A 60-day restriction on email and telephone privileges ended for Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan on December 5, 2016. Hasan, who is incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary, was punished in October for participating in a live radio interview with NPR about the September 9 strike against prison slavery.
Prison officials twice prevented Hasan from speaking to the press after he expressed solidarity with the prison strike movement.
In August, prison officials questionably argued Hasan, who is a Muslim spiritual leader, had propositioned a staff imam to wear a suicide vest into the prison. Hasan vigorously denied this allegation, but it was used to restrict his phone and email communication for 30 days.
The restriction prevented Hasan from speaking with journalists and supporters as the national strike began.
During October, prison officials accused Hasan of violating the institution’s media policies, when he participated in a live broadcast interview with NPR’s Tom Ashbrook. Officials blocked access to phone and email for 60 days, restrictions which ended earlier this month.
Hasan is unable to engage in the strike himself. He is on death row, and he does not have a job. Nonetheless, prison administrators felt threatened enough by what he was saying about prison life and resistance that they decided to take action.
“If I’m doing live interviews and I’m speaking about something abstract or something that does not affect them, it’s all fine and dandy with them,” Hasan explained. “But when it comes to speaking about the problems that goes on behind enemy lines and exposing the gross miscarriages of justice that goes on within prisons, then that poses a problem to them. And they felt the need to try and silence me.”
“I firmly believe that because of what was being discussed with regards to September the 9th, that prompted them to do it.”
Hasan has been the subject of numerous interviews and profiles over the last decade. He is a member of the Free Ohio Movement, a group of prisoners, their families, and their supporters, who are fighting wrongful convictions stemming from the 1993 Lucasville Uprising.
“I’ve been doing [interviews] for 10 years,” Hasan recalled telling the officers at his hearing. “Y’all know because even some of y’all have came to me and told me y’all heard my voice doing live interviews on radio programs, et cetera, and y’all never complained about it.”
He was told prison administrators received a phone call from Joellen Smith, who works in the communications department at the Ohio prison system’s central office.
Previously, a prison investigator known as Mr. Wylie, who had listened to interview about the prison strike, told Hasan he was only going to receive a warning and not a write-up. “But, you know,” Hasan said, “only a fool dog would bite the hand that feeds him.”
“Wylie is just an investigator, but when you’re talking about people down in central office, they are actually their superiors,” Hasan said, noting that “central office is the people that call all the shots.”
Hasan contends the media policy he allegedly violated was written to guide the behavior of members of the media, not prisoners. In addition to the rule that inmates are not to conduct live broadcast interviews on prison grounds, he said officials tried citing another, which states telephone interviews with inmates are generally not permitted.
“And I’m saying, once again, these rules are not any rules for prisoners, these rules are rules for the media, before the media comes into the institution. The prison authority has granted them some permission to come see a prisoner and they ship them these rules so you all know the rules and regulations so you won’t violate them, and if you do violate them, then they can restrict you from coming in.”
“And they had no comment. But the bottom line is, basically, they said it’s out of their hands.” he recalled. Even if he had violated some policy governing prisoner behavior, it was clearly related to his use of the phone. “What does that have to do with my [email] kiosk privileges?” he protested.
Yet, Hasan remains largely unfazed by the incident. After 40 years of incarceration, he believes even if he hadn’t done a live interview, officials would have come up with something else to keep him away from reporters.
“The bottom line is they wanted to cut my direct communication off with the outside world and the media,” Hasan concluded. “There’s no other way to explain it.”
“[The prison strike] was never intended to be a one year or one day thing,” Hasan said. “This is a protracted struggle. Rome was not built in one day, empires are not built in one day, struggles of this magnitude are not going to bring about changes in one day.”
“Either we stand on the right side of history or we are wrong in what we’re doing. We firmly believe we’re standing on the right side of history and we intend to keep up the fight until victory is achieved or until they meet us at the negotiating table and bring about some meaningful change.”
“They say the people who fought against slavery, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, and the rest of them, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, people who were fighting against injustice, slavery, Jim Crow-ism, the convict leasing code—they say these people stood on the wrong side of history, that they [were] in error. They were fighting against the government. They were terrorists. They were rowdy people. They were troublemakers.”
“But when all was said and done, it wasn’t the people that stood on the wrong side of history,” Hasan said. “It was the government that stood on the wrong side of history, and they have to admit that.”
“I firmly believe in my heart that prisoners, those of us behind enemy lines, in coordination with people we’ve been networking with on the outside, that we stand on the right side of history.”
“I expect at some point, if not soon, some point later on next year, I’m gonna be locked up again because, as long as the words in my mouth have power, I’m gonna continue to speak out against injustice, tyranny, persecution, super economic exploitation, and prison slavery,” Hasan concluded.