Prisoners Report on Conditions in

Ohio State Penitentiary - Ohio

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www.prisoncensorship.info is a media institution run by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons. Here we collect and publicize reports of conditions behind the bars in U.$. prisons. Information about these incidents rarely makes it out of the prison, and when it does it is extremely rare that the reports are taken seriously and published. This historical record is important for documenting patterns of abuse, and also for informing people on the streets about what goes on behind the bars.

We hope this information will inspire people to take action and join the fight against the criminal injustice system. While we may not be able to immediately impact this particular instance of abuse, we can work to fundamentally change the system that permits and perpetuates it. The criminal injustice system is intimately tied up with imperialism, and serves as a tool of social control on the homeland, particularly targeting oppressed nations.

[Organizing] [Hunger Strike] [Ohio State Penitentiary] [Ohio] [ULK Issue 54]
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Tactical Lessons from Historical Lucasville Struggles

lucasville uprising

Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
Second Edition
Staughton Lynd
2011, PM Press

Condemned
Keith LaMar (Bomani Hondo Shakur)
2014, www.keithlamar.org

In April 1993 there was an 11-day occupation of Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, starting on Easter Sunday when the maximum security prisoners overpowered correctional officers (COs) while returning from recreation. During the occupation, eight COs were held as hostages; one was killed and the rest were released. Nine prisoners were also killed through the course of this uprising, all by other prisoners. The 407 prisoners surrendered when the administration committed to a 21-point agreement. After the uprising, five prisoners were sentenced to death for the murders, and they are the only people held on Ohio's death row.

Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising and Condemned are good books to read together, and give two thorough accounts of the events of the SOCF uprising, and even more thorough detail of what happened afterward. Lucasville is written by Staughton Lynd, a lawyer who plays a significant role in Condemned, which was written by Keith LaMar (Bomani), one of the people condemned to death for the events during the uprising. The content in these books overlaps a lot, but not too much as to be redundant. What content is repeated through the two books just underlines lessons learned, and clarifies the authors' political orientations, some of which MIM(Prisons) does not agree with. Rather than write a point-by-point criticism of these books which most of our readers will never have the opportunity to read anyway, below we summarize some of the lessons on prison organizing we gleaned from studying them.

Condemned recounts Bomani's first-hand experience before, during, and after the uprising, especially focusing on the struggle of the five prisoners who were scapegoated for the uprising (known as the Lucasville 5). Condemned is a good case study on many common aspects of prison organizing. Lynd's book describes all the work it took, and all the obstacles the state put in place, to support the Lucasville 5's struggle from the outside.

The first theme addressed in Condemned is the author's ideological transformation. MIM(Prisons)'s primary task at this point in the struggle is building public opinion and institutions of the oppressed for socialist revolution, so affecting others' political consciousness is something we work on a lot. On the first day of the uprising, Bomani was hoping the state would come in to end the chaos. But "standing there as dead bodies were dumped onto the yard (while those in authority stood back and did nothing), and then experience the shock of witnessing Dennis' death [another prisoner who was murdered in the same cell as the author], awakened something in me." Bomani's persynal experiences, plus politicization on the pod and thru books, are what led em to pick up the struggle against injustice.

At an event where Bomani was publicizing eir case and experience, a MIM(Prisons) comrade was able to ask em what go-to books ey recommend for new comrades who are just getting turned on to the struggle. Bomani suggested Black Boy by Richard Wright, and also refers to Wright in Condemned. MIM(Prisons) would second this recommendation. Black Boy is an excellent study of New Afrikan life under Jim Crow in the South, with many aspects of that struggle still continuing in this country today.

In eir own book, Bomani also recounts acts of prisoner unity against the administration shortly following the uprising, and how politicization of fellow prisoners played out in real life. The prisoners made a pact to trash the range each day, and not clean it up. The guards cleaned the range themselves for a few days, but then brought in a prisoner to clean it up. Simultaneously, the "old heads" on the pod were leading speeches nightly about the need for unity and the relationship between the prisoners and the administration, politicizing everyone within earshot.

"Every night there was a variation of this same speech, and I listened to it over and over again until something took root in me. I became openly critical of the mistreatment we had all undergone and, for a few months at least, was serious in my determination to persuade others not to join the administration in the efforts to further divide and conquer us."(Condemned, p. 33)

A tactic that was mentioned in passing in Condemned was how the prisoner who was cleaning the range for the pigs was dealt with. Ey was struggled with for a period of time, and asked to not clean the range, but ey came back day after day. Eventually this prisoner was stabbed by the protesters for continuously undermining the action. Bomani doesn't mention how this act impacted the unity demo, whether it helped or not. We aim to minimize physical violence as much as possible, although sometimes it may be necessary. It is up to those who are on the ground to make the call in their particular conditions, and this tactic should not at all be taken lightly. If much physical force is necessary to maintain a peace demo, then we should ask ourselves if the masses we're organizing are ready for that type of demo. Political education is always our focus at this stage in the struggle.

Both books address how a protest with solid participants can fail or succeed depending on the protest's outside support. Several hunger strikes were launched, and ended, without progress made on the demands. It wasn't until connections were made with outside advocates and media that prison officials took any steps toward fixing them. Especially in an instance where a lawyer met with the regional director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation, which led to some property restrictions being lifted.

Recalling a victory from a 12-day hunger strike which had a lot of outside support,

"When the administration refused to follow their own rules, we complained (verbally and informally) and then asked a district judge to intervene on our behalf, all to no avail. It never occurred to us that we were wasting our time by appealing to the very people who had placed us in this predicament we were in.

"Indeed, the whole process of redressing our grievances was nothing more than an exercise in futility designed to drain off our vital energy and make us feel as though we had done all that we could do.

"It was only when we began to write and reach out to 'the people' that things began to change. First, there was Staughton's book and accompanying play; then we began holding 'talks' around the state on various college campuses, as well as writing articles in various periodicals. In this way, we were able to generate some much-needed support."(Condemned, p. 179)

To combat the psychological warfare of the prison staff, Bomani strongly recommends daily meditation and yoga as a method to protect oneself. "By learning how to watch my thoughts [meditate using simple breathing exercises], I was able to rise above the vicious cycle of cause and effect, and thereby avoid the tricks and traps of my environment."(Condemned, p. 133)

MIM(Prisons) receives regular requests for information on sovereign citizenship. While we've written against this tactic at length elsewhere, Lucasville underlines it with an anecdote about three prisoners who cut off their fingers and mailed them to the United Nations to show how serious they were in in their claim of sovereign citizenship. The request was still denied.

A final lesson from these books, especially recounted in Lucasville, is that in any attempt at solidarity and justice for the oppressed, prison officials and other oppressors will do everything they can to undermine it. Everything. We should never expect that our enemies will act in good faith toward respecting us and our needs. We should always expect pushback and always expect that they will attempt to derail us at every step of the way. Studying past struggles for clues on how we can protect our movement will only make our job easier. The state is taking notes on our shortcomings and we need to do the same of both our shortcomings and our strengths.

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[Abuse] [Organizing] [Ohio State Penitentiary] [Ohio]
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Ohio State Penitentiary Conditions Decline

Here at the Ohio State Penitentiary our food service department was privatized about five months ago and taken over by a company called Amark. Since then we've had a steady decline in both the portions and quality of our food. It's to the point now that we're getting severely undercooked turkey bacon (2 slices) at breakfast and meat at other meals is mostly fat and sometimes contains tiny bit of bone. It's the kind of meat you wouldn't serve a dog.

Also, the pigs recently changed policies concerning the long term storage of our property that we may not be allowed at our current security or privilege levels but can have once our levels are lowered. The pigs are trying to force guys into authorizing them to either destroy or send home their property. For the most part guys are refusing to authorize or sign anything and threatening to sue if the pigs destroy their property anyway. Although as always some guys allowed themselves to be intimidated by the pigs. It remains to be seen what the pigs will eventually end up doing but this comrade will keep you posted.


MIM(Prisons) responds: When we see conditions change in a way that inspires others to protest individually, this is a good opportunity to insert some political education into the discussion, and use the situation to build unity against the criminal injustice system. These actions, taken against the whole group, underscore prisoners' basis for unity in fighting for their basic rights. There has been a lot of recent organizing and protests in Ohio, including a hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary last year. Political awareness is growing, and it's up to those who understand the big picture of imperialism and our fight against it to take up leadership roles in educating and organizing others.

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[Medical Care] [Ohio State Penitentiary] [Ohio] [ULK Issue 36]
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Ohio Prisoners Take Up Legal Fight Over Medical Neglect

Though it is very difficult to rally my fellow prisoners here at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) to support any cause, I am happy to say that a small group of revolutionary minded brothers here have come together to fight against OSP's medical department with the assistance of the Ohio branch of the ACLU. I know that comrades in other states, such as California, Nevada and Texas have it much worse than us here in Ohio. But having been the victim of this state's deliberate indifference, I know how it feels to be denied the medical care that is my right as a human being and I am outraged not only for myself but also for all of my incarcerated, abused and oppressed brothers. A victory in this fight is a step on the road to revolution for us all and I hold out the highest of hopes for these comrades and their struggle.

I truly wish there was more good news for me to report from my cage in OSP but sadly, here as in most prisons, good news is hard to come by. Please add my name to the Under Lock & Key mailing list and let me know of any way I can help to support your organization. Also, at this point, I am starved for literature so if you have or are aware of any programs that can help me to get books and literature please let me know.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We appreciate people sending us reports like this about battles, both small and large, taking place across the country. We see the value of connecting struggles across states and learning from the successes and failures of people in other prisons. Under Lock & Key reports on these types of battles, but we go even further and offer political analysis and education around these struggles. We are not satisfied with simply fighting for small improvements in medical care or mail policies. Such improvements alleviate the suffering and improve the ability of our comrades behind bars to engage in political organizing, but they should also be part of our broader work to educate and build a strong and committed political center that understands the need to take on the imperialist system as a whole in order to dismantle the criminal injustice system.

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[Organizing] [Control Units] [Ohio State Penitentiary] [Ohio] [ULK Issue 33]
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May Day Strike in Ohio Gained Small Reforms

Greetings to all revolutionary comrades who are captives in the gulags of these United $nakes of Amurderer. In light of the many struggles that have come to the forefront in these past few years I was dismayed at the lack of attention May Day received this year.

Inside the gulag called Ohio State Penitentiary, 30 days prior to May Day 2012 [this was originally published as 2013 - editor] several captives began planning what was hoped to become a massive hunger strike. This was to take place in C-Block where captives considered to be the most violent in the state are held.

The plan was to begin the strike on May 1 to coincide with the general May Day strikes taking place all over the world.

There were about 30 who had decided to go for the long run, but because some paperwork detailing some of our demands and our prospected start date was confiscated haphazardly by an escort pig, we decided on a whim to start a day early. This took the pig-overseers by surprise as some had taken that Monday off work anticipating confronting us at the onset of our demonstration.

So our core began a day early and we were joined by the rest on May Day, giving us a total of about 60 out of 140. By day 6 we were beginning to lose numbers but our point had been made: solidarity and organization can happen inside 23-hour lockdown, even on short notice.

Several pieces were run in the local newspapers. We had the attention of the bourgeoisie who responded negatively to a captive's article on how austerity has caused smaller food portions.

Our main demand was for the ending of the hopelessness of an indefinite classification to level 5-A & 5-B, better known as supermax, of "3 years or more." For so-called lesser offenses, one can receive this same classification for a period of "less than 3 years."

As we began to lose participants Warden D. Bobby decided to address the demands by adding good behavior incentives: extra phone calls, photos every three months, extra visit per month, etc. Basically they were saying that it is our negative behavior that keeps us here. They also began showing 3 new-release movies per week as well as offering lots more mental health and drug abuse programs.

As California has learned, not much changes without massive efforts and solidarity. This attests to our need for further acts of solidarity and organization for struggle, and the development of leadership backed by science to bring about a movement for change.

Thursday, May 23 at 11pm, 20 or so captives began flooding the ranges as backlash to the enforcement of an old rule stating "no loan, borrow, or trading" amongst captives. We remain on lockdown 23/7 while there is one person allowed out of our cell at a time for recreation. In an attempt to stop the passing and sharing of coffee, literature and photos, this captive's rec is terminated if caught passing. Because rec is a so-called guarantee, and it's our only out-of-cell time besides a shower, many rallied to address this. Some even swore to battle the captors if need be to prove their unwillingness to stop passing or give up rec.

A meeting with D. Bobby led to a promise to back off the rule and also give a few more behavioral incentives, and add a few more TV stations; pacification, no real change, and proof for the need of protests on May Day and beyond.


MIM(Prisons) responds: The persecution of prisoners who share literature and coffee is akin to the recent persecution of prisoners for participating in group exercise in California. These policies oppose peace and unity among the prison population. The criminalizing of the passing of literature also helps keep prisoners ignorant and supresses their ability to gain outside support. So we stand in solidarity with these comrades' struggle to oppose such repression. For our take on May Day in North America see our article "Big Fat Elephant in the May Day Dialogue," where we expose the double standard applied by those in the left-wing of white nationalism to workers in the First World compared to those in the Third World.

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[Organizing] [Ohio State Penitentiary] [Ohio] [ULK Issue 27]
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Ohio State Penitentiary Hunger Strike Ends

ohio state penitentiary
Ohio State Penitentiary
9 May 2012, Youngstown, Ohio - Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) hunger strike ends. After long negotiations with Warden David Bobby on 7 May, the hunger striking prisoners at OSP began eating again. Two of the men held out through the eighth, 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 of the agreement are unclear, but sources 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 cost, state pay rates, phone cost, length of stay, and harsh penalties for petty conduct reports. The warden said that he discussed "many issues" at the 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 unrelated rule infractions, but stated that there were no reprisals or punishments for participating. One prisoner source agrees with this statement.

The hunger strike began on April 30 and was timed to align with May Day protests outside.


MIM(prisons) adds: This hunger strike demanded many reforms related to conditions in the prison. As with hunger strikes from California to Palestine, the prison administration made promises to get the prisoners to end the strike. At least one prisoner resumed the hunger strike on June 4 after the warden failed to follow through on his promises.(1)

Hunger strikes are becoming an increasingly popular tactic in the struggle against the criminal injustice system. Prisoners are forced into a position where there is very little they can do to fight for their rights. The legal system refuses to respond, grievances are ignored or destroyed, and on the streets there is more support for "getting tough on crime" than for prisoners' rights. And so prisoners feel their only choice is to put their lives in danger by refusing to eat.

MIM(Prisons) supports outbreaks of organizing and struggle against the criminal injustice system, and we urge prisoner activists to take seriously the need for study and organization before taking action. Not everyone will be a communist, but we can all advance our theory and practice through study and discussion. And we need good organizing theory to make the best use of unity and actions.

A good place to start is the United Front for Peace Statement of Principles. Struggle with us if you disagree with any of them, and if you agree, come together with prisoners across the country to build our unity and struggle.

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