011), and after almost thirteen years of solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), I and several others went on hunger strike. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, after countless appeals to reason had failed, and after coming to the end of all that we could do (law suits, greivances, petitions, etc.) we made the decision to risk our very lives in order to bring about the necessary changes that would allow us to live as human beings. In the end, we stood firm, garnered world-wide support, and prevailed. Now prisoners in California, confined in the notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, have decided to undertake a similar course of action. To them, I say: Bravo!

In a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world (over 2.6 million men and women behind bars), human rights violations are inevitable, and it falls to those of us who must suffer through the experience to stand up and speak truth to power; for, as Frederick Douglass suggested: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

In the days to come, the men at Pelican Bay will need each and every one of us to support them, to stand with them as they seek to bring their situation to a tolerable level. What they are demanding is basic:

– Individual accountability
– Abolish debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
– Comply with US Commission 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement
– Provide adequate food
– Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates

Let’s come together to assist these men in their time of need and show them that their status as “criminals” does not automatically disqualify them from being human beings. In my time of need, I found this to be the truth and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Give these men the opportunity to feel that outpouting of compassion.

And to the men at Pelican Bay (Todd, Danny, et al), I simply want to say: Stay the course; pay attention to what you are doing; and when things get rough (and they will) , know that you are not alone. By and through the activation of what he called “Satygraha,” – or truth force – Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy in the world. In every evil that threatens us, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free. Hold on to that.

The system as it currently exists must change, and this, what you all are doing right now, may very well be the catalyst to bring about that change. Remember that.

And remember this: the first three days are the hardest; after that, it’s mind over matter. When the body is brought under control, the mind is set free to receive revelations. Be on the lookout for that; and when they come, when the truth of your situation is revealed, stay in that space. Drink as much water as you can, stay hydrated (read: coffee is a diuretic). And when the time comes, be sure to get everything in writing!

Calling all arms * Calling all arms

Bomani Shakur
Ohio State Penitentiary (2011)

For the latest updates on the California Prisoners Hunger Strike, please visit: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

Letters of Support from Ohio: Bomani Shakur of the Lucasville 5, and Sharon Danann to the Pelican Bay Prisoners on Hungerstrike

Letter of Support from Bomani Shakur of the Lucasville 5
2011
Via Kersplebedeb:

Ask anyone who has ever been on a hunger strike, and they will tell you that the process of intentionally starving oneself is a very painful ordeal. Typically speaking, it is a protracted form of suicide; taken too far, the body will shut down and die. And yet, there are places on this planet where the idea of death is preferable to continuing down a path that offers no hope or relief from suffering. I live in such a place; I know.

In January of this year (2011), and after almost thirteen years of solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), I and several others went on hunger strike. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, after countless appeals to reason had failed, and after coming to the end of all that we could do (law suits, greivances, petitions, etc.) we made the decision to risk our very lives in order to bring about the necessary changes that would allow us to live as human beings. In the end, we stood firm, garnered world-wide support, and prevailed. Now prisoners in California, confined in the notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, have decided to undertake a similar course of action. To them, I say: Bravo!

In a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world (over 2.6 million men and women behind bars), human rights violations are inevitable, and it falls to those of us who must suffer through the experience to stand up and speak truth to power; for, as Frederick Douglass suggested: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

In the days to come, the men at Pelican Bay will need each and every one of us to support them, to stand with them as they seek to bring their situation to a tolerable level. What they are demanding is basic:

Individual accountability
Abolish debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria
Comply with US Commission 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement
Provide adequate food
Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates

Let’s come together to assist these men in their time of need and show them that their status as “criminals” does not automatically disqualify them from being human beings. In my time of need, I found this to be the truth and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Give these men the opportunity to feel that outpouting of compassion.

And to the men at Pelican Bay (Todd, Danny, et al), I simply want to say: Stay the course; pay attention to what you are doing; and when things get rough (and they will) , know that you are not alone. By and through the activation of what he called “Satygraha,” – or truth force – Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy in the world. In every evil that threatens us, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free. Hold on to that.

The system as it currently exists must change, and this, what you all are doing right now, may very well be the catalyst to bring about that change. Remember that.

And remember this: the first three days are the hardest; after that, it’s mind over matter. When the body is brought under control, the mind is set free to receive revelations. Be on the lookout for that; and when they come, when the truth of your situation is revealed, stay in that space. Drink as much water as you can, stay hydrated (read: coffee is a diuretic). And when the time comes, be sure to get everything in writing!

Calling all arms * Calling all arms

Bomani Shakur
Ohio State Penitentiary (2011)
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http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/supporting-prisoners-resistance-from-lucasville-to-pelican-bay/

Statement of support from Sharon Danann for the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network:

As supporters of the Lucasville uprising prisoners who engaged in a victorious hunger strike in January 2001 in Ohio’s supermax prison, Ohio State Penitentiary, we extend our support to the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strikers. The violations of human rights of prisoners must end. The punishment of prisoners for their beliefs and for activities to improve their conditions must end. The illegal, unconstitutional and inhumane use of long-term solitary confinement must end.

The treatment of prisoners in the U.S. is an international scandal. We will do all we can to get the word out about the courageous Pelican Bay hunger strikers. We will be turning up the heat on all levels of government. We are proud to be a part of the prisoners’ movement that is rising up in many parts of the country and world. Onward to victory!!

Click here for an article on the Lucasville struggle by Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network

Lucasville hunger strikers’ support rally outside Ohio State Penitentiary on MLK’s birthday Saturday, Jan. 15, 1 p.m.

January 14, 2011
Delegation to present Warden David Bobby’s representative with letter of support for the hunger strikers with hundreds of signatures

by Sharon Danann, Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network
in: SF Bay View

Three inmates on death row at Ohio State Penitentiary have been on hunger strike since Monday, Jan.3, to protest the conditions of their confinement. All three prisoners received death sentences following the rebellion in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, and have been held at the highest security level, Level 5, since they were transferred to OSP In 1998.

The hunger strikers, Keith LaMar, Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders) and Jason Robb are simply asking that they be treated like other death row prisoners. A fourth prisoner, Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were), may join the hunger strike as his health permits. Other prisoners at OSP may go on hunger strike on Jan. 15 to show their support for the hunger strike in progress.

Robb has pointed out that other prisoners from the Lucasville disturbance have been transferred out of OSP or have had their security levels reduced so that they are not suffering the extreme restrictions of Level 5. In the words of LaMar, also known by his chosen name, Bomani Hondo Shakur:

“We have undergone penalty on top of penalty, 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’m aware that the word ‘tortured’ is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that more adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.”

An “Open Letter” has been circulating and has collected more than 1,200 signatures (see below). In the sampling of the first 100 names, it can be seen that the prisoners have support from Ohio, many other states and all across the globe, among them many prominent citizens. After the participants in the rally have had the opportunity to add their names to the list, a delegation of friends and family members of the hunger strikers will proceed to OSP to present the signed letter to Warden David Bobby’s designated representative. Youngstown attorney Staughton Lynd is available to answer questions about the “Open Letter” at (330) 652-9635.

Supporters are driving in from other states and from several Ohio cities to participate in the rally at the gates of OSP. Family members of the hunger strikers will be in attendance. Messages of solidarity will be read that are coming in from across the country and around the world. In particular, people in Ireland are remembering the tragic deaths of 10 prisoners who went on hunger strike thirty years ago and are sending words of understanding and support.

The location for Saturday’s event is 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, Ohio. The rally and press conference is a joint effort of the Youngstown-based prisoner-advocacy organization, LOOP (Loved Ones Of Prisoners), the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network and the Cleveland chapter of the New Black Panther Party.

Contact Sharon Danann and the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network at (216) 571-2518 lucasvillefreedom@gmail.com.
Open letter to Ohio prison officials on behalf of the Lucasville prisoners on hunger strike

To: Warden David Bobby, Ohio State Penitentiary; Director Gary Mohr, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction; and Chief William A. Eleby, Bureau of Classification, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation

We the undersigned call for an end to isolated “supermax” imprisonment in Ohio State Penitentiary. We are especially concerned about the cases of Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders), Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar), Jason Robb and Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were), who are on hunger strike in protest against their conditions of confinement. We understand that they have taken this course of action out of total frustration with their hopeless situation at OSP (Ohio State Penitentiary).

These men have been kept in isolation continuously since they were sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the 11-day rebellion at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio, in April 1993. Hasan and Robb were two of the three men who negotiated a peaceful surrender in that rebellion and their actions undoubtedly saved lives.

Throughout their more than 17 years of solitary confinement, these four men have been subjected to harsher conditions than the more than 150 other men sentenced to death in Ohio. The conditions under which they are confined prevent them from ever being in the same space as another prisoner. Judge James Gwin of federal district court noted with amazement during the trial of the prisoners’ class action, Austin v. Wilkinson, that death-sentenced prisoners at the highest security level in the Ohio State Penitentiary wanted to be returned to Death Row!

The four have suffered Level 5 top security isolation since OSP was opened in 1998. This essentially means that they live in 23-hour lockup in a hermetically sealed environment where they have almost no contact with other living beings – human, animal or plant. When released from their cells for short periods of “recreation,” they continue to be isolated from others. During occasional visits, a wall of bullet-proof glass separates them from their visitors. They remain shackled, despite the fact that they could do no harm in these secure spaces. A few booths away, condemned men from death row sit in cubicles where a small hole is cut from the security glass between them and their visitors. They can hold their mother’s hand. With a little effort, they can kiss a niece or a grandchild. They do not have to shout to hold a conversation.

Hasan, LaMar, Robb and Were experience annual “security reviews,” but their outcome is predetermined. The prison authorities have told them, in writing:

“You were admitted to OSP in May of 1998. We are of the opinion that your placement offense is so severe that you should remain at the OSP permanently or for many years regardless of your behavior while confined at the OSP.”

The lack of a meaningful review violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Keeping men in supermax isolation for long periods clearly violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Moreover, the emphasized words above directly violate the explicit instruction of the Supreme Court of the United States in Wilkinson v. Austin.

These men are being held in solitary confinement permanently, until they are put to death by Ohio or their convictions reversed. This is not simply long-term solitary confinement, but in essence permanent solitary confinement.

Other prisoners sentenced to death for alleged crimes comparable to or worse than those for which Hasan, LaMar, Robb and Were were found guilty have been moved off of Level 5 – to Death Row, to Level 4 at OSP and out of OSP entirely. One of the four Lucasville defendants asks, “Must I have a mental breakdown in order to get off Level 5?”

We demand that the Ohio prison authorities remove these four men from Level 5 “supermax” security and that they end the cruel practice of long-term isolated confinement.

Signed by:

Jules Lobel, Vice President, Center for Constitutional Rights, Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh

Christine Link, Executive Director, ACLU of Ohio

Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

David Goldberger, Professor Emeritus of Law, Ohio State University

Barbara Ehrenreich, author, academic, activist

Mike Ferner, National President, Veterans for Peace

Immanuel Wallerstein, academic and writer

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, University of Coimbra, Distinguished Legal Scholar, University of Wisconsin

Edward S. Herman, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, Director, Dr. James Dale Ethics Center, Youngstown State University

Andrej Grubacic, author and lecturer at San Francisco Art Institute

Peter Linebaugh, historian, University of Toledo, Ohio

Michael Albert, founder, Znet

Professor Thomas Mathiesen, KROM, The Norwegian Association for Penal Reform, Oslo, Norway

Jana Schroeder, Former Director, American Friends Service Committee Ohio Criminal Justice Program

Jesse Lemisch, Professor of History Emeritus, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

Denis O’Hearn, Professor of Sociology, Binghamton University, SUNY

Ellen Kitchens, CURE-Ohio, Inc.

Christian G. De Vito, Associazione Liberarsi, Italy

Lorry Swain, migrant rights activist, Ohio

Robert W. McChesney, Gutgsell Endowed Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign

Jason Jaffery, Development Director, ACLU of Ohio Foundation

Kathie Izor, Colorado CURE Board

Raj Patel, author and scholar

Katherine Soltis, Chair, Cleveland Coalition Against the Death Penalty

Ioanna Drosou, Greek Initiative for Prisoners’ Rights

Immanuel Ness, CUNY, Editor, Working USA

Ron Keine, Assistant Director, Witness to Innocence

Carlos Ivan Ramos, Ph.D., Executive Director, Hispanic UMADAOP, Cleveland

Michael Parenti, author and scholar

Veronica Dahlberg, Board Member, ACLU Cleveland Chapter

Professor Phil Scraton, Law School, Queens University, Belfast

Sam Bahour, Management Consultant, West Bank, Palestine

Bob Fitrakis, Editor, Free Press, Columbus, Ohio

Faye Harrison, Southern Human Rights Organizers’ Network

Reverend Dorsey R. Stebbins, Cincinnati, Ohio

Herbert P. Bix, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, SUNY, Binghamton

John Polanski, ordained minister, Mineral Ridge, Ohio

Judith Stanger, retired teacher, Boardman, Ohio

James Gilligan, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Law, New York University

James E. Ray, ordained minister, Poland, Ohio

Marcus Rediker, Historian, University of Pittsburgh

John Stoffer, Elder of Presbyterian Church, Salem, Ohio

Kathleen McGarry, attorney, New Mexico

Mary Ann Meaker, Ohioans to Stop Executions

Paulette F Dauteuil, The Jericho Movement for PP’s/POW

Sarah L. Duncan, retired teacher, Vienna, Ohio

Fr. Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J., Nicaragua

Jim Jordan, assistant for autistic children, Vienna, Ohio

Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator, United National Antiwar Committee, UNAC

Andrew Lee Feight, Associate Professor of History, Shawnee State University

Jane Stoffer, retired drug counselor, Salem, Ohio

Margaret J Plews, Arizona Prison Watch

Peter Rachleff, Professor of History, Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Lynn Thompson Bryant, Presbyterian pastor, Akron, Ohio

And more than 1,100 others. (note: yes we too signed – OHPW)

Prisoners’ hunger strike enters second week

Prisoners’ hunger strike enters second week
January 14, 2011
by Workers World Cleveland bureau
Reproduced in : SF Bay View

“So much energy is coming from all over. I’m just trying to hang on and ride the wave,” wrote political prisoner Bomani Shakur Jan. 6, the third day of his hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary. Convicted as Keith LaMar, Bomani and two other death-sentenced prisoners started refusing food on Jan. 3 to demand that they be treated like other prisoners facing execution.

Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar), one of the Lucasville hungers strikers
The other two hunger strikers are Siddique Abdullah Hasan and Jason Robb, both prisoner negotiators during the 1993 prisoner rebellion at the prison in Lucasville, Ohio. For their success in achieving a negotiated settlement, they received not only the death penalty, but the equivalent of more than 12 years of confinement in the “hole” – solitary confinement stripped of even rudimentary privileges.

Robb has pointed out that other death-row prisoners have been transferred out of the supermax prison or have had their security level relaxed. Along with Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were), these men are the only four prisoners who have been kept relentlessly on OSP’s highest security level.

Bomani expressed his reasons for protesting the conditions of his confinement in a message of poetic eloquence, stating, “In a word, we have been tortured.” (http://www.workers.org/2011/us/bomani_0113) He also stated his demands in a Jan. 3 letter on Facebook to OSP warden David Bobby: “1) Full recreation privileges. 2) Full commissary privileges. 3) Full access to Access SecurePac catalog. 4) Semi-contact visits. 5) Access to computer database so that I can assist in the furtherance of my appeals.”

Desire for justice for the hunger strikers is so widespread that emails within the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network have been posted as articles on many websites, including many sites of the Anarchist Black Cross. Bomani’s “If we must die“ statement has been widely reprinted, including on the Black Left Unity listserve.

Many times a day, new people from all across the country and around the world are joining the Facebook page “In Solidarity with the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners on Hunger Strike.” A large number of Irish people joined recently. The addition of voices from around Ohio, including the Lucasville area, is allowing the start of dialogue about the complex emotions and perspectives still harbored about the 1993 rebellion due to the death of a guard during the uprising. Posts include written, audio and video versions of interviews of the advisers of the prisoners: activist attorney Staughton Lynd and Denis O’Hearn, biographer of Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Also posted on Facebook is a letter by Pádaic Mac Coitir sent to a newspaper in Belfast, in the north of Ireland. Calling for support for the hunger strikers in Ohio, he reminded the readers, “This year marks the 30th anniversary of the hunger strike in the H-blocks of Long Kesh. Ten men died and many others were prepared to die.”

At meetings in the Cleveland area of the New Black Panther Party, Black on Black Crime Inc, and the Imam Al-Amin Defense Committee, outreach is being done for the rally to be held at the gates of OSP on Saturday, Jan. 15, at 1 p.m. At the Jan. 8 protest against the inauguration of incoming Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Columbus, activists were abuzz with talk about the interview of Lynd by Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now.”

“The response has been overwhelming. I have gotten calls and emails from Detroit, Columbus and Philadelphia about bringing carloads of people to the rally and calls from Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, D.C., wanting to help,” exclaimed Sharon Danann, organizer with the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network. “Ohio Prison Watch and Prison Watch International were posting information as fast as I could provide it to them, and the woman I was working with was in Europe. Updates are going out by Twitter. It feels like a new era in organizing.”

Let key prison and congressional officials know that the these prisoners need to be reclassified fairly according to their years of good behavior and released from the most restrictive security level by signing the petition at iacenter.org. Punishment for crimes they did not commit is surely punishment enough.

Their present conditions of confinement are unconstitutional, illegal and immoral. Support the Lucasville hunger strikers! Free all political prisoners! For more information on the Jan. 15 protest, go to the Facebook page, “In Solidarity with the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners on Hunger Strike,” or email mailto:lucasvillefreedom@gmail.com.

© 2011 Workers World. This story was originally published Jan. 13, 2011, by Workers World, 55 W. 17th St., New York NY 10011, ww@workers.org, http://www.workers.org/, at http://www.workers.org/prisoners/prisoners_0120/index.html.

Ohio death row hunger striker: ‘If we must die’


By Bomani Hondo Shakur
Published Jan 3, 2011 7:49 PM
in: Workers World
Also see:
Lucasville, Ohio, prison uprising leaders go on hunger strike

IAC: Support Lucasville prisoners’ hunger strike!

Wrongfully convicted following a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1993, Brother Bomani is currently at Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison, where he and other prisoners began a hunger strike on Jan. 3, 2011. http://www.iacenter.org/ to sign the petition in support of the demands of these prisoners.

Before I speak my piece, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t want to die. I want to live and breathe and strive to do something righteous with my life. Truly. For the past 16 years, however, I’ve been in solitary confinement, confined to a cell 23 hours a day for something I didn’t do and, speaking honestly, I have gone as far as I’m willing to go. Am I giving up? No.

This is a protest, the only nonviolent way I can think of to express the deep disdain I have for the unjust situation that I am in. Make no mistake: My physical and mental strength is intact. However, to continue on in this way would be to lend legitimacy to a process that is both fraudulent and vindictive; this I am no longer willing to do.

I realize that for some of you the thought that an innocent man could be sent to prison and ultimately executed is inconceivable. But it happens. In a system that’s based more on competition than the equitable treatment of others, the football field is not the only place where participants are encouraged to win at all cost.

Hence, in order to be victorious, some prosecutors hide evidence, lie in open court and even pay for the perjured testimony of their witnesses. And this is exactly what happened in my case (and in the majority of the cases stemming from the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville); there are a few people among you who have reviewed the file and know this to be the truth.

But let us for the moment put aside the question of my guilt or innocence, because that, believe it or not, is not what this is about. On that score, we have written several books, produced a play, and are putting the finishing touches on a full-scale documentary to illustrate the travesty of justice that has taken place here; and these things are available to you if you are interested. For now, I want to talk about dying …

In all that is presently unclear, one thing is certain: I have been sentenced to death, which, as you know, is the severest penalty known to man. Typically, when one has been given the death penalty, one is placed alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners and they, together, are housed in an area that has been designated as death row. As living situations go, this is a very bleak and miserable place. Men are sent here to die, to be killed by the state. No one in their right mind would ask to be sent here; and yet, this is precisely what I am asking, which should give you an indication of just how insufferable the situation I am living under is. And I am not alone.

When the uprising was over, and all was said and done, five of us were singled out as leaders and sentenced to death. Jason Robb, James Were (or “Namir,” as he prefers to be called), Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes and myself. With the exception of George Skatzes, who for the past 10 years has been in a less pressurized — though by no means acceptable — situation, we 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’m aware that the word “tortured” is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that more adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.

A few months ago, a federal judge recommended that my case be dismissed, which effectively moved me one step closer to being executed. It’s hard to explain how this made me feel, but upon hearing the news I immediately thought that a mistake had been made and that my attorney had somehow misunderstood the judge’s ruling. As it turns out, I was the one who misunderstood. Indeed, I have been “misunderstanding” things all along.

Treat us with ‘dignity’

When I was first named as a suspect in riot-related crimes, I was certain that my name would eventually be cleared. Instead, I received a nine-count murder indictment with death-penalty specifications. I was shocked. And then they offered me a deal: “Cop out to murder and we’ll forget the whole thing,” they told me. “But I’m innocent,” I said, thinking to myself that the truth of this would somehow set me free. And so, with the trust and faith of a fool, I went to trial, thinking and believing that I would receive a fair one (I didn’t) and that I would ultimately be exonerated (I wasn’t). And then, when I was sentenced to death, it was my understanding that I would be placed on death row and allowed to pursue my appeals alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners; but, again, I misunderstood … “Just wait until you get to federal court,” I was told, “and you’ll definitely get some relief there.” So I waited … I waited for 16 years!

If justice as a concept is real, then I could with some justification say, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But this has never been about justice, and I finally, finally, finally understand that. For the past 16 years, I (we) have been nothing more than a scapegoat for the state, a convenient excuse that they can point to whenever they need to raise the specter of fear among the public or justify the expenditure of inordinate amounts of money for more locks or chains. And not only that, but the main reason behind the double penalty that we have been undergoing is so that we can serve as an example of what happens to those who challenge the power and authority of the state.

And like good little pawns we’re supposed to sit here and wait until they take us to their death chamber, strap us down to a gurney, and pump poison through our veins. Fuck that! I refuse to go out like that: used as a tool by the state to put fear into the hearts of others while legitimizing a system that is bogus and sold to those with money. That’s not my destiny.

At the beginning of this I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t want to die, and I don’t. Life is a beautiful thing, especially when one is conscious and aware of the value of one’s life. Sadly, it took going through this process for me to wake up and finally understand the value of my life. I say “wake up” because, unbeknownst to me, I had been asleep all this time, oblivious to the reality of my situation and unaware that the only way for one to stop dreaming (and gain some control over things) is for one to open one’s eyes. My eyes are open now.

Is it too late? I don’t know. As I said, the books have been written, the play has been performed, and, pretty soon, the documentary will be completed. But what good are these things if they never enter into the stream of public opinion and force the governor (who answers to the public) to issue a general amnesty?

Admittedly, convincing the governor to bend in our favor will be a difficult undertaking, one which will require huge amounts of energy and effort on our behalf. But it can be done; at the very least, it can be attempted. In the meantime, we who have been sentenced to death must be granted the exact same privileges as other death-sentenced prisoners. If we must die, we should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our friends and family, and to no longer be treated as playthings but as human beings who are facing the ultimate penalty.

Again, I stress the fact that I do not want to die, but in the words of [poet] Claude McKay, I share the following as my parting sentiments:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain: then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though deed!

O kinsman! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

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