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Lucasville: A Brief History

By John Perotti

The pinnacle of the prisoners' rights movement had about reached its peak when I arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1977. I had been transferred from the Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) in Mansfield, Ohio, to what was before the Ohio State Penitentiary, renamed the Columbus Correctional Facility (CCF) in Columbus, Ohio. The OSR was built in the late 1880's, as was CCF, had a huge wall with guard towers around it and looked like a castle. CCF looked the same but was located in downtown Columbus. Both had no hot running water or electrical outlets in the cells and were vermin infested. Both OSR and CCF were the subjects of a class action suit, see: Stewart v. Rhodes , 473 F.Supp. 1185 (S.D. OH 1979), appeal dismissed 661 F.2d 934 (6 Cir. 1981), consent decree entered 656 F.2d 1216 (6 Cir. 1981), and the federal court had ordered the OSP shut down, so the state got around it by changing the name to CCF. It should be noted that one of the eighth amendment violations found was using shackles and chains to four-way prisoners to <%1>bunks for days on end, a practice that is still being done at the Mansfield Correctional Institution (MANCI) located in Mansfield, Ohio.

The SOCF had a reputation for being one of the most violent prisons in the country. It was opened in 1972 to replace the Ohio pen after the riots. Upon entering J block, which housed the hole and death row prisoners, we were all told by goon squad guards that if we ever saw J block again it better just be for fighting and nothing more because if it was they would make it awful hard on us. It was here that most of the guard on prisoner brutality and murders occur. The guards are allowed free reign to use violence on prisoners and it was a custom for them to run in a prisoner's cell and beat him, or beat a prisoner while he was handcuffed.

During this time period there was still unity amongst the prisoners. 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. While SOCF had an operating room and full infirmary it was understaffed and the medical treatment was atrocious with unqualified physicians being the norm. Also, stricter rules were being implemented monthly regarding mail, visiting and other areas. In 1975 or 1976 Kelly Chapman, a bank robber and jailhouse lawyer, and his cellmate Richard Jawarsky, filed a suit challenging the double celling and poor medical services. See: Chapman v. Rhodes , 452 US 337, 101 S.Ct. 2392 (1981). In 1978 Judge Demean issued an injunction ordering the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) to cut the population in Lucasville and single cell the population. A freeze was put on the population there, receiving no new prisoners until the population was cut down. The state appealed and the sixth circuit court of appeals upheld the ruling. At this time George Denton was the Director. Denton would later go to the California DOC, where he was fired for making racist comments.

There was a lot of publicity on SOCF at this time. Thirteen prisoners, called the "Lucasville 13," attempted to apply the mandate of the Helsinki Accord and renounced their U.S. citizenship and demanded to be released from prison to go to the Soviet Union. Many of these prisoners cut off their pinky fingers and mailed them to the United Nations and Department of Justice to prove their seriousness. This was also a practice of communist revolutionaries in other parts of the world (especially South Korea) to show the level of committment to their cause. The Department of Justice's response was that they could renounce their citizenship and go to the Soviet Union after their sentence was up. All this was in response to the overcrowding and the horrendous conditions resulting from the overcrowding. These prisoners were all in Administrative Isolation (AI) in J4 block. At this time, prisoners in AI were afforded the same personal property as population, minus TV, the same amount of commissary purchases, packages-food and such, and had a contact visiting room that was located in the rear of J block. In 1980 and 1981, changes were made in AI eliminating contact visiting and instituting plexiglass dividers and non-contact visiting. Commissary privileges were cut back, typewriters were confiscated due to the number of prisoner's civil rights cases being filed and litigated by prisoners. Affidavits were filed by the state saying that these items were safety and security hazards, as well as detrimental toward rehabilitation. Since most of the brutality occurred in J block, many brutality suits were filed from there.

In 1981 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the holdings of Chapman , saying that since prisoners were allowed out of their cells daily for work and dayrooms, a minimal amount of time in the evenings was spent doublecelled and this did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Kelly Chapman and two others refused to work and doublecell and were placed in the hole. They began a hungerstrike and Chapman was transferred to Chillicothe then paroled to a federal detainer he had. SOCF resumed double celling and the violence started to increase.

In 1983 twelve guards beat Jimmy Haynes, a mentally disturbed prisoner, to death while nurses stood watching. The cause of death was a shattered windpipe caused by one guard jumping on his neck while another held a PR24 nightstick behind it. This was one month after a black prisoner had hit a shop supervisor on the head with a piece of steel, killing him. After the Haynes incident, a series of incidents occurred where prisoners fought back when goon squads went into their cells to beat them, resulting in much publicity and state and federal investigations. Suits were filed alleging wrongful death and excessive force. See: Haynes v. Marshall , 887 F.2d 700 (6th Cir. 1991); Perotti v. Seiter , 935 F.2d 761 (6th Cir. 1991); Wolfel v. Holbrook , C-1-83- (US District Court); Dotson v. Fluke , C-1-83 __ (SD OH) and others.

In 1983 Richard Seiter, with a career in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) replaced George Denton as Director. At this same time, SOCF Warden Ron Marshall was caught by the guards union having a prisoner make zip guns for him to show Director Seiter as having been confiscated during shakedowns. The union leaked this to the media. Marshall was asked to resign but all the Ohio wardens said they would resign if he was made to do so. Seiter backed off and Marshall remained as warden.

Director Seiter brought in two "corrections experts" and started a committee of SOCF officials to study security at SOCF and make recommendations for implementing new rules, policy and procedure to institute unit management. This was first implemented in J block, Administrative Isolation was changed to Administrative Control (AC), Local Control (LC) was implemented and death row prisoners moved to K side. All personal property was confiscated from AC prisoners. This began a wave of resistance. Goon squads were brought in using tear gas and force to confiscate prisoners' property. J1 Super-Max, where I was housed, was underwater for over 4 months due to guards firehosing prisoners with a high pressure fire hose. Over 30 lawsuits were filed by AC and LC prisoners challenging the new restrictions. The state, via Stephen Dillon, a psychiatrist and J block unit manger, formerly from New Mexico where he worked as a psychiatrist until the Santa Fe riot, submitted an affidavit saying that the policy and procedures were tailored after modern and common day corrections practices, as in Marion, Illinois. He claimed that predatory prisoners were preying on weaker prisoners, would then get locked in AC where they had the same privileges as population, thus depriving them of various property gave them an incentive to go through the "levels" where they were afforded more privileges and then get out to population. We countered this by pointing out how two guards were stabbed to death in the control unit in Marion which lead to goon squads being brought in from throughout the BOP, beating the prisoners and leading to a total lockdown. We submitted affidavits from three expert witnesses who attested to the frustration and anger resulting from the beatings and lockdown. The state then removed that paragraph from Dillon's affidavit. Letter writing campaigns were also initiated, to state representatives, civil rights groups and other authority figures, as well as organized campaigns of litigation. Tension was high and hostages were taken in the J1 Super-Max and held until the grievances were aired over the radio. Then, and only then, did the federal courts start listening, by not summarily dismissing all prisoners' civil rights suits. District court judge Arthur Speigel was the main one who treated prisoners' petitions fairly and focused on the social impact of the situation rather than summarily dismissing the petitions like other judges, mainly Judge Rubin, do. Prisoncrats often changed a lot of policies before Judge Speigel would rule on it, attempting to evade liability. It got the job done on some issues.

A branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was organized which led to a unionization drive to declare prisoner workers "employees" entitled to minimum wages. Litigation was commenced, Paulos, Perotti & Steward v. Serb , Case No. ____, which was unsuccessful due to rulings labeling prisoners as being in a custodial rather than an employee position.

Dan Rather did a special on the IWW and our organizing efforts on 60 Minutes and that generated a lot of heat on the Ohio penal system. Meanwhile, guard-on-prisoner brutality increased at SOCF. Two black prisoners, Lincoln Carter and John Ingram, were beaten by guards after touching white nurses. Both were found dead in their cells in the hole the following day. These incidents took place a month apart. We all contacted the state legislature, civil rights division and other groups calling for an investigation. The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, along with the FBI's civil rights division and State Highway Patrol all "investigated." Lincoln Carter's murder was covered up as an overdose and while the agencies found that John Ingram was beaten, they stated the cause of death was bronchitis which occurred after the beating. No criminal charges were ever pressed against the guards, as usual.

We then prepared a 38 page Human Rights Petition detailing brutality by guards as well as related issues, with over 200 pages of exhibits asking Amnesty International to investigate for torture and violations of the United Nations Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners. We were infracted for "unauthorized group activity" and possessing "contraband" and the signatures to the petition were confiscated. This resulted in the litigation of Wolfel, Perotti, Byrd & Scott v. Morris , 972 F.2d 712 (6th Cir. 1992), where we won injunctive relief and the rule was declared unconstitutional as being too vague. At the same time, we had class action suits challenging all conditions in AC, Wolfel, et al. v. Wilson, et al. , and Perotti, et al. v. Wilson, et al. , C-1-89-266, which resulted in a preliminary injunction enjoining misuse of the high pressure fire hose on J1 Super-Max prisoners, and a settlement in Wolfel with a consent decree allowing 5 hours of recreation per week, religious magazines and a set criteria for placement in AC.

There were numerous deliberate indifference and negligence suits against medical staff which resulted in some wins. See: Hill v. Marshall , 962 F.2d 1209 (6th Cir. 1992), and many unpublished cases.

In 1990 the State Highway Patrol was ordered to investigate all aspects of SOCF by then Governor Celeste. This was in response to hundreds of letters written to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee by SOCF prisoners complaining of mistreatment. Warden Terry Morris was transferred and warden Arthur Tate was placed in SOCF. Tate began instituting new rules on a daily basis, locked down most of the prison and began a wave of repression unmatched before, saying he would make the prison safe. In fact, there were more stabbings, beatings and killings after Tate began his reign of dictatorship than before. Guards were being beaten regularly for enforcing petty rules and disrespecting prisoners. All of this came to a head on Easter Sunday, 1993, when prisoners took over L Side in response to what was going to be a total lockdown to force TB tests on all prisoners. The prisoners held the prison for 11 days and 9 prisoners and 1 guard were killed. The prison remains on lockdown now as investigations are being done to prepare for indictments.

The last prisoners to leave after the riot were identified as Aryan Brotherhood, Muslims and Black Gangster Disciples. Controversy surrounds these identifications but all were taken to MANCI and have been classified as administrative control but have been held 2 per cell, contrary to both constitutional and case law. They are being denied medical care, visits were turned away, recreation curtailed, mail and food tampered with and the hundreds of other ways prisoncrats and guards retaliate against prisoners were carried out.

The prisoncrats have gotten the media to focus on the acts committed during the eleven day siege. A common tactic to distract from the reasons and conditions that caused 435 prisoners to act out of desperation over the conditions of their confinement and take control of L side, hanging banners out the windows asking the FBI to investigate the prison. All the warning signs were prevalent--prisoners utilized all means available to them before reaching the point of desperation. I know for a fact we all wrote civil rights groups for years, petitioned the courts for intervention, and called for the FBI and Justice Departments Civil Rights Division to intervene--all to no avail. A riot was inevitable.

The fact remains that now is the turning point. Changes can be made to deal with the atrocious conditions that caused this desperate act, or the situation can be criminalized and the issues detracted from as the state is trying to do, which will only create another situation where desperate men will react to the unchanged conditions. Which will it be? Will we treat the conditions leading up to the act or ignore them and risk another situation worse than the last? Remember Attica, Remember Santa Fe, Remember Lucasville!

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