More Frequent Updates

We've been using this blog less and our facebook group more often, for random updates and events. So, if you wanna know what we're doing right now, go here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Workshop Recap: Lucasville Uprising.

Our presentation about the Lucasville uprising had four parts. 1. the case. 2. Why it’s political. 3. What support may look like. 4. How racial dynamics complicate support.

1. THE CASE We shared a quick summary of the case, with some visual aids. We focused on thosewe knew the most about: Siddique Hasan, Bomani Shakur, Jason Rob, Namir Mateen, George Skates, and Greg Curry. These were by far not all of those involved in the uprising. There weren’t a lot of questions, so we either did a pretty good job of getting A LOT of information transmitted in 15 minutes, or people felt too overwhelmed and confused to even know what to ask.

Siddique Abdullah Hasan
2. WHY IT’S POLITICAL We played a prison radio broadcast that Siddique Hasan, who’s incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary, had made for us to take to the conference. The original plan was that he’d call in and make the statement directly, the radio recording was a back up. But, the time of our presentation shifted and we’d been without cell-phone coverage all weekend (the camp was pretty far out of town), so we just played the recording. Then, a few minutes into the discussion, Hasan’s call did make it through, which created the opportunity for participants to ask him questions and hear his voice and thoughts directly.
We opened with the question of “do these people count as political prisoners?” to the group. A few people brought up the idea of “politicized prisoners” in contrast to “political prisoners.” After some discussion, folks seemed to generally agree that the time the Lucasville Uprising folks are serving now comes from a distinct politically aware action, that the state is pursuing them as aggressively as any political prisoner, and that their continued public statements and resistance qualify them for distinction. People debated whether Jason Robb of the Aryan Brotherhood should be supported, as described at length below. We expect to see at least some of the inmates included in various political prisoner databases soon, and will be helping Hasan and anyone else who wants to apply for recognition by the ABC Federation.

Greg Curry
3. WHAT SUPPORT MIGHT LOOK LIKE. We read a statement from Bomani about how he believes all prisoners are political. We also intended to read a piece from George Curry, but there wasn’t enough time. Many people in the audience seemed to agree with this analysis. At the same time, some people recognized that their groups could only do so much, and that’s why they focus limited resources on prisoners from their communities (and the larger ‘anarchist’ community as a whole). 

Letter from Bomani
Letter from Greg Curry

We intend to create a website, with help from the inmates, which will serve to update ABC folks and political prisoner sympathizers everywhere about their cases and ways to support. Everyone agrees that the “Lucasville 5” designation is not the best way to deal with the case. First, because it’s unclear if all of the five (specifically Namir and George) want to be included in this designation. Second, because other Lucasville Uprising folks who are serving non-death sentence time want to be included and are not. We will be contacting these others and including whatever they would like to share in the website we create.

4. HOW RACIAL DYNAMICS COMPLICATE SUPPORT. This was the most intense and controversial part of the discussion. We were also running out of time, as the audio portion of section two ended up twice as long as we’d planned for. The Lucasville uprising involved members of the aryran brotherhood, some of whom have refused to cooperate with the state or rat out other inmates. Specifically, George Skatzes and Jason Robb had very active roles as negotiators with the state and leaders of the aryan faction during the uprising. George Skatzes has not communicated with us, he was transferred out of Ohio State Penitentiary for medical issues and depression and does not return letters from even the Lynds, who used to visit him monthly and represented him in court. Staughten says that Skatzes has left the aryan brotherhood, but it seems like Jason Robb is still an active member. We’ve exchanged letters with him and Ben interviewed him in person. Here’s Ben’s summary and account of the discussion.

Note: These discussions happened in multiple times and places during the conference, during the workshop, around the fire, with other individuals. If you were there and remember something differently, please share it here. I do not have perfect memory or permission from anyone to attribute statements to them in particular, so, when I use the phrase “a conference attendee” I could be referring to any number of different people.
Before we left, I encouraged Robb to write his thoughts down, so that I might be able to share things in his own words. He doesn’t like to write, he prefers drawing and painting. I hope I expressed his thoughts in an accurate and helpful way, but nothing I said there or here should be taken as a flawless record of his statements. I did my best, but I am not a machine! I also hope people recognize that I’m the devil’s advocate here, that I went into the conference with more questions on this subject than solid opinions. I remain uncertain in many aspects, but as one conference attendant said “at some point you do need to make up your mind”. Well, I’ve included the conclusions I feel confident about below.

Why this discussion is relevant... Some conference participants said “sure, I’ll recognize that Jason Robb is a political prisoner, but so is an abortion clinic bomber, that doesn’t mean I’m going to support either one of them”. This perspective makes sense to me, but I think the trouble is that people’s fear of acknowledging Jason Robb’s existence is the reason none of the “Lucasville 5” have been listed in many political prisoner databases, or gained as much support as they otherwise might.

The racial dynamic of Lucasville is also relevant to some current events. The Pelican Bay hunger strike and the Georgia prison strikes both involved unity across racial factions. That probably means: the Aryan Brotherhood or other white gangs. This begs the question, how do anti-racist anarchists express solidarity with these actions? Do we hold up the example while condemning the participants? Or do we talk about unity without acknowledging a big part of who has united? These seem like strange paradoxical responses. The Lucasville case gives us some perspective on this question, as it had that same kind of unity, and happened almost 20 years ago, so we have some hind sight on it.

What else has been said... Staughten Lynd literally wrote the book on the Lucasville uprising. During the workshop, I shared his thoughts on the race subject, from chapter 7 of his book on Lucasville:

Towards the end of the 1960’s, black organizers in the civil rights movement said to their white colleagues, in effect: “Look, for a time we are going to organize Black Power in the black community. We suggest you do parrallel work among working-class whites. Then, after a few years, we will bring the two movements together in an interracial movement of the poor that can change this society.”

The problem is that the separate currents of struggle, black and white, have not been brought back together. The prisoners described in this book therefore have something to teach us all. Like blacks and whites on the outside, they first organized as Muslims and as Aryan Brothers. Then, under the hammer of common oppression, these groups joined to wage a struggle against an oppression shared by all.

This analysis seems a little idealistic and simplified, but it does hold true in some ways. During the uprising inmates from different factions did work together, as evinced by some of the graffiti found after the uprising, describing “black and white unity” “convict unity” and even “convict race”. Lynd also elaborates on race much more thoroughly here

Jason Robb
What does Jason Robb say for himself... 
-Jason joined the AB in prison, after being attacked repeatedly by black inmates. He was 5’5” tall and 140 lbs when he first went in. The AB provided him with protection and support.
-Jason insists that he is not racist. He considers himself a separatist, and claims this is his personal beliefs, rooted in pagan mythology and religion, which he does not intend to force on others. He finds these beliefs to be an important part of resisting the dehumanizing and identity-stripping functions of prison routines. 
 -Jason says he “wants the same thing the black panthers want, but for white people”. When I was talking to him, I didn’t let him get away with this, I pointed out that black separatists come from a history of severe oppression, that all separatism is not equal, or even really comparable. His response surprised me. He didn’t deny or minimize black oppression or the racism of our society. He is respectful of black power movements, encourages blacks to find their roots and empower themselves. He does not deny that our society is incredibly racist and that blacks have been and continue to be oppressed. He talked about how race has been used to keep whites and blacks divided and thus maintain class structure and dominance. His statements on this subject mirror some of Bomani’s.
-Jason pointed out to me that race is different in prison. White people are a minority. When he was at SOCF the majority of inmates were black, as was the warden, “King” Arthur Tate, who set off the uprising with his “operation shakedown”. Robb talks about parole quotas, COs holding whites to higher standards, and reverse racism (even insinuations that he’s a race-traitor for not snitching on Bomani and Hasan) in his trial and parole hearings. At first I interpreted this as the standard color-blind concealment of racism we hear all too often in our post-civil rights, racist backlash society. But, the more we talked about it, and reflecting on it later, I came to realize that many of Robb’s complaints made sense within a racist institution like prison. We all know that prison treats whites and blacks differently, it’s not hard to imagine how sometimes that racism could have negative effects or consequences for white inmates. The best example Robb provided of this logic is in regards to parole hearings. Robb described his difficulties getting paroled (before the uprising, there is no chance of parole for these guys today). He claims there was a black man with a similar offence and behavior who was paroled, caught committing another crime and returned twice while Robb was eligible but denied parole repeatedly for years. He says this is because the prison system wants to conceal its racism. The police go after people of color so much more aggressively that, if the prison didn’t hold white inmates longer, it would end up 90% people of color, rather than merely 65%. After considering this story from an abolitionist perspective, I can see it going further. Abolitionists believe that the “criminal justice” system’s tendency to cycle people from traumatizing periods of incarceration to marginalized periods of “freedom” with no economic opportunities serves the function of destabilizing communities of color and indirectly keeps everyone down. If this analysis is true, it makes sense that a racist institution would be more cautious about slowing that revolving door down when it comes to paroling white inmates who would be released to white communities.
 -Jason acknowledges that other members of the AB are nazis and supremacists, and that he used to hold these beliefs. He is actively involved, and seems to be high up and respected within the gang. He does not like to see his solidarity with black and muslim inmates be characterized as “anti-racist action”. Some conference attendees speculated that he may have stayed with the gang out of fear that they’ll come after him if he drops out. I don’t think this is the case (but Robb surely wouldn’t share with me if it was). I just don’t think he’s a very fearful person. He’s been on 23 hour a day lockdown in the most supermax facility in the state of Ohio for 18 years, but he dismissed the entire prison security system as “only creating an illusion of safety for the guards”.
-Jason has been involved in continuing prisoner resistance. He worked with Alice Lynd on an important class action lawsuit against Ohio State Penitentiary. According to Alice, he always insisted on partnering with a black inmate to make sure their needs were also addressed.

Drawing by Robb
-Jason Robb believes that outside support is the only thing that might save his life. He has no trust or faith that any judge will give the uprising prisoners a new trial based on the unconstitutionality of the coerced testimony that put them away, or that any politician will grant them amnesty due to the state’s misconduct in these trials or the terrible conditions at SOCF that led to the uprising. He believes (rightly, I think) that only pressure from the public can make any of those things happen.
-He is willing to step back and allow ABC chapters and anyone else to ignore his role in the uprising, if that’s the only way they can bring themselves to support Hasan, Bomani and the others.

What the other inmates think... Bomani believes very strongly in unity. I think he sees race and other divisions as a tool used to maintain class structure in our unjust capitalist society and refuses to allow these divisions to govern his life. There was a time when Bomani was helping with the class action lawsuit and he and Jason Robb were allowed to be in the same room together (this was in the midst of 18 years of isolation, otherwise zero human contact) and according to Alice Lynd, they got along quite favorably.

Hasan is much more reserved. He has an important position within the Muslim community in the Ohio prison system. Whenever anything goes down between any Muslim and any AB (and there have been some serious incidents) it causes tension and strains the trust between Robb and Hasan. During the workshop someone asked Hasan what he thinks of Robb on the phone and Hasan said that “if he [Robb] is telling the truth about his beliefs, that he’s a separatist not a supremacist, then he’s okay with me”. I suspect Hasan was being generous. He has definitely acknowledged Robb’s refusal to participate with the state, and trusts him not to change his tune and start cooperating, but doesn’t like him much beyond that.

Bomani Shakur
What I think... I think Jason Robb joined the aryan brotherhood for protection and support while in prison. I have never been to prison and cannot judge or fairly assess how necessary or beneficial AB membership is, or was for Jason Robb. I think that asking someone to renounce their primary community of support (for over 20 years and under very trying circumstances) because we find that community disgusting, is unrealistic. I do think the aryan brotherhood is disgusting, not only because its racism is ugly, destructive and ignorant, but also because it often does the state’s dirty work in prison. But, to be honest, so do other prison gangs. I wish AB did not exist, but I believe prison resistance benefits from allowing space for some AB members to act with other inmates against all of our common enemy, the state.

I like to take my cues from inmates, and if Bomani and Hasan trust Jason Robb with their lives (and if folks in the pelican bay SHU or various Georgia prisons can trust other AB members in their high risk actions) then I think we can publish his address and send him birthday cards. I think there are levels of support, and every ABC chapter and letter-writing individual has a right to do what they like. I don’t expect anyone to throw huge fundraisers for Jason Robb, or for him to get official backing from ABC Federation. I do expect people to start recognizing Hasan, Bomani, Greg Curry and others. I’d prefer if people were honest and didn’t write the AB out of that history. It seems stupid to lie to ourselves. But that’s each of our prerogatives.

I don’t think Jason Robb is lying to me about his personal beliefs. I think it must be possible for a diversity of thought to exist within the aryan brotherhood, and that this diversity should be encouraged and engaged with. This is the process by which ignorant and dogmatic belief systems are eroded. I definitely understand why everyone would not want to do this. I’m sympathetic with the discomfort of the Chicana woman who found herself at the ABC conference, surrounded by a bunch of white people discussing the aryan brotherhood. It’s fucked up. Prison is a fucked up place, and the lack of diversity in our corner of the prison resistance movement is fucked up.

I think that Bomani, Hasan, the Lynd’s and others’ willingness to engage with Jason Robb and George Skatzes has helped Robb develop a more sophisticated critical analysis. This support has challenged and maybe led him to reconsider the more virulently racist aspects of his belief system. Or, it may have trained him how to say what I want to hear, we’ll never know that for sure, but I suspect he is genuinely caught in a hard place between his aryan brotherhood support inside prison, and his anarchist / class struggle supporters outside of prison.

Some conference attendees didn’t want to talk about this subject at all. Others pointed out that ABC and ABCF support all kinds of homophobic and sexist inmates. There was a lot of discussion of the difference between black muslim groups that happen to also be homophobic and the aryan broherhood, which is based on racism. I can see these claims being valid in some cases and invalid in others. I believe Jason Robb’s case is one where we can support him in limited ways for specific reasons, without legitimizing or serving the aryan brotherhood.

What we intend to do... We’ve already held a fundraiser that put $70 in each of the “Lucasville 5” commisarry accounts. They don’t need or want money, though. They’ve got public defenders or pro-bono lawyers. I don’t think they’ll ever raise enough to do better than that. They want letters, they want public awareness, they want public pressure against their judges, the governor, and the prison system.

We are committed to supporting Ohio prisoners and fighting the Ohio prison system. OSP (supermax and death row) and SOCF (lucasville, the death house) are the dark towers of this system, and these inmates have been trapped within for most of their lives. They will end their lives on a gurney in Lucasville if the pigs get their way. The state of Ohio wants very much to kill these guys, and the effort of stopping that from happening, even if it fails, might be the most significant blow against this entire system we can make. The system is weakest where it is most repressive. If we humanize the worst bogeymen in Ohio and insist they be freed -not because they’re innocent (though they are) but because the state prison system is horribly guilty- we are also insisting that every inmate who resists their incarceration is in the right and also deserves freedom.

We do not intend to let our support of the Lucasville uprising prisoners eclipse the other work we’re doing. We intend to focus on supporting these guys in a way that supports all inmates in Ohio.

Also, we’ve met them, talked with them, shared jokes and stories, and begun friendships with them. We do not want to see them killed. We’ve spent time with Staughten and Alice Lynd, retired labor lawyers in their 80’s who’ve been diligently supporting these guys and other OSP prisoners for years. They’re old and unsure if they’ll be able to travel from Youngstown to Cincinatti, Dayton and Columbus to attend appeal trials. Without them, it’s possible no one will be in the court room to support these guys. The Lynd’s have asked us to attend trial for them, if needed.

I intend to do so. For each of them. Between the conference and this post, I hope I’ve explained myself well enough that the hardliners at the conference who only said “I can’t believe we’re even talking about this” won’t call me an apologist or nazi, or if they do, that at least some others will have my back.


  1. "For some reason this [questions about Jason Robb] keep coming up, and i think it's somewhat hypocritical. I mean, to my way of thinking, whenever one takes a position and confines oneself to a certain ideology, or way of looking at the world, one automatically runs up against anyone who has a different take. I agree that Jason needs to evolve, but the same can be said about all of us. We need to keep growing and going beyond definitions that keep us divided and separated from the fact that there is only one race: the human race. To me, this is fundamental to ever being able to create a better world. Divided, they rule us!" - a recent letter from Bomani.

  2. This link is in support of abolishing California's Prison Slave punishment of Torture.
    It is compatible with Ohio's more extensive Constitutional history and application of convict prisoner slave punishments.
    Please note the four (4) basic Constitutional developments (1787, 1802, 1851, and 1912) concerning the proviso - "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...OTHERWISE FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF CRIMES..." This information exposes Ohio as practicing Torture - as a slave punishment.


Comments are subject to moderator approval. This is a prisoner support blog. Do not try to post gossip, allegations, or anything that might be useful in any kind of criminal investigation.