Much has been written about what happened during the 1993 Lucasville (Ohio) Prison Uprising, particularly as it pertains to the tragic murder of correctional officer Robert Vallandingham. However, there has remained until recently an untold story within the bigger story that begs some questions: "Why did Keith LaMar wind up on Death Row when records show he was outside on the rec yard during the riot (which took place inside the L-block)? ...when the State of Ohio conceded he had nothing to do with the planning of the uprising? ...when he was never accused of killing the guard?"
In 2013, Keith LaMar spent eight painstaking months, first hammering out his untold story on his typewriter page by page, and then relaying it word by word via telephone to a friend who transcribed it all into a computer. In 268 harrowing pages, LaMar recalls in detail what happened to him during and in the months that followed the eleven-day uprising.
Condemned explains how LaMar found himself targeted by the State of Ohio for crimes with which he had nothing to do. In spite of the absence of any sort of DNA or forensic evidence and under a mountain of suppressed evidence, and with the only witnesses in his trial benefitting from perks in exchange for their testimony (early paroles and dismissed charges), an all-white jury in an all-white, southern Ohio county found LaMar guilty of inmate deaths anyway, and sent him to Ohio’s Death Row. He has been fighting for the truth for the past two+ decades, in spite of being shot down at every judicial level along the way. Condemned talks beautifully about how the love of friends and family and the escape of books and music have helped LaMar find his way back to himself, even while living for decades in the darkness of solitary confinement. Though it may sound preposterous, LaMar has found the richest form of freedom in living his life authentically and deliberately.
February 19, 2014
The story in Keith Lamar's book, Condemned is important for many reasons. It contains not only a unique and essential perspective on the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising, on the horrors of incarceration and the sham of the american justice system, but also an illuminating understanding of the meaning of life, death and the human condition. Keith LaMar spent the better part of his twenty-some years in solitary confinement plumbing the depths of his heart and soul to put these words to paper, and it shows.
I've known Keith since January of 2011, when I first wrote to him after attending a solidarity rally outside Ohio's supermax. He was coming off a victorious 15-day hunger strike while I was tromping through the snow, spontaneously marching on the prison with a banner and half a dozen others. Dissatisfied with staying lawfully off prison property, beyond the ramparts and out of sight of all the prisoners confined within, we marched ineffectually to the driveway, far enough that we could see the narrow windows of the supermax and hope that at least some of the prisoners inside could see us. A guard truck intercepted us and sent us back. Since that day, I've visited and written him dozens of times, I set up and maintain a Web site advocating for amnesty for all the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners. I've toured the country showing The Shadow of Lucasville, a documentary film about the uprising. I've read multiple books and had many dinners with Staughton and Alice Lynd, the most steadfast outside supporters and historians of the uprising.
Despite all of this experience, reading Condemned gave me a new understanding of the Uprising, and the prisoners involved in it. Condemned recounts the often-overlooked experience of the few hundred men who didn't have an active part in the uprising, who were caught off-guard by the eruption and chose to take no part in it. Keith surrendered on the first night and learned new depths of inhumanity that prison officials were capable of.
He also learned new depths of American injustice. The evidence presented against him at trial was absurd, the evidence hidden from the court likely would have exonerated him, but there is no justice for black men in this country. Keith weaves his own tragic discovery of this fact with stories of personal losses, awakening political consciousness, and deepening friendships, both with the other men sentenced to death, and with outside supporters. His depiction is human and illuminating. Condemned offers glimpses of men I've known for years, like Siddique Abdullah Hasan, or Jason Robb. Seeing these men through the eyes of their incarcerated comrade completes a picture that someone like me, who has never done serious time, could not complete on my own. They are all truly remarkable, and their story, their persistent unity and perseverance should be an inspiration to us all.
November 29, 2014
I can't properly put into words the power behind this book. The courage and strength Keith possesses is amazing. Since I am so attached to my own copy of this book, I am purchasing copies for others who have asked to read it.
June 20, 2014
Excellent writing for an unfortunate situation. Stay strong Keith and may the Lord intervene over human ignorance. God bless you.
February 19, 2014
This book will grip you at your very core. Not only does Keith LaMar lay out exactly why he is innocent of the charges for which he has spent 20+ years in solitary confinement on Ohio's death row following the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising, he forces you to grapple with how much State-sanctioned injustice we, as citizens, should be willing to sit back and quietly accept. It's a book that begs to be read in one sitting, full of emotion and the horrific graphic details of life inside prison walls. LaMar's powerful style of writing easily communicates complex and often baffling legal processes; he literally brings your blood to the boiling point through his beautifully sad recollections of torture and broken promises, Constitutional violations and courageous and hope-filled battles. Keith LaMar has somehow remained intact mentally, in spite of years of isolation, always holding on to that one bit of light: his truth that he would rather die proclaiming his innocence, than have taken a deal that included freedom in exchange for an untrue guilty plea. Moreover, Keith teaches you about living–really living in a meaningful way–no matter what walls hold you captive, because love is the only real freedom. You will never be the same after you read this story. I hope you will feel compelled, as I have, to join Keith LaMar to fight for his life.