Interview by Too Black
Transcription by Kameron Lyons
Continuing the focus on the Indiana prisoner rebellion in 1985 at the Indiana Reformatory (now Pendleton Correctional Facility), this interview spotlights Christopher “Naeem” Trotter. Trotter, in solidarity with John C. Cole aka Balagoon and their comrades, led the takeover of a cellblock inside the Indiana reformatory for 15 hours. As Trotter explains, at the time leading up to the rebellion, he only had 3 months left on his sentence but instead chose to “save the life of a fellow human being.” This fellow human being was Lincoln Love aka Comrade Lokmar Abdul-Wadood — a prisoner who was on the receiving end of the white supremacist prison guards’ (Sons of Light) skull crushing brutality. As a consequence of saving a human life, Trotter was sentenced to 142 years (his fellow comrades all paid heavily as well). In 2018 this sentence was vacated by a county judge only to have that judge removed and replaced by a vengeful judge who resentenced Trotter to 122 years.
In this interview Trotter highlights his background, the conditions that led to the rebellion, and the political organizing among prisoners that made it successful. I spoke with Trotter for roughly an hour but for time purposes this interview has been reduced to accommodate the format. The full conversation will air later this month on the Black Myths Podcast along with an interview from Balagoon.
Black: I know we don’t have that much time, so if you could just give me a quick breakdown of your background, who you are, and also an idea of kinda what the environment was like in ’85, before the rebellion. I talked to Brotha Balagoon earlier today, so I do have some information. My goal is to have a transcription of both your interviews and put it in an article together.
Trotter: I’m Naeem Trotter, a prisoner of the state, a former United States Army military with an honorable discharge. I served my country, but my country didn’t serve me. I came to prison for the crime of petty theft to serve a four-year sentence. They sent me straight to a maximum-security prison that was designed as the warehouse for most violent criminals. And when I got to the Indiana state reformatory, one thing I realized was that the racism was so entrenched amongst the DOC, that it forced prisoners to come together to defend themselves. There was a clandestine organization called the Sons of Light, which was the offspring of the KKK, and these were prison officials who openly displayed their hatred towards Black prisoners. The environment was hectic and crowded, the conditions were deplorable. On top of the brutalizing of Black prisoners.
February the 1st, 1985, my co-defendant John Cole (Balagoon) and I were where we were supposed to be on that lock-up unit at that time, going to a CAV hearing and there was a disturbance on the lock-up unit. The first thing we noticed was the smell of mace. And being that I had already served time on the lockup unit before, I knew what that meant; especially when I saw the curtain pulled. I knew there was some form of terrorism going on, like prison guards vs prisoners. As we sat there for a few minutes, listening to disturbance, prisoners started to holler, “they’re killing Lincoln Love, they’re killing him, they killin’ him”. Now our first act wasn’t to commit violence, it was to try to go to the administration to say “hey, y’all need to stop this”. Once we got there, they took on a defensive position, made it seem like we didn’t have a right to be there, even though we had a right to be there because we were where we were supposed to be. We tried to talk to them and they made the first move. They pulled out the weapons they had, their billy clubs, mace, and what have you, and at that particular time, they still had the inmate handcuffed and shackled Lincoln Love in a back room. And they were beating him with a baseball bat. And people say, how do we know what was going on? We know, because we been subjected to it, I had been subjected to it. I had five guards come in my cell while I was shackled and handcuffed. And one of ’em choked me out and said, “nigger we can kill you”. You can’t never forget that.
Too Black: No, never. And, and this is the ‘Sons of Light?’
Trotter: Yeah. These were guards that were all part of the Sons of Light, the Sons of Light were so entrenched that the Indiana state reformatory that, THAT was their literature, that was the orientation for new recruits, new guards. If they wasn’t a part of the Sons of Light, they were basically ostracized, which was testified to by one guard that was involved in the beating of Lincoln Love – Michael Richard.
He was actually ostracized, you know, and he testified, actually going into the FBI, trying to expose them. The DOC tried to pay a lot of hush money to keep him quiet. You know? So this is not a made-up story. This is the reality of February 1st, 1985. And my sentence with just three months left before my time was up to return back to society. I was put in the position of either going home in three months or save the life of a fellow human being. I chose to save the life of a fellow human being because it was morally the right thing to do.
Too Black: Right.
Trotter: I couldn’t turn right back on it. And as a result, I was charged with a multitude of crimes from attempted murder, criminal refinement sobriety, take it to a trial, which was nothing more than a political linking, where the jury was all white, where the jury wasn’t able to hear the whole truth. I was convicted. And then given a sentence of 142 years, which is a de facto life sentence.
And please let me remind everybody. We didn’t go into this as a riot. At the same time, we were convicted of charges, we were acquitted of charges. We were acquitted of every charge of attempted murder that involved any officer at the beating of Lincoln Love. Why was that? It’s only because our actions were actually justified. We had the right to defend ourselves.
Too Black: And is it correct– to clarify, that some of those officers involved, actually went to prison for their involvement?
Trotter: Yes, I have had the police state investigator, which is the state investigator that reports the sentence report before you are actually sentenced, stated specifically and I will quote exactly the state investigator’s words. And I will quote the State saying this, “The Indiana State Reformatory is an artificial environment that usually brings out the worst in a person place. Therein, the overcrowding conditions that have captured federal court’s attention are responsible for the stress attitudes of personnel; guards attitudes towards inmates tend to be abrasive, either extreme. One of the officers involved in the beating that set off the riot, in this case, is now in federal prison for that beating. The Indiana State Reformatory is sometimes likened to a jungle. And with reason.” This is the State’s pre-sentencing investigator. These are not even my words.
Too Black: What year was this? What year was this statement?
Trotter: This was after we were convicted in 1987. The state has to do a pre-sentence investigation before they sentence you, and this investigation is done by an employee of the state, not for our benefit, but for theirs. For the simple fact that this same person that wrote this statement recommended that I received 142 years.
Too Black: Wow.
Trotter: But in this statement, he simply stated that one of the officers involved in the beating that set off the riot, in this case, is now in federal prison. They literally, openly admitted that they (the guards) caused this riot.
Too Black: Right? Which therefore wouldn’t make any sense why you should get 142 years
Trotter: For the simple fact that it was a political issue, the jury never was able to hear evidence of officer Richard. And this was one of the officers involved in the being of Lincoln Love. And one of the things that the jury was never able to hear was when officer Richardson said, after beating Lincoln Love once, they said, “what do you want us to do with the inmate?” The officer talking to their superior, their security said, “kill the son of a bitch”.
Too Black: Wowww.
Trotter: These are court documents. When we look, these are facts. There is testimony by officer Richards. One of the officers that were not involved in the beating, but he was also stabbed– we were acquitted of the stabbing. They said, “kill the son of the bitch”. At that point, they took Lincoln Love, handcuffed, shackled into a back room, and committed to beating him with a baseball bat until they broke his back.
Too Black: Wow, they also threatened to do that to the rest of y’all, correct?
Trotter: Exactly. Exactly. This, this, this was that environment at that particular time, that at this point, when we come to the beating of Lincoln Love, this is just me talking about the third person. Now we’re hunted, now we’re worried about our survival. You know?
Too Black: Right.
Trotter: They asked guards to shoot us, to kill us one by one, and even asked the guard in the tower, who refused to shoot us. Ultimately they fired that officer. The taking of the cell house wasn’t ’cause we wanted to take over the cell house, it was to seek refuge. Had they caught us right then and there, they would’ve killed us.
Too Black: Right. So it wasn’t, that you wanted to do it, it sounds like it was a logical choice. Like you had to do this outta survival.
Trotter: Yes. We had to do this outta survival. And, even when we had one guard hostage, we just let him go. He walked out freely and other, and the other guards were held hostage. We treated him humanely. We didn’t treat them like they treated us!
Trotter: We treated him humanely and one thing we did that they didn’t do for us was protect their lives. Even if we didn’t want to. And even though some of the officers were also part of Sons of Light. We had to protect their lives in order to stay alive.
Too Black: If we have a little more time, I know Balagoon said y’all were involved with certain political activity and that’s why you were targeted. Can you give a little bit more specifics on what that activity was and then how it relates back to how you managed this takeover?
Trotter: The activity that we were involved in was that we had to create an organization in order to combat the infrastructure of white supremacy inside the reformatory and the organization consisted of raising the consciousness of prisoners, organizing, educating prisoners in order to form a self-defense committee– because that was the only defense we had. It wasn’t an exclusive organization that we formed. It was actually an inclusive organization of prisoners, Black, white, brown, you name it.
Too Black: Does the organization have a name?
Trotter: Yes. It did have a name.
Too Black: What, what was the name?
Trotter: It was Black Dragons. And we didn’t publicize the Black Dragons, we were a clandestine organization, we were underground just like they (News Media) said, the Black Panther were, but they were able to publicize us in a revolutionary organization, but they didn’t wanna talk about the DOC (Department of Corrections) being a white supremacy organization.
Too Black: Right. Quite literally. Yeah.
Trotter: Literally they would, they, they talked about the Black Dragons, but they didn’t talk about the Sons of Light. Wouldn’t let us talk about the Sons of Light. And this was another reason the jury never got to see or hear the whole story of what happened on February 1st, 1985. No one would allow us to actually speak the truth. So, this organization was built outta necessity.
It wasn’t a gang, we weren’t involved in criminal activity. We were trying to bring about liberty amongst prisoners to bring about awareness, to challenge the conditions, the inhumane conditions that existed at the Indiana state reformatory at that particular time. And that’s why when we had to seek shelter in the cell house, that’s why all the prisoners came together.
There wasn’t no prisoner on prisoner violence. And one negro at the time had claimed that he seen people being thrown off the top rail. But that wasn’t true. There was unity amongst all prisoners to challenge the conditions, demanding that they do away with the inhumane treatment of prisoners; that they provide healthcare, that they provide sensitivity training, and that they hire more Black staff. There was also a negotiation.
*call 1 time ends after 15 minutes. Trotter calls right back*
To support Trotter’s fight for clemency please sign and mail this letter to the Indiana Governor’s office.