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Ohio death row: Visitors fight for the right to touch

Published Jan 24, 2008 11:15 PM

More than 60 people came together from various parts of the state to Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) on Jan. 19 to hold a news conference and rally where they argued for contact visits on death row and called for an end to executions. Many there were relatives of prisoners on death row. Some participants brought letters with them addressed to the warden of OSP, where 145 death row prisoners are held.

Relatives protest at the prison.
WW photo: Susan Schneur

Saadiqah Amatullah Hasan, spouse of Siddique Abdullah Hasan, one of the wrongly convicted Lucasville 5, read a letter expressing the hardship for her daughter seeing her father unnecessarily shackled and chained. She described what it would mean to her daughter to have the consolation of Hasan’s loving touch.

The family of a death-sentenced prisoner, James Conway, brought his excellent letter, which was tearfully read by his sister, Jennifer. His young son and daughter had also written letters. Conway has filed litigation on the issue of contact visits, which he believes help with genuine rehabilitation.

Jean White, mother of a man on death row, when contacted by him about this campaign, had collected 30 letters. At the press conference she read a letter that came from a supporter in the U.K. There was also a letter from a supporter in Australia.

Marquita Dennis experienced the tragedy of having her son executed in 2004. She told what it was like to not be able to hold him until just before his execution. She vowed to get active in the movement against the death penalty.

Attorney Staughton Lynd explained that several of the states that allow death row prisoners to have contact visits are in the South, including Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee.

Everyone then proceeded to the entrance to OSP. A prison official was already ready to receive the packets of letters to the warden which were presented ceremoniously by Theresa Lyons of Loved Ones Of Prisoners (LOOP). She made it clear that this was the beginning of a campaign and would be followed up until there was a policy change.

Surrounding a huge banner proclaiming, “Stop the Executions!” demonstrators rallied in the subfreezing weather with signs saying, “A Hug is a Human Right,” “Let a Mother Hold Her Son,” and “Overturn All the Lucasville Convictions.” The chants were on the same themes and others such as, “Rich men walk, poor men die! Equal justice, that’s a lie!” and “All the prisoners should be free! Tear down the walls of OSP!”

The coalition that put together the action was made up of the Cleveland Lucasville 5 Defense Committee, LOOP, Youngstown Prisoners Forum and CURE—Ohio. Other organizations represented at the event were the Campaign to End the Death Penalty-Toledo, Free Siddique Abdullah Hasan Coalition, New Black Panther Party-Cleveland, and Black on Black Crime, Inc.