Looking for Justice from the Subway Food Chain

In a desperate attempt to generate support and undo my complicated, wrongful conviction for robbing a Subway sandwich shop in 1993 in Cleveland, Ohio, a spark of creativity led me to write a letter last year to Subway’s corporate headquarters. The sandwich giant, a billion-dollar franchise, would respond to my letter, I figured, in the interest of appealing to the general public and rectifying an injustice.

My optimism, however, was deflated, knocked down like a Michael Strahan sack of Tom Brady. They never responded to my letter.

In March 1993, as a juvenile, I had walked into a Subway sandwich shop in Cleveland’s Buckeye Plaza with the intention of robbing the eatery. Nervous, however, I quickly lost my gall, and I exited the restaurant without placing an order.

Several days after the abandoned robbery attempt of the Subway in the Buckeye Plaza, I was arrested for robbing a pedestrian, a crime I did commit. When I arrived at the police station, I was told I was also being arrested for robbing a doughnut shop on a street where I hadn’t been in years, “Broadway Road.”

Shortly after my arrest, while being detained in the Cuyahoga county juvenile detention center, I was indicted for the two robberies. In addition to this, however, I was also indicted for allegedly robbing a Subway sandwich shop!

When I received my indictment for the Subway robbery, I instantly assumed it had something to do with the Subway in the Buckeye Plaza, which I never robbed. The Subway I was indicted for, however, was located on “Broadway Road,” the same street where the doughnut shop I never robbed is located. 

Nevertheless, several months later, due to my complete ignorance of the 
ways in which the criminal justice system functioned, I pled guilty to all of the above charges–that is, upon being coerced to do so by my court-appointed attorneys.

Approximately 25 years after pleading guilty to crimes I didn’t commit, while reading a portion of my Cleveland Police Department records, I learned the two suspects for the Broadway Road robberies were captured on video committing at least one of the robberies. Knowing I hadn’t committed either of the robberies, and fed up with being given unwarranted sentence continuances by Ohio’s parole board, I reached out to Subway’s corporate offices. I asked them to please assist me with trying to prove my innocence by helping me obtain the video footage of the Broadway Road robbery suspects. Helping disadvantaged, wrongfully convicted human beings, however, is beyond the scope of Subway’s willingness to engage the general public. They ignored my letter.

Subway’s ignoring my plea for assistance goes completely against the upstanding and righteous corporate image they project in their commercials and marketing campaigns. This, of course, does not come as a shock to me. Most billion-dollar franchises care very little about anything aside from generating annual profits. If Subway’s former spokesman, Michael Strahan, an NFL legend, is wrongfully incarcerated, Subway will probably ignore his injustice too.

Download a PDF copy of Looking for Justice from the Subway Food Chain.

Just Do It Like Kaepernick: Free Jason Goudlock

Two years since first being interviewed for the forthcoming film documentary Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock Story, I’m pleased to announce that the feature-length film about my ongoing situation of injustice will be debuting at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival on September 26,2018! (Website: www.InvisibleChess.com)!

Order tickets here:
Wednesday, September 26 @ 8:20pm
Thursday, September 27 @ 2:30pm

Thanks to the release of the film, the entire world is about to see how Ohio’s corrupt criminal justice system operates when it thinks nobody is watching. Elected officials, correction supervisors, and parole board members are all exposed for the deceitful frauds they are. In addition to this, the ridiculous enactment of Ohio’s 1996 new-law sentencing guidelines is highlighted in the film, which causes a sentencing disparity that adversely affects Ohio’s small minority class of “old-law” prisoners who committed their crimes before July 1,1996, such as myself. And the film shows how it hurts “new law” prisoners too.

I hope the release of Invisible Chess will lead to me being freed from my horrific over-incarceration. Being that criminal justice reform is currently a hot-topic kept in the media spotlight by the likes of ex-NFL athlete/activist Colin Kaepernick, NBA superstar LeBron James, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and reality star Kim Kardashian, I feel the release of the documentary couldn’t have come at a better time. In fact, I hope all of the aforementioned activists will see and support Invisible Chess.

The only way the U.S. criminal justice system is ever going to be fixed is if people demand it. Think about this: Right now as I’m writing this blog post, somewhere in the world the U.S. is engaged in military combat in the name of “justice.” But how can the U.S. expect the rest of the world to view it as a just country, when it refuses time-after-time to afford justice to its own citizens? Right now, today, in the U.S. Constitution, it says people can be “enslaved” as the punishment for a crime! And in the third verse of the U.S. National Anthem, racist lyrics remain for anybody who wants to read them. (I wish someone would ask NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about this seldom reported fact.) And I say all of this to say, that, if “bullshit justice” is allowed to exist in place of bona fide justice, the U.S. is always going to be fractured.

For starters, Ohio, the heartland state of the U.S. — has a chance, right now, to do the right thing and further the interests of justice by fixing its broken criminal justice system. And it isn’t hard to do, either. Like the famous Nike slogan says, all they have to do is “just do it.”

In addition to the announcement of the premier of Invisible Chess, I’m also pleased to announce to the world, that, after nearly 25 years of being incarcerated, I have met the most amazing and beautiful woman in the world: Jerniece McDade! Hopefully, you, and the state of Ohio, will help accelerate our getting more acquainted with one another in society. It would be greatly, greatly appreciated!

Postscript: Please support my campaign to be freed and share Invisible Chess with your social media platforms, as well as by making monetary contributions to my legal defense fund.

Ready to Leave the U.S.

After being physically assaulted on numerous occassions by crooked correctional officers over the course of my nearly 24 years of being imprisoned, and being repeatedly framed by racist prison administrations, I’ve come to the conclusion that the United States of America is not a country that I can live in as a Black man. With this being said, whenever I’m finally freed from Ohio’s modern-day slave trade (i.e. Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation), as soon as I’m legally able to do so, I’m leaving the U.S. for good. I don’t even know what country I want to move to at this particular time. What I do know is that I’m definitely relocating out of the U.S. I can no longer live in this racist country that refuses to move away from racism, and I don’t want to live anywhere that refuses to treat non-White citizens as equals to that of Whites.

The racism that is ingrained in the U.S. is sickening. I mean, take for instance all of the backlash that has been heaped upon former NFL player Colin Kaepernick for his refusal to stand during the national anthem in protest of the mistreatment of Blacks by the U.S. criminal justice system. There shouldn’t be one iota of backlash against his stance, and here’s why:

The national anthem is composed of four (4) verses, but the first (1) verse is the only verse that’s recited at the beginning of sporting events. The third (3) verse, however, is composed of lyrics that are outright racist and offensive (e.g. “No refuge could save the hireling and slave…”). So, if the national anthem consists of lyrics that are unquestionably pro-slavery in nature, how can anyone claim to be offended because various Black athletes, such as the NFL’s Michael Bennett, refuse to stand during the singing of the anthem? There’s nothing offensive about a Black person not wanting to praise a racist national anthem. In my opinion, the only reason that people claim to be offended by the anthem protests is because they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that the U.S. — past and present — is a country that reeks of racism and is a country that is only “the land of the free” for some.

I don’t know if the U.S. will ever transcend its racist past and present? Until recently, I was optimistic that it could. Today, however, I am doubtful, and I no longer want to live in a country that is dead set on trying to camouflage its racist identity through the guise of “patriotism” and “law and order.” I refuse to conform to being a desensitized and ruthless patriotic robot-like citizen that needs to be told how to think by the string-pulling U.S. status quo. For this reason, I’m leaving this country — that is, as soon as I can free myself from the strangle-like hold of Ohio’s racist and corrupt criminal justice system.

Random Questions From a Prisoner in Solitary Confinement

1. Why does the United States embrace people and corporations that willingly and knowingly profited from Adolph Hitler’s killing of six million Jews during World War II? General Motors, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, Standard Oil (now Exxon) all supported Hitler’s war machine by providing industrial support to Germany in exchange for millions of dollars. And they did this while also providing industrial support to the United States. How is it that the United States still supports these corporations while pledging support for Israel? I’ve never owned a car, but when I get out and buy my first vehicle, it’s probably going to be a Tesla! General Motors and Ford have way too much blood on their hands to get any of my money.

2. Why does the United States support Israel’s expanding, unjust occupation of Palestinian land? Isn’t it hypocritical to support the sovereignty of the more recently established country of Israel and not support the sovereignty of Palestine, which was established earlier? If the United States is willing to denounce communist Russia for taking the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, then why accept the seizure of Palestinian land? Such blatant acts of hypocrisy do nothing but create more division in the world.

3. Why does the United States cast its founding fathers as noble proponents of freedom when they were profiteers of oppression? Criticizing the legacies of the founding fathers is frowned upon, but is it sane to glorify proponents of slavery, murder, and the cultural destruction of Native Americans? If Adolph Hitler were a founding father of Germany, would Germans glorify and commemorate Hitler by placing his face on its currency? Or name institutions of higher education after him? What sane person would willingly attend Adolph Hitler University or The College of the Third Reich? Why, then, are Americans expected to ignore the character of their founding fathers? Do they have to be granted permission to acknowledge the truth about their founding?

4. Why do people in the United States allow adolescents to be recruited by the military to go and fight and kill and die in wars fought against impoverished countries and on behalf of billion-dollar corporations? Why can adult recruiters be allowed to convince an adolescent to consider becoming a soldier with a license to kill? Without an unending conveyor belt of impressionable adolescents to be manipulated, the dark agenda of war profiteering could not be achieved.

5. Why didn’t Barack Obama use his presidency to reform or dismantle the United States’ unjust, racist criminal justice system? In 2010 then-President Barack Obama was praised for decreasing the crack cocaine/powder cocaine sentencing disparity from a ratio of 100-to-one to a ratio of 18-to-one. I am no Harvard scholar like Obama, but how can it ever be considered just for a person convicted of possessing crack cocaine (often Blacks) to be sentenced EIGHTEEN times more severely than a person convicted of possessing powder cocaine (often Whites)? Beyond signing into law this unjust and wildly misnamed sentencing bill, “The Fair Sentencing Act,” Obama did nothing to reform or dismantle the nation’s criminal justice system. How did this happen? During his presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, Obama used the color of his skin to win support from African Americans, but after each election we were hung out to dry, just as Cornel West was uninvited to the 2009 Inauguration in spite of being a key grass roots organizer for Obama’s campaign. Martin Luther King must have been rolling his grave.

Download a PDF copy of Random Questions From a Prisoner in Solitary Confinement.

Longing for Companionship With a Woman Like Cheryl

Over a decade ago, while incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown (Ohio’s “Supermax”), I watched the film Antwone Fisher. This inspirational biopic about Cleveland native Antwone Fisher, starring Denzel Washington, Joy Bryant, and Derrick Luke as Fisher, instantly became my all-time favorite movie. I was awed by the story of Fisher’s relentless determination to overcome the harrowing circumstances facing a child raised in an abusive foster home. As a native of Cleveland myself, and as a resident of the same boys’ reform school in Pennsylvania where Fisher was sent, I felt as if I was watching a movie about my own life.

Many parts of Antwone Fisher moved me, but my favorites were those scenes in which Fisher courted the woman he loved–Cheryl, played by Joy Bryant. If a person’s heart could smile, mine would have done it when Fisher recognized in the middle of a date with Cheryl some words he first heard when he was practicing for their date. His male mentor had prepared him well by bravely playing the role of Cheryl to help Fisher overcome his inexperience with women!

As a 42-year-old man, incarcerated for nearly 24 consecutive years, I long to know an understanding and supportive woman like Cheryl in Antwone Fisher. Although Ohio’s corrupt parole board won’t free me from my excessive imprisonment, if I were to become acquainted with a woman like Cheryl, I would be freed from the imprisonment of my loneliness, just as Fisher was when he met Cheryl.

As each day passes, my enduring pursuit of companionship grows stronger and stronger. The pain of loneliness fuels my willpower and drives me to keep striving for what I seek from life. It drives me to work on my writing projects in the early morning, even when I have a headache and long to rest. It drives me to assail the darkness of injustice until the light of justice shines through. And it drives me to remain patient until the woman of my dreams comes into my life, as I know she will in due time. And when she does, if I’m lucky, she might even have the same beautiful dimples as Cheryl.

Download a PDF copy of Longing for Companionship With a Woman Like Cheryl.

Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth: The Latest Great Inspirational Literary Gem

After spending the past six months of my over 23-year excessive and unjust imprisonment (for aggravated robbery and felonious assault) battling a bout of one of the severest spells of depression that I’ve ever experienced, upon recently reading retired legendary boxer Mike Tyson’s soul-baring autobiography Undisputed Truth, by way of being inspired by his jaw-clenching determination to overcome his many trials and tribulations, I’ve found the strength to rekindle and intensify my effort towards overcoming mine.

Reading Undisputed Truth, I discovered that there are many parallels between my turbulent adolescent upbringing and Tyson’s. Like Tyson, I grew up in a dysfunctional household, as well as group homes, behavioral schools, and foster care. And, like Tyson, fueled by the emotional insecurities of not feeling fully loved, I also sought to fill the void of my emotional emptiness through the committing of crimes, and, more significantly, through the undertaking of participating in a sport, which, in my case, was the sport of basketball.

Unless a person as a child has experienced the overwhelming hollow feeling of abandonment, and/or not feeling fully loved by their parents, they will never fully understand the magnitude of the emotional pain in which a neglected child feels, nor will they ever fully understand the scope of the child’s relentless determination to try and eradicate their pain. Some children embark on their quest for happiness through the partaking of participating in a sport or art. Some turn to substance abuse. Some turn to committing crimes. And some turn to a combination of all of the above, as Tyson and I both did. Fortunately for Tyson, however, his fascination with the sport of boxing won out, which led to him being introduced to legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato, whom, ultimately became Tyson’s guardian and boxing trainer, friend and mentor, as well as his beacon of hope.

Blessed with the opportunity to receive the vastness of D’Amato’s boxing and life’s wisdom, Tyson evolved into a boxing phenom. But before Tyson was able to win a professional heavyweight title for his fatherly figure, tragedy struck when D’Amato suddenly became ill and passed away. Heartbroken, yet with a strengthened resolve to fulfill his constructed-by-D’Amato mission of becoming the youngest professional heavyweight boxing champion ever, on November 22, 1986, Michael Gerard Tyson did just that, when, at the age of 20-years-old, he vanquished Trevor Berbick for his championship title.

Tyson’s will to overcome the adversity that he experienced en route to winning his first professional title is remarkable. But what is much more remarkable and revealed in Tyson’s autobiography is the inner-strength that he demonstrated to will his way through the waves of adversity tht he was confronted with after losing all three of his championship titles, and then being wrongfully convicted of raping a woman, who was later revealed to be a serial liar and a repeat false allegation claimant of being sexually assaulted.

After experiencing the wrath of the United States’ racist criminal justice system, as well as a betrayal of trust by numerous people, Tyson could have easily collapsed and succumbed to the weight of his harrowing circumstances, yet he didn’t. Instead, he proceeded down the precarious road of enlightenment and he battled his way through his adversity and returned to society, where, ultimately, he regained his hierarchical boxing status after winning back two of the three championship belts that he once held. But, as remarkable of an accomplishment as Tyson’s triumph was in the boxing world, his meritorious feat of reclaiming his champion status isn’t what exemplified his relentless drive to overcome his adversity. What exemplified his inner-strength was his will to survive his post-incarceration descent from grace, which was a rapid descent induced by Tyson’s harbored emotional pain, substance abuse, bad decision making, and the perpetual acts of deceit and betrayal committed against him by unscrupulous individuals, such as boxing promoter Don King.

While Mike Tyson’s feat of survival is most certainly worthy of being commended, it must be mentioned that he was assisted with this fight for salvation by a close-knit group of genuine human beings. Tyson’s wife, Kiki, is a praise-worthy woman for the unrelenting love that she submerged him in when he was in his most dire of straits. As with her husband’s Alcoholic’s Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous supporters, she absolutely refused to give up on Mike, and she is one of the people in the world who loved him unconditionally, with the same intensity that her husband’s pet tiger once did (#IroncladFerociousLove).

In addition to the harrowing behind-the-scene revelations about the life of Mike Tyson, Undisputed Truth is interspersed with some of the most hilarious stories that I’ve ever read. Tyson’s stories about his boxing foe Mitch Green will make you laugh so hard that you will read them again and again, as well as will his stories about the charlatan boxing promoter Don King. Tyson is a masterful storyteller with a Dave Chappelle-like sense of humor.

Overall, Undisputed Truth is a spellbinding read about the rise-and-fall and rise-again life of Mike Tyson, and I’d be shocked if someone could read it and not be inspired in some kind of way, as I’ve been, to make some form of contribution, or greater contribution, towards improving their life and or the life of someone else.

In conclusion, while many people attribute the title “The Greatest” to the late legendary boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali, if Ali is, in fact, the greatest, after reading Undisputed Truth, there can be no dispute that Iron Mike Tyson, the legendary boxer, survivor, husband and father, is The Latest Greatest.

Download a PDF copy of Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth: The Latest Great Inspirational Literary Gem.

A Dialogue on Isolation, Race, and Justice

Jason Goudlock and William Nichols

Jason Goudlock, 41, an African American inmate held in Ohio’s Ross Correctional Institution, is the author of the prison novel Brother of the Struggle (2014). William Nichols, 78, is a retired professor and writer.

Nichols: When you first wrote to me in June of 2008, you were an inmate at the Ohio State Penitentiary, the state’s “supermax,” where you lived in isolation. You had read an essay of mine, “Contemplating Torture.” There is irony in how we came to know each other because my essay attacked the use of isolation, and sometimes you have reluctantly embraced it. When the Bush administration chose to “define cruelty down,” in order to justify torture after September 11, 2001, I wrote, we had already begun “to accept torture as just” by building prisons like the one holding you. I said the French writers Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, who studied our prison system long ago, told us in 1833 all we needed to know about the power of isolation as a form of torture: “absolute solitude, if nothing interrupt it, is beyond the strength of man; it destroys the criminal without intermission and without pity; it does not reform, it kills.”

You began to experience enforced isolation when you were twelve years old, and you’ve known it, off and on, for many years since then. When you finally earned your way out of isolation in the “supermax” and into the general population, you were moved around from prison to prison in Ohio, and you sometimes have concluded the only way you can hold onto your sanity and integrity while you work for your freedom is to remain in “the hole.” This conclusion led us to disagree, and here’s what you said in November of 2015.

Goudlock: I realize that to a person on the outside it must make no sense at all for a prisoner to choose isolation, as opposed to doing their time in the general population. But I’m an old-law prisoner who has served nearly 22 years, which means I was sentenced under Ohio’s pre-July 1, 1996, indefinite set of guidelines, and I have to go before the Ohio Parole Board periodically to have my time in prison determined. If a new-law prisoner picks a fight with me, his sentence will be unchanged, but my time of incarceration will be increased. If I call attention to corruption in the criminal justice system, as I have, my time will be increased, as it was for five years in 2014. I have come to believe the only way I can survive my time in prison is if I’m isolated from the general population.

If I were still the mis-educated 18-year-old I was when I came to prison, I might fit in with the general prison population. My imprisoned peers probably don’t want to hear this, but many of them spend most of their time gang fighting or scheming on ways to steal someone’s commissary items or gossiping or talking about which female officers look the best. I’ve become a writer, and I’m trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can from my reading, which really began the first time I was put in isolation. 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.

Nichols: I worry about choosing isolation. Besides the psychological stress, you have to break a rule to get there even if it’s only refusing to return to your cell. And no doubt the Parole Board uses your unwillingness to live in the general population as evidence that you’re not ready to live outside. But I’m a writer who has sometimes chosen to work in the quiet of our basement next to our furnace, and sometimes outside in our car. So I find your case for solitude convincing even though I disagree with it as a strategy for gaining your freedom.

Another risk you take is calling out the criminal justice system for racial prejudice. One of your most powerful essays at FreeJasonGoudlock.org, your website, is titled “Black Lives Matter: ODRC and Attorney General Michael DeWine Swindle An Inmate.” You say our system “issues disproportionate punishment to poor people of color.” It’s hard to think of anything you could say that would raise more hackles. The most powerful man in our country, President Barack Obama, has found it difficult to talk about that issue without getting criticized for “playing the race card.” We don’t like to talk openly about race in our country, as reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement are also revealing. When you raise this issue, you probably provoke more punishment.

Goudlock: I agree that the Parole Board uses my unwillingness to live among the general population as so-called “evidence” that I’m not suitable to live in society. But the Parole Board knows full well that it’s nearly impossible for me, as an old-law prisoner, to live among the bedlam of the general population. They are well aware of the dangerous environment. But the Parole Board doesn’t care about the minefield-like obstacle course they want me to navigate in the interest of trying to receive parole. And, furthermore, I’ve tried numerous times to live among the general population, only to have my efforts derailed. So I refuse to keep foolishly putting my life in danger for the sake of trying to reach a destination the Parole Board won’t allow me to reach. The traditional thinking makes no sense–that a prisoner will be unable to live in society if they can’t live as a model prisoner in the midst of a hostile prison environment. In society a person is not forced to live every day in the company of convicted criminals. In society a person can choose to avoid trouble by distancing himself from it. But a prisoner doesn’t have this luxury—that is, unless he chooses to self-isolate himself, as I have done.

As for speaking out against Ohio’s racist criminal justice system, I don’t fear being retaliated against by the system after being given a preposterous 60-month sentence continuance at my last Parole Board hearing, in 2014. I realize my essay “Black Lives Matter: ODRC and Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine Swindle an Inmate” most likely upset some people. But when the people in power ignore blatant acts of prisoner abuse committed by white correction officers against black prisoners, as the Attorney General and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections did after I was assaulted and framed by six white correction officers, then their failure to uphold justice should be exposed. How can a broken criminal justice system ever be fixed if people are unwilling to voice the truth? And besides, when it comes to fighting for justice as an incarcerated black man or woman, we must be fearless and fierce because the long history of racism in the United States reveals that the deck is stacked against us. Our country still has a very, very long way to go before it actually becomes the country of “liberty and justice for all.”

Nichols: After we began working on this dialogue, Ta-Nehisi Coates published “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” in The Atlantic (October 2015), a powerful essay that encourages me to ask you something I’ve wondered about for quite a while. But first I want to quote a statement from Richard Braceful, a middle-aged African American in Detroit who served several years in Michigan prisons. He tells Coates about having to choose between “locking up”—that is, choosing isolation–or fighting when he was in prison. He adds this: “And if you lock up, everybody know you lock up. When you come back out, you gonna have a bigger problem.” Braceful describes an authentic dilemma for someone in your position, a prisoner who gets his sentence extended when he fights.

What I’ve wanted to ask you about is your understanding of how your incarceration has influenced your family. The context for my question is suggested by Coates’ essay. How far Patrick Moynihan was from blaming the black family for poverty and crime in black communities is evident in Coates’ summary of Moynihan’s report on black families: “Running against the tide of optimism around civil rights, ‘The Negro Family’ argued that the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by ‘three centuries of sometimes unimaginable treatment’ as well as a ‘racist virus in the American blood stream,’ which would continue to plague blacks in the future.” Coates goes on to make the case that mass incarceration has done great damage to black families and black communities, and he claims even those families that have stayed strong are seldom strong enough to keep all their members out of prison. I’m asking if your experience suggests the black family is doomed as long as we have mass incarceration.

Goudlock: From the beginning of slavery until the present, the black family has been under attack by greed-driven racist people of power. First, slave traders destroyed black families. During Reconstruction the enactment of racist laws known as Black Codes destroyed black families. And today the racist criminal justice system of the United States continues to destroy black families. This destruction is a key to keeping the lucrative business of mass incarceration thriving.

The various people who profit from mass incarceration will never admit this publicly, but they don’t want the families of their golden goose black convicts to prosper and be undivided. Strong black families produce fewer black convicts to provide the next generation of financial windfalls for the prison-industrial complex. This is why racist laws like those making disparate sentences for using or dealing crack and powder cocaine were enacted.

I grew up in and out of group homes and foster care so my relationship with my family was shallow. I’ve never seen a picture of my father. My mother, who grew up in foster care and was once incarcerated as an adult, died from a drug overdose toward the beginning of my incarceration. Her death was the beginning of the end of our family ties. I was not allowed to attend her funeral, and afterwards nobody came to visit me for ten years. I’ve made attempts to reconcile with them, asking them, for example, to call the Ohio State Highway Patrol to file a complaint when a correction officer assaulted me. One day I hope to be able to bridge the divides in our family and bury the past. So to answer your question, my experience tells me the black family is dangerously close to being broken beyond repair, but it’s not yet doomed.

Nichols: Since we began our dialogue, you and I have both read Shaka Senghor’s memoir Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison. Senghor’s account of his life includes parallels with your life, as well as important differences. He got caught up in dealing drugs and in violent street life, and he went into prison in Michigan when he was about the same age as you were when you entered prison in Ohio. Like you he seems to have experienced what prison professionals call “rehabilitation” while he was in isolation, where many people are damaged or destroyed.

An important difference between your story and Senghor’s seems to be your contrasting takes on rehabilitation. You’ve said you have no faith in the criminal justice system’s claims to foster rehabilitation. “I’m intelligent enough,” you write, “to recognize the underlying agendas of the rehabilitation pretenders who earn a handsome income off their car salesman-like tactics of persuading people to drink the rehabilitation Kool-Aid.” You add: “I do, however, believe my incarceration accelerated the process of my becoming the person I am today,” and you say you are now able to empathize with “the impoverished people of the world.”

Senghor’s “powerful transformation” came during his longest period of isolation, when he says he “broke down in front of the mirror, forgiving everyone I had held anger for, all of those years.” After that he started to keep a journal and write letters, and he participated in classes and in the Assaultive Offender Program (AOP) offered by the Michigan Department of Corrections. Senghor doesn’t make claims for the effectiveness of the prison system’s rehabilitation programs, but he does say his participation in the AOP program was necessary to convince the parole board he could be safely freed.

You seem to have emphasized independence more than Senghor as a way of understanding your own rehabilitation. The closest you’ve come to acknowledging a mentor is in writing about the influence of Siddique Abdullah Hasan, the African-American imam who has been sentenced to death for his participation in the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Why have you so emphatically rejected the Ohio prison system’s rehabilitation programs?

Goudlock: My current position of abstaining from participating in any so-called rehabilitation programs is based on my experiences of going before the Ohio Parole Board. In 2007, after having served nearly 14 years of my six to 25-year sentence, I went before the Board for the first time. At the conclusion of my hearing, the Board noted on my Parole Board Decision sheet that my institution programming had been “good” and I had “programmed well.” Nevertheless, due to my institution record of misconduct, I was given a 36-month sentence continuance. Three years later, in 2010, when I went before the Board for the second time, they noted I had “completed relevant programming.” The Board also noted that my “conduct [had] much improved since my first hearing” and that I had demonstrated “insight into [my] offenses of conviction.” As a result, I was given a shorter continuance of 14 months, and Board member Kathleen Kovach told me if I stayed out of trouble until my next hearing, she would recommend that I be released when I returned.

At my third hearing, in 2011, I returned without having committed any rule infractions. True to her word, Board member Kathleen Kovach, along with one of her colleagues, recommended that I be granted a parole. At this time, the record of my institution program participation was not an issue. But in spite of the Kovach hearing panel’s release recommendation, the Board’s oversight committee issued me an increased sentence continuation of 15 months.

The following year when I went to my fourth release consideration hearing, I had lowered my Security Level classification from a Security Level 4 to a Security Level 3. In spite of that evidence of improvement, I was again issued an increased sentence continuance, this time, for 24 months. That I was given this unwarranted continuance didn’t surprise me because the hearing panel that issued this “flop” was officiated by a former warden, Marc Houk, whose administration in 2006 had been caught red-handed trying to frame me for vandalizing a prison service elevator. The Ohio State Highway Patrol later discovered I was not responsible for damaging the elevator, which had been used to transport a customized motorcycle allegedly owned by Warden Houk. (In August of 2006, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper David H. Simpson conducted the criminal investigation. See Case No. 06-000028-0400.)

During my fourth hearing, Houk and his colleague falsely claimed my program participation record was limited. They used that as a pretext to issue me another increased sentence continuance. Prior to attending my fourth release consideration hearing, I had concluded that the completion of prison rehabilitation programs meant absolutely nothing to the Parole Board. After attending my fourth hearing I was certain they don’t matter although the Board would never admit to this. It would be akin to a corrupt elected official admitting to being corrupt.

As you know, two years later, in 2014, at my fifth release consideration hearing, when I was still classified as Security Level 3 prisoner, I was given an unjust sentence continuation of 60 months! If the Board truly cared about justice, I would be a free man now, on my way to becoming, like Shaka Senghor, a success story of redemption. But instead of the Board doing what they surely know is the right thing, they choose to continue psychologically torturing me and putting my physical survival in jeopardy. Since the recommendation that I be released in 2010, I’ve been physically assaulted by two wannabe gang members, and, in a single incident, assaulted and framed by six prison guards. The Ohio Parole Board, the Director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, and various state elected officials all know about this egregious injustice, but they don’t care. If I was being mistreated and was,
perhaps, a German Shepherd, then there might be a public call for justice. But because I’m an African-American male inside of the Ohio criminal justice system, its officials refuse to bite the hand that feeds them. And as long as people continue to ignore injustice, there will never be true justice for prisoners.

The only way a criminal justice system is going to ever work is if the people who control the system want it to work. In Michigan, the criminal justice system–to an extent–worked for Shaka Senghor because the authorities allowed it to work. When the parole board released Senghor, they acknowledged his undeniably positive strides, talent, and redeeming qualities. They didn’t ignore the fact that he had been rehabilitated and had completed rehabilitation programs, which is what Ohio’s parole board has done to me and many other old-law prisoners.

Nichols: Even though you’ve acknowledged the importance of Hasan in your own development, you haven’t claimed to be a Muslim. My impression is that you don’t think of yourself as a religious person, certainly not a Christian. During Senghor’s years in prison, he became a leader in the Melanic Islamic Palace of the Rising Sun, one of the four dominant Islamic groups he found in Michigan prisons. He was drawn to the Melanics, he writes, because they “profess a militant Afrocentric ideology.”

One of the words in Senghor’s subtitle, Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison might bother you. I’m thinking of “redemption.” Its religious meaning is deliverance from sin or atonement for guilt, and it can suggest a sudden transformation, a bit like instantaneous salvation, although it doesn’t always mean a change that happens so quickly. It seems to me Senghor’s participation in the Melanics was like Malcolm X’s early relationship with the Nation of Islam. That is, he became part of a community and developed leadership skills that have been important in the years since Senghor left prison in 2010. Building inclusive and just communities seems a crucial role of organized religions at their best. If a religious community doesn’t work for you, do you feel you’ve been able to feel part of any community since you’ve been in prison?

Goudlock: I’m an agnostic person and I don’t have any ties to any religion or spiritual beliefs. At one point in time, at the very beginning of my incarceration, I did give some thought to the possibility of joining the Nation Of Islam. Just as Shaka Senghor had been intrigued by the militant Afrocentric ideology of the Melanics, I was intrigued by the militant and pristine image that the members of the Nation Of Islam conveyed. I soon realized, however, that the NOI teachings were not for me. During my incarceration I haven’t been part of any community. With the exception of the few religious communities that exist within Ohio’s prison system, the rest of them are all rooted in gang culture, which is a culture that I’ve never been a part of at any time in my life.

Although I’m not part of any community now, I do intend, once I’m released, to become affiliated with an organization or community that practices the core self-empowering philosophies of the late statesman Marcus Garvey. I don’t believe in all of Garvey’s beliefs, but his calling for impoverished people of color to collectively become economically self-sufficient through the practice of entrepreneurship is something that greatly resonates with me, so much so that one of my long term goals is to finance a motion picture about his remarkable life, which is a story that I believe would inspire people all over the world.

Nichols: One crucial similarity between your story and Senghor’s is your growing interest in Black history. Senghor tells of a time in 1999 when he was beginning to gain confidence: “I could feel myself becoming a leader, a deep thinker, and a man of self-control—the kind of man that my reading of African history has inspired me to become.” He describes a speech he gave at the Muskegon Correctional Facility for a Melanic Brotherhood Day of Remembrance in 1999, when he talked about the bravery of Nat Turner in leading the famous slave rebellion. Senghor reminded his listeners “that his greatest sacrifice was risking his life to learn how to read.”

You’ve said the first time you were put in isolation, not long after you first went to prison, older men in isolation tried to get you to quiet down and stop causing trouble by giving you material to read, including The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). The ex-slave’s autobiography influenced you when you began writing your own life story a few years later, and your manuscript was lost or stolen when you were again put in isolation. In Brother of the Struggle (2014), your novel, where your protagonist is named Malcolm and on FreeJasonGoudlock.org, your website, the influence of your reading about the African American past is evident in your references to Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. And you mention above your dream of financing a film about Garvey.

How would you describe the importance of Black history in your own development?

Goudlock: Throughout the course of my incarceration, learning about Black history has helped me become the productive and courageous person that I am today. Prior to learning about the history of Black men and women, such as Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, and Marcus Garvey, I never knew there were Black leaders who were as courageous and uncompromising as they were in their fight for justice. Through them, I was able to realize that many of the rebellious-against-injustice views and principles I harbored were not an anomaly. When I learned the story of Frederick Douglass physically resisting a whipping by a brutal overseer and the story of statesman Marcus Garvey’s bold and remarkable global organizational efforts to unite all Blacks in the interest of eradicating a longstanding global system of socio-economic oppression–their stories gave me an affirming sense of assurance that allowed me to know with certainty that my frowned-upon-by-the-criminal-justice-system stance against injustice wasn’t wrong.

Right now, there are countless people within Ohio’s criminal justice system–that is, prison employees, parole board members, and even some inmates–who are repulsed by the fact that I have the audacity to follow in the footsteps of iconic Black leaders and demand the justice I’m entitled to. Hopefully, though, one day my refusal to capitulate to being steamrolled by Ohio’s broken Twilight Zone-like criminal justice system will lead to my freedom and some kind of moral awakening for the string-pullers in the system who publicly profess to be torch-bearers for justice while knowingly engaging in acts of corruption and deceit.

Nichols: The title of Senghor’s memoir and his emphasis on the importance of Nat Turner’s risking his life by learning how to read suggest how important the written word became in his life. And even though his title is Writing My Wrongs, it seems clear he has devoted his life and his writing to righting wrongs that are not his alone. He is committed, for one thing, to #cut50, a bipartisan effort to cut the U.S. prison population in half by 2025, and he speaks out often about our criminal justice system’s overuse of isolation as a form of punishment.

You too have written at length about wrongs in Ohio’s criminal justice system, but you haven’t called attention in quite the same way to the importance of writing in your own development, except: you’ve kept on writing for more than ten years. When I think of you and your writing—and that’s really been the focus of our work together for more than eight years—I think of something E.M. Forster is often said to have written: “How do I know what I think until I see what I’ve said?” That notion of writing as a form of discovery might seem silly at first glance. How can you write about something if you don’t already know it? But the main kind of writing you do at FreeJasonGoudlock.org, the essay, can mean a tentative attempt. And I know for a fact that the best essays I’ve written lead me to questions and conclusions I didn’t have in mind when I began writing.

When you wrote to me in 2008, you were working on a novel, but you were seeking advice concerning the possibility of making a documentary film about the challenges you might face when you get out of prison. I know you’re drawn to film and the social media as ways to communicate with people who might not take the time to read an essay or a book. But I wonder what you think about how your own writing has influenced you in becoming the person you are today.

Goudlock: Writing has solidified my evolution from being an impatient and irrational teen, into becoming a goal-oriented, thoughtful, and productive man. Twenty years ago, I would never have thought I might one day become a published writer of any sort, except maybe rap music. Rap songs have always been relatively easy for me to write, but I didn’t have the discipline or focus to do anything productive back then. What eventually led me to venture down a path of productivity was my desire to improve my horrendous financial situation. In 1999, after my mother died–and my surrogate grandparents had died in 1995 and 1998–I had no moral or financial support from anyone. After some serious brainstorming, I decided to try writing an autobiography to improve my financial situation.

My thinking was if Frederick Douglass could write a book during a time when Blacks could get killed for reading and writing, then surely I could write one during a time that was less hostile. When I began writing my would-be autobiography, I probably balled-up the first few pages at least ten times, and I nearly gave up on the project. But the burning desire to improve my financial situation kept me going, and every time I finished writing on each yellow notebook page, which contained two scaled-down hand-written lines in between every single-spaced line of the page–I felt a sense of triumph over the bleakness of my incarceration. In my mind, each page I completed was moving me an inch closer to getting out of prison, because my thinking was that I was going to be able to use the proceeds from my autobiography to hire a top-notch attorney who could get me out of prison on some kind of legal loophole.

Soon afterwards, however, my writing came to an abrupt ending after I was released from the hole, where I’d been put for fighting, and I discovered that my stored property, which included the manuscript, had been lost. After losing my manuscript, I was so upset that I gave up on trying to write a book. But several years later, after being moved into the supermaximum-security wing of Ohio State Penitentiary, and after meeting death row prisoner Siddique A. Hasan, I became inspired by his daily pearls of wisdom and his ability to persevere in his situation of grave injustice, and I began a second attempt at writing a book. This was my novel, later titled Brother of the Struggle.

As you are aware, while I was working on my novel, I went through numerous trials-and-tribulations, dealing with disrespectful prisoners and corrupt prison employees. But the self-confidence that I acquired early on from my first attempt to write a book in 1999, gave me the later self-confidence to know I could complete the writing of my novel, or any other writing project. After I finished writing Brother of the Struggle, in the complementary essay that I wrote, titled “Penning a Novel Behind Bars as a Novice,” I stated:” I feel like rejoicing and yelling at the top of my lungs like [NBA superstar] Kevin Garnett every time I think of how I was able to finish writing Brother of the Struggle.” After winning his first NBA championship, in one of the most memorable moments in sports history, Garnett yelled, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!” His emotional yell exemplifies and mirrors the resilient refuse-to-quit mentality I was able to refine throughout my tumultuous evolution in becoming a writer.

Nichols: In January of 2016, well after we began work on this dialogue, you decided to leave the “hole” and return to the general population as the prison authorities had long been urging you to do. Here’s how you explained your decision on your blog at FreeJasonGoudlock.org: “After doing a lot of thinking, I came to the conclusion that I could more efficiently network with people if I was in general population, mainly because I could use my mini-tablet to communicate.”

Your decision probably had a lot to do with your transfer to Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio, on December 23, 2015. And that transfer was probably a result of your protest at Toledo Correctional Institution when you were moved out of isolation against your will. I’d like to know more of the backstory in your decision to return to the general population.

Goudlock: After vowing not to return to the general prison population when I was at Toledo Correctional Institution, I was suddenly transferred to the Ross Correctional Institution. Upon my arrival, my intention was to continue refusing to accept being housed in general population. After being given an unwarranted and ridiculous 60-month sentence continuation at my 2014 parole board hearing, I grew extremely bitter about the psychological games the Ohio Parole Board was playing with me. Mentally, I was exhausted, and I made up my mind I would not allow the Parole Board, or the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, to toy with my life by making me—for 60 more months–live among a hostile general prison population that’s composed of a large majority-class of new-law prisoners, who, nearly all, don’t have to go before the Parole Board to have the length of their imprisonment determined. What changed my position was the fact that filmmaker Sam Crow expressed interest in making a documentary about my situation of injustice, and I became fearful that I might be about to pass over an opportunity to be interviewed for the film that might lead to my being freed. So, taking everything into consideration, I came to the conclusion that, at that particular time, it would be unwise for me to continue to refuse to be housed in the general prison population, which would have prevented me from being able to be interviewed through the Skype-like JPay video system.

Nichols: Your transfer to Ross Correctional Institution, where you agreed to leave the “hole” in order to begin work on a documentary film, followed an act of civil disobedience at the Toledo Correctional Institution. My understanding of civil disobedience is that a person disobeys a law when obedience would lead the person to participate in an injustice. I wonder if you see your action in Toledo in those terms? One possible difference is that someone who refused to pay a tax for war or to serve in the military or to move to the back of the bus was risking imprisonment. Because you were already imprisoned, you risked something else, and you can probably explain that difference better than I. How would you describe the thinking that led to your action in Toledo? And how would you describe the action itself? Did this chapter in the story of your incarceration influence your decision to return to the general population?

Goudlock: I definitely felt that returning to Toledo’s general population would be wrong for me, and that, yes, if I did, I would be participating in a detrimental act of injustice. And although my act of civil disobedience didn’t place me in jeopardy of being imprisoned, it has put me at risk of having the Ohio Parole Board cite the incident as a reason to continue my incarceration at my next release consideration hearing in 2019.1 But, if this happens, continuation will be unjustifiable because I should have been released at my previous two release consideration hearings, in 2014 and 2012.

As for the frame of mind that I was in prior to engaging in civil disobedience, my mindset was that I had to, some kind of way, make it known to the heads of Ohio’s criminal justice system that I was no longer going to accept being discriminated against, or being over-
incarcerated. At the time in which I staged my protest, I had served a total of approximately 22 years. It wasn’t a difficult decision to decide to put my foot down and stand up for myself. And although I was fully aware that my protest would give the Parole Board more ammunition to use against me, I felt that I really didn’t have anything to lose by staging my protest. The majority of the members of Ohio’s Parole Board are corrupt. So it’s not as if I’m going to be given a fair and meaningful hearing anyway because the Parole Board doesn’t care anything about furthering the interest of justice on the behalf of Jason Goudlock. If they did, they wouldn’t be ignoring the well-documented incidents of injustice that I’ve been subjected to as an old-law prisoner over the course of my incarceration.2 Any person with common sense has to agree that if a parole board ignores undeniable evidence an inmate was assaulted and framed, as I have been by various prison employees, the parole board in question is one that operates without any integrity whatsoever. Overall, I feel my act of civil disobedience was a righteous and sensible thing to do. Although I failed to produce the results I was seeking, I don’t regret standing up for myself.

The protest in Toledo didn’t really influence my decision to return to the general population at Ross Correctional Institution. Shortly after I was transferred from Toledo to Ross, after a taking a couple of weeks to reevaluate my situation, I made the decision to return to general population so I could participate in the making of a documentary film by award-winning filmmaker Samuel Crow, to publicize my predicament, as well as the longstanding old-law sentencing disparity that was created on July 1,1996, which is when Ohio enacted its non-retroactive new-law sentencing guidelines. But, if it weren’t for the golden opportunity to participate in the production of the documentary film, I almost most certainly wouldn’t have returned to general population.

Nichols: How would you describe your act of civil disobedience in Toledo?

Goudlock: My act of civil disobedience in Toledo was daring and slightly dangerous. Prior to committing the act, I had to make a harness from the outer plastic cover on my mattress and a bed sheet, and I made a pair of makeshift goggles from a Ziploc bag. To make sure the harness wouldn’t look too bulky on me when I was let out of my cell the following day, I wrapped it around my waist underneath my clothes.

The following day I was let out of my cell to eat in the dayroom area of my cellblock, and when I saw the door to my cellblock was open, I sprinted out of the cellblock and climbed up to the top of a nearby crashgate. Before I could get my goggles on, as I was attempting to secure my harness to the top of the crashgate, approximately thirty to forty feet up in the air, an officer sprayed me with a chemical agent and caught me off guard. Partially blinded by the chemical agent, I abandoned my original plan of tying myself to the top of the crashgate. Instead, I climbed over onto the top of a nearby ventilation duct and lay on my back.

Several minutes after I climbed up the crashgate, dozens of officers and prison employees stood gathered around below me. Among the crowd was an institution crisis negotiator, and he asked me why I had climbed up the crashgate. As I was now being filmed by two video cameras, I explained to the negotiator that I was protesting against my unjust situation of being forced to live as an old-law offender among a dangerous new-law prison population. And I was being forced to serve an unjust and disproportionately longer prison sentence than those being served by new-law offenders. The negotiator responded by telling me that nobody at the prison could do anything about eliminating the existing disparities between the old-law and new-law class of prisoners, and I needed to come down off of the ventilation duct. I explained that my objective of climbing up the crashgate was to get some meaningful attention about my situation, and that I wasn’t coming down until I spoke to someone from either the media, the Governor’s office, or the Department of Rehabilitation’s central office.

After about an hour went by of failed negotiating to get me to come down off the ventilation duct, someone involved with responding to the crisis had a hydraulic lift brought onto the scene, along with a bunch of small mattresses. As the negotiator continued to try and negotiate an end to my protest, various prison employees began spreading the mattresses out underneath me on the ground. Shortly after they finished, the investigator of the prison appeared and aimed a rifle-style gun at my head and ordered me to come down. It was loaded with some kind of non-lethal ammunition. Not wanting to risk being shot off of the duct, I decided to end my demonstration. I climbed down the crashgate to the ground. I was then placed in a cell inside of a Special Management Housing Unit without being given a decontamination shower to wash off the chemical agent.


1 In 2014,upon being given a controversial five-year sentence continuance at his fifth Ohio Parole Board release consideration hearing, I vowed to refuse to attend my scheduled hearing in 2019.

2 In 2006, at the Ohio State Penitentiary, several prison employees, including Warden Marc Houk, attempted to frame me for allegedly vandalizing a service elevator. An investigation conducted by Ohio State Highway Patrolman David H. Simpson, however, vindicated me. (See OSHP Incident Number 06-000028-0400.) The investigation led to the discovery that a motorcycle, allegedly owned by Warden Houk, was stuck inside of the inoperable elevator. Mark Houk left the Ohio State Penitentiary and is currently a member of the Ohio Parole Board. In 2012, he sat on the parole board hearing panel that issued a 24-month sentence continuance, miscalculating the time I had been incarcerated.

In 2013, while being housed at Mansfield Correctional Institution, I was assaulted and subsequently framed by several correction officers, who alleged that they had to use physical force against me, accusing me of allegedly “kicking his cell door open.” A vindicating comment made by the Chair of the Mansfield Correctional Institution’s Rules Infraction Board–“The [surveillance] video clearly shows that Goudlock did not kick his door open”–proved that the officers falsified their reports. The actual comment, which was made during my 2013 Rules Infraction Board hearing, can be heard by going to FreeJasonGoudlock.org.

Download a PDF copy of A Dialogue on Isolation, Race, and Justice.

Still ‘All In’ for Justice: An Open Letter to the Ohio Parole Board

August 10, 2016

Ohio Parole Board
770 W. Broad Street
Columbus, OH 43222

Dear Ohio Parole Board:

Having served nearly 23 years as a first time offender for aggravated robbery and felonious assault, I’m writing this open letter to you in the hope of being freed from my torturous and unjust old-law, indefinite prison sentence.

As you may know, I mailed a letter to you in 2014, prior to my fifth and most recent release consideration hearing. I gave several reasons why I deserved to be paroled. Briefly, the reasons were these: (1) I had already served more than the maximum time I would have been given under the 1996 Senate Bill 2 sentencing guidelines. (2) In 2012 I had been given an unconstitutional release consideration hearing because of the presence of Ohio Parole Board member Marc Houk, who in 2006, as the warden of Ohio State Penitentiary, was caught trying to frame me for vandalizing a prison elevator. The Ohio State Highway Patrol found during the criminal investigation that the elevator had contained Houk’s illegally stored motorcycle. (See Ohio State Highway Patrol Incident No. 06-000028-0400.) (3) In 2013 I was assaulted and framed by a squad of rogue correction officers in Mansfield. (See “Black Lives Matter” essay on FreeJasonGoudlock.org.) These reasons were overshadowed by my light-hearted closing comment in which I asked to be paroled, in part, to see LeBron James’ pursuit of an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavs, a comment that was widely publicized and criticized in national media.

The majority of reporters shaped their stories to suggest I’d written to you for the sole purpose of asking to be let out of prison to see LeBron James play. With the media watching, you issued a preposterous sentence continuance of five years, as if to send a message to the entire nation that the Ohio Parole Board would never release a prisoner for such a shallow request. It’s not surprising that many in the media would use a light-hearted snippet from my letter to make satirical headlines, but aren’t you supposed to be furthering justice in Ohio? How does the Ohio Parole Board accomplish that purpose when it issues my unjust five-year continuance and ignores the egregious acts of injustice named in my letter, all of which can be easily verified?

There is widespread, growing agreement that our nation’s criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates poor people of color—that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. This task is going to take much time, energy, and effort, but it can begin with simple repairs like eradicating the discriminatory practice of over-incarcerating old law prisoners like me. We are being made to serve prison sentences three and four times longer than sentences being served by new law prisoners.

In addition, there is no reason the Ohio Parole Board could not develop a more uniform system of determining which old law prisoners are granted parole. In 2016 you granted parole to a recently captured escapee, Frank Freshwater, who was a fugitive for about 50 years after being convicted of killing someone, and you did this after issuing my five-year continuance in 2014.

In spite of my many protests against injustice within Ohio’s criminal justice system, it makes no sense to Nelson Mandelitize me in terms of time served. Every member of the Parole Board must know by now that I have no desire to harm anyone when I am free. So I ask you to do what is morally correct: issue a parole or an imminent conditional release date, something I’ve never been given the opportunity to earn.

Your consideration would be greatly appreciated.


Jason Goudlock

cc: Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio News Network, FreeJasonGoudlock.org

Download a PDF copy of 2016 Letter to the Parole Board.

Penning a Novel as a Novice in Isolation

As an African-American male who grew up in the 1980’s in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, I never imagined I’d one day be incarcerated for nearly two decades for committing the senseless crimes of feloniously assaulting and robbing people. Back then, when basketball and rap music were my primary interests, I imagined I would one day become either a professional basketball player or the second coming of LL Cool J. Unfortunately, as a fatherless adolescent who lacked self-discipline and craved to be loved by my cocaine-addicted mother, I never realized my youthful ambitions.

While I never imagined I would become a convicted felon serving hard time, I also never imagined I would one day write a book.

After having my physical freedom taken away in 1993, living in prison without any moral or financial support, I realized the only way I was going to find support was to manufacture my own. I didn’t have a clue until I found The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, an autobiography of a man who had lived as a slave, and I decided to write my own story. In the fall of 1999, I started writing a couple of pages per day, and in a few months I managed to churn out a couple of hundred rough, raw pages that made me feel proud. My hard work seemed to be amounting to something, and I began to feel like a writer. Then, out of nowhere, I got into a physical confrontation with another prisoner, and I was put in the hole. Two weeks later, when I was released, I learned my property had been lost while I was in the hole. I’ve never seen the manuscript of my autobiography-in-progress again.

That loss knocked the wind out of my sails. In a different world I would have bounced back and begun rewriting my life story with strengthened resolve to complete it. But I was still getting my mind around my six-to-25 year sentence plus a nine-year sentence of “actual incarceration” for gun specification sentencing enhancements. The anger I felt about losing my property took over my mind, and I parted ways with my writing aspirations.

After the start of the new millennium, frustrated by the fact that I was still in dire straits without anybody in my corner, confined like a dog in a kennel, I started getting into fights with other prisoners on a regular basis. I watched many seasons go by from inside the drab, solitary confines of a cell in the hole. Instead of doing my time, I allowed time to start doing me, and in the spring of 2005 I was transferred to the super-maximum security housing unit at the Ohio State Penitentiary, charged with assaulting an officer while I was in leg irons with my hands cuffed behind my back.

Railroaded into Ohio’s “supermax,” I let 23-hour solitary confinement worsen my behavior. I hurled obscenities at officers and their superiors whenever they came near me, and I became a target for reprisals from the administration. Fortunately, during this time I met an older, charismatic political prisoner, Siddique Abdullah Hasan1, a seasoned writer and editor of an anti-death penalty newsletter. Hasan, was held three cells from me, and I introduced myself while he was exercising in the dayroom area in front of my cell. He took a liking to me and offered wisdom to me on a regular basis during our brief daily conversations. “You don’t have to meet every situation with aggression,” he advised me one day. “It’s like when a bug keeps flying in your face: you don’t have to kill it. All you have to do is just swat it away.” It took a while, but I began to heed Hasan’s words, and my behavior improved. Instead of arguing all day, I started reading, and after reading some of Hasan’s published essays, I felt my interest in writing come alive again. I decided to give it another try.

I decided to write a novel loosely based on my own experience growing up as a troubled youth who made big mistakes and found injustice in America’s criminal justice system. Fiction, I decided, would free me to paint a broader picture of what it’s like for hundreds of thousands of young Black males to grow up in America’s inner cities. In my novel, Brother of the Struggle, I try to offer the reader a glimpse into the struggles encountered by countless young Black males.

I started the first draft of Brother of the Struggle in the summer of 2005. At first I wrote one to three pages per day, usually late at night, when everyone was sleeping. It seemed impossible to write in the day because of the constant commotion in my cellblock. So I became a night owl and, as a result, a coffee drinker too. Slowly but surely the pages of my draft began adding up, and I estimated I would be able to complete the final version of my draft some time in 2006.

Less than two months after I started my second literary journey, an invitation of friendship came to me on a social networking website from a kind-hearted young woman, Nicia Aiyetoro. As fate would have it Nicia Aiyetoro was the author of two unpublished books, Children of the State and What the . . .! & ?: A Straight Up Guide to Life, Love and Money. Excited by the prospect of getting to know someone who shared my interest in writing, I wrote back and told her about my novel. She began helping me with my writing skills, and she typed up all the pages I had written in cursive.

With the help of a newfound friend in my corner and my daily writing regimen, I should have been able to coast to my projected completion in 2006. But isolation proved to be more difficult for me than I anticipated. Six months of doors slamming every fifteen minutes when officers did their security range checks began to unnerve me. My body would lock up in a rigid state of tension as though I were trying to do a million push-ups nonstop. It made me irritable and aggressive, and I wasted many hours and most of my energy arguing with people for days at a time.

Those days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into years. I made myself believe I was working on the novel, but I was actually procrastinating. And I was frustrating my friend, my source of support, Nicia Aiyetoro, who said more than once that she was growing impatient with my slow writing progress. I should have taken heed, but I didn’t, and in 2008, after three years of patience, Nicia Aiyetoro abruptly ended our correspondence.

The sudden reality of being back on my own shook me to the core, and I couldn’t blame anyone but myself. Still, I felt anger toward the world and stopped caring about anything at all. I was miserable, and I hated waking up in the morning. For months I felt no motivation to write.

Languishing in my own misery for those long months, I began to think about how I could get my manuscript typed if I did get back to writing. Then I read an essay about torture and solitary confinement by a retired college professor, William Nichols, and decided to reach out to him and ask if he would help me get my manuscript typed. Professor Nichols must have been impressed with my determination because he volunteered to type everything I’d already written.

When I began corresponding with the professor, I figured my manuscript was three-fourths complete. Instead of completing it, and having him wait for me to finish, I hand-copied all my completed pages and mailed them to him chapter by chapter so he could begin typing. While copying, I made dozens of revisions to each chapter.

At the beginning of 2009, in the middle of serving a 36-month sentencing continuance I’d received from the Parole Board, everything was going smoothly with work on my manuscript. Once again, however, I ran into turbulence when I was moved into a cellblock made up mostly of White prisoners who were openly racist. Less than two hours after I moved into the new cellblock, one of the racists called me a nigger. What followed was a two-year war of words with a few stabbing attempts against me by three of the racists. They tried to get to me while I was showering in a locked shower cell out of view of the control post. They signaled the preoccupied control post officers that they were ready to shower while they were exercising in the dayroom area, hoping the officers would slip up and release the shower door while I was still in there, giving them a chance to stab me with a shank. Control post officers have been duped before by this strategy, but in my case fortunately they failed to take the bait.

Having already lost the support of one lifeline and then getting a second chance by the professor’s support, I feared the time I was wasting on warring with a bunch of wannabe White supremacists might lose me the backing of the professor, who was waiting for me to get the revised manuscript chapters in the mail to him. This time I vowed to rise above the anger and racial conflict. I vowed to complete the novel and get it in the mail, and in the first quarter of 2012, I did just that. Finally.

Download a PDF copy of Penning a Novel as a Novice in Isolation.

Do Black Lives Matter to Ohio’s Parole Board

I have been in prison since 1994. That year, shortly before I turned 19, I was convicted of armed robbery and felonious assault. At my third parole hearing seventeen years later, the Ohio Parole Board recommended my release, but the Board’s oversight committee (the Central Office Board Review – COBR) overruled the release recommendation and issued a continuance of 15 months.

Since then, I have called attention to an Ohio State Highway Patrol investigation that shows I was falsely accused by former Ohio State Penitentiary Warden Marc Houk of damaging a prison elevator that held his motorcycle. I pointed out that Houk served on a Parole Board that misrepresented the time I had served when they issued another continuance of my sentence. In addition, I began a lawsuit against several correction officers who physically assaulted me on April 12, 2013 and subsequently fabricated a series of false incident and conduct reports to cover up their illegal behavior. I made an audio recording showing officers lied under oath available to the public on my website (FreeJasonGoudlock.org).

As a direct result of my efforts to call attention to these injustices, the Ohio Parole Board in October 2014 issued a five-year continuance of my sentence.

I suggest one answer to the question I ask in my title can be determined by comparing the Ohio Parole Board’s handling of my situation with that of Roger Snodgrass, a white man. Then a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, Snodgrass was serving time for a 1987 aggravated robbery conviction and a 1994 involuntary manslaughter conviction for stabbing a man to death during the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He provided testimony against five prisoners who were convicted of deadly participation in the eleven-day disturbance, and he was paroled in September 2006.

According to the September 4, 2006 Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Ohio Parole Board justified Snodgrass’s release by saying he had “served more than the minimum for killing inmate Earl Elder,” who suffered 163 stab wounds from a homemade ice pick, adding that Snodgrass had “compiled a good work history in prison.”

If I had been sentenced under the guidelines that went into effect July 1, 1996, I would already have served nearly three years over the maximum amount of time for my crimes. Instead, the Board has decided I must serve almost 26 years for robbery and felonious assault before they will even consider whether I can be released while they judged Snodgrass to be rehabilitated 13 years after killing a man. Is this equal justice under the law?

Download a PDF copy of Do Black Lives Matter to Ohio’s Parole Board.