First, we’ll hear from Jason Goudlock, a prisoner under the so-called “Old Law” in Ohio serving his 26th year of a 6-25 year sentence. Jason talks about the situation in Ohio between the “Old Law” and the “New Law”, for instance if he had been convicted of the same robbery and battery crimes three years later he might have served half of the time. Jason also speaks about the whims of the the Ohio Parole Board, some corroborated in public statements by former OPB member, Shirley Smith (linked in the show notes, and mentioning the situation of Marc Houc for instance).
Jason is the subject of a documentary, “Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock Story”, which can be found for free at FreeJasonGoudlock.org. Education packs for teachers can be found on the site for the film, InvisibleChess.com. The film will be shown on Wednesday, January 22nd,
2020 from 1:30-3pm alongside a discussion at Bard College led by the
filmmaker, Samuel Crow, along with prison reformer Bill Nichols. It can be viewed it at the Bertelsmann Weis Cinema on the Bard College campus. You can find Jason’s website and blog up at his website. There is a gofundme run to raise funds for Jason’s legal defense and raising awareness of his case and those of other Old Law prisoners.
Jason also suggests FairTreatmentReformAndReentry.org
to learn more about the struggle and check out recent legislation put
forth in Ohio to affect the Old Law/New Law sentencing disparities (and
in particular, Beverley A. Seymore, author of the Parole Reform Bill).
Near the end I ask Jason about recent hunger strikes by Mark Hinkston and David Easley, two other Ohio prisoners held for a bit at Toledo CI, who we’ve interviewed before on the show.
The hunger strike was a protest against the use of solitary confinement
specifically to torture prisoners suffering from mental health crises.
More on that below. Jason also mentions the recent sexual abuse of prisoners at Toledo CI by mental health staff member Maggie Jedlinsky.
Finally, Jason shouts out the cases of the Lucasville Uprising. Check our show notes for links to our interviews with Hasan over the years and with Bomani Shakur, aka Keith Lamar, on his book Condemned and Greg Curry from the case. We also spoke with an attorney (Niki Schwartz) and another prisoner present on the 25th anniversary of the uprising.
Jason Goudlock, an Ohio inmate, expected to gain his freedom soon
when he wrote to me in 2008. He had served 14 years, beginning when he
was 18, and he wanted to learn how to make a documentary film about the
challenges he expected to face when he was released from prison.
Unfortunately, he didn’t need to worry about adjusting to life on the
outside anytime soon.
Still imprisoned today, Goudlock received a five-year “flop”
in August – a parole board decision to hold him at least until 2024. That’s the
Since 2008, Goudlock has worked with me on his writing. He’s
published a novel, “Brother of the Struggle” (2014), as well as many essays
that can be found at www.FreeJasonGoudlock.org.
And I found Samuel Crow, a documentary filmmaker interested
in prison reform. Crow recently completed work on “Invisible Chess: The Jason
Goudlock Story,” a documentary now available free at www.FreeJasonGoudlock.org. (For a
trailer, teacher’s guide, press kit and more see www.InvisibleChess.com.) That’s the
Instead of focusing on the challenges Goudlock will face
when he is finally free, “Invisible Chess” explores the injustice Goudlock and
many other Ohio inmates face now. A “truth in sentencing” law Ohio passed in
1996 created a growing class of “new-law” prisoners who know exactly when they
will get out.
“Old-law” inmates like Goudlock, who went into prison before
1996, are made vulnerable by this discrepancy. They can be denied parole for
fighting even when they are simply defending themselves from younger men who
will never face a parole board. The truth is “old-law” prisoners keep the Ohio
Parole Board in business. And Goudlock has been denied parole six times.
When he first contacted me, he’d just read an essay of mine,
“Contemplating Torture,” in which I compared our country’s use of isolation in
prisons with our use of torture in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. At the time
Goudlock was in the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), a high maximum-security
prison (“supermax”) where most of the men are held in isolation.
At the age of 12, Goudlock was sent away from his home in
Cleveland for almost three years to a private residential treatment center in
Pennsylvania, where, he writes: “I spent about two-thirds of my time in
isolation.” Later, in our correspondence, Goudlock seldom mentioned his isolation
at OSP, but in the next few years he would complicate my understanding of its
Goudlock, 44, has experienced isolation off and on for most
of his life. In recent years he has reluctantly begun to embrace it despite
advice like this from attorney Alice Lynd, probably the wisest of his many correspondents:
“People need to be interacting with other people in order to
maintain their perspective. Reading is fine, but not to the exclusion of living
interaction with other people. You could be so messed up by the time you were
released from prison that it would be very hard to adjust.”
I’ve mentioned such dangers to Goudlock too, adding that the
Parole Board uses his unwillingness to live in the general population as
evidence that he’s not ready to be released. This is his answer:
“If I call attention to corruption in the criminal justice
system, as I have, my time will be increased, as it has. I have come to believe
the only way I can survive my time in prison is if I’m isolated from the
general population. …
“Trying to study and write in a general population cell
makes as much sense as a student trying to study for an exam at a heavy-metal
concert instead of in a library. Solitary confinement is no library, but it is
the lesser of two evils. It is a stressful, often depressing, environment, but
I’d rather be stressed and depressed and able to function than unable to
function at all.”
When prisons are run unjustly, Goudlock has convinced me, a
prisoner who is strong enough psychologically can sometimes find a better life
in the “hole” than in the general population. Ohio has such a prison system.
There is irony in my relationship with Jason Goudlock. He got
in touch with me because of that essay I wrote calling our nation’s use of
isolation torture. While he hasn’t convinced me otherwise, he’s shown me that an
injustice like the old-law/new-law discrepancy can make isolation preferable to
life in the general population for some prisoners.
Another irony: making “Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock
Story,” Samuel Crow and I uncovered evidence that Ohio’s “truth in sentencing”
legislation reduces the chance that “new-law” prisoners will participate in
classes and other activities that encourage rehabilitation.
One more irony: a condemned man mentored Goudlock while he
was in isolation at OSP. Siddique Abdullah Hasan, an African-American imam, was
sentenced to death for his role in a 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio
Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, that led to the deaths of nine
inmates and one guard. Hasan played a crucial role in negotiating an end to the
uprising, and in a trial that followed the rebellion some inmates were given
shortened sentences after testifying against him. (See Staughton Lynd, “The
Untold Story of a Prison Uprising,” 2011.)
Goudlock talked with Hasan when he exercised in a day room
outside Goudlock’s cell. He read some of Hasan’s essays. He began to write after
months of little more than shouting protests in his cell about his unjust
He wrote “Brother of the Struggle” and his many essays. He
can be found commenting on the American flag, hip-hop and “Invisible Chess” on www.prisonradio.org. He has become a crusader
against Ohio’s unjust sentencing guidelines and is likely to continue even if it
means another “flop” and more time behind bars.
Anyone wanting to urge the Ohio Legislature to resolve the
unjust discrepancy in the state’s sentencing guidelines can contact Sen. Cecil
Thomas, Senate Building, 1 Capitol Square, 2nd Floor, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-466-5980,
and Gov. Mike DeWine, Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 South High St., Columbus, OH
Bill Nichols, a
retired English professor, writes columns for the Valley News in New Hampshire.
He can be reached at email@example.com
***************** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE *******************
On November 1, 2019, the freedom campaign of Ohio prisoner Jason Goudlock, 44, who is the subject of the feature-length documentary INVISIBLE CHESS: The Jason Goudlock Story, erected a digital billboard in Ohio and Atlanta, GA, calling for his release.
Goudlock, a native of Cleveland, OH, who made international headlines in 2014 for a comment he made to the Ohio Parole Board about LeBron James, is serving an indeterminate sentence.
***************** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE *******************
I wrote to The Walt Disney Company about my documentary, Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock Story, because I thought it would appeal to ABC News and ESPN, both owned by Disney. But, I guess, “doing the right thing” only matters to filmmakers like Spike Lee.
This was their response:
Dear Mr. Goudlock:
This will acknowledge, with thanks, your letter to The Walt Disney Company seeking out out interest in a documentary about the Ohio criminal justice system and your life story. Your correspondence was forwarded to the Disney Legal Department as it is our responsibility to respond to such submissions and inquiries on behalf of the Disney organization.
Please know that we sympathize with the circumstances of your position and we appreciate your interest in writing to us. As to the kind offer of your story and offer, I must explain that our company’s long-established policy does not allow us to accept for review or consideration any ideas, suggestions or creative materials not specifically solicited by us or our subsidiaries. It is our intention to avoid misunderstandings when projects are created internally which might be similar to submissions made to us from outside the company.
We recognize that this policy is sometimes a disappointing one as when someone like yourself, a creative individual, with all the best intentions, would simply like us to consider your own creative idea and offer. Experience has taught us, though, that if we abandon our policy for one person, we will have to make exceptions for others and soon we will have no policy at all. Therefore, as required, I must return your letter and accompanying documents, unexamined, and without retaining any copies. We hope you will understand that this is not meant to be a reflection on the merit of your offer and idea. Rather, this is how we are required to respond to all unsolicited submissions.
Although our reply must necessarily be one other than what you might have hoped for, we do appreciate your interest in writing to us.
Very truly yours,
The Legal Department
The Walt Disney Company
Download a copy of the letter from The Walt Disney Company here:
My name is Jason Goudlock and I’m a 43-year-old Ohio prisoner who has been imprisoned since 1993, for committing several offenses of robbery and felonious assault. I’m writing this letter to you, however, in regards to my effort to prove my innocence in one of the robberies, which involved one of your Subway franchises in Cleveland, Ohio.
According to police records of Cleveland’s Fourth District Police Department, on March 9, 1993, a Subway eatery on Broadway Road was allegedly robbed by me (and a second suspect). The records also state that the Subway’s video surveillance system recorded footage of me robbing the sandwich shop. As I’ve mentioned above, however, I did not rob your establishment, and I am seeking to clear my name.
With this being said, in the interest of undoing an egregious case of injustice (Case No. CR299248, Cuyahoga County), I humbly ask that you, please, please assist me with obtaining the video surveillance tape of the 1993 Subway robbery. I have never seen the footage of the video, that is, because I was ineffectively represented by court appointed attorneys who manipulated me into forfeiting my right to go to trial. I know that the video, however, will exonerate me of any wrongdoing, that is, because I did not commit the robbery!
If you will help me to obtain the sought video, I simply ask that you make it available to the media and general public. The vindicating footage will speak for itself and will surely lead to me being freed from my nightmarish situation of injustice.
Although I did commit some of the robberies that I was convicted of committing in 1993, I shouldn’t have to have my entire life destroyed because of mistakes that I made as a juvenile, and because of a broken criminal justice system. With this being said, if you can find it in your heart to be an advocate of me being afforded the justice that I’ve been denied, I assure you that your gesture will exponentially benefit not just me, but it will, also, benefit countless of other at-risk young men and women. For, I intend to spend the rest of my life using my restored freedom towards preventing at-risk youth from traveling down the perilous road that I once traveled down.
In closing, I just want to say thank you for your time, and that I hope you will seriously consider helping me with proving my claim of innocence. At a time when the U.S. is greatly divided by various social inequalities and politics, I think that answering my plea to you for assistance would be a good opportunity to help move the country in a positive direction.
Postscript: How about a job if I’m released? I’d love to be an example of redemption as a Subway employee
Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock Story, a documentary by director Samuel Crow, will be premiering at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival on September 26th and 27th.
Invisible Chess, a feature-length documentary, tells how an unjust Ohio law shapes the lives of Jason Goudlock, 4,000 other “old-law” prisoners, and 45,000 “new-law” prisoners. The story begins with Goudlock’s disrupted life in Cleveland, which led him to prison at the age of eighteen. Taken under the wing of older death row convicts, Jason became an activist and writer. But the struggles of being an old-law con have led him to spend years in solitary confinement, often voluntarily. Current and former prisoners and officials help explore the ramifications of Goudlock’s story, which is punctuated by six of his raps, performed in the film.
Imagine being taken to a prison infirmary under the pretense that you’re about to receive some type of medical care, only to be met and confronted by a small band of cowardly and hostile prison officers who have malice in their heart and intentions of causing bodily harm to you. Now, add to this situation the element of being defenseless due to being bound behind your back in handcuffs, and shackled in leg manacles. This scenario is a reality that occurs often for many of the prisoners where I’m incarcerated at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio, and it’s widely known amongst the captives (prisoners) and captors (prison administration) of SOCF.
Prisoners in SOCF are escorted to the infirmary, taken into an examination room — where there’s no surveillance — and all medical staff are ordered out. The prisoner is then struck about the head, face, and torso by fists, knees, and feet from every direction, until he’s on the floor not moving and/or rendered unconscious. After the beating, the prisoner is then threatened with more bodily harm to occur in the future, for reasons such as filing grievances about being assaulted by prison officers, complaining about inhumane living conditions, et cetera.
I personally know of incidents of violence that have been committed against prisoners in SOCF’s infirmary by officers. One particular incident transpired as follows:
On May 10, 2017, early afternoon, Brother Al “Beno” George (#594-113) was being escorted to Unit D-1 (the upper infirmary) because he’d missed more than nine (9) meals, which automatically and officially designated George as being on a “hunger strike,” which he saw as a means to peacefully protest against being harassed and assaulted by prison officials, and being unjustly placed in excessive isolation.
Once George entered the elevator to ascend to the medical unit (D-1) where “hunger-strikers” are to be monitored, he was attacked by Sgt. Tacket, Stg. Dillow, C.O. Lewis, and two other unidentified officers.
Brother George suffered injuries on the left side of his neck and shoulder, his back, and right knee. These injuries were documented by medical staff, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol (i.e. Trooper Lewis Fielding), who, by chance, happened to be in the vicinity where injured prisoner George was being housed shortly after the incident took place, which, ultimately, afforded George an opportunity to report the assault. In turn, the state highway patrolman documented and photographed George’s injuries.
The prison officers that assaulted Brother George didn’t even bother to document any type of “use of force” report about the incident, or even attempt to cover up the incident. This bold and brazen behavior is consistent with the corruption of SOCF! They are so “relaxed and comfortable” with violations of administrative regulations, policies, and procedures, and breaking the law in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code, because they are NEVER HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR ANY OF THEIR INAPPROPRIATE AND UNLAWFUL BEHAVIOR TOWARD PRISONERS!
The assailants who assaulted Brother George, unfortunately, succeeded in intimidating him to abandon his hunger strike. Despite the knowledge that the Ohio State Highway Patrol has documented about George’s assault, George was placed in a cellblock housing area that’s under the direct supervision of two of the assailants that assaulted Brother George, that is, Sgt. Tacket and Sgt. Dillow!
Until then, a trip to the SOCF prison infirmary — a location that isn’t adequately equipped with security cameras — will remain potentially, extremely HAZARDOUS!
From inside HELL-HOLE, a true brother against oppression, and your comrade in the STRUGGLE,
You may have seen this warning sign: “Retired Person on Premises. Knows Everything and Has Plenty of Time to Tell It.” Well, it could have been posted on my door. Although I don’t remember many names, I know the answers to most of Life’s Larger Questions and am more than willing to share them. This affliction doesn’t foster lively communication with my wife, daughters, grandchildren, friends, or neighbors so I set out to fix it by undertaking a major task for which I was totally unprepared: producing a documentary
In this quest for aged humility I began working within areas of well-established incompetence. Despite recent improvements in user-friendly cameras, I take terrible still photos and have never even attempted to film anything in motion. My efforts to record interviews turn out so badly I prefer to take notes. The subject I’ve chosen is a single prison injustice, and though I’ve visited a few prisons and corresponded with inmates, my contributions to “Invisible Chess Match: The Jason Goudlock Story,” our working title, have not, so far, provided many flashes of insight regarding the failures of mass incarceration in the United States.
But the fact that it’s our working title explains why my pursuit of humility is unlikely to lead to humiliation. The film’s director, Sam Crow, won prizes with his most recent documentary, “The Twelve-Foot Tall Rabbits of Rokeby Farm” (see twelvefootrabbits.com). He is a skillful director who lives in New York City and has filmed before in prisons. I can’t explain why Sam agreed to work with me. He earlier volunteered to play bass and harmonica in a band put together by my grandson and then consented to record grandson Nate and me playing and singing folk and country songs we’d been practicing for years. My hesitant performance may well have inspired deep sympathy.
When I mentioned the film idea to Sam, he explained how a producer on this project would need to coordinate financing arrangements and script writing. Sam’s tasks include filming and editing interviews in Ohio with a judge, the Ohio Public Defender, ex-convicts, and inmates, including Jason Goudlock, a man of 42 who entered prison in 1993 as a teenager on a first conviction with a six-to-25 year sentence for assault and robbery with a firearm.
Goudlock has spent many of his 24 years in solitary confinement, a part of the story that turns out to be more important than we expected. When he first contacted me in 2008, Goudlock was isolated in Ohio’s “supermax,” the Ohio State Penitentiary. He had read an essay of mine about how extended isolation is a form of torture, but he wrote to seek help in making a documentary about the challenges he expected to face when he was paroled—soon, he thought. I was no help with his filmmaking plans back in the days before I became an inexperienced retiree producer, but when I discovered he was trying to write a novel, I volunteered to assist. By 2012 he had finished and published Brother of the Struggle.
Halfway through the production of “Old-Law Con,” Sam Crow has filmed and edited several powerful interviews, weaving them into revealing conversations. Just two or three interviews remain to be done, one of them a follow-up with Jason Goudlock, who is unavailable once more in isolation.
Sam and I have come to understand why Goudlock seeks solitary confinement, as dangerous as he knows it to be psychologically. His reason has everything to do with the injustice we seek to expose. In 1996 the Ohio legislature passed a “truth in sentencing” law that gives most inmates convicted since 1996 fixed sentences. They don’t need to go before the Parole Board. But the law doesn’t apply to people sentenced before 1996, and the result is that if a young inmate picks a fight with an “old-law” prisoner, he is unlikely to have his sentence extended while the “old-law con” probably will. Jason Goudlock has been denied parole four times. Inmates in his predicament keep the Parole Board in business.
Because our nation’s new Attorney General has set out to ramp up the “war on drugs” and to make room for more mass incarceration by encouraging expansion of the private prison industry, one state’s “old-law” problem might seem insignificant. But while the Trump administration seeks to strengthen the “prison-industrial complex,” reacting perhaps to the growth of bi-partisan concern about mass incarceration in the Obama years, it is important to work for prison reforms at the state and local level, where most of our incarcerated people are held.
We have our challenges in the Upper Valley as well. Vermont, officially committed to the commendable ideals of restorative justice, has nevertheless been sending many of it inmates to a private prison in Michigan. New Hampshire, which has so far resisted the corporate call for private prisons, recently elected a governor who has accepted campaign donations from two private prison companies. It may soon be time for this more experienced retiree to produce a second prison film.
The following is the Ohio Parole Board’s response to my 2016 Open Letter to them, in which I requested that they rescind their 2014 rendered decision to issue me an unwarranted 60-month sentence continuance at my fifth and most recent release consideration hearing.
The Parole Board’s September 1, 2016 response was issued the same day that Universal Support Network activist and founder Norman V. Whiteside was released from prison.
Talk about bitter-sweet. But, at least Norm is finally free to keep up the fight for true justice, and to make that beautiful, beautiful music that people rave about.