Prisoners, supporters build protest against death row
On a sleepy country road in northeast Ohio looms a prison of monstrous proportions, the Ohio State Penitentiary. Most of Ohio’s 193 death row prisoners are held there.
Black inmates make up 52 percent of the population of OSP while Black people are less than 12 percent of the population of Ohio.
To honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., three grassroots groups are planning a rally at the gates of OSP on Jan. 14 to overlap with the end of visiting hours there. The groups are the Cleveland Lucasville Five Defense Committee, Youngstown Prison Forum and LOOP (Loved Ones Of Prisoners), also based in Youngstown.
Although the prison area is rural, it is part of the city of Youngstown, a former giant in the steel industry. There was a time when Youngstown had the highest rate of home ownership of any city in the country, due to union steelworker jobs. With the steel mills gone, many of these workers have ended up working in the state and for-profit prisons, the new growth industry in Youngstown.
To bring people out to the rally, the prisoners initiated a prisoner chain letter. Multiple copies of a letter addressed both to prisoners and their families and friends and pre-stamped envelopes were sent out to many prisoners who in turn forwarded the letters.
Many people e-mailed and called the Cleveland group to reserve seats in vans to Youngstown and offered to help in other ways. Prisoners wrote to express their commitment to the network.
A huge mailing about the event went out to the Islamic centers in northeast Ohio and the church directory of Cleveland’s African-American newspaper, Call and Post. E-mails have been distributed through death penalty opposition and prisoner solidarity list serves, as well as the national list serve of the International Action Center.
A member of the Cleveland Lucasville Five Defense Committee called in to Reverend Al Sharpton’s national radio show to announce the action at OSP. She also filled listeners in on the cases of the Lucasville Five, prisoners who received death sentences following the heroic rebellion in the Lucasville prison in 1993.
Four of these men are in OSP’s permanent solitary confinement, as are other prisoners who were part of the uprising but did not receive death sentences. Recent evidence shows that four of the Lucasville Five were sent to death row by a “witness” who was lying at their trials to benefit himself.
The members of the Lucasville Five Defense Committee have also been distributing flyers in hair salons, barber shops and community centers. At a recent meeting of a community group called Black on Black Crime, five people signed up for the vans to Youngstown. People spoke of relatives or friends of theirs who are incarcerated in OSP.
The Youngstown organizations will be leafleting and speaking at events celebrating Dr. King on Jan. 12, 13 and the morning of Jan. 14. The Cleveland group is planning a press conference for Jan. 11. Speakers will include political and religious leaders as well as Staughton Lynd, attorney and historian, whose book, “Lucasville: the Untold Story of a Prison Uprising,” is the definitive book on the subject. Questions will be raised about the constitutionality of lethal injection, an issue that Ohio’s incoming governor, Ted Strickland, will have to address.
Organizations around Ohio plan to keep up the heat through events and campaigns of various kinds. The movement will not stop until there is a complete pardon of all Lucasville-related charges and a permanent halt to executions in Ohio and the U.S.
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