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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
DRUGS CAN IMPRISON THE SPIRIT OF FREEDOM
I was sad to learn yesterday, that Newry has one of the worst drug problems in the north, which took me back to the reasons, why this is inevitable and led me to the memory of Crumlin Road Gaol and Dominic McGlinchey, walking around the exercise yard, with his comrade singing the Kris Kristoferson song, 'Me and Bobby McGee,' beside him. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, Nothing, I mean nothing, honey if it isn't free, no no !Yeah, feeling good was easy Lord, when he sang the blues.You know feeling good was good enough for me
Good Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee."
Excess eventually leads to a realization of emptiness. Emptiness can lead to a search for reality, to learn the truth, with an open heart and the willingness to listen, to the wisdom of the elders with experience, the most valuable commodity in Ireland. At the bottom of this post, is an article by Chris Hedges, called, "We Kill Our Revolutionaries," which I feel carries some important lessons, for any revolutionary.
Portugal Cut Addiction Rates in Half by legalizing Drugs Connecting Drug Users With Communities Instead of Jailing Them
Fifteen years ago, the Portuguese had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. So they decriminalized drugs, took money out of prisons, put it into holistic rehabilitation, and found that human connection is the antidote to addiction.
It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned—and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted: There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.
This theory was first established, in part, through rat experiments—ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advertisement by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
The ad explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently?
So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
This article is adapted fromChasing the Scream: The First and Last Day of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, 2015.The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was—at the same time as the Rat Park experiment—a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.
But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers—according to the same study—simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.
Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage. Rats in the Park If you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover?
After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for 57 days—if anything can hook you, it’s that.
Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is—again—striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them.
When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense—unless you take account of this new approach.
Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief.
The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right—it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them—then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to.
But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.
If you still believe, as I used to, that chemical hooks are what cause addiction, then this makes no sense.
But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different. The Opposite of Addiction Is Connection
This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find—the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.
When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me—you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.
But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.
Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism—cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed. Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction.
But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about chemical hooks is, in fact, real, only a minor part of a much bigger picture.
This has huge implications for the 100-year-old war on drugs.
This massive war—which kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool—is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction—if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction—then this makes no sense.
Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona—Tent City—where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record, guaranteeing they with be cut off ever more. How Portugal Halved Drug Addiction Levels
There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world—and so leave behind their addictions.
This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly 15 years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with one percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse.
So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them—to their own feelings, and to the wider society. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system.
The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.
One group of addicts were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.
The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent.
Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect: more crime, more addicts. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass—and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example. We need now to talk about social recovery—how we all recover, together ... Happiness in "the Age of Loneliness"
This isn’t only relevant to addicts. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s: “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live–constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.
The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander, the creator of Rat Park, told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery—how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.
Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention—tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives.
But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction—and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever—to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.
This article is adapted from Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. Hari is a British journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, The New Republic, and other publications.
By Chris Hedges
We Kill Our Revolutionaries
By Chris Hedges
February 23, 2015 "ICH" - "Truthdig" - YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio—Siddique Hasan, his legs shackled to a chair, sat in the fourth-floor visiting room of the Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison. The room, surrounded by thick glass windows, had a guard booth in the center and food vending machines flanking a microwave on one wall. There was a line of small booths, entered through a door behind Hasan, where families, including children, were talking to prisoners through plexiglass partitions.
Hasan, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 52 years old, bearded and with wire-rim glasses, had a white kufi on his head. He wore a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt, light blue prison pants and white Nikes. His 209-pound frame was taut and compact, the result of an intense exercise regime. He has been on death row since he was convicted for his actions while leading, along with four others, the April 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville, Ohio. They are known as the Lucasville Five. The uprising saw prisoners take control of the prison for 11 days in protest against numerous grievances, including deaths that occurred allegedly from beatings by guards. It was one of the longest prison uprisings in U.S. history. By the time it was over, 10 people had been killed by prisoners, including a guard.
A riot that occurred Friday has made a Texas prison uninhabitable and forced a mass transfer of prisoners. In a 2014 report by the ACLU, prisoners there complained of “severely crowded and squalid living conditions.” Click here or here for more information about what happened at the Willacy County Correctional Center.
Hasan, born Carlos Sanders, has been in juvenile detention facilities or prison since he was an adolescent. His early life was difficult, unstable and marked by extreme poverty. His mother had her first child at 12 and her fourth and final child at 19. His father, who was physically abusive to Hasan’s mother, abandoned the family when Hasan was 5. The children and their mother survived on her meager pay from cooking and cleaning jobs. Hasan, the third of the four children, lived briefly in foster homes and never went beyond fifth grade. He ran the streets with his older brother and engaged in petty crime. Since his first incarceration, in his early teens in Georgia—where he was nicknamed Savannah Slim or Savannah Red, and where he worked with other convicts on Georgia prison highway details—until today, he has spent only 17 months outside prison walls. He has always rebelled. He masterminded a mass escape from a juvenile detention facility when he was 15 years old and, a year later, a mass escape from a county jail. In 2013 he took part in a hunger strike with other death row prisoners that saw prison authorities finally agree to expand the range of items at the prison commissary, permit physical contact in visits with relatives, allow prisoners to use computers to do legal research, increase the length of phone conversations and increase recreation time.
“I am a human being,” Hasan said. “I don’t like being locked up, deprived of my rights, told when to go to bed, when to eat, when to shower. These things hurt a person physically, emotionally and psychologically. No human being should be caged like an animal.”
Before he converted to Islam in 1981, he said, he was “a materialist freak and a monster that sold drugs and protected people for payment in prison.” He organized prison gambling rings and extortion rackets and oversaw a small army of enforcers.
“I would have 30 pairs of shoes, 30 bottles of lotion, 30 bottles of shampoo, 30 bottles of baby oil and 200 bars of soap in my cell,” he said. “But once I came into Islam and put into practice the knowledge I acquired, I changed.”
He hopes prisoners will organize to mount a coordinated nationwide work stoppage and hunger strike to improve conditions behind bars, including raising pay from the roughly $1 a day that prisoners now receive for eight hours of labor to the legal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. He would like to see coordinated boycotts of the overpriced commissaries. He said prisoners should purchase only the bare necessities, such as soap and toothpaste, and forego the “zoozoos and wamwams,” prison slang for junk food. He places no hope in the courts and the legislatures. Prisoners will have to start to carry out acts of mass civil disobedience for any justice, he said—that is the only mechanism left to them.
“Prison authorities never give you anything without a fight,” he said, clutching white prayer beads. “Those prisoners who can should refuse to go to work to demand the minimum wage, although the first thing the prison will do is try and break it up by transferring the leaders to another prison or remove them from the general population. But if any protest is done right, with unity, they may not lock anyone down. Let the prison authorities know in advance what will be done. Let them know the demands. Don’t surprise them. Give them an opportunity to resolve it, say 60 days. If you catch them by surprise all you will get is a lockdown. If you put them on notice they can’t say they didn’t know it was coming.”
“The beauty of a work stoppage is that the prison administrators have to bring in compensated labor,” he said. “This is what happened in the Georgia prison system in 2010 when the prisoners held a work stoppage for six days. It cost the state a lot of money. The prisoners got a lot of concessions. The issue of state pay cannot be solved expeditiously. That takes time. It is best to have other demands and other tactics. We can lower commissary prices and the price of phone calls through boycotts.”
There are lessons about resistance Hasan has learned that apply not only to the 2.3 million Americans who are incarcerated but to a society in which the loss of civil liberties and the creation of the security and surveillance state increasingly mirror the prison state. Revolt, he said, must include certain elements. Those who rebel must understand how systems of power work; otherwise, effective resistance is impossible. Revolt requires a disciplined and hierarchical organization and an incorruptible leadership to prevent betrayal, anarchy and bloodshed. To maintain unity there must be a commitment to nonviolence and a refusal to allow intrusion from personal, racial or religious animosities, including the hatred many prisoners feel for homosexuals and those who are informants or “snitches” for the prison administration. Divisions among the oppressed, Hasan said, are gifts to the oppressor. There must also be a clear set of achievable demands and an active support network outside the prison willing to mobilize on behalf of the rebels. Any revolt requires transparency, including informing the authorities in advance of a protest and articulating demands. Prisoners who mobilize an entire prison cannot hope to keep anything secret given the swarms of informants, he said. Finally, a revolt requires a willingness on the part of the rebel leaders to sacrifice and to even lose their lives. For him, Husan said, this last element is made possible by his faith.
“Most prisoners don’t have a problem going on strike for fair wages and better conditions,” he said. “They will challenge the powers that be. The problem is that we need people on the outside to help us. If we go on a hunger strike and starve ourselves, if we refuse to work or participate in our own self-destruction there have to be groups publicizing our resistance and backing us.”
Hasan, who had been only months away from being released at the time of the uprising, lived in the Lucasville prison honor wing, reserved for prisoners who had good disciplinary records. He worked as an imam among the prison population. During the uprising he repeatedly minimized or prevented violence. He is credited with saving several lives, a fact that came up in his trial. The state, as always, was far more concerned with removing a charismatic and incorruptible prison leader, no matter what he or she did, from the general prison population. Prisoners in sworn affidavits after the uprising told of Ohio State Highway Patrol officers moving through the institution’s population and offering deals for reduced sentences to those who would name and testify against revolt leaders. One of those who testified against the leaders of the uprising, Anthony Lavelle, the head of the Black Gangster Disciples inside the Lucasville facility, is widely believed to have carried out the murder of the prison guard, Robert Vallandingham. For that killing, Hasan was sentenced to death with George Skatzes, Namir Abdul Mateen, Jason Robb and Keith Lamar. Despite intense pressure by the state, and promises to spare them from the death penalty, the five men refused to incriminate each other. That the five are mixed racially, that Skatzes and Robb at the time were members of theAryan Brotherhood and had to reject white solidarity to stand with the black defendants, was remarkable.
“They rose above their status as prisoners, and became, for a few days in April 1993, what rebels in Attica had demanded a generation before them: men,” Mumia Abu Jamal wrote in the foreword to “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising,” by Staughton Lynd. “As such, they did not betray each other, they did not dishonor each other, they reached beyond their prison ‘tribes’ to reach the commonality.”
It was the Muslims, the most disciplined and politically conscious segment of the prison population, who organized the Lucasville revolt. And the uprising was, from its inception, designed to be nonviolent. Guards would be seized, as had happened five years earlier in the prison during a protest against deplorable conditions, and held until prisoners were permitted to make contact with the press. Once the press reported the prisoners’ grievances, and once the state agreed to address the abuses, the guards would be released.
“We were dealing with a warden, Arthur Tate Jr., who was very hard-line,” Hasan said. “The convicts called him King Arthur. We wanted to bring enough pressure on the system to take it out of his hands and get his superiors in Columbus at the ODRC [Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction] to respond. The goal was always to resolve this amicably.”
No one in Lucasville, Hasan said, wanted to replicate the bloodbath that took place in New York state in September 1971 during the four-day uprising at the Attica prison in which over 43 people were killed, including 10 correctional officers and civilian employees, along with 33 prisoners who died at the hands of state police officers who stormed the institution. But uprisings, as Hasan swiftly found out, are very difficult events to control.
The catalyst for the revolt was a decision by the prison administration to test the prisoners for tuberculosis by injecting them with a substance the Muslims believed contained alcohol, which is forbidden to followers of Islam. Hasan and other Muslim leaders asked the prison authorities to do the testing by X-ray or sputum sample. The prison refused. The testing, especially because it was scheduled forRamadan, was, Hasan said, “the final straw.”
“Muslims were fasting,” he said. “They couldn’t take a shot.”
Conditions in the prison were already barbaric. There was severe overcrowding. White and black prisoners often physically clashed, and the practice of housing men of different races within the same cells exacerbated the tension. Medical facilities were inadequate. Families that attempted to visit prisoners were harassed and abused by the guards. Commissary items were overpriced. Phone calls were limited to one five-minute conversation a year, usually at Christmas. Guards routinely beat prisoners, at times fatally. A group of prisoners known as the “Lucasville 14” had earlier attempted to renounce their U.S. citizenship. Three of them, to illustrate their seriousness, cut off fingers and mailed them to the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Justice. Prisoners had also attempted to organize a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World to demand that prison laborers receive the national minimum wage. Every attempt to organize or resist was met with harsher control.
“There were several incidents where a prisoner did something like masturbate in front of a female guard, spit on a guard or become verbally and physically abusive,” Hasan said. “In situations like these the guards are supposed to file a conduct report. But instead the guards took the liberty of physical abuse, and in some cases this was fatal. They would take a prisoner to isolation or administrative segregation, go into the cell, close the door and jump on the prisoner while he was handcuffed and shackled.”
Internal prison protests, he said, have become an imperative. Nearly all rehabilitation programs have been terminated. Tens of thousands of prisoners are locked for months or even years in isolation. Prisons, every year, are extracting more money from prisoners and their families through exorbitant phone fees, rising commissary prices, money transfer services that take huge commissions and refusing to provide items such as footwear, forcing prisoners, who typically earn about $28 a month, to pay $45 for sneakers. Prisoners must also pay an array of fees, including hundreds of dollars to be taken on a visit to a dying family member or to a funeral home. And more and more prisoners, because of fees and fines, are leaving prisons with thousands of dollars of debt. Over 60 percent of those who are released return to prison. This is by design.
“The prison officials know that when you get out you are coming back,” he said. “You are not trained to do anything. There is no advanced program of education. There is no vocational training. You get out and you don’t have a place to live. You are on somebody’s couch. You don’t have money. You can’t get a job. It’s just a matter of time before you go back to exploiting your old way of living. And prisoners are demonized. They are portrayed as incorrigible, unsympathetic, uncaring, irredeemable monsters that need to be in prison.”
In the 1993 revolt the Muslims seized a dozen guards at the end of the recreation period around 3 in the afternoon. Prisoners, freed from their cells and prison control, grabbed baseball bats and fire extinguishers and attacked guards. Hasan said someone suggested to him they murder the snitches and the “fags,” an act he denounced, saying “that would mean killing half the prison population.” Prisoners began to barricade hallways with ice machines and locker boxes. They used 45-pound weight bars and pickaxes to smash windows and doors to capture guards in a secure area known as a “safewell.”
“Me and some of the other Muslims had congregated in the barbershop,” he said. “A brother told us they were killing snitches in [Block] L6. We went down to L6 and saw bodies on top of bodies. Not all were dead; some were gagging for air, some survived.”
“It was mass chaos,” he said. “People were beating the guards and beating convicts. It was pandemonium. Blood was in the hallway. It was like a massacre. Blood does not have a nice smell. I remembered snapping on the Muslims and telling them to secure these guys.”
Hasan moved the captured guards to the shower stalls and kept them protected. He placed vulnerable prisoners, including the informants, in cells for their safety. The Muslims had drawn up an organizational plan before the uprising, with groups assigned to security, legal matters, food distribution and education. They struggled to impose order.
I asked him how he felt when he saw the bodies and the bloodbath, something he had desperately hoped to avoid.
“I didn’t feel anything, maybe because I have a different perception about death than other people,” he said.
“Stabbin’. Killin’. Hangin’. This was not [an intended] part of the uprising,” he said. “Things got out of hand. You had a lot of prisoners with a lot of grudges, animosities and hatred in their hearts for prisoners and nonprisoners. These people had snitched on them or abused them. People settled old scores with other prisoners and with guards. That’s what happened. That’s what went wrong.”
Rape, too, was a problem during the uprising. Prisoners who committed rapes during the revolt were locked in cells. Hasan said one black prisoner, Bruce Harris, raped a white prisoner. Other white prisoners, when they heard of the rape, wanted to kill Harris. Hasan intervened.
It was agreed that a prisoner from each of the three main prison factions—the Aryan Brotherhood, the Muslims and the Black Gangster Disciples—would punish Harris. They took Harris into the corridor and beat him for three minutes. Then they took him to the gym and beat him again for three minutes. After that, they locked him in a cell.
“Bruce was nervous that they were going to kill him and he started tearing up the cell,” Hasan said. “He tore the porcelain toilet off the wall and smashed it to pieces, disturbing the Muslims, who were praying. I went to Bruce. I asked him to stop. I assured Bruce that he was not going to die. I told him I would escort him out to the prison authorities when the time came to end the riot. He promised to stop making a ruckus.”
Harris, however, was killed later by fellow prisoners. The state attempted to charge Hasan with the murder, but during the trial a video was produced showing Hasan in negotiations with prison authorities at the time of Harris’ murder.
“When there is disorder and no law, people have the tendency to do evil things,” Hasan said.
“What is the cause of any uprising?” he asked. “Simply put, it’s man’s injustice to man. We could not expect freedom, but we could expect freedom from oppression, tyranny, persecution and gross miscarriages of justice that go on in institutional life. Prisons are here to stay. Be realistic. It’s about the money, the control and the power. But if you take over a prison you can confront the evil and the corruption, you can make some changes.”
The captured guards, he said, suddenly began calling him Mr. Sanders, something that was unthinkable when he was under their domination.
“The guards were all saying they were sorry, they were just doing their jobs,” he said.
The white prisoners, many of them members of the Aryan Brotherhood, gathered nervously in the gym in the first hours of the revolt. They feared that the blacks would turn on them. All of the alleged snitches killed in the first few hours were white. A few blacks believed to be snitches had been beaten but had survived. Hasan called the Muslims to prayer in the gym. He demanded that the non-Muslim prisoners be quiet and respectful during prayer. When it was over he announced that any other religious group that wanted to worship would be given the same respect shown to the Muslims. That promise of respect broke down the racial walls and made possible an alliance between whites and blacks. Prisoners began to paint slogans such as “Convict Race,” “Convict Unity” and “White and Black Together” on the walls.
“I did what I did with the choices that were available,” Hasan said. “I had to do something. I am a revolutionary. To be a revolutionary is to be an agent of change, which is impossible if one doesn’t know what needs to be changed. For there to be a revolution there must be revolutionary consciousness. A prisonwide hunger strike, a prisonwide work stoppage, would have been more effective. But then it would not have been about the Muslims. You would have had to take it to the whole convict body.”
On death row all who rebel against empire are comrades.
“People, Muslim and non-Muslim, admire ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria],” he said. “They are happy to see ISIS stand up against the U.S. government and Israel. A lot of us may not agree with all their tactics, but we know what it is like to be pushed to the edge. We also know that al-Qaida carried out the attacks of 9/11 against the symbols of American power, the Pentagon and the financial institutions. If they only wanted to kill Americans they could have flown the planes into a stadium with 80,000 or 90,000 people during a pro football game. Prisoners, because they are oppressed, like seeing anyone stand up to the big bad wolf.”
The Lucasville uprising was settled peacefully. The state promised not to carry out reprisals against the leaders, a promise it broke once it regained control.
The state should not be able to murder people, no matter what these people have done. But what of a state that places a person such as Hasan on death row when it knows he never committed murder? What of a state that cut a plea deal with the actual killer of the corrections officer so it could execute Hasan? The message sent by the state is clear: It does not fear criminals. It fears rebels.
Hasan, who is fighting his own death sentence in the courts, has seen several men taken to the death chamber. Two of those executed—Abdul-Hakim Zakiy and Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi—were close friends. The last conversations before execution haunt him.
“Brother Mahdi didn’t get a lot of visits in prison,” he said. “He would not participate in the final process. He didn’t want a last meal. He spent the day fasting and reading the Koran. He asked for a little olive oil and some Islamic dates. I told him he would be dearly missed. I told him I knew he had a strong faith. I told him I knew he believed in Allah. I told him to accept that all life is transitory. I told him to hope that Allah would accept his worship, the sincerity of his belief and grant him paradise. I told him I loved him. I felt helpless.”
“He did not want his family to get his body,” he went on. “He wanted his body washed and buried according to Islam. He wanted to rest in the prison burial plot with the other Muslim prisoners. It is hard to see someone you love and admire go through that. I believe I will see him in the next life. I can’t imagine going through that without my faith.”
Chris Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.