and White and Dead All Over: The Lucasville Insurrection
In April 1993, an inmate rebellion broke out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Nine prisoners and one correctional officer were killed during the 11-day uprising.
In court proceedings following the end of the riot, five inmates were sentenced to death and are presently on death row at Mansfield Correctional Institution. They are: Siddique Abdullah Hasan (formerly known as Carlos Sanders), Namir Abdul Mateen (formerly known as James Were), Keith Lamar, Jason Robb, and George Skatzes. Hasan, Mateen, and Lamar are black. Hasan and Mateen are Sunni Muslims. Robb and Skatzes are white and are members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
We begin with a chronology. Lest we be suspected of slanting our presentation, we take these facts from the opening statement of Special Prosecutor Daniel Hogan in Skatzes' trial.
What caused the uprising at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) at Lucasville, April 11-21, 1993?
There is general agreement that the triggering event was the authorities' attempt to conduct a tuberculin skin test by injecting a substance containing alcohol. Muslims prepared an affidavit stating in part: "we firmly believe that the Mantoux tuberculin skin test which consists of the injection [of] Purified Protein Derivative under the skin of the forearm of an individual . . . contains alcohol which is not permissible for Muslims."
But a long train of abuses contributed to the final decision to rebel. Longtime inmate John Perotti has written: "The SOCF had a reputation for being one of the most violent prisons in the country. . . . SOCF was built to house 1,600 men, one to a cell, but the cells were doubled up and the population was close to 2,300. . . . [M]edical treatment was atrocious." In 1983, a prisoner killed a shop supervisor, after which twelve guards beat to death a mentally disturbed prisoner, Jimmy Haynes. Two black prisoners, Lincoln Carter and John Ingram, were alleged to have touched white nurses, were beaten by guards, and were found dead in the hole. Inmates filed numerous law suits. Wardens were replaced. Abuse of prisoners continued.
Lucasville inmates organized a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), but the courts held that inmate workers were not "employees" entitled to a minimum wage. In June 1988, inmates filed a complaint with Amnesty International detailing violations of the United Nations Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners. The complaint set forth instances in which prisoners were chained to cell fixtures, subjected to chemical mace and tear gas, forced to sleep on concrete floors, and brutally beaten. Then-Governor Celeste ordered an investigation. (John Perotti, "Lucasville: A Brief History," Prison Legal News, Dec. 1993.)
The upshot was appointment of a new warden, Arthur Tate. Chrystof Knecht, a Lucasville inmate at the time of the 1993 uprising, describes the indiscriminate oppressive treatment placed on all SOCF prisoners after Tate's appointment.
Another inmate, William Martin, gives greater detail in a letter written on February 20, 1995, to Attorney Richard Kerger:
Martin went on to list new rules implemented by Warden Tate. According to Martin, perhaps the "most bizarre" rule was the one
Warden Tate's decisions, from Martin's point of view, created an atmosphere of paranoia. There were repeated massive shakedowns "without regard for prisoners' property," and constant transfers of inmates from one part of the facility to another.
Finally, Martin highlights a policy of double-celling blacks and whites. According to Martin integrated double cells increased from 1.7% to 26-31% of the total number of cells at Lucasville (citing White v. Morris, 811 F.Supp. 341, 342).
A third, anonymous inmate account of the "situation at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility as it led up to the riot" is dated July 5, 1993, less than three months after the rebellion, and draws on the observations of several eye witnesses. Warden Tate and Deputy Warden Roddy, this account asserts, showed "total disregard for the opinions or professional insight of staff with many years at SOCF and in corrections." Poor communication between upper and lower level management led to constant uncertainty on the part of inmates as to what the rules were at any particular moment. Tate and Roddy "tore the college program down to bare bones" and "did away with music programs, literary programs and a lot of other positive" programs that men were using to do their time. The author believes that Tate would have liked to lock down the whole institution and make it another Marion, Illinois super-max.
Like Martin, the author of this third history says that Tate began mass transfers of the inmate population. "Inmates that had been in the same blocks for years were forced to move to other blocks . . . . Guys were forcefully integrated with other races."
The third history also provides a vivid glimpse of Warden Tate's insensitivity to the Muslim inmates on the eve of the uprising. The author says that the Muslims
According to the history, on April 6 there was a meeting of Warden Tate and five of his staff with the leader of the Muslims and his "security chiefs." Tate said what he would do with the chains. On April 9, Tate sent the Muslim leader an Inter Office Communication "stating that it was the decision of the administration not to permit any group of inmates to dictate policy and that those men who had refused the TB test would be tested, whatever means it took to test them." By then, states the history, it was "common knowledge that the whole institution was going to be locked down to force the Muslims to take [the] TB test."
The inmate historian sums up that portion of history dealing with the prelude to the riot this way:
It would seem that the inmate demands made in the course of the uprising should shed additional light on the rebellion's causes.
On the one hand, the authorities made tapes from their listening posts in the tunnels beneath L block, recorded their conversations on the telephone with inmate negotiators, took notes on the radio presentation by George Skatzes, and put all this evidence into SOCF Critical Incident Communications. Thus there is a contemporaneous, objective record of inmate demands.
On the other hand, there no longer exists any single presentation or list of demands that can resolve all doubt as to which demands were of highest priority.
Based on the Critical Incident Communications (hereafter CIC), the following were major inmate concerns:
Of course these were not the only demands. Some were difficult to make specific, such as "No more oppression," "civil rights violations," "violations of due process when a prisoner goes before the R.I.B. [Rules Infraction Board]," "religious freedom violations." There were complaints that the law library was insufficient and that in the prison work program "you sit on your ass all day." Inmates wanted to grow their hair and beard as long as they desired. They thought the college program was "bullshit, that anyone can pass it." The offensive TB test was mentioned more than once, and one inmate said "the TB test could have been done by spitting." There was a desire that the administration be held to its promise of one 5 minute phone call at Christmas.
Finally, there were the demands that arise at the end of any strike or rebellion, here pressed with life-and-death urgency. There must not be singling out of any inmate or group of inmates (CIC, p. 505). "Worried about staying off death row. Must get Fed to take over for protection" (CIC, p. 510). There must be no repercussions to inmates involved in uprisings. There must not be any singling out of leaders involved in the riot. (CIC p. 600)
There is a substantial fit between inmate accounts of the events leading up to the rebellion, and the demands that inmates put forward as they rebelled. Arbitrary decisionmaking by the warden was one major cause of what happened. Overcrowding, compounded by a policy of double-celling black and white inmates together, was another. The conduct of the black warden and black deputy warden was offensive to white inmates. But in the end, a black warden's failure to listen carefully to the concerns of black (Sunni) Muslim inmates was, in the words of the third inmate history, "the spark to ignite the flames to a riot."
from RACE TRAITOR #8, Winter 1998