Interview with Siddique Abdullah Hasan
Siddique Abdullah Hasan co-founded Compassion newsletter to develop healing communication between capital punishment offenders and murdered victims’ families. The respected Sunni Muslim prison Imam was sentenced to death for his alleged leadership in the 1993 Lucasville prison rebellion. Hasan, who is on death row at Ohio’s supermax prison in Youngstown, is appealing the sentence. In the current interview, he discusses the potential move of Ohio's death row from Mansfield to Youngstown.
by Daniel Sturm
August 18, 2005
Sturm: How do you think the relocation of death row inmates is going to impact the situation for current prisoners?
Siddique Abdullah Hasan: First of all, their arrival would most likely have a negative impact on how outdoors recreation is administered. Namely, there would not be enough hours to assure that everyone gets outdoor recreation five days per week. Next, it is believed that the few death-row prisoners already housed here will probably be moved to the same housing area as the new arrivals, but that’s no guarantee because prison officials possess broad discretion in one’s placement and are known to do whatever they desire without having to answer to anyone. Finally, they will be given extra privileges which are not afforded to those already housed here, so this would inevitably put a sour taste in the latter’s mouths. The question will be: Why is death row afforded more privileges when everyone here is supposed to be on general population status? Simply put, regardless of one’s level, everyone in the same prison should be furnished equal privileges and treatment under the law. This is the case for all general population prisoners at other prisons in Ohio.
Sturm: Is there anything you would like to share with people currently on death row in Mansfield, in anticipation of a possible move to Youngstown?
Hasan: Yes, despite what the wardens at the sending and receiving prison have been telling them about how conditions will be better for them here, do not believe it. Such talk is merely drivel, merely to smooth them into signing a waiver to move here. While they will get a few extra privileges, they will lose much more than they bargain for. Therefore, they should not swallow the bait, hook, line and sinker. Moreover, they should not forget the fact that this place was designed to house the so-called “worst of the worst” (a behavior they have not yet exhibited during their imprisonment), to institute behavior modification, and to facilitate extreme sensory deprivation and social isolation. So, why would any sane prisoner agree to move here from Mansfield? The foul disposition and attitudes of some guards here will not be conducive to their mental, moral and spiritual development.
Sturm: Regarding Lucasville: Why do you think you were the prosecution’s target?
Hasan: I was a well-respected and influential Imam (prayer leader) at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (S.O.C.F.) in Lucasville. Seeing that some Muslims, as well as some non-Muslims, participated in the rebellion, it was blindly believed that the rebellion could not have happened without my knowledge and consent. While I did receive knowledge about it only moments before it happened, I did not give my consent. Yet, due to the xenophobia of Islam and its adherents in non-Muslim societies, the prosecution knew it could readily demonize me and play on the fears and biases of my jury by constantly making my religion an issue. To put it bluntly, my rank and religious affiliation were used as tools to secure my conviction, a conviction which is a gross and quintessential miscarriage of justice.
Sturm: Do you feel that prison guards generally treat you with respect at the Ohio State Penitentiary? Do you ever sense discrimination due to your religious convictions (as a Sunni Muslim) or race?
Hasan: While I can’t say prison guards respect me, mainly because I have a broader understanding of the word “respect,” I can say they give me my space -- that is, they don’t bother me. I’ve only had one prison guard, Lt. Carter, disrespect me. Lt. Carter, a well-known troubleshooter, unquestionably believes that I ordered the murder of the only prison guard slain during the rebellion. As a result, he eagerly awaits my execution and had mouthed off at me on several occasions. In fact, he had the audacity to tell me, “When the time comes, make sure you invite me [to your execution].” Notwithstanding his belief and desire to either do or see bodily harm done to me, this troubleshooter poses no direct physical threat. Besides, let’s not forget he’s a handicap -- possesses an artificial leg -- and I’m in excellent physical shape. Therefore, it would be akin to suicide for him to attack or lunge at me while I’m not in handcuffs and shackles.
No one has played the “race card” with me. However, I have been discriminated against due to my religious convictions and desire to practice my orthodox beliefs. For over seven years, I was denied access to have weekly religious services, and I am still being denied an opportunity to purchase essential religious books which only come in hardcover. This is in violation of the law. Hardcover books are denied under the fictitious whim that they pose a "serious threat" to the security of this institution. Contrariwise, the U.S. Supreme Court has long ruled that "hardcover books do not pose any threat to the security of prisons when they come directly from publishers, bookstores or book clubs." (See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S. Ct. 1861 [U.S. N.Y. 1979] on the permissibility of prisoners to receive hardcover books as long as they come from publishers, bookstores or book clubs.)
Sturm: Do you think that the public’s interest for the situation of death row inmates has gotten better or worse during the last few years? Are you getting a lot of outside mail?
Hasan: To my amazement, the public’s interest has increased tremendously. This is especially true for Ohioans. A decade or so ago, I saw very little interest in capital punishment. But as more and more media coverage has been given to innocent people being released from death row, the public has become aware that capital punishment in this country is not flawless. Resultantly, the majority of the public is now in favor of life in prison without the possibility of parole, instead of the ultimate punishment: DEATH.
I do not receive nearly as much mail as I used to -- approximately 50 pieces per week--but I still receive mail from various corners of the U.S.
Daniel Sturm: Can you tell me some about your daily activities in prison?
Hasan: My daily activities begin when a nurse brings to my cell my multivitamin at 4:30 a.m. Upon being awaken I immediately start thanking Allah, the Unimaginable Supreme Being, and praising Him for giving me another day of life after being in a state of death (sleep). (On Mondays and Thursdays, I awake a little earlier to consume a little food and water before commencing my supererogatory fast. Observing said fast has been my steadfast practice since 1989.) I then proceed to perform ablution -- a partial washing of the body as a religious ritual -- before making my obligatory morning prayer. In fact, four additional obligatory prayers are made throughout the day before I retire to bed at 11:30 or 12:00 p.m.
Breakfast is brought/served at 5:30. After eating it, I either watch the BBC World News or listen to the NPR News until after the sun has risen; then I perform a supererogatory prayer. The next hour is spent reading the Noble Qur'an, the Muslims’ Holy Book, or studying some other Islamic literature. If there’s mail to be answered, essays to be written or articles to be edited for Compassion -- a bimonthly newsletter I founded in 2001 -- then I am engaged in this work until lunch is served at 11:30. Afterwards, I perform my forenoon supererogatory prayer. If my morning writing has not been completed, then I will continue with it until it’s time for my midday obligatory prayer.
The remainder of my activities consist of stretching before engulfing myself in a two-hour exercise regimen, which consists of multiple calisthenics, reading my daily mail and immediately answering some of it, listening to or watching more news, reading a newspaper, some press cuttings or other periodicals, and occasionally engaging in a discourse with some other prisoner(s). (If there’s an Isl_mic video being shown on the TV monitor or a good TV program coming on, I will squeeze it into my schedule.)
Sturm: What are you currently reading?
Hasan: In addition to what has already been stated above, I am reading The Associated Press Guide to News Writing by Rene J. Cappon, English Grammar by David Daniels and Barbara Daniels, The Essential Writer’s Companion published by Houghton Mifflin Company, and Jet magazine.
Sturm: What strategies do you use to keep yourself balanced?
Hasan: Islam, as well as not worrying about things outside of my control, is what keeps me balanced. Islam is my source of strength, and I diligently try to structure all my activities around my Islamic beliefs and practices. For example, I vigorously pursue knowledge because Islam teaches that “the quest of knowledge [useful] is an obligation upon every Muslim.” My prayers are used to communicate with Allah and to cleanse myself, and my exercise regimen is used to keep me physically healthy. Since man is a physical, spiritual and mental being, I daily apply these three elements to stay balanced.
Additionally, I use the “most beautiful” story and example of Prophet Joseph (upon whom be peace) to maintain balance. In spite of Prophet Joseph’s imprisonment for a crime he did not commit, he continuously did Allah’s work -- until Allah proved his innocence and created the circumstances for his release from prison. Therefore, I will continue to follow Joseph’s lead until I exit prison or death overtakes me.
Sturm: How would you describe the experience of solidarity between prisoners? Would you say that friendships exist between inmates?
Hasan: Solidarity exists primarily among prisoners in the same gangs, among some religious groups, and among a select body of homeboys. There is no real solidarity among blacks and whites, however. If a major problem arrives that effects the entire prison population, blacks and whites will temporarily become unified to try to resolve the problem. However, there is no lasting unity outside of one’s own group or fraternity. Friendships are basically established along the same lines as prisoners’ solidarity.
Sturm: Finally, what issues relating to the incarceration system do you believe are probably under-reported by the media -- issues that people in the outside world may not know about?
Hasan: Rarely is media coverage given to guards assaulting prisoners, as if guards have a green light to assault prisoners. However, if prisoners assault guards, they are usually indicted and the media reports it. Other issues, which are underreported, are as follows: Prisoners are no longer being rehabilitated, but are merely being warehoused and subsequently being released to prey on other victims in society, inadequate mental health care, and the positive community services prisoners are engaged in. For example, death-row prisoners provide academic and religious scholarships to the immediate family members of murdered victims, and they try to foster reconciliation with these secondary victims.
Daniel Sturm teaches journalism at Youngstown State University in Northeastern Ohio. He is a German journalist who covers underreported social and political topics in Europe and in the United States.
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