Interview with the “Arizona Tower Taker”
By S.A. Hasan, Prisonersolidarity.org
Nov. 24, 2007
[This exclusive interview tells the story of “Arizona Tower Taker,” Ricky K Wassenaar, the man who decided to take prison guards hostage in order to see his mother before she died.]
Hasan: Why don’t you begin by telling our readers some background about yourself and the situation.
RW: All right. I’ve been incarcerated, since July 23, 1986, for committing two armed robberies in Tucson, Arizona. I received two consecutive sentences of 15 and 28 years.
By January 18, 2007, all of my appeals were exhausted. My repeated requests for an out-of-state transfer had been denied. I was being housed in a prison that was in the middle of the desert. This eliminated any hope of escape and my future was looking pretty grim.
Hasan: Why were you requesting an out-of-state transfer?
RW: My mother lives in Michigan, and in 1999 her health declined to the point where she was no longer able to travel to Arizona to visit me. And since I still had 20 years before I would be eligible for release, I sought a transfer so that I could be closer to her, to see her before she passed away.
Unfortunately, Michigan is one of only a few states that aren’t a member of the Interstate Corrections Compact, which permits states to exchange prisoners. Since a transfer to Michigan wasn’t possible, I requested a transfer to Ohio, Wisconsin, or Illinois. The Prison Officials summarily denied my first two requests and simply ignored my subsequent requests, despite the fact that I had provided them with information concerning my mom’s health, and my sister’s agreement to pay all costs incurred in the transfer.
Hasan: So they really had no legitimate reason to deny your requests. That must have upset you.
RW: Absolutely! It was very frustrating.
Hasan: So, when your efforts to resolve this matter administratively were in vain, what did you do next?
RW: I was a desperate man at that point. So I converted my aborted escape plan into a plan to negotiate my way into a state that was closer to my mom. My cellmate, “Pony,” was doing three consecutive life sentences and his family lives in Main. So he was game for whatever. On January 4, 2004, Pony and I were working in the kitchen. Armed with shanks, we subdued the kitchen guard and a civilian worker and locked the other 19 prisoners in a storage area.
Then I dressed in the guard’s uniform and jacket and hid a stirring paddle under the jacket. Leaving Pony to hold the kitchen, I made my way to the gun tower, taking an empty lock-down tray with me. The tower is located in the center of the prison yard, with the kitchen to the East, the administrative building to the West, four cell blocks to the South and five cell blocks to the North.
The gun tower is a three-story-high square fortress, approximately 60 foot by 60 foot. The tower guards are armed with AR-15 assault rifles, 12-gauge-pump shotguns and several chemical agents, such as pepper spray. The tower also has a control panel on the 2nd floor that controls the security gates and doors in and around the yard.
When I reached the tower gate I pressed the access button and the tower guard buzzed me in. I then walked to the tower door and pressed the access button. The guard’s voice came in over the intercom, asking: “Who goes there?” I knew he was looking down at me from the 2nd story window, so I held the empty lock-down tray up, in front of my face, and said: “hot baked goodies from the kitchen.” He immediately buzzed the door open and I entered the tower. After entering, I set the tray down, pulled out the stirring paddle, and began climbing the spiral staircase to the 2nd floor.
It was 4:20 a.m. There were no lights on in the tower and it was dark except for the outside lights that shown in through the windows. When I reached the top of the stairs, I was relieved to find only two guards, and neither one holding a weapon.
Hasan: Were there usually more than two guards in the tower?
RW: Yes. There’s a refrigerator and microwave oven there. So, in addition to the two guards assigned to the tower there are often several others hanging out, waiting for their shift to end at 6 a.m. But what I didn’t know was that a new shift commander had just begun working that shift, and he had told the guards to stay active and alert, rather than hanging out in the tower.
Hasan: That was very fortuitous for you!
RW: Definitely. Because once we put the plan into action, we wouldn’t be able to abort. So, whatever and whoever were in that tower had to be handled. So it was very fortunate that the shift commander had implemented this new directive. So, anyway, when I reached the top of the stairs a (6’4” and 260 pound) guard was walking toward me, asking about the tray of goodies. But he stopped in his tracks when he saw the stirring paddle.
When I hit him he grabbed his face, turned around, and began swearing. Before I could say anything the other (5’8” and 200 pound) guard let out a warrior’s yell and rushed me with fists flying. He ran right into my left hook. It wasn’t until I was cuffing them that I realized the second guard was female. I used only the amount of force necessary to take control. The guards were not injured at all.
After I gained control of the tower I phoned the kitchen to tell pony to bring the hostages over. When Pony didn’t answer the phone I began to worry, as he knew that I’d be calling. After about 30 minutes Pony finally answered and told me that he’d taken another guard hostage. I told him to bind the guards and civilians together and to bring them to the tower, which is what he was doing when two more guards entered the kitchen. Pony panicked and his hostages escaped. He ran to the tower then, and I let him in. Our plan had been to have several hostages and to use them to negotiate for out-of-state transfers. But now we only had two guards as leverage. Also, we’d only planned to remain in the tower for two or three days, hoping to get the media involved to mediate the dispute, and make sure that the Arizona Department of Correction (ADOC) would keep its agreement.
Hasan: So you didn’t trust them?
RW: Man, Hasan, I wish you could listen to the negotiating tapes they made. You’d be awed by how juvenile and petty they acted. This included even the FBI negotiators. It was like a game for them. It was like they didn’t want to resolve the situation. The governor forbade any media involvement, even after I said that we’d surrender as soon as we were allowed to speak with the media. And I never broke my agreements with them, despite the fact that they broke many and lied constantly. So, heck no, I didn’t trust their promise to transfer us out of state. It was a totally crazy situation that went on for fifteen days and had 9 or 10 different negotiators.
Then, finally, they brought in an old-timer, a detective from Scottsdale, Arizona, named “Bob.” He seemed to dislike the ADOC officials even more than I did. Bob never broke his word, as the other negotiators had, and he gained our trust. Bob gave us his word that we would be transferred out of state. And today, Pony is in Maine and I am about 800 miles from my mother, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Hasan: Did you receive more time for holding the guards hostage, assaulting them, etc?
RW: They gave me 16 consecutive life sentences, plus another 43 years.
RW: Arizona doesn’t mess around. They lay people down!
Hasan: So, you chose to come to Ohio?
RW: Yes, and my decision to come here has apparently offended a couple of lieutenants at the Ohio State Penitentiary, who are now on a mission to make me regret that decision.
Hasan: How do you mean?
RW: Well, it’s not like I’m being physically assaulted. At least, not yet. But I am being harassed in several ways, which I have documented in grievances. I don’t want this interview to run too long, so I’ll just tell you a few.
Whenever the lieutenants “search” my cell they totally destroy and disrespect everything in it. They empty my legal papers on the floor and shuffle them all together. I have three active cases and a lot of legal papers. And it’s a disaster when they’re all mixed together. They’ve also stolen my tooth paste, thrown my tooth brushes and clothing on the floor and just totally disrespected my meager belongings. I’ve been in OSP for 16 months and they’ve done this to my cell 10 times so far. This is in addition to the cell searches that are routinely conducted. It happens every time I come out of my cell, for recreation or to take a shower.
Also, I was given a ticket because my T.V. that I bought at the ADOC commissary had two broken spokes, which left two tiny holes. This did not affect the T.V. in any way. The damage happened in Arizona and was documented by the ADOC staff, who allowed me to retain possession of it. But the ODRC staff found me guilty and seized my television for allegedly having been “altered.”
When my mother and sister sent me money to buy another TV. the OSP staff illegally seized the money and sent it to ADOC as “restitution.” I have filed a lawsuit against ODRC to get the money back. The free-world people can check it out at www.cco.state.oh.us (case #2006-00293.Wassenaar V.ODRC). It has been ongoing for a year, but I will prevail, as the evidence is on my side.
Lastly, the OSP staff also removed my mother and siblings from my visitation list before they could visit and have been frustrating my efforts to get them back on the list. My family wants to visit in April  if they can get back on the list. Because I am allowed only one-hour visits, I will request to visit with them longer, since will all be traveling here from Michigan. But I have a feeling that this request won’t go smoothly either.
Hasan: So, OSP staff has prevented your family from visiting you thus far?
RW: Yeah, by messing with my visiting list. But a detective from Arizona also really went out of his way to harass my family. He claimed to have received “info” from an inmate in ADOC and used it to obtain a search warrant for my sister’s house and place of employment. He seized computers from her home and job, which got her fired after 12 years of employment. There was no evidence found relating to the search warrants. He then searched my mother’s and brother’s homes and seized their computers as well, again finding no evidence.
Hasan: In a nutshell, you’re saying that the prison officials at OSP and a detective from Arizona have been harassing you and your family, in retaliation for the events that took place in Arizona?
RW: Yes. And all I want is for these unnecessary and vindictive harassments to stop.
Interviewer’s Note: After this interview was conducted, Wassenaar finally lost patience, and retaliated, against one of the lieutenants who routinely destroyed his cell. When Lt. Ritz came to his cell and ordered Wassenaar to “cuff up,” he threw human waste on him and demanded that he be left alone to do his time. Wassenaar uttered this same sentiment during his Rule Infraction Board (RIB) hearing. He received 15 days in isolation for his action. He has been released, and prays that the prison officials will now just leave him alone.
Ricky Wassenaar #497175
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505-4635
Ricky Wassenaar has studied law since his incarceration in 1986 and he often advises prisoners in their criminal appeals and civil lawsuits. He is currently preparing to file another lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), to prohibit its continued censorship of magazines and other publications. He is also trying to convince ODRC officials to provide educational television stations, such as The Learning Channel, The History Channel, Discover, etc. It is well-known that education is essential for rehabilitation, yet few “free people” are aware that the ODRC provides prisoners with only the most minimal and elementary educational opportunities. Wassenaar would appreciate receiving your responses to this interview. Please enclose a self-addressed, pre-embossed stamped envelope when writing to him at the above address.
You may contact Ricky Wassenaar directly by writing to them at the addresses listed above. The following link offers tips for writing to prisoners: https://prisonersolidarity.org/TipsForWritingPrisoners.htm