Wednesday, April 11, 2012

RickOHIO Revisited: Lucasville Prison Riot Revisted

This is a web column written before blogs were blogs at, a website begun in 1995.  This column was originally published in April 1998 to mark the then five-year anniversary of the Lucasville Prison Riot.  It was updated in 2002 with a poem provided to me for publication.  I'm glad the poem gets published again along with the column on this, the 19th anniversary of the Lucasville Prison Riot.

Lucasville Prison Riot Revisited
by RickOHIO

April 1998 [UPDATED JANUARY 2002]

April 11, 1993, Easter, was the start of a prison riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Eleven days later the siege ended after a guard and nine inmates had been murdered. In bringing a close to the riot, the state negotiators accepted a 21-point list of grievances with the promise to review them for making improvements.

Five years have passed since this dubious event, the nation's longest prison uprising.

The Steubenville Rotary Club recently heard a speech from one of the Ohio State Highway Patrol investigators, Sgt. Randy McGough, who was on the scene during the 11-day siege and who spent three years in Lucasville to interview inmates and gather evidence for the successful prosecution of criminal charges. McGough, of the Massillon post, relayed the following facts of interest:

The inmates, at the point of the siege, fit three categories--those who wanted to escape the cell block (many did), those who wanted to prevent others from escaping the cell block, and those who wanted to stay.

The inmates never expected the siege to be as big or, especially, as long as it was. They never thought they could successfully take over the entire cell block.

The main reason for the siege was a faction of Muslim inmates who, supposedly for religious reasons, had refused to submit to shots for TB. Word was out that a prison "lock down" was planned by the prison administration to bring about the TB shots by force. The inmates hoped to make a point by rioting which would bring the Highway Patrol into the institution. The trusted the patrol more than the prison administration.

The siege escalated when inmates began killing other inmates who were thought to be snitches. Seven inmates were killed the first day and none killed until two more were killed on the last day.

The exact location in the cell block of guard hostages was not known by the negotiators during the siege. The hostages were dressed like prisoners so as to make it nearly impossible to tell a guard from a prisoner if the building were attacked by the National Guard.

Military training that many inmates had, combined with the fact they they were more knowledgeable of the overall prison operation than the prison administration was, gave the inmates an edge over their captors. For example, bed sheets were draped under in-ceiling ventilation openings to prevent materials from being dropped into the cell block from the roof.

Two inmates were killed after the settlement had been reached. The body of one of them was uncovered by the Highway Patrol while they were gathering evidence the next day.

The inmates managed the eleven days in much the same way the prison normally was managed. They divided into blocks, had infirmaries, assigned guard duties, and locked up their worst offenders. For example, those with medical backgrounds were assigned to the medical unit.

The news media indirectly aided the inmates by giving them an advantage by showing live video of the rooftops of the institution where SWAT team members had been trying to hide for a possible assault. (See this well-written review of the media coverage by the Columbia Journalism Review.)

The investigators gathered more than 4,000 pieces of evidence, 7,000 photos, over 120 videos (most taken during the siege), and countless hours of audio tape. They conducted over 1,200 interviews.

A good portion of the evidence used to backup inmate testimony was audio tape obtained from microphones planted in the tunnels underneath the cell block during the siege.

A video tape of the cell block after the siege and after the inmates had vacated showed litter-strewn hallways and cells and including writings on the wall saying such things as "Black and White Together" and "M.A.S.H. SOCF" for the make-shift hospital that had been set up.

Robert Vallandingham, the guard killed during the siege, was not among those hated by the inmates. The OSHP could not determine any personal vendetta against Vallandingham to justify his being targeted for death.

Inmates who later provided testimony which resulted in the death penalty convictions were given the option of being protected from retaliation by being transferred to prisons in other states with their paperwork under seal.

The state successfully prosecuted 48 of the 50 cases presented in court. On one case, the state plea bargained after a hung jury. Five of the convictions were death penalty convictions.

Several of the inmates involved in the siege were also involved in a riot at the Mansfield prison in the Fall of 1997.


The following is a poem written by C.H. Harrington and provided to in January 2002 with permission.

A Town Called Lucasville
by C.H. Harrington

Few had even heard the name.
Fewer still had seen
the tiny village on the road,
amid hills lush and green.

The old Scioto River
winds lazily through town.
People kind and friendly ask,
"Why don't y'all come on down.

On Easter Sunday morning,
The sun shined through the gray.
People filled the church pews,
for Resurrection Day.

The words conveyed a message,
of peace and joy and hope,
but tragedy laid waiting,
to test their powers to cope.

For a thunderbolt of violence,
at the prison on the hill,
would halt the celebrations in
a town called Lucasville.

Before this nightmare ended,
our hearts would fill with pain,
and many good men's families
stand praying in the rain.

The officers responded
to a call to end a fight.
They bravely did their duty.
Some were not home that night.

Eight men taken hostage,
with death threats all around,
and one severely injured,
Left lying on the ground.

Their families, wives and children,
gathered praying on the hill,
to keep a fearful vigil in
a town called Lucasville.

The prison was a cruel place,
with an atmosphere of hate,
and trust and faith were hard to find
behind the iron gate.

The prison's top officials met
to ponder through the night,
some way to open dialogue
with inmates holed up tight.

The warden knew his mission,
to free his men alive,
and hold his team together,
so the prison would survive.

The warden is a big man,
and not in size alone,
and he worked beside the others,
with a heart not made of stone.

They had no way to know then
what might lie ahead,
or even if the gallant men
lie injured, ill or dead.

One easy way would have been
to simply storm the wall.
All feared the captive officers
would be the first to fall.

When the talks at last began,
all were thrilled to hear,
that the captive officers
had no need to fear.

But soon these hopes were shattered,
when from that prison hell,
six dead inmates' bodies,
killed by the others fell.

The hearts of those who waited,
once again knew chill,
for a sign was hung to threaten
an officer they'd kill.

The hours passed by so slowly,
as we waited held by dread,
that we would see an officer
thrown out cold and dead.

Once again the prayers arose,
from a crowd now deathly still,
for the shadow of the Reaper lurked
in a town called Lucasville.

Our gravest fears were realized,
when now we came to see
officer Vallandingham's life
was taken needlessly.

One family's hopes were broken
their loved one's life to save,
but in their hearts they'll always know
that he'd walked tall and brave.

Perhaps God in His Wisdom
saw fit to call him home,
to have a brave new angel
guard His Celestial Throne.

The talks were now more thoughtful,
for both sides seemed to see
that there had been a deadly shift
and feared what now might be.

The governor sent forces,
a show of governmental might,
but all still hoped and prayed
for an end without a fight.

The troops and troopers stood,
to guard the little town.
Each day the worried families watched
from sunup to sundown.

The weary state officials
talked on through day and night
to find a peaceful answer,
but none was clear in sight.

Wearing black and yellow ribbons,
back to back we stood,
and formed a team together
to do the best we could.

Though anger raged within us,
we let cooler heads prevail,
and as the talks went on and on,
we prayed they would not fail.

Finally a breakthrough came.
One man now was free.
This gave us all a new found hope
that all we soon would see.

More talks were held,
agreements reached.
An end was now in sight.
The gulf was finally breached.

Another officer was freed,
to leave a lonely five,
but finally now hope was held,
these would emerge alive.

At last one night the word went out,
a pact had now been made.
The long, hard talks had brought success,
release without a raid.

One by one they came in sight,
as families cheered with glee.
After a long eleven days,
the rest were finally free.

Hearts were high, spirits light,
but solemn thoughts hung still,
for now one gallant soul lie dead
in a town called Lucasville.

For those of us who knew those days,
filled with worry and with fright,
let us learn that time is short
and to hold each other tight.

We must not grow complacent.
We must perform our work with skill,
and we must stand behind each other,
as we did in Lucasville.

For whose to know what other day
the winds might bring a chill,
and we might all need the lessons learned in
a town called Lucasville.

Dedicated to the Memory of:
Correction Officer Robert Vallandingham
Who Gave His Life in Service to:
The People of the State of Ohio
at the
Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
Lucasville, Ohio
April 15, 1993
May He Rest in Peace

Also dedicated to all the other brave and tireless people who helped in any way they could, if only with their prayers and yellow ribbons, to bring this tragedy to an end.

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