Hunger Strike UPDATE
KEITH'S LETTER TO SUPPORTERS AS HE BEGINS HIS HUNGER STRIKE TODAY - FEBRUARY 21, 2023
The idea behind putting out a newsletter was to update and educate people around the particulars of my unfolding situation. We thought it would be interesting to invite people along on this weird and sometimes terrifying journey in order that you all might get a glimpse of what’s going on within and around me as I, “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The goal was to write something at least once a month, while in the midst of actively waging a battle to save my life. In this, there has been a strange juxtaposition of being and seeing, of “going through” something while, at the same time, trying to bear witness to the unrelenting ups and downs of experience, which has placed me at the center of a raging storm.
It was Isaac Newton who discovered and declared: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the current context, this means that every time I’ve done something to elevate the profile of my case, the powers that be have tried to find a way to diminish the strength of my spirit in order to rob me of the desire to continue with myself. It hasn’t worked, but they have tried.
Over the past several years, and especially since the release of the FREEDOM FIRST album last February, I have been the subject of ongoing harassment, what I would call low-grade antagonisms, that, taken cumulatively, are meant to lure me into an “equal and opposite reaction,” that would create the justification to strip me of the ability to fight for my life.
In 2018, I was a claimant in a lawsuit (Hanrahan v. State of Ohio) that was centered around my being granted the opportunity to do on-camera interviews with the media, and the courts, somewhat surprisingly, came back with a dubious ruling that cited my current security status (about which I can do nothing) as Cause to curtail my First Amendment right to Free Speech. In lieu of completely circumventing the Constitution, they allowed for written and/or verbal interactions (via the telephone) with the media, which forced me to find different ways to tell my story.
In response to this thinly-veiled attempt to silence me, I took to using the phone as a weapon. doing “Talk-ins,” at various colleges around the country as a way to re-try my case in the Court of Public Opinion (https://www.keithlamar.org/events). I’ve written a book, CONDEMNED, in 2013, for the same reason: to get the word out. Not long after, a documentary by the same name (produced by Barbara Wolf and Lorry Swain) was released.
Slowly but surely, my story began to pick up momentum, resulting in more exposure and more invitations to speak and say. One day, in 2020, I received a letter from a reporter named Samantha Michaels (MOTHER JONES), who wanted me to hold forth about my 30-year stint in solitary confinement, believing my experience would somehow help those, who because of Covid, were now being forced to shelter in place. Our hour-long conversation became an article, and that article went semi-viral, bringing into my circle the very people I needed to start a fire.
While all of this was happening, I started experiencing the low-grade antagonisms I mentioned above, bite-sized irritants that, in the beginning, almost escaped my notice; I sensed, more than saw, them: dropped calls in the middle of an interview (coincidence or clue?); a long-planned visit cancelled without notice (we “didn’t have it in the appointment book”); shake-downs at 3 o’clock in the morning; so on and so forth.
After the release of the album, in the advent of more people becoming aware of my case, the administration began supplying fellow prisoners with recording devices to see if they could elicit a confession out of me (out of nowhere: "I heard you massacred a lot of people in the riot"). It has gotten so bad now, I don’t even dare talk to any of the men around me. The only refuge I have had, until recently, is the visiting room, the place where I meet and speak with my friends and family.
These days, I can’t enter this space without being accosted by one of the guards telling me what I can and can no longer do. They have now devised what I refer to as "the KEITH LAMAR RULES," that is, rules that have been recently put into place, that specifically reflect on my interactions and mode of being: e.g., toddlers can no longer sit on the knee of the offender; offender can no longer carry a handkerchief in pocket (since I’m slated to be executed, I’ve taken to carrying a handkerchief to wipe away the many tears that fall from the faces of my family and friends); offender can no longer wear prayer beads (worn as a form of spiritual protection), or religious rings (protection), etc. And the list goes on…
The day after my case was featured on the podcast THE REAL KILLER, I returned from a visit to find that my cell had been ransacked beyond recognition. It took three hours for me to put everything back where it belonged. Taken separately, none of these things would rise to a level of concern, but I’m in the midst of an escalation, and fear that the longer I refuse to react, the more desperate the efforts to sabotage my campaign will become (like the sudden "discovery" of contraband in my cell: weapons or drugs).
I’m trying to stave off an attack, trying to keep the focus on my case and not shift it to an equal and opposite (over) reaction: violence. It feels as if I’m being pushed into a corner, and starving myself is the only way I know how to deal with it non-violently. I am currently on hunger strike and will refuse all meals until the proper attention is paid to the unnecessary stripping of privileges and ongoing harassment.
If you have a few moments to spare in your day, please call on my behalf:
• OSP Warden Charmaine Bracy is out this week, so ask for Deputy-Warden Thomas and/or Chief of Special Operations (Hunger Strike Coordinator) Geron: (330) 743-0700
• Regional Assistant Director Eric Lyle: (614) 752-1736
• Prison Director Annette Chambers-Smith’s Executive Assistant Melissa Adkins: (614) 752-1153
Thanking you in advance,
Note: Below, after Keith's letter to the ODRC Director, you will find a script to guide your call. If you feel overwhelmed by the information, feel free to just stick to the main points... or just offer general support for Keith's protest... that's perfectly fine. The extra information provided below is intended to give you a bit of context if the person engages you in a conversation (they likely won't). Call twice if you can, or three times. Ask your friends to call! Applying consistent pressure is the only way the powers that be will be forced to respond justly to Keith's demands!
KEITH'S LETTER TO ODRC DIRECTOR ANNETTE CHAMBERS-SMITH
20 February 2023
Dear Director Chambers-Smith:
My name is Keith LaMar, and I am currently incarcerated at the Supermax facility in Youngstown, Ohio. By the time this reaches you (if it reaches at all), I will be on hunger strike. I'm writing to personally make you aware of the fact that I am being mistreated and deprived of privileges that were previously promised and upheld by prior administrations. As you may or may not know, I have been housed here at the Supermax facility for twenty-five years now; this, in addition to being sentenced to death and without the expectation of receiving a meaningful review to consider my reduction to a less punitive placement.
In 2011, after eighteen years of being unable to touch another human being, I was granted full-contact visits and "extended privileges" consistent with other death-row prisoners who're housed in Chillicothe, Ohio. The granting of said privileges was typically accompanied by written certification to mark the date of implementation, copies of which were given and stored among my personal belongings for future verification (should the need arise).
Over the ensuing years (and especially after the appointment of a new warden), I have had to rely on said documentation to verify what privileges I am entitled to, and, on more than one occasion, have had to undergo additional hunger strikes to have previously approved privileges restored.
Here recently, documentation of previously granted privileges have been taken from the cell during searches, leaving me without the ability to verify what was previously agreed upon. For instance, after the hunger strike in 2011, I was granted approval to purchase a necklace w/ religious medallion, prayer beads, watch, and a religious ring (as stipulated in ARs pertaining to Personal Property), all of which I was allowed to wear on visits. That documentation has since disappeared from my files, and a new post order has been recently issued to limit what I can wear.
Additionally, I am forced to wear a new and tortuous pair of shackles during visits, which, because of an extended locking mechanism that cuts into the skin, causes undue pain. I have repeatedly brought this to the attention of visiting room staff and escort officers, who have all been advised by the current Major (Mr. Ifft) that said restraints are not to be used, a directive that has apparently been ignored without reprimand or revocation.
Also, though I am escorted to and from visits in full restraints, it is now being required that escorting officers apply hands-on supervision, a practice that was previously suspended but reimplemented without cause or notice. I have done nothing to warrant this additional violation of my person.
Furthermore, the visiting room itself has been turned into a hostile environment, with rules changing on an almost weekly basis, and with my visitors being constantly accosted by visiting room staff to either reprimand them for violating nonexistent policies or to humiliate us by exerting their authority. It's to the point where I actually dread going on visits.
Lastly, as it relates to protocol dealing with hunger strikes, the policy does not permit placement in TPU, which requires a guilty finding in R.I.B. However, in complete contradistinction to the ARs, prisoners are being placed in punitive housing and stripped of their property and privileges without due process, all while seeking to undertake a peaceful protest. Surely, you do not condone such blatant violations of policy?!
I am someone who lives with an imminent execution date looming in the not-so-distant future. As indicated by the lack of conduct reports I've received over the past decade, I am not someone who causes trouble or seeks to garner undue attention from staff. My complaints have fallen on deaf ears, and I resort to this drastic measure only after months of multiple failed attempts to reach a reasonable resolution. I am asking you to please intervene and restore your professed mandate of safe and sound practices. Thank you.
SCRIPT to GUIDE PHONE CALLS in SUPPORT of KEITH LAMAR
(with a bit of context to help)
Note: Try to engage the person who takes your call, even if your request to be transferred to Warden Bracy or Director Chambers-Smith results in being told they are unavailable. Ask them their name and job title. Please maintain a respectful tone, as we don't want to harass or threaten; we want to simply stand up for and with Keith, and in doing so disrupt their work cycle to the point that they have to respond. The person you speak with may act as though you are the only person who has called, pretend there is no hunger strike happening, focus on a point of minutia (so far they're making this all about his watch, which is NOT the point... it's about them not staying true to their agreements), or might even say Keith's issues aren't real (that will be a lie). It benefits them to diminish our efforts if we believe Keith has no support or basis for being on strike (that's also a lie; these are well-documented justifications). We need to keep up constant and plentiful pressure; please know that each call piles up! Feel free to report back your experience at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Warden Bracy / Director Chambers-Smith:
A man under your care at O.S.P., Mr. Keith LaMar, is on hunger strike. He is someone who is fighting for his life–he is slated for execution in just a few short months. As you have been made aware, his rights continue to be violated by staff members who are apparently disgruntled that his 30 years in solitary confinement haven't been hard enough. The more his public profile is elevated, the more they seem committed to making his life unnecessarily difficult. I'm calling to lend my support to Keith. He is very serious about the dignity of his life and I have no doubt he will take this hunger strike seriously as well. Please meet his demands.
He's asking that you:
• Adhere to the agreements reached during previous hunger strikes, which include being granted "extended privileges" consistent with other death-row prisoners who're housed in Chillicothe, Ohio.
• Return the memos regarding agreements reached during past hunger strikes which were removed from his personal property in unnecessary cell searches. Stop taking his property without cause.
• Keith has the right to purchase and wear a necklace w/ a religious medallion, prayer beads, watch, and a religious ring (as stipulated in ARs pertaining to Personal Property). He has already gone on hunger strike for this right, and has worn these for his personal spiritual protection for years, as can be documented in many, many photographs. Your previous administration agreed that ODRC would not take financial responsibility if these were "lost or stolen" by one of your staff members while Keith is up at a visit, and the agreement was therefore to let him wear them at all times, and simply have the transport guards notate the items. This has worked for years and no problems have presented themselves that were caused by Keith or his visitors. On many occasions recently, his visits have been interrupted and he's been told he must remove and hand over one or more items of jewelry (one day it's his ring, the next it's his bracelet, then his watch, etc., and quite often the guards seem to be making these orders up as they go, unable to agree with each other as to which it should be). This causes unnecessary stress to Keith, who then must worry that these items might get lost or damaged. Further, Keith holds spiritual beliefs about the sanctity of these items, which includes the way they are handled (and by whom) and the protection they afford him while he wears them.
• Establish with your staff members that their job is not to bait Keith with constant micro-aggressions/low-grade antagonisms. His long record of good behavior (as verified by Lieutenant Brown on his most recent visit on 2/17) should speak for itself. Being about "rehabilitation" should mean that staff members are coached to reward good behavior instead of finding ways to demonstrate their own pettiness by trying to lure Keith into a reaction. To that end, stop interrupting visits and harassing Keith and his visitors with constant rule changes. One day it's an issue with him carrying a handkerchief, the next his eye glass case, etc. He subjects himself to TWO strip searches per visit, after all; Keith isn't the source of O.S.P.'s drug problems. Interrupting his visits and intimidating people/treating them like they are criminals is unprofessional. Make it stop.
• Stop transporting Keith with ankle restraints that have an extended locking mechanism that cuts into his skin. This is unnecessarily painful.
• Stop transporting Keith using hands-on supervision. He is shackled and cuffed, and with no justification based on threat or violence, there is no need to further dehumanize him by having staff grip his arms. COs were given orders by the Major quite some time ago to discontinue the use of these tools of torture.
• Keith has been told that escalating to a hunger strike will result in him being placed in TPU with the loss of his earned privileges (including communication and full-contact visits, etc.). Keith has had no R.I.B. infractions in the past 18 months (for many years, actually) to justify this placement. The ODRC Hunger Strike Policy, RULE/CODE REFERENCE: ORC 510.01, NUMBER: 68-MED-17, dated March 1, 2021 and signed by Director Chambers-Smith, does not stipulate sanctions against prisoners undertaking peaceful protest through hunger strike. To the contrary: it focuses on the ethical medical supervision of hunger strikers. We expect you to attend to Keith's medical needs thoroughly during his hunger strike and to discontinue the threat of punitive measures for acting well within his right to peacefully protest the abuses he is suffering. He must not be cut off from communication with his loved ones.
AFTER YOU CALL, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Share and Retweet our Hunger Strike Announcement/Call to Action on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages! Remember to include the hashtag #justiceforkeithlamar across all platforms and tag new people who might help us spread the word. Each of your shares helps tremendously - thank you!