"What's needed is a clear mind"
An interview with Keith LaMar (AKA Bomani Shakur)
By Kevin Lowery, Prisonersolidarity.org
Dec. 5, 2007
The following is a follow-up interview between Kevin Lowery and his cousin, Keith LaMar (AKA Bomani Shakur), who is a death-row prisoner at the supermax facility in Youngstown, Ohio. Keith was sentenced to death for his alleged leadership role in the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio. He has from the very beginning professed his innocence and is awaiting the final ruling from the courts as to whether or not he will receive a new trial. Lowery's first interview with LaMar is archived, here.
KEVIN: So, how's everything been going, Bomani? It's been awhile since our last interview. How are you holding up?
BOMANI: I'm doing as best as can be expected under the circumstances. As always, I must credit my family and friends for keeping me among of the living. If it wasn't for them, I would be.....in a different place.
KEVIN: That sounds ominous. "A different place..." What do you mean by that?
BOMANI: Oh, no, I didn't mean it like that (smiling). I just meant that I'd be in a different frame of mind, that's all. I'm far from suicidal, my friend.
KEVIN: Well, that's good to hear. I'm sure it must be difficult to maintain your equilibrium sometimes, given what you have to contend with, but it's good to know that you are able to draw strength from friends and family.
BOMANI: Well, isn't that what family is for, to be there for each other through the good and the bad?
KEVIN: Of course. That's great that you're doing well. However, what's been going on with your case?
BOMANI: I just came back from an evidentiary hearing in July, and that went incredibly well....better than any of us expected. I mean, the judge was exceptionally attentive and accommodating. He even took the time to thank my family and friends for coming out to support me. So it went great, all the way around the board, really. I went back to present evidence as to why I was entitled to equitable tolling on my habeas petition, as well as evidence to substantiate my claim that the state improperly withheld exculpatory evidence during my trial. And I think my attorneys did an excellent job representing those issues.
KEVIN: That's good that you feel that way. If I remember correctly, you weren't always so confident in your attorneys' abilities. Is that an accurate statement?
BOMANI: Not entirely. Look, I was concerned when the judge initially recommended that my petition be dismissed. But my contention has always been that my attorneys filed everything on time, based on the law at the time. I was concerned, that's all. I mean, when you get right down to it, my life is on the line. That being the case, I have every right to be concerned. But it's not a lack of confidence, no. I believe my attorneys are above average, even exceptional. Nevertheless, I think this death-row litigation is very tricky and can stump even the best.
KEVIN: If I can go back a bit. You said you went back to prove that you were entitled to "equitable tolling." For those of us who are not aware of what that means, why don't you elaborate a little.
BOMANI: Sure. Equitable tolling is.....well, let me approach it this way. When you file your petition, you have a certain amount of time to do so. But sometimes, through no fault of your own, things occur that might prevent you from filing within the allotted time. If you can show where this is the case, the court can be fair (i.e. "equitable") and stop (i.e. "toll") the time, or calculate it from the point where you ran into the unforeseen trouble that prevented you from filing on time. Does that make sense?
KEVIN: So if you don't file on time, but can show why you were delayed, through no fault of your own, then the courts can take that into consideration and recalculate the time in which your petition is due. Is that what you mean?
BOMANI: Wow, I couldn't have said it better myself (smiling). Yes, that's basically it. You see, about a month or so before my petition was due, my attorneys thought it would be prudent to revisit a state court issue that hadn't been fully exhausted. Based on the law at the time, we pursued it correctly. However, the state disagrees and claims to believe that we operated outside the scope of the law or "new law," I should say, which they felt should be applied retroactively.
KEVIN: I see. Why didn't you just say that (smiling)?! But seriously, this is very technical stuff we're talking about. Serious stuff.
BOMANI: Yes, yes...very serious stuff.
KEVIN: It was just reported that the ABA (American Bar Association) called on Governor Ted Strickland to implement a death penalty moratorium. What are your thoughts on that?
BOMANI: I think it's a very brave step in the right direction. I mean, we all know that this system is flawed, so yes, before the state continues to murder people, steps should be taken to see that these sentences are at least administered without errors. Of course, the OPAA (Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association) thinks that everything is just fine the way it is. You know, it's hard to convince people when it's their job to take a certain position. However, you would have to be blind to believe that the criminal justice system operates fairly. And when it comes to the death penalty, the disparities are even more alarming when factors like race and economics come into play. You would have to be blind to think that the way in which this system presently functions is just. Please!
KEVIN: I hear you, but what do you think will be the outcome of the ABA coming out in support of a moratorium?
BOMANI: As I said, I think it's a courageous step in the right direction. However, it's going to take people mobilizing on the grassroots level to really effect the kind of change needed. You can't change the law unless the people demand it. And that's what it's going to take.
KEVIN: Well, I certainly understand why you would feel that way. But when you have people like Senator Shirley Smith of Cleveland, and U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs, et al., lending their support to a moratorium, that has to speak volumes, does it not?
BOMANI: Well, yes, it speaks volumes. These are the people who are in a position to apply the real political pressure that can get the law changed. But they need the backing of the people. We have to work together.
KEVIN: Speaking of working together, there was a big rally in Columbus, Ohio recently...about a thousand people or so, all protesting the death penalty. What are your thoughts on that?
BOMANI: I think it's great! I think that's the kind of mobilization that's going to turn this whole thing around. Whenever people come together to speak truth to power, that's the beginning of revolution.
KEVIN: I hope so. Aside from the death penalty, there's a lot wrong within society that needs attention. As you know, I work with young people, or what some people describe as "troubled youth," and it's been my experience from working with these young people that we have to get involved in a way that touches them on a personal level. Otherwise, there's a big disconnect and nothing changes.
BOMANI: What's the name of your organization again, Urban Exposure? Well, yeah, I definitely agree with you that people have to get involved in a way that touches lives. That almost sounds like a "no-brainer," but I know that it doesn't always come across as that.
KEVIN: No, you're right, it should be a no-brainer. If we don't get involved in the lives of our children, what can we hope for in the future? Will there even be a future? So, what I'm trying to do is take these so-called "troubled youth" and expose them to experiences that they wouldn't necessarily have in their communities, and then provide them with the mentality, the outlook, they'll need to take those experiences and make them a part of their lives.
BOMANI: I feel you. It may be too late for cats like me who are buried so deep in this madness, but an attempt must be made to save future generations from going down this road.
KEVIN: Prisons are becoming a rite of passage for these young people, especially, these young black men. It's sad.
BOMANI: Well, it's beyond sad Kevin. And one of the major things people have to wake up and realize is that future generations (our children!!) have already been written off. We should be very upset about that. I mean, people are being thrown away, man. That's where we're at now. Someone has decided that we no longer matter, and so the answer is to just throw us away, lock us up in prison. It's a crime.
KEVIN: I agree. But I also think that we have a responsibility to these young people to see that they don't get thrown away, as you say. I think that has to become our job, our life's work, to save future generations from going to prison and ending up on somebody's death row.
BOMANI: No doubt. I just wrote an essay to be shared with young college students about abolishing prisons. Angela Davis wrote a book called, ARE PRISONS OBSOLETE?, which puts forth the premise that an alternative to incarceration must be sought. And what I basically argue is that before the prison can be abolished, we have to first abolish the system that makes prisons necessary. I really think we have to get rid of this whole thing before we can talk about changing things.
KEVIN: You mean get rid of the system of capitalism?
BOMANI: Yeah, and I'm not saying that I know the correct route to take from there, but any system that allows the wealthiest 1 percent to own close to 50 percent of all the wealth and resources has to be corrupt. So, yeah, I'm for doing away with the whole, this whole system. Period.
KEVIN: I see. But what are the alternatives? When you look at communist countries, they've all failed, with the exception of China and Cuba. And I don't know that Cuba can be counted as a success. So what are the alternatives?
BOMANI: Well, first of all, I wouldn't classify Cuba as a failure. When you consider the amount of pressure that has been applied on that country by the U.S. I think it's something of a victory that they haven't been completely destroyed, although there has been extraordinary casualties as a result of the embargo that the U.S. has placed on them. Look. I'm not an expert on these things, but it seems to me that if these people were allowed to function without the limitations that the U.S. government has placed on them they would be doing far better then what they are doing. That's all I'm saying.
KEVIN: No, I hear you, and it does seem like the U.S. has expended a great deal of time and money trying to prove them wrong, which sort of makes it seem as though they are doing something right to be able to survive. I see what you mean.
BOMANI: All I'm saying is that we (poor people) have to look at an alternative to a system that has left us bankrupt.
KEVIN: I feel you, and I don't disagree. Here recently, we have we have the incident in Louisiana: The Jena 6. It's amazing that we still see things like this.
BOMANI: You're talking about the students...about how they were treated by the police and whatnot? Or do you mean the nooses?
KEVIN: All of it. I think it's a sad commentary on American society that this type of thing is still a part of the social landscape. What, are we still in the 1800s or what?
BOMANI: That's interesting that you would say that. You sound shocked. And I guess it is in a way shocking. But then again, what could be more shocking than the way the U.S. government treated the victims of Hurricane Katrina? After that, nothing should come as a surprise. The beautiful thing is that people came you in droves to protest. And you see what the outcome was. I'm telling you, that's what needs to happen around every social issue of today. People have to get off their ass and give a damn, man. Real talk. Why are we sitting back accepting this? It doesn't make sense.
KEVIN: No, it doesn't make sense; but unfortunately, we have to end on that note. We'll have to pick this up another time. As always,it was good to talk to you Bomani. I really mean that. I know it's hard, but try to remain optimistic. You've been waiting a long time now, so let's hope that good things come to you from that, my friend.
BOMANI: Well, I really appreciate the sentiment. I know it's heartfelt. Personally, I don't think it makes much sense to be optimistic or pessimistic. What's needed is a clear mind, empty of emotion. Ultimately, this is bigger than what might happen to me, Bomani Shakur. I know that. So my focus is on making a contribution, to pick up where brothas like George Jackson left off. That's where I'm coming from. My life only matters if I can save somebody from having to go through this madness. If I can't do that, I've failed.
KEVIN: That's a noble way to look at it.
BOMANI: To me, that's the only way to look at it.
KEVIN: Well, any parting words for those who you seek to save?
BOMANI: I'd like to just quote a few lines from this poem by Tennyson. My mind has been centered on these words for the past few weeks, and I think they speak to the state of mind we should be in as we go forward: "Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
KEVIN: And we'll close with that.
BOMANI: No doubt. Peace in the middle east! (smiling) Peace in the inner city, too!
KEVIN: Peace in Africa!
BOMANI: Sho' nuff!
Keith LaMar, # R 317-117
(aka. Bomani Shakur)
Youngstown, OH 44501
Kevin Lowery, Keith LaMar's cousin, conducted this interview.
When writing to Keith, please send him a pre-embossed stamped envelope so that he can promptly answer your letter. He is not permitted adhesive stamps, that is, regular stamps.
You may contact Keith LaMar directly by writing to them at the addresses listed above. The following link offers tips for writing to prisoners: https://prisonersolidarity.org/TipsForWritingPrisoners.htm