Solidarity among the unjustly convicted: letters from Staughton Lynd and Gloria Morrison
by Alan Gilbert
I have recently put up several posts about the campaign against joint enterprise, an unjust and misguided “law” which makes conviction for a life sentence possible in England without serious investigation of or evidence about any actual collaboration (a phone call to a person who later commits murder is sufficient without evidence of what was said). The two posts which include the story of JENGbA (joint enterprise not guilty by association) campaign against this are here and here, the one about Staughton Lynd’s note about analogous laws on complicity in America and the Lucasville 5 here.
The Lucasville rebellion in April, 1993 – the longest in a prison in American history - came as a result of the harshest conditions being imposed on blacks from the inner cities of Ohio (as well as whites). The prison itself has guards drawn from the South and Appalachia; there is a clash of cultures which exacerbates guard violence.
The warden had seen fit to allow prisoners one five minute personal phone call a year…
The rebellion was a response to these conditions. I favor nonviolent resistance, i.e. hunger strikes (what prisoners did at Guantanamo) and other acts of noncooperation. But prison regimes, far beyond what Foucault’s analyzes in Discipline and Punish, are grotesquely violent. What is described in the essays from Staughton in the previous posts is how Muslims were forcibly to be inoculated with a substance which included alcohol and protested - reasonably - at length. Against all advice, the warden tried to force them to submit cell by cell. They – and all the other prisoners with them – resisted.
Violence followed. But in the rebellion itself, that the prisoners were doing more than defending themselves (and freedom of conscience which is not removed by being in prison) is not obvious. The prison authorities acted unjustly. The revolt itself (plainly not the murders) was just.*
But the further trials of the five prisoners are not based on evidence about acts (i.e. evidence about participation in murders of those thought to be snitches), but about “complicity” in the revolt (see Staughton's account of George Skatzes who seems to have been “guilty” only of solidarity here).
Gloria Morrison wrote me the following note:
“Subject: FW: [Democratic-indv] A note from Staughton Lynd on complicity and joint enterprise
thank you for this and the excellent blog you sent before. Sorry it has taken me a while to get back to you. I have been really busy as you can imagine as sooo much to do.
But this is such an interesting article - I need to read again when I have more time. We can put it out on our blog also.
Can you just clarify for me though are the Lucasville Five still on death row. If so can you get their names prison no. and address for us from Staughton Lynd and we can get cards of support sent in.
The prisoners would find some communication from the outside world – from others concerned about the fate of those unjustly punished and their conditions of imprisonment – heartening…
What Gloria and others in JENGbA are doing are important acts of democratic internationalism, of solidarity on behalf of the rule of law (they complement the still not robust enough efforts about American torture and even under Obama the torture of Bradley Manning and the efforts to force Julian Assange into a prison in Sweden where the US can, illegally and immorally, get an Australian citizen who published Wikileaks – acts protected by freedom of speech and freedom of the press - into the American prison system and courts to concoct some notion of “treason.” Respect for basic rights and the rule of law is indivisible…).
“Gloria and Alan,
Four of the five are in District Court, the lowest federal court. The fifth, Keith LaMar, is at the next higher court, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Names, numbers, and addresses are:
Siddique Abdullah Hasan, #130-559
Keith LaMar a.k.a. Bomani Shakur, #3l7-ll7
Jason Robb, #308-9l9
James Were a.k.a. Namir Abdul Mateer, #173-245
all at Ohio State Penitentiary, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road, Hubbard, OH 44505-4635
George Skatzes, #173-50l
at Chillicothe Institute of Corrections, PO Box 5500, Chillicothe, OH 4560l
*One might speak more broadly. The conditions imposed on black and brown people (and poor whites) in the society are unjust (radically unjust in the case of blacks). Some people are criminals and deserve punishment. But the punishments even in those cases are often too harsh. And law enforcement from the police to the judicial apparatus (up to the Supreme Court) is shot through with racism (49% of those on death row are black; DNA evidence, where it can be applied, has shown that quite a number - in the 2000 campaign, Gore suggested around 40% - are innocent). To achieve democracy, the whole system would need be dramatically downsized and revamped..