Press Release – Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders) R130-559 – Hunger Strike at Ohio State Penitentiary

Press Release re Sddique Abdullah Hasan and Hunger Strike in protest of his being locked up in the holePress Release
Re: Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders) R130-559 &Hunger Strike at Ohio State Penitentiary

Contact: Free Ohio Movement, Tahiyrah Ali 330-366-6838, Khalifa Judge 216-213-4208
Jeff Klein 419-304-3520

On Tuesday August 9, 2016, Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders, Prison Number R130-559), of the Free Ohio Movement was transferred to the hole and denied access to communication and his property. There has been no response to several calls and requests for the reasoning behind this action and requests for clarification on his safety. The Tuesday prior (8/2/16) Imam Hasan was visited by law enforcement who inaccurately described September 9, 2016 (National Freedom Movement Day) as a plot to harm people and blow up buildings. This is totally untrue.

Please call Gary C. Mohr, OSP Director, immediately and daily:
Tel.: 330-743-0700; fax: 330-743-0841 until they release him. Ask to speak to the Director Mohr and demand that Hasan be allowed back into his regular cell and regain access to his property. The person they connect you to may pretend they only know Hasan by the name Carlos Sanders, even though his name was legally changed to Siddique Abdullah Hasan decades ago.

Hasan is one of the few public spokespeople for the national protest that will start on September 9. It is important that we stand up to repression and terror-baiting as soon as it rears its head.

Effective Monday August 15, 2016 the Muslim Prisoners, including Imam Hasan,will begin a Hunger Strike until he is returned to his cell, his property restored to him and have their concerns heard and addressed.

Supporters of Imam Hasan say this:
The state is coming after Hasan on very flimsy pretext to silence him and stifle his revolutionary organizing. We must stand up together against this repression, otherwise they will come to silence us all.
– Ben Turk Freeman of LucasvilleAmnesty.org & InsurgentTheatre.org

Our system of locking people up has not and is not working. To capitalize on it through what is effectively slave labor just makes matters worse – Attorney Rick Kerger

Please call the prison and share this alert as widely as possible.
Thank you from the Free Ohio Movement
FreeOhioMovement.org

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.
####

Press Release: Ohio State Penitentiary Hunger Strike Demands

March 132th, 2013

Contact: Ben Turk
Phone: 614-704-4699
Ohio State Penitentiary Hunger Strike Demands

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013, Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP)- Cornelius “Soja” Harris’ second hunger strike reaches 24 days. Less than a week after Soja suspended his 38 day hunger strike, he resumed refusing food. He is ready to come back off hunger strike if five simple demands are met.

He initially suspended the hunger strike he started on January 4th, with assurances from OSP Warden David Bobby that his missing property would be returned or replaced and that an institutional inspector to interview him. A few days later correctional officers at OSP interfered with a scheduled visit from Soja’s partner and threatened to destroy more of his property. On return from that visit, they refused to give Soja his morning meal. This harassment combined with the fact that Warden David Bobby had not taken action on his assurances prompted Soja to go back on hunger strike.

Soja states that he is willing to come off this hunger strike if five simple demands are met.

1. Return or reimburse for property guards destroyed during Soja’s first hunger strike.

2. Immediate transfer from segregation back to Sojas regular cell.
3. Lift restrictions from petty and fabricated conduct reports filed against Soja in retaliation for his hunger strike and the success at his trial.
4. End to harassment from Correctional Officers.
5. Opportunity to call outside supporters to make up for visits that guards cancelled or interfered with.
After missing 21 consecutive meals, the Warden authorized to send Soja to segregation. On his previous hunger strike, Soja was transferred to the infirmary. Officials claim that he was sent to segregation to monitor his food intake, but Soja believes this is actually punishment. Other prisoners in segregation are given 3 meals a day and could easily pass food to a hunger striker. Soja just endured a genuine 38 day hunger strike, with medical monitoring, so they should know he is not one to fake it. Segregation is punishment because it is loud all day and night from prisoners arguing, kicking doors and shouting at guards. Every other day someone floods their cell with toilet water, which runs under the door of other cells, so prisoners in segregation are constantly cleaning up toilet water, urine and excrement.
Death threats and harassment, including sexual harassment from guards is also common and ongoing. In a letter to supporters, Soja stated: “These cowards… want you crawling on your knees, weak and broken, they don’t want you standing strong, head up with no fear.” Soja has been refused access to the shower and his one hour of rec time out of his cell, without cause or explanation, on numerous occasions.

On March 3rd, Soja was put in a visiting booth with a broken lighting fixture and dirty glass, conditions which made it impossible for his visitor to see past the glare on bulletproof glass separating them. Another visit was denied altogether when Soja insisted that supervisors prevent the guards from again destroying his property while he was out of his cell. Soja has filed complaints for each of these incidents, with no remedy.

Since this harassment began the guards have also filed many petty conduct reports against Soja, resulting in increased regulations and limitations on his movement. Warden Bobby refuses to answer questions about Mr Harris’ situation. Central office also refuses to say anything about Soja’s case in particular other than to insist that the standard procedure for hunger striking prisoners is being followed. That procedure includes regular interviews and monitoring of the prisoner’s health.
According to Soja the bare minimum of that routine is being followed. Warden Bobby and Deputy Warden Remmich come through on their routine rounds, but they are casual and uninterested in his hunger strike. They don’t respond to complaints about harassment, and have threatened to send him out of state.
Soja also asked to “please give my thanks to all of those who supported me and my situation on the blogs and other communication lines.” He says he is “at the end of my patience… I don’t have too much left. Patience has it’s limits, take it too far and its cowardice.”

He has written an extensive statement, which he is hesitant to send out through the OSP mail room because guards may destroy it.

Supporters can call OSP Warden David Bobby at 330-743-0700 and demand that he meet with Mr Harris (institution #525-945) and discuss his reasonable demands. People can also call central office at 614-752-1159 and request that institutional inspectors review the Warden’s inability to control his correctional officers and compliance with procedures regarding hunger striking prisoners.

# # #

Cornelius Harris Is Back on Hunger Strike

This comes from Redbird Prison Abolition, March 2nd 2013:

Soja (Cornelius Harris) has resumed his hunger strike. He is demanding that his missing property be returned or replaced. Warden Bobby has previously agreed to do that. I do not know details about which property is still missing, but Soja does not believe the warden has made good on this agreement. We think he resumed his hunger strike on Tuesday or Wednesday, but have not heard from him since. Another prisoner in his pod has confirmed that Soja is on hunger strike, and has been transferred to the infirmary.

There is also reason to believe that JPay’s email system went down for a number of days last week. Soja’s daily emails stopped abruptly, other prisoners who write frequently have also been silent. When asked JPay customer service said they had a technical problem, and then put the caller on hold for 20 minutes. I got the first JPay email in a while today, it was sent out on Feb 19th.

Supporters can call OSP on Monday 330-743-0700 ask to speak to Warden Bobby, and demand that Mr Harris’s property be returned. Cornelius Harris’ prisoner number is 525-945.

Super Max Prisoner Represents Himself in Court while on Hunger Strike and Wins

This is a press release, published by Redbird Prison Abolition on Feb. 9th:

Contact: Ben Turk
Phone: 614-704-4699
Website: RedBirdPrisonAbolition.org

Friday, February 8th, Mahoning County, OH-

The jury largely sided with hunger striking super max prisoner Cornelius Harris in his criminal trial this week. Harris was facing nine felony charges stemming from fights with guards at The Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP). Harris has long maintained that these fights were actually initiated by guards who have targeted him for harassment and abuse. Earlier this week, a jury found largely in Mr Harris’ favor.

Mr Harris initiated his hunger strike on January fourth, and went to trial later in the month. He represented himself, and part way through the trial he was transferred to Franklin Medical Center (FMC) because of his deteriorating health due to the hunger strike. Mr Harris says he has lost about fifty pounds, and is experiencing sharp pains in his legs. Doctors report that he is close to suffering serious medical problems like organ failure because he has refused food for so long.

On Tuesday February 5th, the court Judge Maureen Sweeney ordered Mr Harris return to court to complete his trial, against the wishes of doctors at FMC. Harris was transferred back to OSP and appeared in court, ending the jury phase of trial on Friday, February 8th. Mr Harris was charged with two counts of attempted aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault, and three possession of a dangerous weapon while in detention charges. He was found not guilty of the attempted murder and felonious assault charges. Both attempted aggravated murder charges were reduced to felonious assault.

Mr Harris represented himself, with no assistance from lawyers, while his health was seriously compromised by the hunger strike. He says he is confident that under different circumstances, or with legal representation he would have also beaten the remaining charges.

As of Friday evening, Mr Harris is still on hunger strike. He was threatening to refuse water as well as food, a decision that would risk ending his life within 72 hours, but after the trial results and a meeting with the warden, he decided to drink water at least through the weekend. Mr Harris is making two main demands. First, an end to this harassment from guards and second, an improved procedure for security level review.

In June of 2012, Mr Harris released a statement, posted to RedBird Prison Abolition’s website detailing this abuse. In this statement he names correctional officers Timothy McVay, James Burns, Kieth Hawn and Waylon Wine as abusers. Mr Harris is concerned that these or other guards may escalate harassment and violence against him because of the results of the trial.

Mr Harris has been incarcerated at OSP since being transferred from Southern Ohio Correctional Institution (SOCF) in Lucasville five and a half years ago. The incidents producing these criminal charges occurred in 2009 and 2010. Mr Harris says he has not had any incident reports for the last three years, but has been kept on level 5 with severely restricted access to visitors, commissary and programming. Under these limitations, there is very little any level 5 prisoners can do to demonstrate good behaviour and reduce their security level.

In June of 2012, a death sentenced level 5 prisoner at OSP named Jason Robb went on a nine day hunger strike which ended with modifications to security review procedure and privileges for him and other death sentenced prisoners at OSP. These changes include limited congregate recreation, full contact visits, and increased frequency of security reviews. These changes allow the death sentenced prisoners at OSP to demonstrate ability to be housed on death row in Chillicothe. Mr Harris is demanding that these changes also apply to him. Mr Harris says Warden David Bobby is unwilling to meet these demands because he would have to apply the same changes to all level 5 prisoners.

Prisoner advocates say that these step-down procedures should be applied to all level 5 prisoners. Prisoners on level 5 at OSP spend 23 hours a day alone in their small cells, often for years on end. They have no human contact other than guards. These conditions are common in US super max prisons, but violate international human rights standards and are widely considered a form of torture.

Supporters are requesting that people call OSP Warden David Bobby on Monday, demanding that Mr Harris be kept safe from retaliation and have his hunger strike demands met. Warden Bobby can be reached at 330-743-0700 ext 2006. People are also encouraged to contact central office and demand oversight and changes to the security review system for level 5 prisoners. The number for Central Office is 614-752-1159.

Note from OHPW: Cornelius Harris’ ODRC registration nr is: #A525945

OSP Hunger Strike Ends

Media Release:
Contact: Ben Turk
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012, Youngstown OH- OSP Hunger Strike Ends. After long negotiations with Warden David Bobby on Monday, May 7th, the hunger-striking prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) began eating again. Two of the men held out through Tuesday, unsatisfied with the agreement. The warden met with them separately, and they agreed to come off the strike. Warden Bobby reported that “by lunch time today, everyone was eating.” This was confirmed by two prisoner sources. 
At this point, details on agreements are unclear, but sources inside say that the hunger strikers are satisfied and feel they achieved results. One source described the demands and the Warden’s response as “reasonable”.  Without going into detail, the main concerns were in regards to commissary costs, state pay rates, phone costs, length of stay, and harsh penalties for petty conduct reports. The Warden said that he discussed “many things” at Monday’s meeting with strike representatives, “many things beyond the main demands” but he would not share any of the details.

The strikers are resting and recovering, but have mailed detailed information to outside supporters at RedBird Prison Abolition, which will be released to the public as soon as possible. The Warden admitted that one of the hunger-strikers was transferred to disciplinary segregation for an unrelated rule infraction, but stated that there were no reprisals or punishments for participating. One prisoner source agreed with this statement. 

The hunger strike began on April 30th and was timed to align with May Day protests outside. Prisoners have stated an interest in “joining hands in struggle toward common goals” with protest and resistance movements like Occupy Wall Street. 

Media Release: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

Thursday, May 3. According to a level 5 prisoner participating in the hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) there are forty-eight (48) prisoners who have refused nine meals and should be officially recognized as on hunger strike. Warden Bobby refused to comment or return calls requesting information about the hunger strike.

The prisoner’s demands include the following:
1. Lower commissary prices. One striker writes:  “Commissary items are permitted to be marked up.to 35% above retail, while many of us receive only $8 a month.”
2. No more indefinite terms. Prisoners on the highest security level at OSP (level 5) currently have little prospects for reducing their security level and increasing privileges. “We are taken in front of a privilege review board every 90 days, yet can expect no [increase in] privilege for a year or longer” the hunger striker says of prisoners on Level 5B. Men on Level 5A have a privilege level review every six months, but there has been no increase in their privileges in recognition of good conduct for some time.
3. Healthy and nutritious food. According to the hunger striker, “austerity cuts have allowed our food portions to be shortened.”
4. Access to educational and enrichment materials. “There has recently been a major ban on books and music” the hunger striker said.
The hunger strike started on April 30th and was timed to coordinate in solidarity with May Day demonstrations and celebrations happening outside of prison. May Day is an international worker’s day, commemorating the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The hunger strikers are asking supporters to call Warden David Bobby (330 743-0700) and ODRC director Gary Mohr (614-752-1164). They say they intend to continue on their hunger strike until their demands are met.
This is the second hunger strike at OSP this year. The first occurred on Feb 20th-23rd in solidarity with the Occupy movement’s call for an “Occupy for Prisoners” day of action. That hunger strike ended with Warden Bobby, as well as officials from Central Office in Columbus, promising to increase recreation time to the court-mandated minimum as well as improve enrichment programming, food quality and commissary practices. Until recently Ohio State Penitentiary housed death row as well as the highest security level prisoners. When all but 6 death row prisoners were moved to Chillicothe, the number of Level 4 and 5 prisoners at OSP increased from 270 to over 400, and rec time was reduced to 3 or 4 hours per week. The court required minimum is 5 hours per week.

Yesterday, OSP officials confirmed that rec time has been increased. According to a unit manager and Warden Bobby’s secretary, after recent changes, Level 4A prisoners receive 5 hours a day congregating with up to 8 other prisoners at a time. Most level 4B prisoners are allowed to rec in pairs, for 5 one hour and forty-five minute periods a week. All level 5 prisoners rec alone, most receive 5 one hour and fifteen minute periods per week. The four exceptions to this rule are Level 5 prisoners sentenced to death for alleged involvement in the Lucasville Uprising. These men are allowed 7 hours a week due to an agreement following a twelve day hunger strike they staged in January 2011.  Recreation is the only time when any of the prisoners are allowed out of their 7′ x 11′ isolation cells. 

Updated information about the hunger strike can be found at RedBirdPrisonAbolition.org and LucasvilleAmnesty.org

Rally April 10th at OSP against Solitary Confinement and Discrimination

18 Years of Solitary Confinement is Enough! If you heap the harshest possible punishment on the negotiators, what incentive will there be to negotiate during the next uprising?

Protest the Solitary Confinement of the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners and the Discrimination against the Religious Practices of Native American Prisoners by Rallying at the Gates of the Ohio State Penitentiary – Sunday, April 10, 2:30 PM
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH

On April 10, 1883, The U.S. Secretary of the Interior forbid Native Americans from practicing their religious practices and customs, such as Sun Dances, claiming they were “un-American.”

Rally to protest inhumane treatment in Ohio’s supermax prison, OSP.
The Lucasville Uprising was April 11, 1993.
Bring signs and banners.

Gather in the parking lot of the church next to the entrance gate to OSP.
For information about car pooling and directions from the Cleveland area, call 216-925-9108 or email lucasvillefreedom@gmail.com.

A collaboration of the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network and New Black Panther Party – Cleveland Link.

Note added April 7th: Please also (re-)read this article by Bomani Shakur, written in 2007, about April 11th.

Hunger Strike for Religious Rights for Native Americans

Update March 14th:
The hungerstrike ended in victory, having met some demands. A petition with 800 signatures was presented and that too helped put pressure on the authorities.

Update March 5th, 2011: 


As of word received this morning, when Native American hunger striker Jason Campbell was moved to segregation (the hole) after refusing his ninth meal, the authorities confiscated a religious necklace he has had permission to have for years. Please protest this injustice and support his right to have simple objects that he needs for his religious worship. See contact info below.

The following is a statement from Jason Campbell, an inmate in Ohio State Penitentiary where Lucasville uprising prisoners Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Bomani Shakur and Jason Robb recently won significant improvements in the terms of their confinement through a 12-day hunger strike and an international campaign of support. Campbell chose Feb. 27 to start his hunger strike because it is the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement.

Thank you for your interest in my current plight. I am grateful that there is at least one voice still willing to speak up on behalf of those in my position.

Since my incarceration in 2003, I have diligently fought for the religious rights of incarcerated Native Americans in Ohio prisons. I feel – seeing that I have the ability, that it is my responsibility to insure that we have the same protections under the law that other faith based groups generally enjoy. Personally, I have requested everything I could think of, trying to get as much approved as I could – as I know it would set the tone for what others will be allowed in the future. Basically, I am being prevented from practicing my Native beliefs in every way. I have requested and been denied all of the following: Tobacco, tobacco ties(twists), moccasins, feathers, beads (sewn into objects like a head band or medicine bag)), fur, animal hair (such as horse and buffalo), head band (of a color other than white – where beads are concerned), sacred objects (for Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle), Native American flute, hand drum, rattle, access to sweat lodge (for purification), and to have a ‘Sun Dance’ ceremony.

I also have requested and have been approved for: A ‘prayer pipe’, Medicine Bag, and a Medicine Bundle, but I must point out that these are useless without: tobacco for the prayer pipe, and sacred objects for the Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle. Without tobacco, I am unable to pray. Without sacred objects for the Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle, they are just empty vessels – void of their purpose.

One last thing. My hunger strike is not considered “official” until after I refuse my ninth meal – which will be Wednesday, March 2nd, at breakfast. When I get to the ninth meal and refuse to come off of the hunger strike, I will be moved to the segregation block (the Hole). I’m told it is to prevent other prisoners from giving me food. In fact, I believe that it is to punish me into coming off of the hunger strike by putting me in a cell with no electricity. If you can find a way to address this as well, it would be much appreciated.

I hope – fervently, that this information can help you in assisting me – and through me, all other Native Americans in Ohio prisons. Present and future. Thank you again for your help. – “Mitakuye Oyasin” (to all my relations)

Sincerely, Jason Campbell #476-229

Please express your thoughts about this situation to:
Governor John Kasich, Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 South High St., Columbus, OH 43215-6117,
614-466-3555, http://governor.ohio.gov/ShareYourIdeas.aspx

Gary Mohr, Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 770 West Broad St., Columbus , OH 43222, 614-752-1164, Gary.Mohr@odrc.state.oh.us

David Bobby, Warden, Ohio State Penitentiary, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505,
330-743-0700 or fax 330-743-0841 or email JoAnn.King@odrc.state.oh.us

governor.ohio.gov

A Welcome Prison Victory at Youngstown

By Denis O’Hearn
in: Monthly Review, 19th January 2011

Three death-sentenced men went on hunger strike in Ohio State Penitentiary on January 3 to win the same rights as others on death row in the state. On Saturday January 15, the twelfth day of their protest, a crowd of supporters gathered in the parking lot by the tiny evangelical church at the entrance to the prison on the outskirts of Youngstown. They ranged from the elderly and religious to human rights supporters to members of various left groups. They were expecting to participate in the first of a series of events in coming weeks to support the men on their road to force-feeding, or even possible death. Things did not turn out as expected. For once, this was for the better.

The day’s events began when a small delegation made up of the hunger strikers’ relatives and friends (Keith Lamar’s Uncle Dwight, Siddique Hasan’s friend Brother Abdul, and Alice Lynd for Jason Robb), went up to the prison through the snow and ice to deliver an Open Letter addressed to OSP Warden David Bobby and Ohio’s state prison officials. The letter, which supported the demands of the hunger strikers, was signed by more than 1,200 people including the famous (Noam Chomsky), human-rights-leaning legal experts from Ohio and around the world, prominent academics and writers, and ordinary retired teachers and religious ministers. It was Saturday, so Warden Bobby was not there to meet the delegation, but he’d been aware of their coming and left someone at the front desk to take the letter.

Hopeful word of a settlement of the hunger strike had been circulating among a few friends and activists for two days. It was definitively confirmed that morning when visitors to Jason Robb received a copy of a written agreement from Warden Bobby (see below) outlining a settlement that provided practically all of their demands, despite his insistence at the beginning of the strike that he would not give in to duress.

Although the hunger strikers told me that they were optimistic from the very beginning, there were grounds to expect a harder battle. Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar) described an incident with the Deputy Warden at the beginning of his protest.

“You know, LaMar, a human being can only go so long without food,” he chided Shakur.

“Yeah, I know,” replied Bomani, “but according to the state of Ohio I’m not human, so I don’t have to worry about that!”

Nonetheless, Warden Bobby and his deputies had been meeting with the hunger strikers for some days and they agreed that they would end their protest upon receipt of the warden’s letter. Friends and relatives who came to visit Siddique Hasan and Keith Lamar (aka Bomani Shakur) told visiting friends and relatives similar details about the end of the strike. Both men said that they had resumed eating.

Shakur told one of his friends that he’d “just been eating hot-dogs.” She replied that it was crazy to eat such things on an empty stomach. Bomani just laughed and said, “but I was hungry, man!”

The delegation returned to the crowd and began the rally. The surprise was revealed to all. The hunger strike was over.

Jason Robb’s victory statement was relayed to the crowd. He wanted to thank everybody for their support, for without it the men would have won nothing. But now, he said, it was time to shift the focus to the fact that five men, including the three hunger strikers, are awaiting execution for things they did not do.

“The energy around our protest went viral,” he told Alice and Staughton Lynd on a prison visit. “This time around the fight was for better prison conditions. Now we begin fighting for our lives.”

Why a Hunger Strike?

The “Lucasville Five” includes the three hunger strikers plus Namir Mateen, who did not join the hunger strike due to medical complications, and George Skatzes, who was transferred out of isolation at OSP after he was diagnosed with chronic depression. All five are awaiting execution for a variety of charges, mostly complicity in the murders of prisoners and a guard during the Lucasville prison uprising of 1993. In a case that resembles that of the Angola 3 in Louisiana, they have been held in solitary isolation for 23 hours a day for more than 17 years, since the evening the uprising ended. This is despite the fact that three of them helped negotiate a settlement of the uprising that undoubtedly saved lives, and despite a promise within the agreement that there would be no retribution against any of the prisoners.

The Ohio prison authorities went back on their word. They not only put the five men in isolation but they built the supermax prison at Youngstown to hold them that way in perpetuity. Having built the prison, they had to fill 500 beds, despite the fact that a small Secure Housing Unit at Lucasville had never been full. But the 1990s were the decade of the supermax. So men who were charged with minor offences found themselves locked up in Youngstown on “Level 5 security,” meaning that they were held for 23 hours a day in a cell no bigger than a city parking space. The steel-doored cells and even the recreation areas where they spent an hour a day were built in such a way as to ensure that they would never have contact with another living being — human, animal, or plant. “Outdoor recreation” was in a cement-walled enclosure that was only outdoor if you consider that the roof is a steel grille. Hundreds of men have come and gone since 1998. Only four, the three hunger strikers and Namir Mateen, remain locked up in perpetual isolation.

A case is underway in the Middle District Court of Louisiana that is likely to judge this kind of treatment as a violation of the eighth amendment prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment. It may be that the Ohio authorities see the handwriting on the wall and they want to improve the conditions of Ohio’s supermax before they are forced to do so by another court ruling, like the Wilkinson vs Austin case of 2005 in which the US Supreme Court forced them to improve conditions in the supermax.

One of the holdings of the Supreme Court instructed the Ohio authorities to follow Fifth Amendment provision on due process. In 2000, two years after the supermax opened, they began giving annual reviews to the death-sentenced Lucasville prisoners. But the reviews are not meaningful. One of the reviews even concluded, “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.” Thus, the four have been condemned to de facto permanent isolation.

This lack of meaningful review, as well as the continued lack of human contact despite the agreement that ended the Youngstown hunger strike, might yet be the focus of litigation not just in Ohio but in other supermaxes around the United States, such as California’s notorious “Secure Housing Unit” at Pelican Bay State Prison.

The conditions of supermax are a running sore on the US human rights record, a sort of elephant in the room that few people want to talk about. Yet there is a growing sentiment among experts and policymakers against extreme isolation, both because of its cost but also due to the judgment that it is a form of torture.

And it is these conditions of extreme isolation, without hope of ever touching a fellow human apart from a prison guard, that drove these men to the ultimate protest of hunger strike. As Bomani Shakur wrote in a statement that announced his hunger strike, none of the men wanted to die. But in such conditions of isolation, and in the absence of any way of proving to the authorities that they were not a security risk if allowed to mix with other prisoners or have semi-contact visits, depriving themselves of food was the only non-violent means of protest that remained for them.

What Now?

For the Lucasville Five, the main attention turns now to their wrongful convictions and to the death penalty itself. Ohio is the only state in the US that executed more men in 2010 than in 2009. And it is second only to Texas in its rate of executions. For the past two years, the state has attempted to execute one man a month, although that attempt has been slowed by botched executions and by some surprising grants of clemency by former governor Ted Strickland. One can only hope that moves away from the use of the death penalty in states like New Mexico and, most recently, Illinois are the beginning of a more general move to do away with this backward policy.

The hunger strikers expressed their hopes, to relatives and other visitors, that the energy that built up around supporting their recent protest could now be turned toward getting them off their death sentences and allowing them to prove their innocence. Ironically, the improved conditions that they won through hunger strike could help in this regard. Among their demands — increased time outside of their cells, semi-contact visits, and equal access to commissary — was the demand that they be allowed to access legal databases like other death-sentenced prisoners, so that they could work toward their appeals.

For now, this is most important to Bomani Shakur. In a shocking recent decision, a district court judge affirmed the recommendation of the magistrate against his petition for habeas corpus without any discussion of the merits of the judgment. Shakur believes that the judge made this seemingly rash judgment in retaliation for his role in the hunger strike. Whether he has reason to believe this or not, he and his counsel now have to turn to the Federal Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. In real terms, what might have been a further process of five years to execution now seems to have been shortened to perhaps three. The US judicial system is strongly biased against appeal, even in most egregious cases of injustice. So the Lucasville Five now have a hard case to argue. It is a case where public opinion and social movement may have more impact than the law, just as public pressure seems to have played a decisive role in winning a successful end to the hunger strike after such a short period.

Bomani Shakur told Alice and Staughton Lynd that the denial of his habeas petition by the district court makes him more determined and focused on what he needs to do in the next few years. Activists and supporters in Ohio and beyond will be asked to find the same kind of focus.

The Agreement That Ended the Hunger Strike (click to enlarge):

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Denis O’Hearn, Director of Graduate Studies, Sociology Department, Binghamton University – SUNY.