As Siddique Abdullah Hasan prepared answers for this interview from his supermaximum security cell block, in Youngstown, Ohio,  news broke that Philadelphia courts had agreed to hear arguments from Mumia Abu-Jamal's legal council.  Abu-Jamal's lawyers argue  that the outcome of Mumia's 1982 trial and later appeal were  tainted by constitutional violations.  Few can empathize with the former Black Panther as well as Hasan, a respected Sunni Muslim prison Imam who has been sentenced to death for his alleged leadership in the 1993 Lucasville prison rebellion. Hasan maintains his innocence and is appealing his case. After hearing of Mumia's good news, he wrote that it "brought tears of joy to my heart, because I immediately recognized it was a positive development which could ultimately lead to his long-overdue release from captivity."

Hasan is the founding editor of Compassion, a newsletter to develop healing communication between capital punishment offenders and murdered victims' families.  He also co-edits the newly founded Internet portal, In the current interview, S.A. Hasan discusses the impact of the Ohio death row's recent move from Mansfield to Youngstown, and the "travesty of injustice" that he and four other men who were sentenced to death following the Lucasville riots (and therafter housed in permanent solitary confinement at the newly- constructed OSP), have continued to endure.

STURM: Why did you change your name from Carlos Sanders to Siddique Abdullah Hasan, and what does your Islamic name mean?

HASAN: An Islamic name identifies who you are, and it exercises good moral influence and divine blessings on the person bearing the name. I opted to change my name to Siddique Abdullah Hasan because I wanted it to identify who I had become: a Muslim. As for the name itself, I chose this particular combination because it reflected the person and character I had become, and/or was diligently striving to become in both words and deeds. To understand this statement one has to understand the meaning of the Islamic name.

My forename is Siddique (pronounced Sid-deek). It means one who is "just, true, sincere, a sincere friend, a man of veracity." Abdullah means "a servant or devotee of Allah" -- the Unimaginable Supreme Being Who exists necessarily by Himself.  As long as one fulfills the will of Allah, he will  be a servant or devotee of Allah. My surname, Hasan, means "beautiful, excellent, fine, good and pious." I chose Hasan because of the internal beauty and goodness I knew I possessed. When you combine them, my name means "a true servant of Allah (who is) beautiful and good." And, while I'm not sure that I will ever be able to live up to the profound essence of my name, I regularly meditate upon its beauty in the hope that it will make me strive that much harder to become a better person/servant.

STURM: A few months ago I asked about your perspective on the anticipated move of death row from Mansfield to Youngstown. Now that the move has taken place, how does it relate to your expectations?  How has the move impacted your situation and the situation of other prisoners?

HASAN: In truth, I had no expectations. When you asked me, I was actually expressing the popular views and beliefs of others. From day one, the prison authorities made it perfectly clear to me, in both actions and words, that we [the current prisoners] had nothing positive coming unless the courts intervened and compelled them to implement our constitutional rights -- such as the right to outdoor recreation, proper medical and mental health care, better access to our attorneys, a meaningful hearing to appeal being released from here -- and make life more bearable for those under their jurisdiction and control. The bottom line is that the prison authorities are very resentful toward many prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), especially the Lucasville Five (actually four, for George W. Skatzes was transferred back to Mansfield years ago due to mental health reasons).

Anyway, when the Lucasville Five (the others are Namir Abdul-Mateen, Keith Lamar, Jason Robb and myself) arrived here from Mansfield in May 1998, we were removed from administrative control status, which is basically the equivalent to administrative segregation, and assigned to general population status.  Yet, our conditions and treatment never changed. As a result we have requested being transferred back to Mansfield. However, our requests were rebuffed for alleged security reasons. Namely, Mansfield did not have a proper area to accommodate us. But now that Mansfield death-row inmates have been moved to OSP, we [the four death-row inmates housed at OSP since 1993] are not afforded the same rights, privileges and accommodations. 

Take, for example, death-row inmates' access to a private room to meet with their attorneys; their right to possess individual typewriters to assist with the appeal process; and their right to semi-contact visits with family and friends; their right to better commissary services, phone, recreation, and books. They even have access to meet with the media, while we cannot. Director Reginald Wilkinson has made it perfectly clear that "no one convicted of a riot-related offense can meet with the media." It doesn't take a genius to figure out why, nor to see that he's being vindictive. It is obvious that Director Wilkinson has a personal vendetta due to the Lucasville rebellion happening on his watch. Therefore, he has opted to keep us under punitive conditions, and his subordinates are obeying all his vindictive wishes and commands.

While I can somewhat understand his justification for not allowing us to be placed in the same housing area with the new death-row arrivals, there is no valid penological or security reason why we shouldn't be afforded the same rights and privileges as those similarly situated--those under a death sentence--especially when they don't pose a security threat to OSP and its staff. After all, we are all death-row prisoners on general population status. Well, so they claim.

STURM: Have there been significant changes in staff? Do you get more or less outdoor recreation time?

HASAN: There have been no significant changes in staff. What has happened, though, is that a lot of guards have been getting a lot of overtime hours, which means a lot of time-and-a-half pay is being dished out. Also, some guards have voluntarily departed the blocks they were working in to work in the death-row blocks. Since death row prisoners have more supervisory privileges -- the privilege to feed themselves and not to be escorted to and from recreation in handcuffs -- it's easy to figure out why most of them departed. The transformation was apparent.  Going from the ghettos to the suburbs entails less work. Outdoor recreation has not changed at this juncture.  Everyone is still granted the opportunity to get five hours per week. However, it's anticipated that when spring and summer roll back around we will not receive the five-hour allotment because there will not be enough time to run everyone. Death row arrived during the middle of the fall and many people have not been going outdoors, so outdoor recreation has not posed a problem yet. But this will all change when the weather gets better.

STURM: How has the departure of Dr. Ayham Haddad affected the medical care at OSP? How long do you have to wait to see a doctor?

HASAN: When Dr. Haddad was employed here, he would promptly diagnose prisoners after they were initially seen and recommended by a nurse. He was very concerned, respectful and professional with all his patients, just like a doctor in society would be. He would even timely answer prisoners' correspondence which came in the form of a kite (an inter-communication system between a prisoner and a staff). This is not the case with the current doctors, however. Not only are these doctors not promptly diagnosing prisoners or communicating with them, they are also not communicating among themselves. Prisoners' medical concerns and needs are usually getting lost in the shuffle.

If prisoners have a genuine medical problem that requires immediate attention, they are now not provided it until weeks later. Another problem with current medical care is that prisoners have been either removed from receiving their medication, or their medication has been altered without them being diagnosed by the new doctors. A case in point: Prisoner Printess Williams had high blood pressure and was getting a large milligrams (100) dosage to reduce and stabilize his blood pressure. Under Dr. Haddad's supervision this prisoner's blood pressure was reduced significantly. He was taking only 25 milligrams per day and was on the verge of being taken off his medication completely. However, upon the arrival of the new doctors, they increased his dosage to 50 milligrams without even diagnosing him.

Knowing that Dr. Haddad provided excellent medical care, many prisoners cannot understand why he was fired. But based on my inquiries to certain staff who wish to remain anonymous, Dr. Haddad was fired because he was "spending too much money on prisoners' medical care" and "would not falsify medical records when prisoners were unjustifiable assaulted by guards." As a result of his non-compliance, the prison authorities hired a few "good old lap puppies" to attend to prisoners medical concerns and needs. Such hiring practice is a typical trend in Ohio and throughout the U.S. penal system.

STURM: In a recent Monthly Review editorial you agreed with Malcolm X's statement that: "I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that crush[es] people and penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight." Yet, you are also the founder of the newsletter, Compassion. Can you elaborate and explain your position?

HASAN: Compassion is a vehicle that was launched to establish compassion for human beings, not to defend corrupt and immoral institutions. In particular, it was established to foster reconciliation between prisoners and the immediate family members of murdered victims. However, the work we do at Compassion goes beyond this. Whether one is a secondary victim or not, in my day-to-day life I still exhibit compassion, concern and understanding for others. But make no mistake about it, under no circumstance will I condone corrupt institutions and regimes -- the same institutions and regimes that I, and many others, have been victimized by. As long as the words of my mouth have power, and my pen has ink, I will continue to speak out against racism, classism, oppression, persecution, poverty, exploitation, induced failure, cultural and religious deprivation, and the other problems which are affecting humanity.

STURM: In November several hundred Youngstown residents attended the theater play, "The Exonerated," which tells the story of several wrongfully convicted people who were later exonerated. What can people outside of the prison walls do to "fix" the justice system?

HASAN: The problems within our criminal (in)justice system are too numerous and widespread for any individual to tackle alone. Therefore, my advice would be for concerned people to either join or collaborate with one of the established groups working to fix the justice system. There is indeed strength in numbers, and I am a firm believer that an organizational base is the most effective platform from which to operate. Let us not forget that in a democratic society the numerical majority wins, rules and decides. I am also a firm believer that some parts of our criminal (in)justice system can be fixed while other parts of it need to be abolished. Therefore, in order for people outside of the prison walls to "fix" the justice system, they have to set aside their political and theoretical differences and unify their efforts to either reform or abolish the broken justice system. In short, they have to decide what is in the best interest of our civilization. One such group that is entrenched in abolishing a corrupt segment of the justice system is, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP). While other groups focus on lobbying politicians and filing lawsuits to end the death penalty, this group's objective is to end capital punishment by mobilizing opposition to it from the grass roots up. The CEDP believes that progressive change happens when large numbers of people organize themselves and demand change from their leaders. This group has been making a lot of demands and has been achieving a lot of positive benefits.

People desiring to know more about this progressive group, or wishing to see a chapter of it established in their respective city, can log on to its website or can contact them at:

P.O. Box 25730
Chicago, Illinois 60625
Phone: (312) 409-7145

STURM: You were an influential Imam (prayer leader) at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (S.O.C.F.) in Lucasville. Do fellow prisoners at OSP and elsewhere contact you to provide religious advice?

HASAN: Yes, they do contact me seeking both advice and Islamic teachings. Despite being inundated with other obligations and responsibilities, I still manage to provide them with advice, spiritual teachings, as well as moral purification and development. In the event that I'm unable to answer their questions and/or concerns, I will then forward them to my spiritual teacher and guide, Shaikh Ahmad Sadiq Desai, a fully qualified Islamic theologian and Ameer (President) of the Islamic Council of Theologians known as the Mujlisul-Ulama of South Africa, for his guidance and rulings.

STURM: An important point of debate during the federal court hearings was the lack of attorney-client privacy at the OSP, especially for death-row clients. Do you think the prison administration affords enough privacy during meetings with your attorneys? (Can you give specific examples?) Could you describe a typical meeting with an attorney?

HASAN: No, the prison administration does not afford enough privacy for me, or other prisoners, during attorneys' visits. Unfortunately, I am compelled to meet with my attorneys in a non-soundproof booth surrounded by Plexiglas windows. And though this booth is designated for only attorneys' visits, other prisoners and their families can see you talking to your attorneys; and those close by, in separate booths, can actually hear your conversation if they listen closely.

There are only two booths for attorneys at OSP, one on each side of the visiting room, and if there are several prisoners visiting with their attorneys on the same day, then the other attorneys will have to meet their clients in the booths designated for regular visitors. In these regular booths, prisoners as well as their families can clearly hear one another's conversations. My lead attorney and I once had to meet in one of these regular booths, and we both were agitated because we knew our attorney-client privacy was being violated.

STURM: Has OSP implemented any changes to accommodate the need for attorney-client privacy?

HASAN: Yes, but only for the new death-row arrivals. They are accommodated with special conference rooms where their attorney-client privacy is assured. Not only is their attorney-client privacy assured, but they are also accommodated with longer hours to meet with their attorneys (as if our cases have less significance than theirs). This is a violation of our attorney-client privacy, as well as denying us equal protection and treatment under the rule of law.

The prison administration's blatant discrimination can be summed up as follows: Since Judge Gwin is closely monitoring how the new arrivals are being treated, OSP is on its best behavior in its dealings with them. Yet, OSP is deliberately violating all other prisoners' constitutional rights as well as its policy which guarantees attorney-client privacy. In fact, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) policy 59-LEG-01, Inmate Access to Court and Counsel, effective May 15, 2004, unambiguously states, "Attorney visits will take place in a room designated for that purpose where they can talk in private but be subject to visual observation." It also states, "This policy applies to all Department of Rehabilitation and Correction inmates and employees." (Emphasis added)

STURM: Many death-row prisoners have been relocated to OSP during the last several weeks.  Do prison guards treat you and other long-term prisoners with the same amount of respect, more or less, following this move?

HASAN: The other long termers and I are neither in the same blocks nor pods with the death-row prisoners, so I cannot say if we're being treated with the same amount of respect, more or less, as them. But I can say that guards treat us the same way they did before the relocation.

STURM: During the federal hearing in Cleveland, psychology expert Terry Kupers characterized OSP as an "institution dominated by punishment." How does OSP differ from other prisons you have lived in?

HASAN: Punishment is the norm, so I have to totally concur with the expert's assertion that "OSP is an institution dominated by punishment." Leave alone the excessive punishment imposed by the Rule Infraction Board (R.I.B.) for intermediate or occasional major infractions, prisoners are unnecessarily punished for almost every petty infraction, although a verbal reprimand would suffice. A perfect illustration of unnecessary punishment is as follows: If a prisoner is seen passing a stamped envelope, a magazine or an ink pen to another prisoner, the item would be confiscated as contraband and the former prisoner would receive a conduct report for "disobedience of a direct order." When the hearing officer hears the conduct report, the prisoner would be placed on anywhere from 30-90 days of commissary or recreation restriction.

In sum, OSP is set on maintaining complete control and domination over its subjects by way of fear, humiliation and punishment. To the contrary, there would be no punishment in other prisons because there would be a designated time for prisoners to pass and exchange such trivial, yet essential, items.

STURM: Has the level of violence inside the prison increased or decreased since the relocation of death row?

HASAN: The level of violence has increased. In fact, there was a stabbing on death row several weeks ago.

STURM: Have you had a chance to read Keith Lamar's recent book on the Lucasville riot?

HASAN: Yes, I've had the opportunity to read the book, Condemned, and I think he did an excellent job chronicling the craziness that followed the state's decision to pin the bulk of what occurred on the backs of five individuals dubbed "The Lucasville Five." It has indeed been an extremely difficult and uphill battle trying to stay focused and engaged, and I think Keith, in his book, captures the complexity of the situation and provides the reader with an inside view of the insanity we've all been dealing with. Along with Staughton Lynd's book, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising (Temple 2004), Condemned is yet another attempt to bring some balance to one of the worst travesties of justice in recent history. I definitely recommend it as a book to be read. From what I've been told, copies of the book can be obtained by contacting Atty. Staughton Lynd at:

1694 Timbers Court
Niles, OH 44446-3941
Phone: (330) 652-9635
Fax: (330) 652-0171

People should read both books and join us in our efforts to bring our overall situation to the public at large.

STURM: Philadelphia courts have agreed to hear arguments on claims by Pennsylvania death-row prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, that his 1982 trial and state appeal were tainted by constitutional violations.  What were your first thoughts upon hearing this news?

HASAN: The startling news reached me (via an e-mail message) a day following the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, and like many others, I was still in a state of sadness about Tookie's demise. However, the news about Mumia's case brought tears of joy to my heart because I immediately recognized it was a positive development which could ultimately lead to his long-overdue release from captivity. It has been my long-held belief that if Mumia is granted a new trial, he would be exonerated of the charge. Not because of his international notoriety or journalistic contributions to the voiceless, but because of the prosecutorial misconduct and grave miscarriage of justice in his case. So my thoughts were and still are: Mumia Abu-Jamal should be granted his rightful freedom back into society.

STURM: Public opinion polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty, but this is a significant drop from the peak, in 1994, when 80 percent of respondents said they were in favor of capital punishment. What do you think it would take to convince Ohio that the death penalty is a thing of the past?

HASAN: Allah forbid, but for the execution of an innocent Ohioan. Based on the large number of innocent people released from death row (over 117), one can conclude that an innocent person has already been executed in the U.S. This may even be the case in Ohio, but we may never actually know because rarely does a person or organization spend its resources to prove a dead person's innocence. Fortunately, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has promised Stanley "Tookie" Williams' friend, Barbara Becnel, that it will use its resources in proving Tookie's innocence. Equally important, Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia is supporting an investigation into the execution of a possible innocent man, Roger Coleman, which an official ruling is due any day.

Nevertheless, even if it's scientifically proven that Coleman was innocent of killing his sister-in-law, I seriously doubt that would bring an end to capital punishment in Ohio. Like most people in the U.S., most Ohioans would probably say: Well, it didn't happen in our state and besides, we have enough checks and balances in place to assure it doesn't happen in Ohio. But my heartfelt question is, what ever happened to being concerned about our neighbor? Better yet, what ever happened to the mind-set and conviction that "it's better to let 100 guilty persons go free than to kill an innocent person?" Yet, in spite of death-penalty proponents' stance, death-penalty opponents must continue to raise the consciousness of Ohioans that capital punishment in the U.S. is fraught with errors and it kills innocent people.

STURM: What are you currently reading?

HASAN: The Noble Qur'an; The Renegade Writer (Marion Street Press, Inc. 2003) by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell; The Writer's Idea Book (Writer's Digest Book 2000) by Jack Heffron; Grammar the Easy Way (Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 2002) by Dan Mulrey; The Fire Next Time (Vintage International 1993) by James Baldwin; USA TODAY; and catching up on some back issues of Ebony and Jet magazines.

Siddique Abdullah Hasan, # R 130-559
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505-4635

Siddique Abdullah Hasan is the founder of Compassion, a newsletter that supports healing communication between death row prisoners and the families of murdered victims. A death row prisoner himself, Hasan was convicted allegedly playing a leadership role in the 1993 Lucasville prison riots. The riots occured shortly before his scheduled release on parole. Hasan maintains his innocence. Hasan is a co-editor of

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. Some of his work can be seen on the Internet, at Sturm is a co-editor of