Before I begin my talk on “What Makes Me a Political Prisoner?” I want to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to each and every one of you for attending this year’s national conference and for showing your love, support and utmost concern for what the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) represents. Likewise, I want to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to Ben, Kate, Weslie, Alec, D. Jones, Noelle, and to all those unknown names that have made it possible for me to speak at this conference. It is truly an honor and privilege to be able to address this progressive and prestigious body. And, although I have never spoken at either a local or national conference for your group, I hope and pray that I will not disappoint you nor my supporters who are counting on me to make a solid case for why I need your national support and recognition as a political prisoner. So let us begin.
It is my unflinching position that there are scores of political prisoners confined in the United States; however, the U.S. government adamantly maintains that there are no political prisoners incarcerated in its penal system. This arrogant and imperialistic government has even failed to acknowledge the political status of such well-known personalities as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Thus, I intend to debunk government denials while laying down a clear and definitive criterion of what makes someone a political prisoner in the hopes that some of the political spotlight will not only shine on myself, but also on others who were convicted of fabricated charges stemming from the 1993 maximum-security prison uprising that rocked the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio.
SOCF or Lucasville, as it’s widely known, was an infamous prison that had a history of prisoner deaths, stabbings, rapes, assaults and other violence. More often than not, prison guards would either instigate the prisoner-on-prisoner violence or were the perpetrators of it themselves. In short, there was a long train of abusive treatment, inhumane conditions and brutalities suffered by prisoners.
Tensions mounted over the planned Mantoux tuberculin test that contains phenol, an alcoholic substance which is prohibited for Muslims to have injected into their forearms. While the TB test was the last straw which broke the camel’s back, the prison was a tinder-box ready to be ignited. The Muslims’ intention was to stage a peaceful protest to bring political attention to the planned inoculation, with the hopes that the prison authorities would capitulate to us submitting to an alternative that would not infringe upon the tenets of our faith. Instead of a peaceful protest, frustrated and angry non-Muslims seize the opportunity and converted what was intended to be a peaceful protest into a full-scale rebellion.
Rising as one, with racial differences ignored, Black and White prisoners put aside their artificial differences, prison labels, and stood united against the oppressive powers that be: the prisoncrats. By the time the uprising had ended, one prison guard and nine prisoners had been killed in the longest prison uprising in the history of the United States.
In the aftermath of this uprising, the state of Ohio was under enormous political pressure to bring to justice the perpetrators of certain violent crimes, especially the senseless murder of prison guard Robert Vallandingham. And if the truth must be told, the State was only interested in obtaining a swift conviction for Vallandingham’s murder. Because of my leadership position within the Islamic community, as well as the fact that it was the planned inoculation that inadvertently caused the uprising, I became the prime scapegoat and, by implication, the bogeyman who controlled what others did.
The political pressure to seek justice in the guard’s murder became so intense that a citizens’ committee sought, during the summer and fall of 1993, to ensure that whoever was condemned to death after the Lucasville uprising would be executed as rapidly as possible. The same committee also drafted a petition to then-Governor George Voinovich and to members of the Ohio State Legislature—in particular, to the President of the Ohio Senate and the Speaker of the Ohio House—calling on them to USE the Death Penalty! While this petition was drafted by citizens of the county in which the uprising happened, it was circulated throughout Ohio and was signed by more than 26,000 persons. When no prisoners initially came forward with any information leading to the guard’s killer or killers, the State bowed to public pressure and decided to lay the blame at the doorsteps of the prisoner leaders and spokespersons. This is how I ended up being charged with the guard’s murder. Mind you, the claim has never been that I murdered the guard; instead, my prosecutors claimed that I was in a meeting where you could secretly hear prisoners discussing killing a guard if their demands were not met. It’s interesting to note that the lead investigator from the Ohio State Highway Patrol has said under oath that my voice is not heard on this secretly recorded audiotape.
Like Leonard Peltier, I have been framed up. No one, and no piece of evidence, has identified me as a killer of the guard, and the one person who erroneously claimed that I had ordered the guard’s murder has recanted his testimony. He now says, in two separate affidavits, that he was “coerced by the prosecutors to lie on me.” The reality is: I was active, very outspoken in protesting the oppressive prison conditions and policies, and was a revolutionary in both words and deeds. Thus, I became a target of the State.
It is my contention that a convict becomes a political prisoner when he is a target of government repression solely because of political beliefs or social respectability. Prisoners demonstrating leadership among the prison population is the most vulnerable to heavy-handedness. This means that persecution can result from espousing a political ideology that venerates African culture, or being a member of any of the Islamic groups. The unity, discipline, and political awareness of members of these groups are what cause heightened consternation among prison staff. This insecurity derives from the fact that such prisoners are recalcitrant to control or manipulation. Commendable behavior in society is criminalized by prison agencies. When a group or an individual gains considerable moral respect and standing among prisoners, the prison authorities are likely to designate the individual or the entire group as a Security Threat Group.
In conclusion, although I committed no crimes, the state of Ohio used my religious convictions and political beliefs as a tool to have me prosecuted and sentenced to death. I am asking for your organizational support in helping me to gain my rightful freedom back into society, which is too hard for me to conceive achieving alone.