On February 1, 1985, prison guards at the Indiana State Reformatory (now Pendleton Correctional Facility) affiliated with a KKK-splinter group known as the Sons of Light chained prisoner Lincoln Love in their office and began to mercilessly beat him. John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter led a group of prisoners to the office and demanded entrance. When the Sons of Light responded with more violence, the prisoners took hostages and occupied a cell block for 15 hours, releasing a list of demands to improve inhumane prison conditions. John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter were ultimately sentenced to 84 and 142 years for their successful attempt to save Lincoln Love’s life. Cole and Trotter remain incarcerated to this day, and now face major medical complications from old age and decades of institutional neglect.
Too Black is a poet, member of Black Alliance For Peace, host of The Black Myths Podcast on Black Power Media, and producer of The Last Dope Intellectual. Too Black is the communications director for the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2. He is also the co-director, co-producer, and editor of the documentary The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up. Too Black is based in Indianapolis, IN and can be reached at email@example.com or @too_black_ on Twitter.
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance. She’s the author of “Prisons Make Us Safer”: And 20 Other Myths about Mass Incarceration (2021) and the coauthor of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms (2020).
Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Mansa Musa: Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. I’m Mansa Musa. Imagine, if you will, you had three years left before you was released from prison, or two months left before you released from prison, and this happened:
Speaker 1: This third time they came down there in a matter of hours, they riot gear, you know, and this and that. Now, they lined up outside Lokmar’s cell. Now keep in mind, you done passed up four or five more cells, but you had no Lokmar’s cell. We in the middle. You got some more cells before you get to us. Why you lined up outside that brother’s cell? As I seen them going to Lokmar’s cell, he didn’t see what I seen on the side of the wall. There was some more guards lined up, sticks, shields, helmets, you know, ready to do battle. They lined up, man. They got, looked like guns and all type of stuff.
They went in on the brother. Had him subdued, had him handcuffed. And what really caused this riot this particular day, once he was handcuffed, one of the guards took the sticks and hit him in his head. Blood gushed out of his head. I’m right there. I got tears in my eyes. I tell them, look, give some of that, just to take them off of him. So one of the guards say, don’t worry about it, y’all got some of that coming. You know what I mean? [inaudible] So I look over there, there’s more blood gushing out of the brother’s head. He’s cuffed behind his back.
Speaker 2: They beat him damn near to a pulp with a solid oak club. Once they beat him, they drug him out of his cell. And then drug him down the range of the tier. [inaudible] of the range for all the other prisoners to see. And everybody thought he was dead. They thought he was dead.
Speaker 1: Hey man, somebody going tell. Hey man, they trying to kill us down here. Once John Cole got the word of what’s taking place, somewhere down that line, him and his brother named Christopher Trotter met up. So now they coming, trying to see what’s going on in this particular unit.
Mansa Musa: Today, I have two people that are instrumental in helping to bring to light and reverse this injustice that’s taking place against the Pendleton 2. And when I say injustice, that’s an understatement. Here we are in 2023 and we have in the United States of America a prison system and a prison-industrial complex in this country that operates racially with impunity, that they don’t have no restraints, have no oversight, and continuously operate in this fashion, in a gang mentality. Welcome to Rattling the Bars.
And Ms. Law, introduce yourself to the Rattling the Bars audience and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Victoria Law: Hey, thank you so much for having both of us and for covering this. My name is Victoria Law. I am an author and a freelance journalist that covers issues of incarceration, specifically resistance and organizing happening both behind the bars and outside to bring people home and to shrink the giant prison system that the nation has become.
Mansa Musa: All right. And Too Black, introduce yourself to the Rattling the Bars audience and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Too Black: Yeah, my name is Too Black, I am a poet, and relevant to this conversation, I am the comms director, comms representative for the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2. And I am the producer and editor of the film you just saw, the clip from the film you just saw, excuse me, The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up. So thanks for having me. And I also want to send my kind regards to Eddie Conway. I’ve watched his show throughout the years and I know about his story. So just rest in peace, Eddie Conway, as well.
Mansa Musa: All right. And we appreciate that. And let’s just get right into the heart of the matter. And I’m going to set the table up and then y’all start dishing out the dishes as y’all feel free.
All right, so we have two individuals that are locked up in the Indiana State Prison. And Indiana State Prison has, basically, the guards are basically a part of a hybrid group of the Ku Klux Klan, all Ku Klux Klan, All American Nazis, skinheads, all things racist, all things anti-humanity. And in this regard, they operate within the prison system with impunity. At some point, they got to the point where these guards got in a state of mind where it was all out assault on prisoners this particular day. Pick up from there.
Victoria Law: So this had been a longstanding occurrence. It wasn’t just that on this particular day, the guards at what is now the Pendleton Correctional Facility decided that they were going to brutalize incarcerated people. This had long been an issue where guards were allowed to brutalize people, to place them in solitary confinement – Which is itself a form of brutalization and violence. They were allowed to what they call “burn” people for meals, for other things, so that they would just not give them what they were supposed to be giving them, such as food. And on Feb. 1, 1985 – And men at the prison had said that there was constantly this tension and this threat of violence from guards. This was not a surprising occurrence.
On Feb. 1 that day, the guards had placed men in solitary confinement, including a jailhouse lawyer named Lincoln Love, who was very highly regarded by men in the prison. And he was in solitary confinement. And he was being subjected to what they call a cell search, which many of your viewers know is when guards come en masse to a person’s cell and say that they’re going to search the cell. And that means not just rifling through a person’s belongings, but violently tearing through everything that they own.
Mansa Musa: That’s right.
Victoria Law: This could mean that their loved one’s pictures get thrown in the toilet, they get stomped on, their legal work gets ripped up, and the person themself is unable to do anything about this.
And on that day, they came to the cell, said that they were going to do a cell search. The man who was directly across the corridor from Lincoln Love said that usually cell searches happen in an orderly fashion. You go to the first cell, the second cell, the third cell.
Mansa Musa: Right, right.
Victoria Law: This time they came directly to Lincoln Love’s cell. And Lincoln Love was supposedly not quick enough to comply, so he didn’t immediately get up and run to the back of the cell to comply with this cell search. Instead he said something like, you already searched me. Why are you doing this again? And this, to the guards, was their justification for going in and beating him, handcuffing him, and then brutalizing him some more. So he was unable to fight back. He was on the ground, the man locked in the cell across from him tried to divert the guard by yelling at them and hoping that they would turn away from Lincoln Love and not kill him, to turn their anger and their fury and their violence against him. So he, in that moment, did what he could to save Lincoln Love’s life. And other men yelled out the window to men who were on the yard that the guards were beating Lincoln Love and they were going to kill him.
And men, including the two men we were talking about, Christopher Naeem Trotter and John Balagoon Cole, attempted to go to the administration to have them stop the officers’ beatings. And there they were met by armed guards who refused to let them pass and attempted to beat them. And then they went to a housing unit to get in to escape these guards, and they ended up taking over the housing unit and taking several staff members hostage. And they issued a series of demands, because at that point they said that if they had not done so, it would have been a massacre. Too Black calls this the Attica of Indiana. It is [inaudible] in the prison system.
And after 17 hours, the prison finally relented, people inside the prison called media on the outside, including an all-Black radio station, which then reached out to other media. So there was media coverage. So the prison was not able to do what they did at Attica here in New York state, just go in, start shooting randomly and killing people. But instead, after 17 hours the state said, okay, we will acquiesce to these demands. The media accompanied the men to the cells in the solitary confinement unit, meaning that the guards could not then immediately brutalize them. But the following day, they were all transferred. And Chris Trotter and John Cole were brought up on outside charges of attempted murder, rioting, assault, and confinement, which is another word for kidnapping. And they were sentenced to 84 years for John Cole, who had three and a half years left on his sentence. And for Chris Trotter, who had three months left before he went home, he got 142 years in prison.
Mansa Musa: Okay. Now, let’s start right there. In terms of the amount of time they got, but more importantly, when I read the article, I read in there where prior to this, they had filed lawsuits and civil rights suits about the conditions and about the brutality. And from your knowledge – And I’ll get to you in a minute, Too Black – From your knowledge, have the state legislators, have the federal government taken any notice of what was going on? ‘Cause this had been going on for a while. This ain’t just happen, like you say, this ain’t just happened that day. This was like, well, this is a good day to be somebody day. That’s what that amounted to. Wasn’t like it’s not a good day, it’s just like, okay, today we can do it with impunity, or whatever the reason behind the lack of restraint. Talk about that. Who doing oversight outside of the organization? What government agencies, or if any?
Victoria Law: Well, the state Department of Correction operates under the auspices of the state, so the governor has oversight. He has the ability to appoint or remove the director of the prison system. A few years later, there was a report made to the governor’s office about a white supremacist organization called the Brotherhood in the Indiana State Farm, which is now called Putnamville Correctional Facility. And the governor did nothing. There had been outside investigators and state investigators who had investigated this Brotherhood and had not been able to do anything.
These people operated with such impunity that when an investigator dared to file a report stating that a member of the Brotherhood, a guard associated with a white supremacist organization beat up a prisoner or beat up an incarcerated man and then falsified documents about the beating, the guard and his buddies went to the local bar and beat up the investigator. I mean, this is the kind of impunity. They are not just targeting the people inside, but they also feel free to run amok on the outside, going around to outside bars and beating people up when they’re having a drink or celebrating their birthday with their family members.
So you can see that there is a deeper problem than just people who feel that they have so much power over incarcerated men that they can do this. But that ripples out into people feeling that they have the impunity to brutalize and violate incarcerated people and anyone who tries to hold them to accountability.
Mansa Musa: Thank you.
Too Black, talk about where we at in terms of the defense. And before you get there, I just want to make this observation that when we find ourselves in these situations – And this is in defense of the actions and the behavior on the part of the individuals that was charged – When we find ourselves in these situations where we are incarcerated and we find ourselves where the guards are brutalizing us, and from a prison mentality, we don’t have no choice but to defend ourselves. And from the prison mentality, we take whatever necessary measures to defend ourselves. We don’t kowtow, mainly when you know that they coming with blackjacks, plastic bullets, mace that take your breath, that you don’t have no choice, you going to die. So it’s better dying fighting than laying on the ground and getting beat half to death.
So I’m saying that to say that, for our viewers, if you look at what’s happening and you feel like that they did something to deserve this, this wasn’t something that they brought on themselves, this is the environment they in. They have a racist police guard union, that this is what they do. Too Black, talk about the defense and where we at with the defense for the two brothers.
Too Black: Well currently, they’ve been in prison for just this case for 37 years, and they haven’t exhausted, but they’ve went through several appeals trying to get sentence modifications, PCRs, et cetera. Some of the most recent stuff – ‘Cause again, we could be here all day going through the different challenges they’ve made. In 2018, Christopher Naeem Trotter, that’s the prisoner who received 142 years, he had his sentence vacated. And again, this is in Madison County, Indiana. Anderson’s the main city, but this is where Pendleton Prison is, originally where the uprising took place. So he had his sentence vacated towards the end, I believe, in October of 2018.
For those who don’t know what vacated means, basically the sentence that he had was removed and he needed to be re-sentenced because they deemed that he had ineffective counsel on his original case. So that means he could have been released. The years could have been reduced dramatically to a few years left. The judge had the freedom, really, to do whatever they wanted to do.
But the judge who actually vacated the sentence was removed from the bench, that was Judge Dudley. Then they brought Judge Carroll in. So towards the end of 2019, his sentence was vacated, and he was just re-sentenced to 122 years from 142. So effectively nothing happened. They just re-sentenced him to life in prison. It was a sham at that point. And the judge says, I can’t remember the direct quote, so I’m paraphrasing, but something to the effect, he says, we have to have our brothers back. And that was quoted in the Anderson Herald Bulletin. So it was obvious from our standpoint that this is deeper, this is why we call them political prisoners, ’cause this is deeper than whatever so-called crime that would’ve committed.
Mansa Musa: And talk about, you made the good observation of, you juxtaposed this Indiana concentration camp plantation with the Attica plantation. Talk about that. And be mindful if you could make a connection between the little small county, because in the Attica documentary that was done, was remarkably done. The producer talked to some of the people in the Attica community and the woman said, Attica is the major industry in Attica. She was saying the prison-industrial complex, the plantation Attica, was the number one source of income for the population of the people of Attica. From your observation and your insight or study, do you see the comparison in that regard?
Too Black: Maybe not so much in the employment aspect. There is not a major city, but there’s a city in the county of Madison. But there did seem to be a pipeline from Ellwood, Indiana. Ellwood, Indiana is, again, stationed within Madison County. And a lot of people from Ellwood, Indiana, particularly at the time in which this happened, worked at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, even though that’s actually across the county. And Ellwood, Indiana is actually a known hub for the Ku Klux Klan. We actually have pictures in the film that were Klansmen, were taking pictures in Ellwood, Indiana.
So there was always a relationship there. And then a lot of the people who were on the jury were from Ellwood, Indiana. And also, it’s important to know that the jury was all white, even though the county at the time was about 40% Black. So most people on the jury from Ellwood, Indiana, and many of the people that worked in Pendleton were from Ellwood, Indiana. So there’s a pipeline of white supremacist activity just in that nature. So I think it becomes culturally where the people, they know that’s their next job ’cause they have family there, they have friends there, and they just hire them on from there. So it doesn’t matter what the other industries are.
I think it’s similar to these people, it’s similar to the way we understand maybe factory jobs, where if you have a friend or a family member, they could bring you through the pipeline. So in the Indiana Department of Corrections, you have people even at the time who were there for 20, 30 years, and then these people move up in the ranks of the Indiana Department of Corrections. And it’s also important to note, even the folks who were in this KKK splinter group that were part of the Sons of Light – That’s the name of the group who ran the prison when this occurred – These weren’t just low-level guards. You’re talking about lieutenants, talking about captains, talking about sergeants. You’re talking about people throughout the ranks of the prison.
So sometimes, when people think about this they just think about some poor white people who do this ’cause they’re bored. And it’s like, no, this is systemic throughout being in the Department of Correction. And as was noted earlier, this wasn’t just in the Pendleton facility. And I think someone brought up earlier that there was action taken prior. Yeah, there was a class action lawsuit that was taken against this prison because even some of the guards who worked there, regardless of their beliefs individually, felt unsafe because they treated the prisoners so terribly that they knew that eventually something was going to happen.
It didn’t just end there. There was actually another uprising just the following year at Pendleton Correctional Facility, at the time it was Indiana Reformatory. So yeah, this is just the nature of how it works, and Indiana likes to act like these things don’t happen or these are isolated incidents. And this story has been swept under the rug for roughly 40 years now.
Mansa Musa: And in terms of when you made the comparison to Attica, because I know in Attica, before the Attica uprising, one, the industry was like slave labor. I think you was getting a penny a day or something to that effect. Two, the housing was oppressive and dehumanizing. You was cramped in small cells. The shower situation was dehumanizing. And the food was something that you wouldn’t even put in a pig trough, that ultimately led Attica to critical mass where you had the rebellion.
But talk about the conditions at Pendleton, if you can, about what kind of prison is it? A lot of the prisons, after the crime bill, they started modernizing in terms of electronics. Everything was controlled, all movement was controlled. Cameras everywhere. I was in supermax in Maryland. So describe these particular prisons or the prisons in Indiana for our audience to get an understanding of how they are?
Too Black: Yeah, well, like you said, similar to Attica – And again, I also want to say that I don’t just call this the Attica of Indiana, this is what the people inside say, I’m just conveying what they say. So that’s how it’s understood. It’s actually pretty well known inside regardless of what we know – But when they took over the prison after the uprising, they had 14 demands, and many of those demands were addressing the actual conditions of the prison, because they were asking for better food, they were asking for cleaning supplies and things that they needed, ’cause even part of this started because they couldn’t get cleaning supplies. They couldn’t get the basic needs that they had. So as you know, when that doesn’t happen, often ruckus will occur because young people can’t get these things.
So this wasn’t a sanitary place, as well as the treatment that they were going through. This was a place where it was, like you said, it was old and people were getting sick. So that was definitely the nature of it. That’s why part of their demands were to ask for those things. And you go through all 14 of their demands, they didn’t have any wild demands about, they wanted a helicopter to fly away.
Mansa Musa: Right. They just wanted to be treated like human beings.
Too Black: Exactly, exactly. Everything was addressing the situation that they were in. They weren’t asking for a hotel, they were just asking that while they’re there, for whatever that’s worth –
Mansa Musa: Basic human rights.
Too Black: [Crosstalk] yeah, some dignity, and they weren’t receiving that. So yeah, it was coming from multiple angles. It’s the treatment of the guards, it’s the state of the prison. Even some of the charges people were getting for petty stuff that made them have to stay there even longer. Even with Christopher Naeem Trotter, for instance, he had a petty theft, and he shouldn’t even have been in that prison. He was there technically because he had a military background so they put him in one of these maximum level security prisons, when based on his actual charge, he shouldn’t even have been there. So yeah, you have people who were assigned there, obviously, just because of racism, because of the way that they were treated even prior to getting in prison. So there was all these conditions that definitely led to the day we’re discussing.
Mansa Musa: Hey, Victoria, tell our audience what is the next step as far as from your perspective in terms of trying to get some justice for the Pendleton 2?
Victoria Law: Well, I think that one of the things we’ve seen in Indiana, and Too Black can correct me if I am mistaken, is that we’ve seen that the courts are not willing to stand up when incarcerated people assert their right to self-defense. And one of the striking things when I interviewed both Christopher Naeem Trotter and John Balagoon Cole, is that they said that they didn’t want this story just to be narrowly about them. Yes, they want their freedom, they want this injustice to be abolished, but they also said what happens to us happens to people in prisons around the state and the country. So it is not just about them, but how do they use this story to ensure that other people who maybe don’t have the same platforms or the same access to folks on the outside, like in Indiana, there’s IDOC Watch, Indiana Department of Correction Watch, but that perhaps are in states that don’t have that kind of outside, totally independent oversight that can take action? How to leverage that so that these injustices don’t keep occurring and occurring and occurring, so that Too Black and I are not here three years from now talking [crosstalk].
Mansa Musa: Right, exactly.
Victoria Law: So I think that’s important to note, that we can’t look at this as an isolated incident. We can’t look to the same legal system that sentenced people to 142 years and 84 years for an incident in which nobody was killed. And even one of the guards who had been injured during the uprising filed a suit not against Cole and Trotter, but against the state to say you created these conditions in which I and my fellow guards got hurt because you allowed people to go around, you allowed staff members to go around brutalizing people in custody and that then finally blew up into an incident in which I and other people, who are supposedly not the bad apples, ended up being hurt.
Mansa Musa: And Too Black, as briefly as you can, tell our audience, one, how they can get in touch with you, and how they can support your effort to get these men justice.
Too Black: Yeah, well we have a website that will be debuting on Thursday, just Pendleton 2, Pendleton and then the number 2.com [pendleton2.com]. If you want to reach us, you can also reach us at the Pendleton 2, again, the number 2, at Gmail [firstname.lastname@example.org]. We’re going to be releasing a film on BreakThrough News this Thursday, the Pendleton 2: They Stood Up. And that film documents many of the things that we talked about today, and it also chronicles their time in solitary confinement. We just recently added that addition to the film. So if you want to check that out, definitely do that. That’ll be debuting at 7:00 PM Eastern Time this Thursday, March 30 on BreakThrough News.
And if you’d like to book a screening of the film, if you want to sign the petitions or if you want to donate, you can do it at the website, but we definitely encourage that, particularly the screenings of the film. You can have those in your local community and we can Zoom in, show up with something of that nature and we can help talk about this further.
Mansa Musa: Yeah, and thank you. Thank you very much, Victoria Law and Too Black. We want to encourage our viewers to check out the Rattling the Bars, all information that’s going to come out on this and review some of the activities going around the Pendleton 2.
There you have it, the real news about the Pendleton 2, two brothers that for no more reason than to want to be human beings and treated like human beings have been given astronomical sentences, astronomical time, and brutalized in the process. And we want to encourage everyone to look at this and evaluate it and let your conscience be your guide in terms of what you think you should do. Thank you, Victoria, and thank you, Too Black.
And we ask that you continue to support The Real News and Rattling the Bars. It’s our aspirations that you support this mechanism to the extent that it become your primary news source, because we are actually the real news. You’re not going to get nothing about the Pendleton 2 on major media. You’re not going to have an author like Too Black, or you’re not going to have an author like Victoria Law telling the real news about events that’s taking place in real people’s lives. All right, there you have, The Real News. Thank you very much.
Maximillian Alvarez: Thank you so much for watching The Real News Network, where we lift up the voices, stories, and struggles that you care about most. And we need your help to keep doing this work, so please tap your screen now, subscribe, and donate to The Real News Network. Solidarity Forever.