Hal's appeal to Ohio legislators for Little Rock Reed

                              Hal Pepinsky
                           September 13, 1993


Those who read NWOD entries last spring know of my three-year involvement
with Little Rock Reed, noted prison Native American religious activist and
writer, who last spring became a fugitive from an Ohio Parole Authority
warrant for revocation, issued on orders from the highest ranks of the

Stories of (ex-)prisoners' rights struggles are not happy. The norm is
that an activist will be spurned time and again asking to be heard and
vindicated as a target of unconstitutional brutality. This summer Rock
was convicted in absentia, with a lawyer he unsuccessfully asked to be
dropped from his case, and sentenced to probation for threatening the now-
estranged husband of one of Rock's co-workers. A group of us, including
Lance Kramer and me, submitted a petition to Governor Voinovitch asking
him to consider the evidence that Rock's revocation was unwarranted and
unconstitional. The governor's office referred it back to the OPA, which
refused to review the evidence of its own unconstitutionality until Rock
surrenders himself to them. I hear, too, that publication of the ms. Rock
compiled--The American Indian in the White Man's Prison: A Story of
Genocide--may be in doubt.

On the other hand, when last I heard from him Rock was safe. He has
helped prepare a case for allowing Unitah mixed blood people tribal
enrollment, which has been delivered to a newly appointed native assistant
secretary in the BIA. The co-worker whose husband, I believe, in fact
threatened Rock's life, Dinah Devoto, is giving up her Villa Hills,
Kentucky, city council seat to run for village mayor. I am encouraged
that people I care about are relatively safe and able to carry on civic

Lance Kramer, mentioned in the letter below, suggested a letter to these
legislators, commenting, "...at this point in time, any ship in a storm."
The legislators are those Lance knows to be sympathetic to native rights.
Lance does not believe they already know about Rock's case. He will
follow the letter up by making contact with these legislators himself.
Sometime, somehow, someone who can and will do something will notice Rock
shouldn't be in prison, I hope.

A Cincinnati religious affairs reporter has asked for a copy of this
letter when I send it. It is being faxed to her as it is posted on e-
mail. I have no idea of what to expect next...

                           Indiana University
                          Bloomington, IN 47405

  812-855-1450 (off.), 855-9325 (mess.), 339-4303 (home), 855-5522 (FAX)
                                                       September 1, 1993

Mailed Thursday, September 9--

The Hon. Jeffrey D. Johnson, State Senator
9024 Parkgate Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44108
Senator Johnson

The Hon. Otto Beatty, Jr., Ohio Representative
970 Wellington Blvd.
Columbus, OH 43219
Rep. Beatty

Richard P. Schafrath, State Senator
924 West Main Street
Loudonville, OH 44842
Senator Schafrath

The Hon. Michael Stinziano, Ohio Representative
314 King Avenue
Columbus, OH 43203
Rep. Stinziano

Mailed Monday, September 13--
Ben Espy
43 Hamilton Park
Columbus, OH 43203
Senator Espy

Dear ,

I write you to ask for legislation amending Ohio Revised Code, sec.
2967.07, concerning petitions for clemency, as a matter of protecting the
rights of prisoners generally and the cause of Native American religious
freedom in prisons in particular. The need for this change arises out of
the situation of Little Rock Reed, as described in the enclosed article by
Deborah Garlin, legal counsel to the Aboriginal Ute Nation of the Uintah
and Ouray Indian Reservation. For clarification, or further documentation
or statements, please feel free to contact me or Lance Kramer, vice
president of the Ohio Center for Native American Affairs, 2788 Festival
Lane, Suite 123, Dublin, OH 43017, 614-766-7321, FAX 798-1935.

Little Rock is a fugitive from a warrant for reimprisonment issued by the
Ohio Parole Authority. The warrant was ordered out of Columbus rather
than left to the discretion of the parole officer and supervisor review as
provided by ORC, sec. 2967.07. Governor Voinovich refuses to consider a
petition to him Lance Kramer and I co-signed--entitled PETITION FOR
the Ohio Parole Authority makes a recommendation. The Ohio Parole
Authority refuses to make a recommendation until Little Rock surrenders to
their custody. Meanwhile, when the OPA rescinded Little Rock's scheduled
parole in February 1991 solely on grounds he "talks about his
constitutional rights," the courts refused to consider whether it was
unconstitutional to keep Little Rock in prison for this reason until after
the OPA had already decided to release him themselves, which could be
fifteen more years if Little Rock lived that long.

It was blind luck that Little Rock Reed had not surrendered to the OPA and
been returned to the prison in Lucasville when the riot broke out in his
old unit last spring. Little Rock was one of two Native American
religious activists and writ writers at Lucasville. The other one, Dennis
Weaver, died violently in the riot in circumstances the Ohio prison
authorities refuse to make public. Minimally, Little Rock could have been
expected to lead the prisoners in their negotiations during the riot, and
now to stand charged with murder for having been in the wrong place at the
wrong time. Already, Little Rock has been in Lucasville more than twice
as long as someone with his offense and prior record normally would. His
incarceration was extended initially in 1986 when he went on a fast on
behalf of his right to worship with the spiritual adviser of his choice.

I don't know where Little Rock is now, for his protection and mine. I do
know he was safe when he last contacted me, and I very much hope this
person, whom after three years of working together I consider a brother,
will not die or be caged away again for defending his rights, the rights
of native peoples, and the rights of other prisoners as he has so
generously done. Meanwhile, as matters stand, the Ohio Parole Authority
seems as determined as ever, law be damned, to nail Little Rock and
silence him once again by whatever means they can manage. They have
rescinded his parole simply for talking about such issues, let alone
failed to address issues of violation of his most fundamental human
rights. Neither the courts nor the Governor will intervene. Where courts
and governors fear to tread, so do lawyers, which means that as an
indigent Little Rock cannot obtain aggressive legal representation
anytime, anywhere, and he is left to act pro se. I ask you to consider
giving the Governor the statutory authority he requires to consider the
unconstitutionality and statutory illegality of the Ohio Parole
Authority's continuing determination to keep Little Rock in prison, and
the baselessness of the OPA's latest attempt to revoke his parole. The
buck on dealing with these issues has to stop some place. The Ohio Parole
Authority needs some kind of accountability, some form of independent
appeal from its actions.

I have been involved in prisoners' rights issues for over twenty years as
a criminologist (and from 1968 to 1991 was an active member of the Ohio
Bar; I grew up in the Columbus area, my parents and roots are still
there). The national political climate is such that prisoners and
probationers/parolees are virtually defenseless against even being killed
simply for claiming rights. This is particularly true of prisoner
activists of color, and Native American activists receive the worst
treatment of all. It is well documented that prisoners who try to speak
to any outsider about what happens inside prisons routinely suffer
extended incarceration, isolation, beatings and have a remarkably short
life expectancy. Authorities act as though the only problem that matters
is that in cases of doubt we need to lock up more people longer, and be
tougher on them while they are there. I know of no clearer illustration
of the fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely than today's cavalier
disregard for prisoners' human rights. The media scarcely seem interested
in investigating the possibility of prisoner mistreatment, as in the
matter of how Dennis Weaver died in Lucasville.

Prisoners know this. Over the past three years Little Rock has fed me
enough material to make me pretty well aware of the 1984! regime at
Lucasville, and I share his assessment that the prisoners rioted simply
because they felt that otherwise no one would listen to their very serious
human rights grievances. I find it remarkable that the prisoners remained
so peaceful for more than two years while the prison administration
seemingly did everything in its power--such as forcing black and white
prisoners who hated and feared each other to cell together--to make the
prisoners mad and violent toward one another. In Little Rock's case the
Ohio Parole Authority has decided to show Little Rock that he has to live
in that regime as long as they want, and had better shut up about it if he
wants out alive. The parole and prison authorities make quite a team.

There's a double irony in the OPA's claims that Little Rock is dangerous
and violent. One irony is that when they rescinded his parole, they
themselves recorded that his institutional behavior was spotless. The
other is that prisoners riot when they give up believing that the Little
Rock Reeds and Dennis Weavers among them give them non-violent channels
for having their grievances heard and responded to. I don't think prison
management is part of the debt Little Rock owes to society, but I do
believe that his presence among prisoners and assistance to them made them
less likely to riot, and that the riot would less likely have taken place
there last spring had he been back in the population.

There is another irony in the OPA's claim that among parolees, who
routinely technically violate one or more of their many parole conditions,
Little Rock deserves to be sent back to prison as a recidivist. The
prison conditions I have described--found not only in Ohio but across the
country--leave prisoners as angry upon release as they have been made in
prison. They are mad that their rights have been flaunted, and mad that
no court, newspaper, lawyer, governor--anyone who might do something about
it--cares to recognize their plight. We have just had two police shot--
one dead, one in critical condition--in Indianapolis by madder'n'hell ex-
prisoners. Most prisoners don't know how to write or use words. They
resort to guns and other physical violence. Little Rock is more aware
than most of conditions across the prison population. He is mad and
afraid too. But since assuming the spiritual path of Native Americans, he
has renounced violence and uses words instead. By the time I met him he
was already an internationally renowned prison writer among criminologists
and other prison rights activists. He understands the law better than
most lawyers I know, and writes and speaks powerfully. He uses words, not

I am political realist enough to be aware that authorities in any regime
are inclined to be more threatened by the eloquence of what critics say
than by the guns others might shoot. I consider free speech and freedom
of religious expression morally sacred, but even on practical grounds we
ought to protect messengers like Little Rock Reed, lest prisons continue
to explode in violence and prisoners who don't have Little Rock's flair
for words take their mistreatment out on us in the communities into which
they are released. The violations of human rights, which Little Rock
stands to be further punished for talking about, ultimately threaten us
all. This is no time to be killing our messengers; it is high time for us
to offer non-violent, legal recourse to people whose rights are trashed as
thoroughly as Little Rock's have been. All-time world-record prison
populations continue to grow; the regimes there continue to deteriorate;
the repercussions of failure even to notice that prisoners' rights need
legal protection can only grow more serious unless we face the issue.

I'm open to your suggestions. Somehow the Ohio Parole Authority needs to
know that it cannot trample prisoners' and parolees' rights with impunity.
I think providing an appeal to the governor might be as good a place as
any to begin to convey that message. That of course is no guarantee of
how the governor would exercise his power, but at least someone in a
position of authority--legislators in this case--would finally take a
stand that prisoners' and parolees' human rights complaints deserve a fair
hearing. How can you help, and how can I?

Thanks for listening.


                                          Harold E. Pepinsky
                                           Criminal Justice, and
                                           East Asian Languages
                                            and Cultures
                                          Chair, Div. of Critical
                                           American Society of Criminology



cc: Lance Kramer, Claudia Aylor