Sept. 15, 1997
The following is being submitted as a rebuttal to the article that ran on the Readers Forum page in the Sept. 14 edition of the Toledo Blade. Please consider running it in your next Readers Forum. There are over 47.000 families that are deeply offended by the comments written by Ms. Johanek. Printing this will show that you believe in presenting both sides of a controversial issue.
The Sept. 14 Readers Forum of the Toledo Blade carried an article written by former TV news reporter, Marilou Johanek. Rarely have I ever been assaulted by so much anger, bitter ignorance, and venom of human spirit . Ms. Johanek's comments attempted to affect a tone of black humor; in this, she failed miserably. Instead, her obvious unbridled hatred streamed across the page of the Blade, this time directed toward the prisoners of Mansfield 's Death Row. If killing is as easily done with the pen as with the sword, then Ms. Johanek must stand guilty.
Such hatred and contempt for human life is more befitting, according to Ms. Johanek's characterization, the residents of Death Row. However, it must be noted that the only ones seriously injured were the prisoners themselves, who had at least five hours to inflict as much murder and mayhem as they desired. This, these "crybaby cutthroats," resisted, releasing the correctional officers relatively unharmed, early during the pod seizure. If Wilford Berry and others had been targeted for execution by their fellow prisoners, this could have been accomplished quite easily. Yes, prisoners attacked prisoners. Their rage and fear was so intense when freed from their cages that it fixated on those whom they believed threaten their own lives -- a very natural human reaction to a very real threat. Not at all unike Ms. Johanek's vehement written reaction.
Ms. Johanek would have us believe that Ohio prisoners have nothing to fear. Tell it to the Death Row inhabitants in Kentucky, a sister state in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Ms. Johanek. After a similar sabbatical from inflicting the state's choice to murder on its prisoners, Kentucky executed Steve Harold McQueen, who, unlike Mr. Berry, did not want to die. The current Attorney General is doing all within her power to see to it that Ohio follows Kentucky's example and soon.
In addition, Ohio prisoners, on Death Row and elsewhere, have much about which to complain and protest. Medical treatment, a chief grievance in the Mansfield uprising, is lacking or inadequate, even for serious conditions. Housing conditions, as revealed through CURE-Ohio's latest newsletter which has been unofficially banned in some prisons, are woefully beneath the minimum hygiene standards. Meals are not nutritious nor adequately prepared or served. The administrative use of programs designed by law to rehabilitate, as well as grievance procedures designed to address the above complaints, are arbitrarily formed and subject to change with each staff personnel turnover, which is quite frequent. Overcrowded conditions, due in part to the extremely low parole rate (beneath 20%) and in part to the influx of Senate Bill Two admittees, are increasingly detrimental to prison security. These factors, rather than a lack of TV and radio privileges, are what sparked the uprising at Mansfield, the "disturbance" at Ross, the mini-riot at Lancaster, and the fire at Orient, all events of the last two months. Ohio prisoners, advocates, and prison staff speculate as to which prison will be the first to really blow its top.
Another point (at which Ms. Johanek reveals her tendency to not verify her information) involves her inference that allowing prisoners to kill each other in gladitorial contests would be a "cost effective way to reduce prison overcrowding." The Seventy (70) million dollar settlement made between the State DRC and the attorneys for the Lucasville prisoners, including the over 4 million dollars awarded by consent decree to the injured prisoners and their family members, belies her ridiculous assertion. The fact that the DRC frequently agrees to consent decrees in prisoner litigation reveals the accepted culpability of the state in these actions. Mansfield authorities admit things got out of control. One must wonder if START had been sent in when the ruckus started, just how few prisoners would have legitimate grounds for lawsuits against the state now.
I could go on, but space does not permit. The sad fact is probably more people reading Ms. Johanek's ignorantly vitrulent comments agree with her than with me. CURE-Ohio's well publicized rally held in Cleveland over the weekend amply displays most Ohioans' apathetic attitude toward criminal-justice and prison issues, until it affects them directly. The movie "Running Man," more aptly than "Dead Man Walking," depicts the public arena that prisoners enter. Therefore, Toledo Blade, I am challenging you to print this rebuttal to Ms. Johanek, allowing me the same liberal interpretation of a 300 word limit as you did her.