“It has become the norm for prison officials to resist and retaliate against any protest I am either involved in or they think I am the organizing force behind,” says Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan.
Hasan is a prisoner and spiritual leader at the supermax prison in Youngstown, Ohio. Living in isolation on death row for a conviction related to the 1993 Lucasville Uprising, he has maintained his innocence and resisted the conditions of his confinement for three decades.
He is a vocal supporter and organizer of the national prison labor strike planned for September 9—the forty-fifth anniversary of the Attica rebellion. Now, he says he is facing retaliation from prison officials, who are making false claims that he asked a staff imam to wear a bomb into the prison.
Hasan believes the false report was written as a pretext to restrict his phone and email privileges for thirty days so he could not communicate to media and supporters about the strike. Other Muslim prisoners, who were present when Hasan supposedly spoke to the imam, insist no such request was ever made.
On the morning of August 2, Hasan was told he had a visitor. He was expecting no one. When he got to the cage outside his cell, he found Mark Royko waiting for him, an officer with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
According to Hasan’s account:
[Royko] wanted to know my name, what I was in prison for, and I told him, you know, “Cut the game, I mean that’s not why you came out here. I’m sure you did all that investigation before you came out here to see me.”
Then he went on to say that he heard that I was supposed to be involved in some kind of national militant movement to blow up buildings, to harm people, and I said, “Somebody must be sending you on a wild goose chase, because there’s no such thing that’s actually happened.”
According to Hasan, Officer Royko asked him about his involvement in various political movements. Hasan told the officer he was involved in Black Lives Matter and the Free Ohio Movement, which is an organization of prisoners, families and others who fight for justice in the Ohio prison system. Hasan also mentioned he had a history as a guest speaker on radio stations and at colleges, where he spoke about police brutality and mass incarceration.
“What I tried to explain to them, which is truth, is that I’m involved in no radical movement that—not to my knowledge, unless someone is involved in some radicalism that I’m not aware,” Hasan wrote, adding, “Everything that I’m involved in is [a] peaceful movement trying to bring about revolutionary changes, and trying to bring about better conditions for prisoners, and trying to bring about emancipation and freedom from the case that I was erroneously convicted of, as a result of the Lucasville Uprising.”
Hasan ended the conversation by telling Royko, “Continue to listen to my phone calls, continue to read my mail, and exactly what I’m telling you, if you come to find out something otherwise, then you can come back and you can throw it in my face.
If Royko was unable to find anything, Hasan made it clear “we have nothing else further to talk about really.”
On August 9, the website, It’s Going Down, reported that Hasan had been removed from his cell and placed in isolation in a different cell. He was denied his property.
More than a week later, on August 18, the Ohio State Penitentiary Rules and Infraction Board (RIB) found Hasan guilty of violating Rule 59 of the Ohio Administrative Code for engaging in an act “knowingly done which constitutes a threat to the security of the institution, its staff, other inmates or to the acting inmate.”
The RIB report claimed a freelance imam named S. Ishmael, who leads classes and prayers at the prison, told officials Hasan had asked him to wear explosives into the prison.
“[Hasan] made the following comments. ‘You (referring to Imam Ismail) need to commit a suicide mission,'” the RIB report reads. “Imam Ismail stated that he did not understand what [Hasan] was trying to say. [Hasan] then described for the Imam, ‘You should put a belt/strap around his stomach/waist and commit a suicide mission.'”
The imam said Hasan made the request during a religious study on July 22. The imam allegedly reported it to the prison on August 1. Hasan was punished with a 30-day restriction of his phone and email use.
“Mind you, this is the same Muslim representative here who will not even bring in basic religious items to Muslim prisoners,” Hasan stated. “Items which he is allowed to bring in with the authorization from prison officials.”
“In short, why would I ask him to bring in a bomb when he is too afraid to bring in allowed items?” Hasan asked.
Ben Turk, a prison abolitionist and activist supporting Hasan and the September 9 strikes, told Shadowproof, “[The allegation against Hasan] makes no sense with what September 9 is actually about. It makes no sense from a basic security standpoint for Hasan.”
He questioned why the imam would wait nine days to report such a troubling request if it were real. “It’s absurd. But the [Rules / Infraction Board] process will never find somebody not guilty,” he said. “It’s a kangaroo court with very low standards of evidence.”
“They have effectively silenced him,” Turk said.
“The prison officials used this puppet and agent of the State to write me a fictitious conduct report, all to hinder and stop my communications with the outside world before September 9th,” Hasan said. “Hence, the reason I was only given 30 days of restrictions, notwithstanding the fact that I did nothing to abuse my phone and kiosk privileges.”
Turk and others are organizing to support a hunger strike, which Hasan and other prisoners began when the RIB complaint was filed on August 15. They demand the conduct report against Hasan be thrown out. They also want the imam removed. Turk said the prison should “hire somebody who is not going to make up lies on Muslim prisoners that are derogatory and feed into stereotypes.”
The restrictions on Hasan’s privileges are due to end on September 16.
When asked why he is joining the September 9 strike, Hasan said, “My experiences in prison, especially within the last three decades, have taught me that the prison system sees prisoners as nothing more than commodities who are to be economically exploited for the benefit of prisoncrats, politicians, and their corporate friends and families.”
In 1993, Hasan was a prisoner at the violent and overcrowded Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. An account prepared by Hasan’s lawyer, Richard Kerger, explains that tensions in the prison had risen ever since a new warden took over three years earlier.
Warden Arthur Tate Jr. earned the ire of prisoners by eliminating music, literary, and other popular programs.
Prisoners accused his administration of making up new rules daily, which were “not put into writing or issued to prisoners.” They were forced to march to their destinations and faced abusive guards, who stoked conflict.
The tipping point came after Warden Tate ordered prisoners to submit to mandatory tuberculosis skin tests through phenol injection. Muslim prisoners, including Hasan, said the process violated their religious beliefs because phenol is an alcoholic substance. They offered to undergo other kinds of testing, but the warden refused, threatening to put the prison on lockdown.
On Easter Sunday, several guards were taken hostage as prisoners took control of the institution for eleven days. Nine inmates and one guard were killed in the chaos.
Hasan, who is a spiritual leader of Sunni Muslim prisoners of the Mujiisul Ulema in South Africa, stepped up to organize a peaceful, nonviolent resolution to the riot. He worked with members of the Aryan Brotherhood and the Black Gangster Disciples to end the action. However, Hasan believes his position as a religious leader was used against him.
“The Sunni Muslims’ difference in dress, conduct and social etiquette had caused them to be the target of derision and hostility before the riot,” the account reads. “When the riot occurred attention was focused on the Sunni Muslims and in particular Hasan. He became the target of the prosecution.”
Hasan was one year from parole when the riot took place. “Of all the prisoners, he had the most to lose. Yet, it was perceived that he was the leader and the one responsible for directing the activities of the prisoners once the riot had begun,” his attorney wrote.
He was convicted and sentenced to death for his alleged role as a leader of the Lucasville rebellion.
In April 2015, Hasan joined around 40 prisoners in a hunger strike against limited recreation and programming for prisoners in isolation. One month later, the warden agreed to lift some of the restrictions, and all but one of the prisoners ended the action. The final prisoner chose to continue due to his concern over medical care for prisoners.
“It’s no coincidence that we have 2.5 million or so people incarcerated in the United States, and another 7 million under some form of correctional or judicial supervision,” Hasan said. “Social control and super economic exploitation are at the heart of prison slavery and the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color.”
“In knowing all this,” he continued, “I am motivated and dutifully bound to do whatever I can to eradicate prison slavery, mass incarceration, and the super economic exploitation of the poor masses.”
“While this is a tall order for someone in my shoes to fill, I am one hundred percent committed and motivated to seeing this project through; therefore, it was easy for me to join this national action,” Hasan added.
“We have reached a critical political crossroad in this country and throughout the world. So if we are ever going to abolish prison slavery, mass incarceration and the super economic exploitation of oppressed peoples, we have to think outside the box and utilize radical methods.”
“A nationwide work stoppage, mass hunger strikes, and economic boycotts of corporations that benefit from forced prisoners’ labor are the radical methods we envision,” he said.
“I want people on the outside to know that there’s strength in numbers, and that the power of the people is greater than those in power,”” Hasan concluded. “And since we, oppressed peoples, are the majority in this country and in the world over, we have to push for and demand revolutionary changes. In the words of Frederick Douglass: ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.'”