I am writing in regards to the incident that happened at the Orient Correctional Institution. On July 9, 1997 the public was misinformed by prison staff of the reasons that led up to the fires and disturbance here. Prison officials informed the news media that prisoners were rebelling against a "treatment" program, but actually it was a punishment program. These prisoners had been punished months ago, for their rule violations, and spent months in isolation and endured other forms of restrictions for their misconduct. Some of the rule violations that they were being punished for now dated back as far as 1990. Without notice or any sort of appeal process these prisoners were ordered to report to the punishment program and informed that they would have to endure six more months of new restrictions. Some of these prisoners had established clean conduct records and adjusted to general population for six or eight months. The way this program was implemented was sure to cause trouble.
A couple prisoners in the punishment program set fire to the roof of 8-dormitory. Prisoners were handcuffed in A-bay of that dorm and as the smoke filled the dorm the chief Security officer...was heard to say to guards, "Don't open that gate." Prisoners had no way of escaping the smoke, so they kicked out the metal screens and jumped out of the window. If it had been left up to the major, they might have died, as 500 prisoners in the 1930 fire in the Ohio Penitentiary died when guards refused to let them out of their cells. Other fires were started in the gyms 4-dorm, and 1OE1. As clouds of smoke rolled across the yard outside, fire trucks began arriving inside the prison.
The Strategic Response and Tactic (SRT) teams moved into the prison wearing black military uniforms and body armor. Prisoners were quickly locked down, and almost 400 prisoners were chained together and loaded onto buses and shipped to other prisons around the state. Within the past few days prisoners have been beaten without provocation. Prisoners who were posing no threat were attacked by the goon squads. I personally witnessed one such assault outsite the dining room yesterday (7-10-07). A prisoner was taken out of line and handcuffed behind his back, walked out into a grassy area where members of the SRT team forced him to his knees and then pushed him onto his stomach. In this position five goons began to stomp him.
The rebellion started out over the punishment program, but now it involves much more than that. Prisoners here have endured many months of mass shake downs, destruction of our personal property, frequent lock-downs, verbal abuse, and numerous new restrictions. Tension has been building at this prison for many months. The lnmate Grievance Procedure failed to resolve the problems we face here, and the federal courts are too slow and won't take a stand on these issues. Prisoners have no voice in these matters, and no way to effectively resolve these issues in a peaceful manner. Letters to legislators go unanswered, and letters to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee go unanswered. Prisoners have desperately sought outside intervention, but were completely ignored.
With the "get tough on crime" rhetoric comes the increasing number of restrictions with no thought to how many restrictions are enough before this trend will halt. What has happened is that prison conditions have become intolerable, and prison administrators feel they have a free hand to do whatever they want. Prisoners' rights are completely disregarded by prison officials, who feel that this is how the public wants us treated. It's out of hand here at OCI, and we desperately need outside intervention. We need legislators to investigate what's going on in here. The administration is out of control.
Some of the prisoners here vow that the rebellion is not over with yet, and that if there's no outside intervention they'll burn this prison down one dormitory at a time. I don't condone the burning of buildings. It's dangerous to prisoners and staff alike. The public needs to understand that this entire incident has been carefully orchestrated by prison officials, and they have pushed prisoners too far. Prisoners desperately need to have some voice in what is taking place within the prison system, and an effective way to resolve their grievances. It's possible that this rebellion could spread to other Ohio prisons, where prisoners have lost hope of ever being released from prison. The parole board is out of control, and is giving out super flops of 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years. Prisoners feel that we have nothing left to lose.
This letter, first published in Columbus Alive, August 6-12, 1997, is reprinted here with the express permission of Columbus Alive. Please note that this article has copyright by Columbus Alive and all copyright laws apply.