Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising

Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising

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Lucasville tells the story of one of the longest prison uprisings in U.S. history. At the maximum-security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, prisoners seized a major area of the prison on Easter Sunday, 1993. More than 400 prisoners held L block for eleven days. Nine prisoners alleged to have been informants, or “snitches,” and one hostage correctional officer, were murdered. There was a negotiated surrender. Thereafter, almost wholly on the basis of testimony by prisoner informants who received deals in exchange, five spokespersons or leaders were tried and sentenced to death, and more than a dozen others received long sentences.

Lucasville examines the causes of the disturbance, what happened during the eleven days, and the fairness of the trials. Particular emphasis is placed on the interracial character of the action, as evidenced in the slogans that were found painted on walls after the surrender: “Black and White Together,” “Convict Unity,” and “Convict Race.”

An eloquent Foreword by Mumia Abu-Jamal underlines these themes. He states, as does the book, that the men later sentenced to death “sought to minimize violence, and indeed, according to substantial evidence, saved the lives of several men, prisoner and guard alike.” Of the five men, three black and two white, who were sentenced to death, Mumia declares, “They rose above their status as prisoners, and became, for a few days in April 1993, what rebels in Attica had demanded a generation before them: men. As such, they did not betray each other; they did not dishonor each other; they reached beyond their prison ‘tribes’ to reach commonality.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604862249
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 03/07/2011
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Staughton Lynd taught American history at Spelman College and Yale University. He was director of Freedom Schools in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. An early leader of the movement against the Vietnam War, he was blacklisted and unable to continue as an academic. He then became a lawyer, and in this capacity has assisted rank-and-file workers and prisoners for the past thirty years. He has written, edited, or co-edited with his wife Alice Lynd more than a dozen books.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is probably the best-known political prisoner in the Western world. Mumia was sentenced to death for allegedly shooting and killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. While behind bars he has written a series of widely-read books, including Live from Death Row (1995), Death Blossoms (1996), and a history of the Black Panther Party entitled We Want Freedom (2004). In December 2001, United States District Court judge William Yohn vacated Mumia’s death sentence but not his guilty verdict. When this second edition went to press the United States Supreme Court was considering that decision.

Read an Excerpt


The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising

By Staughton Lynd

PM Press

Copyright © 2011 Staughton Lynd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-535-6



The uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville began on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993. As prisoners returned from recreation in the yard at about 3 p.m., they overpowered correctional officers on duty inside L block. After the release of certain badly injured officers, eight continued to be held as hostages.

In the course of the occupation, two more hostages were set free and one was murdered. Eventually, with the help of Attorney Niki Schwartz, the State and the prisoners came to a 21-point agreement. On Wednesday, April 21, 1993, 407 prisoners surrendered and the five remaining hostages were released.

In subsequent legal proceedings, three negotiators and spokespersons for the prisoners — Siddique Abdullah Hasan, formerly known as Carlos Sanders (hereafter "Hasan"), Jason Robb, and George Skatzes — were found guilty of the aggravated murder of Officer Robert Vallandingham. So was Namir Abdul Mateen, also known as James Were (hereafter "Namir"). All four were sentenced to death, along with Keith Lamar, alleged to have organized a "death squad" that killed five supposed prisoner informants in the early hours of the uprising. Hasan and Namir are Sunni Muslims, Robb and Skatzes were at the time members of the Aryan Brotherhood.

As this book goes to press, the five capital cases are making their way through the courts. Hasan, Robb, Lamar and Skatzes are at the last (federal habeas corpus) stage of appeals.

King Arthur

What makes human beings rebel?

Often rebellion seems not to be in the personal interest of the insurgents. This was true in Philadelphia in 1776, where Benjamin Franklin is said to have joked about the need for the signers of the Declaration of Independence to hang together lest they hang separately. It was equally true in Lucasville, Ohio, in April 1993. At least two of the five men later sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the uprising were within sight of release from prison when the "riot" began. Hasan, the supposed mastermind of the rebellion, was in the SOCF honor block.

The words "a long train of abuses" come from the Declaration of Independence. I draw on that history because the American Revolution is the rebellion about which I know most. I taught students about the American Revolution at Spelman College, a college for African American women in Atlanta, and at Yale University. I tried to ask hard questions such as: Why did some tenant farmers support the patriot cause while others hoped for a British victory? (Answer: It depended on the politics of your landlord. You opposed what the landlord was for, in the hope that if he lost you could obtain ownership of your farm.) Why did city artisans, who were radical Sons of Liberty before 1776, vote in 1787 for a constitution drafted by conservatives like Alexander Hamilton? (Answer: Before and after independence, the artisans were concerned to keep British manufactured goods out of America.) And how did it come about that these advocates of inalienable human rights set up a government for the new nation that protected slavery? (Answer: Both Northerners and Southerners expected that population in their part of the country would grow more rapidly. Each section anticipated that it would come to dominate the Congress and could then resolve the issue of slavery in its own interest.)

In writing about the Lucasville uprising I have viewed it as a rebellion like the American Revolution. I am encouraged in making the comparison by the following words from the country's leading authority on prison riots, Bert Useem:

the principles underlying collective behavior against authorities appear to be fundamentally the same whether one is examining revolution against monarchies and empires or riots against prison authorities.

So what made prisoners at Lucasville rebel? What were the causes of the uprising?

To answer these questions, we must turn to certain studies conducted both before the disturbance and after it ended; to deposition and court testimony, especially in a subsequent civil suit by victims of the rebellion; and to the collective memory of the rebels themselves.

The drafters of the Declaration of Independence charged King George III with "a long train of abuses" against their rights. Similarly, prisoners at Lucasville had multiple grievances against Warden Arthur Tate, whom they called "King Arthur."

The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville was opened in September 1972 to replace the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, where there had been riots in 1968.

According to John Perotti, who was then a prisoner at SOCF, "Luke" came to have the reputation of being one of the most violent prisons in the country. Prisoner Emanuel "Buddy" Newell, testifying in the trial of a fellow prisoner after the surrender, agreed. When he heard the commotion begin in L block on April 11, he said, he first assumed that it was a "normal fight."

Q. When you say a "normal fight," what are you talking about?

A. You know, just inmates, just some inmates fighting, maybe two or three inmates fighting.

Q. Okay.

A. Officers trying to break it up, like all the time.

Q. Is that uncommon at Lucasville?

A. No.

Perotti says that most of the guard on prisoner brutality took place in J block, which housed Administrative Control and Disciplinary Control ("the hole"). In 1983, Perotti continues, twelve guards beat to death Jimmy Haynes, a mentally disturbed African American prisoner. While nurses stood watching, one guard jumped on Haynes' neck while another guard held a nightstick behind it. Two other black prisoners, Lincoln Carter and John Ingram, were alleged to have touched white nurses. They were beaten by guards and found dead in their cells in the hole the following day.No criminal charges were pressed.

A group of prisoners known as the "Lucasville 14" sought to give up their United States citizenship and to emigrate to other countries. Three of these prisoners cut off one or more fingers and mailed them to the United Nations and Department of Justice to prove that they were serious. The United States refused to allow them to renounce citizenship.

Some prisoners organized a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World to demand the minimum wage for prison labor, Perotti relates. The courts rejected this demand. Perotti also helped to prepare a thirty-eight-page petition to Amnesty International. The petition described instances in which prisoners were chained to cell fixtures, subjected to chemical mace and tear gas, forced to sleep on cell floors, and brutally beaten, all in violation of United Nations Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners. The authors were charged with "unauthorized group activity." The petition was confiscated as contraband.

In 1989, Warden Terry Morris asked the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) — a committee of the Ohio legislature — to prepare a summary of concerns about SOCF to be used by him in discussions with Unit Managers and Department Heads. The CIIC based its response on letters from 427 different SOCF prisoners received between August 21, 1987 and November 16, 1989. A hundred eighty (42 percent) expressed concerns about personal safety. The CIIC report mentioned murders of prisoners Tim Meachum in December 1988 and Billy Murphy in January 1989, and the stabbing death of prisoner Dino Wallace.

In more than 100 subsequent interviews with CIIC staff, prisoners — years before April 1993 —" relayed fears and predictions of a major disturbance unlike any ever seen in Ohio prison history."

It was alleged that knives have been and can be bought or provided from staff, and that a staff person allegedly provided a gun that is reported to be hidden in the institution (whereabouts unknown). Inmates claimed of staff approaching them with suggestions or offering to make it worthwhile if they would stab another inmate. Certain inmates are reportedly allowed to stash or transport knives. One victim of a stabbing claimed that he knew it was coming, because of a reported pattern in such matters. His cell was targeted for daily consecutive shake downs reportedly to ensure that he had no weapon when the inmates stabbed him. A security staff person reportedly apologized to him afterwards, explaining that he has a family. Incidents were cited in which staff reportedly were present when verbal death threats were relayed from one or more inmates to another, (in one case when the inmate also displayed his knives by raising his shirt) yet staff were reportedly silent. In another case, after a stabbing, a staff person reportedly approached the inmate who stabbed the inmate and said, "Why didn't you kill the son of a bitch?"

Another prisoner at SOCF in those days, part-Native American "Little Rock" Reed, describes what led to the appointment in 1990 of a new warden, Arthur Tate.

There was a horrible incident in which a mentally unstable prisoner killed a beautiful young school teacher named Beverly Taylor, who was helping prisoners to achieve their GEDs. The prison administration had carelessly assigned him to work as the teacher's aide, where he would be alone with her at times, without supervision. The prisoner took her hostage and cut her throat with a coffee can lid, nearly ripping her head from her shoulders. Local citizens gathered in front of the prison demanding that prisoners be stripped of all privileges, holding placards that said "Kill the killers." They didn't know that most prisoners thought highly of Beverly Taylor and sincerely mourned her death.

As a result of this tragedy, in 1990 Arthur Tate was transferred from Chillicothe to Lucasville as the new warden. King Arthur began "Operation Shakedown." The prison was placed on lockdown ["lockdown" means confinement of each prisoner in his cell]. Guards came into each cell block, armed in full riot gear, and tore the cells to pieces. Prisoners could only stand and watch as the guards intentionally destroyed personal property, such as our family photographs.

SOCF housed both maximum security prisoners and prisoners classified "close security," a status intermediate between "maximum" and "medium." However, prisoners agree that once Arthur Tate became the warden, the whole complexion of the penitentiary changed for everyone imprisoned there.

One of the Lucasville Five, Keith Lamar, remembers that Tate "immediately scrapped all the programs, supposedly as a way to cut down on inmate traffic. Lines were painted on each side of the hallway floors, and we were ordered to stay within those lines as we walked — military style — to and from the kitchen, gym and work areas." Chrystof Knecht, another Lucasville prisoner, has similar memories.

Under Tate's regime, SOCF prisoners were told how and when to eat, sleep, talk, walk, educate, bathe andrecreate. Privileges were taken away on a regular basis. New rules were enforced daily, disregarded, then re-implemented weeks later.

Bill Martin, still another prisoner at SOCF, thinks the "most bizarre" rule was the one "requiring prisoners to march to chow, recreation, chapel, work, school, commissary, etc." King Arthur not only wanted prisoners to walk within the lines "but walk in double-file formations. Prisoners who hated each other were forced to march next to each other. Everybody deeply resented this." According to Martin, there were repeated massive shakedowns of prisoners' personal property, and constant transfers of prisoners from one part of the facility to another.

Snitch Games

A prisoner who becomes an informant is known behind bars as a "snitch." In its report to Warden Morris, the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee concluded that the main concern of SOCF administrators should be "snitch games."

It [snitch games] was the common denominator reported to be related in one way or another to past or present circumstances of the large majority of inmates. They spoke of the relationship between snitch games and unit management, violence, gangs, racial tension, drug, gambling, sex and extortion rings, job assignments, cell assignments, unit moves, lack of personal safety, fear of other inmates and distrust of staff.

According to Keith Lamar and an influential Muslim prisoner, Taymullah Abdul Hakim also known as Leroy Elmore, after Warden Tate's appointment SOCF continued to encourage "snitches."

[T]he only way you could work where you wanted to work, or cell where you wanted to cell, was to be in cahoots with the administration. This served to increase the snitch population exponentially.

Taymullah declares that Tate "promoted informing on guards and prisoners. Prisoners were fitted with 'wires' (recording instruments) and sent at guards to entrap them in criminal activities. Flyers were printed up instituting a 'snitch line' where prisoners and visitors could write to inform on criminal activities inside Lucasville."

Warden Tate's invitation to snitch is contained in a memorandum, a copy of which is before me as I write. It is dated May 31, 1991, and directed to "All Inmates And Visitors." The memo states in part:

Due to my concern about violations of laws and rules of this institution, I feel it necessary to make myself available for persons wishing to pass this information on to this office concerning these things. ... I have established a post office box at Lucasville, Ohio for information which could assist our departmental efforts in eliminating violation of institutional rules and criminal conduct. Your letter will be intercepted by this office and will not be processed through normal institutional mail. Your information will be held in strict confidence. ... The address is as follows: Operation Shakedown, P.O. Box 411, Lucasville, Ohio — 45648.

Prisoners view snitches much as striking workers perceive scabs, only more so. It should not have come as a surprise that at least eight of the nine prisoners later killed in the uprising were prisoners perceived by other prisoners to be "snitches."

L'État C'est Moi(I Am the State)

What did Warden Tate intend by all these changes? In a document entitled "Situation at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility as it led up to the riot," dated July 5, 1993, an anonymous prisoner states that he believes that Tate would have liked to lock down the whole institution permanently "and make it another Marion, Illinois super-max" (a prison in which prisoners are confined in single cells for twenty-three or more hours a day).

There is evidence for this theory that Warden Tate wanted to make Lucasville into a supermax. The most comprehensive of the post-uprising studies, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility: Disturbance Cause Committee Findings (sometimes called "the Mohr Report" after its chairperson, Gary Mohr) contains in its appendix a memorandum dated March 22, 1993, twenty days before the uprising began. The memo is from Tate to Eric Dahlberg, South Region Director. It is entitled "Request to Construct a Maximum Security Unit at SOCF." Although Tate speaks of constructing a "maximum security" unit within SOCF, SOCF wasalreadyfor the most part a maximum security prison and his request must be understood to seek supermaximum conditions of confinement. The memo states in part:

Over the past several months I have expressed my concerns relative to the need for a maximum security unit at this facility which is suitable to house those prisoners who are high security risks requiring maximum levels of supervision as well as a physical structure designed to effectively house them. ... [I]nmates in the highly assaultive, predatory category requiring maximum security confinement, will continue to increase due to lengths of sentences.

Recognizing that the Department was unable to finance the construction of a new, totally supermaximum security prison at that time, Tate asked permission to build a "high security unit" at SOCF.

Whether or not Warden Tate consciously wanted to turn SOCF into a supermax, it is certain that he self-consciously insisted on absolute obedience to his decisions, be they right or wrong. Like Bourbon kings before the French Revolution, he acted as if he believed that "I am the State." Bill Martin offers an example of Tate's mindset.

King Arthur followed Otto Bender's advice of closing all the windows during the summer because SOCF was designed to have a flow-through ventilation system to keep the institution cool. Without any investigation, King Arthur signed Bender's decree which ordered all the windows closed. ... My supervisor, Pat Burnett, subsequently went into King Arthur's office and inquired about his "window decree." King Arthur ... had the institution's blueprints on his desk and, as he was gently patting them, he told Burnett, "I have it all right here. The institution was designed with flow-through ventilation. It will keep the institution cooler if the windows are kept closed." Burnett then informed King Arthur that the flow-through ventilation will not work because most of the blowers on the roof are burnt out. ... [You would think that King Arthur would have rescinded] his "window decree." But he did not want to appear foolish so we all suffered through a very hot summer.


Excerpted from Lucasville by Staughton Lynd. Copyright © 2011 Staughton Lynd. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Mumia Abu-Jamal,
One: A Long Train of Abuses,
Two: The Worst of the Worst,
Three: Who Killed Officer Vallandingham?,
Four: Settlement of a Siege Diagrams and Photographs,
Diagrams and Photographs,
Five: The Criminal Injustice System — Before Trial,
Six: The Criminal Injustice System — Trial and Appeal,
Seven: Overcoming Racism — The Lucasville Redemption,
Eight: Attica and Amnesty,
Chronology of Lucasville Rebellion,
Appendix One: Transcript of Tunnel Tape,
Appendix Two: Demands of the Prisoners in L Block,
Appendix Three: Documents Circulated by Advocates of the Death Penalty for Lucasville Rioters,
Appendix Four: Selective Prosecution of Leaders of the Rebellion Compared with Informants who Concededly Committed the Same Acts,
Appendix Five: Selective Prosecution Based on Identity of Victim,

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