The Lucasville Prison Riot
Stephen Webster, American Renaissance, May 2005
The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility is a maximum-security prison in Lucasville, about 80 miles south of Columbus. In the words of one Ohio supreme court justice, it gets “the worst of the worst.” On April 11, 1993 — Easter Sunday — prisoners rioted and took control of L Block (one of the three main cellblocks) taking a dozen guards hostage. They beat all of them severely, and quickly released four they were afraid would die. During the 11-day siege that followed, they murdered nine inmates and a guard, making it one of the most deadly prison riot is US history.
Although the spark that started the riot was a plan to inoculate black Muslim inmates with a TB vaccine containing alcohol, which they say violated their religion, racial hatred played a major role. At the time of the riot, the prison was under a court order to integrate double cells, and a new warden named Arthur Tate, a black man, appears to have enforced the order with blind enthusiasm. In just a few months, the number of integrated double cells went from 1.7 percent to 31 percent. Inmates complained that men were not allowed to choose their cellies, and that random assignments put known racial enemies in the same cell. They said the warden told them that the only way they could refuse integration was to attack their new cellmates. In one case, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood told the warden that if he “put a nigger” in his cell, he would kill him. Guards ignored him and gave him a black celly. The white convict immediately smashed him in the face with a padlock wrapped in a sock.
Some people thought Mr. Tate was trying to provoke a riot, presumably to support his campaign to have the prison upgraded to an even higher security rating. White prisoners, a minority, thought Mr. Tate and his chief deputy, also black, were discriminating against them.
Three main gangs operated in the prison — the Black Muslims, the Black Gangster Disciples, and the Aryan Brotherhood. The Black Muslims started the riot by attacking the guards, and during the first few hours of chaos, prisoners settled scores, most of them racial. At a dangerous point in the riot Keith Lamar, a black man not in either black gang, found his path blocked by Black Muslims. He promised that if they let him pass he would kill white “snitches,” and the Muslims agreed. He then organized a “death squad” to find and kill whites whom he accused of cooperating with prison authorities. His group murdered four men, including one who was 69 years old and used a walker. He also forced one white prisoner to beat another white to death.
After the initial confusion, any man who could sought protection from one of the gangs, each of which controlled a section of L Block. The leader of the Black Muslims, Carlos Sanders, was afraid there would be race war when the Aryan Brotherhood started taking revenge for Mr. Lamar’s killings, and proposed a truce to its two leaders, George Skatzes and Jason Robb. The men agreed that henceforth, only whites would kill whites, and only blacks would kill blacks. The whites appear to have kept their word. Mr. Skatzes of the brotherhood had already killed one white informer, and he and Mr. Robb killed another before the riot ended. However, Mr. Sanders was later accused of ordering the death of a white inmate who had allegedly raped a black prisoner. The Gangster Disciples also agreed to the truce, and for the remainder of the siege, the gangs managed an uneasy coexistence.
Not all prisoners rioted. Some escaped to other parts of the prison and turned themselves over to authorities. The ones who could not escape were traitors in the eyes of the rioters. The gang leaders rounded them up and kept them in cells under gang “security.” After the initial violence, whites managed whites, and blacks managed blacks.
The gang leaders negotiated with prison authorities, and even broadcast their demands on local radio and television. One of their chief demands was an end to the policy of integrating double cells, but they also wanted less crowding, and the removal of the warden and his deputy. In order to convince authorities they were serious, the gang leaders agreed to murder one of the eight guards they were still holding. They chose Robert Vallandingham, a 40-year-old white man. It isn’t known who actually killed Mr. Vallandingham, but inmates have testified that Anthony Lavelle, leader of the Black Gangster Disciples, strangled him.
As food ran out and conditions worsened, the prisoners lost their bravado. On April 21, 1993, they surrendered peacefully. More than 50 inmates faced charges in connection with the riot, and Black Muslim leaders Carlos Sanders and James Were, Aryan Brotherhood leaders Jason Robb and George Skatzes all got the death penalty for killing Officer Vallandingham. Anthony Lavelle, who may actually have killed the guard, testified against the others in exchange for a lighter sentence. Keith Lamar, who organized the anti-white hit-squads, was also sentenced to death. As of publication date, no one has been executed. Arthur Tate, the warden whom all the prisoners hated, continued his career in prison administration.
In the end, the Lucasville riot did solve the integration problem in maximum-security prisons in Ohio. All men now get single cells.