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The struggle to free the Pendleton 2 continues

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by PSL Muncie

Racist prison guard violence created the conditions that led to the uprising on February 1, 1985 at the Indiana State Reformatory (ISR), now the Pendleton Correctional Facility. The uprising was led by John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter who are Indiana political prisoners known as the Pendleton 2. They fought for Lokmar Abdul-Wadood’s life after he was beaten near to death by organized white supremacist prison guards at ISR. Friends, family, and comrades formed the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2 to lead the current movement for their justice in Indiana.

The Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2 shares members with IDOC Watch: a group of educators, activists, and family to many incarcerated people. Together, they host numerous events each year throughout Indiana and have strengthened the resistance against systemic injustice. During the 2022 commemoration of Black August, they held multiple panels and forums to honor the resistance of Black prisoners in our nation. THEKINGTRILL is a field organizer in IDOC Watch and produced a documentary called “The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up” to tell their story at these events [1].

Compelled to action due to the severe injustices in our country, THEKINGTRILL told PSL Muncie that, “even though [Balagoon and Naeem] did not kill anyone, the fact that they stood up for themselves was crime enough and justified to the state to give those men over 200 years in prison.” The documentary tells their story and provides interviews with the men who were fighting alongside them in prison. He lamented at how these men were put into this situation by prison leadership ignoring complaints from guards about outright racist violence. However, this doesn’t dash his optimism about the future for their freedom and is proud of the “powerful forces working with us to achieve it.”

 Balagoon and Naeem were well respected leaders within the prison before the incident. The two led an inclusive group that educated, politicized, and defended fellow inmates against constant beatings and harassment called the Black Dragons. Balagoon said the prison guards acted from “a plantation mentality” and even worked through an organized white supremacist gang called the Sons of Light. ISR had a reputation for extreme violence towards outspoken Black prisoners that was administered by this Ku Klux Klan offshoot. 

The Sons of Light gathered officers of all ranks inside the prison to follow their racist beliefs and perpetuate violence against inmates. Michael Richardson, a guard at the time, gave testimony to the defense before the 1987 trial that was suppressed until IDOC Watch obtained a copy in 2022. Richardson exposed them as a KKK “splinter group” sharing the same rituals, hierarchical roles, and racist literature. He states that the beatings were without cause and quite frequent, especially for notorious prison leaders like Lokmar. The Sons of Light were not investigated and not charged with their violent organizing.

Lokmar Abdul-Wadood was a well-known leader in ISR and he worked as a Jailhouse Lawyer to defend and support other inmates. He was moved around to different prisons throughout his sentence as he politicized and agitated fellow inmates within IDOC. Lokmar had already led rebellions against guard brutality by 1985 and been sentenced with more time because of his leadership. His continued struggle as a leader to advocate better conditions at ISR had a great impact; to which the racist prison guards felt compelled to retaliate.

On February 1st, 1985 guards were authorized to beat Lokmar as a message while he was confined to the Maximum Restraint Unit. The guards mercilessly stomped, kicked, and beat the defenseless Lokmar with bats and sticks while he was handcuffed on the floor. Those witnessing called for Balagoon and Naeem to intervene because of their leadership in the Black Dragons. 

The fight for Lokmar’s life began in the captain’s office where the inmates secured his safety and rushed to the infirmary. The guards carried illegal weapons, bats and a shotgun, against inmates who were armed with whatever they could find. As the uprising continued, the prisoners took hostages and held up in Cellhouse J for 16 hours. Outside gathered a crowd full of media teams, IDOC staff, the National Guard, and Indiana State Police. The prison uprising 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”. In return, the incarcerated comrades received only further punishment by the government. 

Before their trials, Balagoon had 3 ½ years left on his sentence while Naeem had 3 months. They were given an all-white jury that publicly fraternized with the judge and prosecutor. The unfair trial led to Balagoon’s sentence of 84 years and Naeem being sentenced to 142 years. The unjust hearing and sentencing were made worse by the judge suppressing any questions about the KKK group and The Sons of Light were never brought to justice. Since then, Balagoon and Naeem have also suffered from illegal solitary confinement as punishment for 32.5 years and 20 years, respectively. 

John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter became the Pendleton 2 that day by standing up for a man’s life. Even though they could have sat on the sidelines and await their scheduled release dates, they took their role as leaders and fought against a racist police state. They sacrificed their freedom for the life of a fellow prisoner. They are incredible examples of justice for the entire Indiana community. And now our vulnerable elders face severe medical issues created by IDOC neglect and worsened by systemic neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The Party for Socialism and Liberation stands in full solidarity with the Freedom Campaign for the Pendleton 2 led by the Defense Committee and endorses their demands:

  1. The immediate release of John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter from Indiana Department of Corrections custody.
  2. The release of all incarcerated seniors and those who are medically vulnerable.
  3. The immediate release of all political prisoners.
  4. A federal investigation into the IDOC-sanctioned white supremacist guard gang – The Sons of Light.
  5. A federal investigation into the informal or formal affiliations and activity of white supremacist correctional officers working within the IDOC.

References

[1] THEKINGTRILL is a field organizer with IDOC Watch, an artist, and a director of Focus Initiatives LTD. He can be reached at newkingtrill@gmail.com and on YouTube.