April 11, 2019 makrs the 26th anniversary of the Lucasville prison uprising, the longest prison uprising in the United States. The uprising occurred April 11-22, 1993, at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF). SOCF is located outside the village of Lucasville in Scioto county. Like most prisons, SOCF’s placement in this rural setting exaggerates cultural and racial divides between the prisoner population (largely urban people of color) and the rural white guards.
In 1993, SOCF was overcrowded, violent, repressive, hard to transfer out of, and and dangerous to live in. Fights were incredibly common. Guards smuggling weapons and contraband was a known practice. Prisoners sent to segregation or “the hole” where often beaten and sometimes murdered by guards, with no consequences.
The warden had mandated that all prisoners be subjected to a TB test that involved injecting alcohol (phenol) under their skin. A large group of Sunni Muslims objected to this test because it violated a tenet of their faith. The warden refused to allow these prisoners an alternative to the injection test. In a meeting with Muslim leaders six days prior to the uprising, the warden assured them that if they refused, they would be forced to take the injections in their cell blocks in front of the other prisoners, an approach that was most likely to provoke violent resistance.
On Sunday, April 11th, the day before TB testing was scheduled to take place, a group of prisoners took action. Their intention was to take control of and barricade themselves in a single living area or “pod” and demand someone from the Central Office in Columbus review the testing procedure. This did not work out as planned. After years of abuse, the action quickly escalated and within an hour the prisoners had taken over the whole cell block, including 11 guards. Hundreds of prisoners, many of whom were on their way in from outdoor rec time, were now either in the occupied cell block or on the yard outside of it.
Without the inteference of and violence meted out by prison officials, the prisoners were finally able to work together against their common foes. Factions split up into different parts of the occupied cell block, but coordinated activities through a group of representatives who negotiated demands. They collected all the food in a central location, to be distributed equitably later. They created a rudimentary infirmary, “no weapons” zones, guard posts and a group of representatives from each faction to negotiate with each other and the state.
The state refused to negotiate or recognize the prisoners’ demands from the start. When prisoners rigged up a loudspeaker system in order to communicate with reporters outside, prison officials first drowned it out with a helicopter, then shut off the water and electricity. Prisoners resorted to writing messages on sheets hung out the windows and listening to news via battery powered radios in hopes that their messages were getting through. Meanwhile, the state was stalling and amassing troops for an assault.
The uprising ended with prison officials agreeing to a 21-point negotiated surrender with the prisoners.
The state violated this agreement. Some prisoners were singled out as leaders and subjected to reprisals, beatings, manipulation and twisted mockeries of trials.The state decided that the crime scene was “too contaminated” to pursue physical evidence and instead chose to base their investigation primarily on witness testimony. They destroyed much physical evidence and went after anyone who refused to be witnesses and snitch out other prisoners. True to form in the American criminal justice system, who actually did what is less important than who is willing to cooperate and bargain with the state. Those who refused to testify against others were branded “the worst of the worst” and given harsh penalties, including death.
Following the uprising, the state of Ohio built a supermax facility outside Youngstown called Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP). Many of the 40-some prisoners sentenced after the uprising were transferred to OSP when it opened in May 1998.
Despite the harsh conditions and sentences, many of those railroaded by the state continue to do solidarity work with others who face the harshest effects from the state and capitalism.
From Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar): “The rich do not have a monopoly on the truth; in fact, their wealth often prevents them from seeing what’s right in front of their eyes. But we don’t need their permission to act. As Naomi Klein (This Changes Everything) said, ‘politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too!’ So let’s stand up and be counted. Resist!”
Abolish prison! Free all prisoners!
Write to them here: http://www.lucasvilleamnesty.org/p/contact.html