News article about the The Indiana Prisoner Rebellion of 1985

The Indiana Prisoner Rebellion of 1985

Interview by Too Black, transcription by Ryan Mills

Transcript

On February 1st, 1985 guards at the Indiana Reformatory (now Pendleton Correctional Facility) sparked a rebellion with the brutal beating of defenseless inmate Lincoln Love aka Comrade Lokmar Abdul-Wadood. In a successful attempt to save his life, a politicized group of prisoners took several hostages including guards and a politician and occupied a cell block in the Indiana State Prison for 15 hours. According to a lawsuit filed at the time, the prison guards, armed with billy clubs and tear gas, “maliciously held him down and unmercifully stomped and kicked the inmate all over his body and hit the inmate upon and about his upper body and head with nightsticks.” 

Of course, this beating was no anomaly. Previous iterations of similar brutality had occurred inside the prison. Black inmates were regularly targeted for their political activity. However, this particular vicious incident ended rebellion. Inmates were rebelling against what we now know was a white supremacist gang of guards called the Sons of Light

This was more than retaliation. Despite how the story has been spun by the Indiana Department of Corrections and their complimentary bourgeois media, this was a demand for humane conditions and respect. Inmates demanded “an end to censorship of letters and media, the ability to be politically active without reprisal, the establishment of a minimum wage for inmates, and the establishment of a grievance committee for prisoners to safely bring forward issues to the DOC without fear of intimidation, threats, beatings, or any other punishment by guards.”

I had the privilege of interviewing two of the leaders in the ’85 rebellion: John C Cole, aka Balagoon and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter. Because of their involvement in the rebellion both received severe sentences, 84 and 142 years respectively. Now 37 years later, these two political prisoners are still fighting for liberation. The state has not broken them nor the movement they represent. 

We begin the conversation with Balagoon. In his own words he describes vividly the environment during the early 80s leading up to the rebellion, the events that inspired it, and the aftermath. 

*(Embed Audio)*

Too Black: “Hello? How you doing, Balagoon?”

Balagoon: “I’m alright man, maintaining, keeping it real.”

Too Black: “That’s good to hear, man.”

Balagoon: “What’s your name?”

Too Black: “I go by the name ‘Too Black.’ I’m a poet and journalist. I just heard about your story recently and I wanted to get it on record the best I could so we can get that out there and hopefully get you out of there.”

Balagoon: “I appreciate it.”

Too Black: “I just want to say that I appreciate what you’re doing, I appreciate you staying strong in there.”

Balagoon: “Where you from?”

Too Black: “Initially, I’m from Muncie, Indiana but I’m in Indianapolis.”

Balagoon: “You never been inside have you?”

Too Black: “No, but my brother was incarcerated though.”

Balagoon: “You heard about the plight but never been inside, that’s a good thing.”

Too Black: “Yeah, he’s out now but I definitely lived through that with him.”

Balagoon: “Aye bro, feel free to ask me anything, I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge.”

Too Black: “I know we don’t have much time but could you please give us an idea of what the environment was like before the prison rebellion of ’85 and also give us a bit of context of who you are?”

Balagoon: “Let’s start with who I am first. I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1959 November the 17th. Born and raised there. I started getting in trouble when I was about 9, kind of like got addicted to that lifestyle and went from juvenile to boy school, from boy school to jail, and from jail to prison.  I met a lot of people that influenced my life negatively and you know, positively. When I was about 18, I began a robbery and got shot and captured, an attempted robbery and that’s what sent me to Michigan City. I arrived in the Michigan City prison, an Indiana State prison, I arrived there in December of 1979 and when I got to Michigan City, it was a lot better than the Indiana Reformatory, you really didn’t have to go to the reformatory, the city was different in a sense that it was wide open and brothers speaking a lot of consciousness. When I first got there, I was a knucklehead, and a lot of the older cats were reaching for me trying to get me to educate myself. To change my way of thinking and seeing the world and eventually they did get me there. Look at it in a different light, but it took a while. I was messing around with, doing dumb shit for 5 and half years, and then after 5 and half years there, I embarked upon self-education, self-discovery and political resistance. We got politicized, we started educating ourselves, reading about our history and culture and all the “isms.” And it was in that context, after I developed that mindset that I got transferred to Pendleton in ’84. When I went down to Pendleton in ’84, we got down there, it was whole different environment.”

Too Black: “You said it was worse than Michigan?”

Balagoon: “Yeah, Pendleton was worse than Michigan in terms of how the police were related to the prisoners. It was like a plantation mentality down there. When we got down there it was like going to Mississippi because they didn’t have no qualms about calling you ‘nigger.’ Out of all the staff and correctional and prison officers down there, there were about four Black officers. Everybody else was white. They had been there for 20-30 years, so the mindset they had towards us was straight from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, right?”

Too Black: “Right, right,”

Balagoon: “But we were a new breed of prisoners. We had been politicized. We understood colonialism. We just had a whole different mindset than what everybody else was going for, we wasn’t going for. And that probably led to them sending my brother out, Lincoln Love, and beating them like they did. Now, the incident about the beating happened in the lockup unit known as the Maximum Strength Unit, at the Indiana reformatory on February the first, 1985. It was more about the conditions, and recreation.”

Too Black: “To my understanding there were beatings before this day, right?”

Balagoon: “Yeah, yeah… it was a common practice for them to beat prisoners down, in particular Black prisoners. Every now and then it would be a white prisoner if he showed too much solidarity with us. For the most part, it was always the Black prisoner or the New African prisoner who was preaching consciousness. As a result of preaching consciousness, we were also filing a lot of petitions, filing a lot of (law) suits, and we were still in chains, so we were resilient. For those of us who caught under that every time they got a chance, they would single us out. And this is the backdrop in which they singled out my guy (Lincoln Love) on that particular morning. He was outspoken, he was a brilliant brother, and he couldn’t be intimidated. So, they made an example out of him to make the rest of us get in line. Unfortunately, all it did was stir up a lot. As a result, we ended up taking over the prison.”

Too Black: “What did they do to your comrade? What did the guards do to your comrade?”

Balagoon: “It was early in the morning. For two days, they didn’t pass out cleaning supplies and the dudes wanted to clean themselves up. They refused to pass out cleaning supplies so one thing led to another. So, because an individual was protesting about not getting clean supplies, they took away an individual’s rec (recreational time). And when they took away an individual’s rec, they started shaking their bars, throwing in their cells, stuff like that, creating a ruckus on the unit. So, you know… they were securing themselves. They wasn’t a threat to nobody. Everybody was locked in their cell, so the COs came on the unit and they locked the unit down and they decided that they were going to specifically target Lincoln Love on that particular day, aka Lokmar Abdul-Wadood. After they subdued him, handcuffed him and shackled him, they beat him damn near to a pulp with a solid oak club. Once they beat him, they drug him out of the cell then they drug up down the range for all the other prisoners to see.”

Too Black: “Oh wow!”

Balagoon: “They thought he was dead. They thought he was dead! At the same time, as they are dragging him down the range, in front of all these prisoners’ cells, they were telling them, ‘when we get through killing him, you next.’So, brothers was hollering and screaming out the window for help, right? Go get Balagoon, go get… ‘they killing us in here, they killing us in here.’ That was the context in which I came to their aid. I wasn’t on lock up at this particular time. I had been in population maybe two months and every now and them I come up to the lockup unit as their advocate. That was to represent cats who had to go in front of disciplinary hearing board. On that particular morning when I tried to go to that unit because I was supposed to been representing somebody, I couldn’t get through they had the curtain pulled. When they pulled the curtain, the curtain symbolizes that they back there beating somebody.”

Too Black: “Ohhh…”

Balagoon: “… So I left, but as I was leaving, I hear the brothers screaming out the window “go get Balagoon.” So, another little brother named Kevin Murphy ran and got me and told me what had happened. So, when he came and got me, I turned around and came back. I tried to get to the captain office but they drug him out of his cell and put in the captain’s office in this room which they call the “Annie Room.” But they wouldn’t let me see him. So, at that particular time, it was me by my lonesome. So, once some other brothers heard about it, we all amassed out there in front of the captain’s office and once we got together, we tried for force entry into that office. They confronted us, you know, a melee broke out.They was macing us and trying to beat us with them clubs and we was force to stab them.”

Too Black: “Right.”

Balagoon: “In the process of stabbing them, we was asking about this brother. So, now we turned away and we are out there assembling with the other prisoners. Unbeknown to me then, they had moved him out of the captain’s office to the infirmary. So, I didn’t see that. I thought he was still in the captain’s office. So, the melee asked him where he is, they tell me that he was in the infirmary. So, we break off and we start running towards the infirmary. Once we get to the infirmary, the other COs there tried to stop us from coming in there, and Unfortunately, we had to injure them. So, we get there unbeknown to me, the superintendent that made his way to the infirmary and he is in room that Lincoln at, at this particular time, treating him. They got x-rays and administering treatment. I don’t know it, so, I’m trying to open this door but the door won’t open. Seriously, the door wasn’t locked. It was open but it just wouldn’t open for me. It was a good thing that it didn’t open because unbeknown to me and my co-defendant, Naeem Trotter, the warden was there with a guard and was armed with a shotgun. So, had we opened that door and gained entry to that room where they had Lo Mar, they would have probably blew us away.”

Too Black: “Right, yeah.”

Balagoon: “It was by the grace of God the door wouldn’t open. Because the door wouldn’t open, COs (correctional officers) were coming for us everywhere. They kind of like, corralled us in the infirmary. Where they came through the back entrance and the front entrance. Now we are forced to fight our way up out of there and we decided to go out the same way we came in. In the process of going out, we ran into some more COs on our way out. Some of them, ya dig, didn’t necessarily want to confront us so they kinda of like just backed up but then there were some others who tried to tackle us. The ones who tried to tackle me, you know, I had save him so it was best to get away because had they captured me, they were definitely going to kill me.”

Too Black: “Right.”

Balagoon: “So, everything that I did after we went to the infirmary, was…”

Too Black: “Survival.”

Balagoon: “Was done out of love, out of self-defense, right.”

Too Black: “Right, right.”

Balagoon: “So, you know, we get away then we run through the prison, and we make it the guard hall. And when we get to the guard hall, Naeem got there first and once he gets in they close the door and I get locked out. At this particular time, there are a lot of angry COs chasing us. They got their trucks and they got their shovels…”

Too Black: “Wow.”

Balagoon: “… hammers and stuff like that and right before they got to me, Naeem took a knife and put it on one of the guards’ neck and forced him to open the door to let me in. So, they let me in. We get to gate cellhouse, once we get to the gate cellhouse, that’s once we call the news media and let everybody know there’s been a disturbance at the informatory, because they were violating our civil and human rights down there.”

Too Black: “And you had a series of demands too, right?”

Balagoon: “We had everything that going on that was negatively impacting us and prisoners in general, we brought them up in our grievances and demands. We had everything that you can think of; pay raise increase, more recreation, better food, they were serving us pork practically every day. We wanted to have beets, turkey, and stuff like that. We brought up all of that. They pretty much agreed to give us all of that.”

Too Black: “You told that to the news media too, right?’

Balagoon: “We told the news media why the riot had occurred and why we resolved that part, the riot, the FBI and stuff like that, got involved and started investigating our civil rights abuses. While investigating our civil rights abuses, they discovered that it was a lot of impropriety going on with the commissioner himself. He was guilty of supporting it and he ended up getting fired, the deputy commissioner got fired and in the aftermath of them getting fired, me and Naeem got persecuted. I did 32 years and five months in lockup as a result of that. 

To support Balagoon, please donate to his lawyer fund, print & mail the attached form letter to the Madison county prosecutor to help win sentence modification, and follow updates from IDOC (Indiana Department Corrections Watch). 

You may reach him at:

John C. Cole Jr #14658

PO Box 1111

Carlisle, IN, 47838


Next week we will share an interview with Christopher “Naeem” Trotter.


More from this Writer

Too Black is a poet, host of the Black Myths Podcast on Black Power Media, member of Black Alliance For Peace, communications coordinator for the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2, co-director of the documentary film The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up and author of the forthcoming book Laundering Black Rage. He is based in Indianapolis, IN and can be reached at tooblack8808@gmail.com or @too_black_ on Twitter.