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Lucasville Five struggle for justice put on stage

Review by Alex Read | May 4, 2007 | Page 9

Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising, currently touring Ohio. Call the ACLU of Ohio at 216-472-2209 or visit www.acluohio.org for information.

IN APRIL 1993 at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, prisoners rose up against the abuses and arbitrary rules of prison guards and officials. After 11 days, and the deaths of nine inmates and a prison guard, the siege was ended and the state of Ohio had set its sights squarely on five men who would become the objects of revenge.

Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising is a play based on the events, focusing on the men who have become known as the "Lucasville Five." These men are Siddique Abdullah Hassan (formerly known as Carlos Sanders), Jason Robb, Namir Abdul Mateen (formerly known as James Were), George Skatzes and Keith Lamar. They are currently on death row.

Lucasville is a withering indictment on the "justice" system in Ohio. The immediate cause of the riot was a tuberculosis test that was to be administered to the inmates. A group of Black Muslims inside the prison had decided to protest the administration of this test because it involved the use of a form of alcohol. In fact, they had gone so far as to offer other procedures that were as medically valid as the test the prison would use.

The warden, Arthur Tate (whom the prisoners nicknamed "King Arthur"), decided that all inmates were to use the procedure involving alcohol. When the day came for the testing, the warden ordered a lockdown. This sparked the uprising. However, conditions at the prison were such that any event could have sparked an uprising.

The focus of the play is not wholly on the events that took place during the uprising. In fact, after viewing the play, my head was reeling from all of the information and personalities involved in the story. Auhtor Staughton Lynd and his wife Alice have spent the last decade researching the events of the uprising and the web of lies that was used to convict the five men.

The conviction of the five for the death of a guard and nine inmates was based largely on the testimony of prison snitches, many of whom have since recanted. This play makes this point clearly: These men sitting on death row were wrongfully convicted.

They were singled out by the state for having become spokespeople for the prisoners during the riot. They not only tried to facilitate negotiations with the state but they also looked after the hostages that had been taken during the uprising. At the end of the play, the audience is encouraged to question all convictions on death row--and the death penalty itself.

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