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August 13, 1969 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1969-08-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

f

a
special
feature

the

summer

daily

by
howard
kohn

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13, 1969 NIGHT EDI
"-
;, r,- - Roosevelt Love ma- --

TOR: MARCIA ABRAMSON

ligned the school's au-
thority and fostered stu-
dent unrest."
-Gilford Johnson
"Gilford Johnson is a
racist. He wante the
students to kiss his ass
and sing gospel songs.
I told them that just be-
cause they were prison-
ers didn't mean they
were niggers."
-Roosevelt Love

Cassidy Lake:
Prison as a school,
Sc hool as a prison

A

Learning

to

love

your

G;ILFORD JOHNSON may lose one of the
poshest jobs in the Michigan penal sys-
tem because his prisoners forgot w h a t
prison is all about.
Johnson wears a short, nervous smile as
superintendent of Cassidy Lake Technical
School, the only minimum security prison
in the state.
Cassidy Lake is bedded down in the
woodlands of Chelsea, on a quietlake filled
with, stunted perch--20 miles from Ann
Arbor.
Built as a model for prison schools,.Cas-
sidy L a k e was accoladed with national
publicity at its inception in 1945. The
school is a training center for 235 first of-
fepder felons, most of them from South-
ern Michigan Prison in Jackson.
Johnson came to Cassidy Lake as a vo-
cational education teacher 15 years ago.
He is a mild-mannered man, 48, with a
teaching certificate from Central Michi-
gan University.-
"A BOY WOULD come here wanting to
learn a trade so he could make it on
the outside," Johnson remembers of the
1950's. "But that's changed now . . . the
attitudes are different . . . there's less re-
spect for honest work . . . they want
something out of it."
The average age at Cassidy Lake is 18-
19. The racial balance is 65-35 black-white,
nearly triple the proportion when Johnson
first arrived.-
Johnson worked at Cassidy Lake until
1960, then t o o k an eight-year absence
touring state prison camps. He returned in
January, 1968, as superintendent.-
"We're still getting the cream of the
crop -. the guys with the best chance for
rehabilitation," he explains. "But the
cream of the crop isn't what it used to be."
Johnson blames judges and social work-
ers for "giving juveniles opportunity after
opportunity after opportunity before send-
ing them to prison where they belong."
JOHNSON'S HOMECOMING coincided
with the founding of an Afro-Ameri-
can Club at Cassidy Lake. The club want-
ed black influence in an all-white admin-
istration.
Johnson did agree to a b l a c k history
course to start in January of 1969.
But t h i s spring Johnson suddenly
strongarmed the Afro C 1 u b, sending 19
'Members back to their parent prisons and
firing their faculty advisor.
'$ilford Johnson is a racist. He w a s
gfrAid of what these black kids were learn-
±n," indicts Roosevelt Love." He wanted
them to kiss his ass and sing gospel songs."

LOVE IS THE ex-faculty advisor of the
Afro-American Club and the ex-teach-
er of the black history course.
Love is an ambitious man, 25, with a
teaching certificate from Western Michi-
gan University.
Love is also an ek-convict.
A Tom Sawyer boyhood of "dealing, rob-
Ming, fighting a n d pimping' on Detroit
streets was the start of his education. He
graduated from high school. And a basket-
ball scholarship tripped him to Nashville
(Tenn.) College for a semester. He drop-
ped out and drifted to a foreman's job with

when their girlfriends would come to see
them."
BUT LOVE was silent and impressive
enough as an intern to win a special
parole and entrance to Western Michigan,
where he majored in history.
He returned to Cassidy in January of
this year to teach black history. Love's ex-
con status raised some questions with the
State Board of Corrections and with John-
son.-
"He was a probationary case," Johnson
notes.

Love used, a mildly militant reading list which included
both King and Cleaver. He taught integrated classes with
an average reading level of s ixth-through-eighth grade:
""."t r "::".":4"":'Y :.".": :. 4:.1 ":: 14t,14441VrJ."::.:11! ". .': l: r2%2t:15 !a :"r .at r.14 ".

Green Giant Corporation (Belvedere, Ill.)
but got turned out when he tried to or-
ganize a union for migrants.
Back in Detroit he lazed into s t r e e t
crime again. And'he says he slept through
a furniture store robbery on a sofa. He was
arrested for the robbery, his first felony,
and earned three-to-ten when he refused
to cop a lesser plea.
LOVE WENT to Jackson in June, 1963,
where he was quarantined off for test-
ing. He did not like the surreptitious exam-
iners.
"Jackson is a mental breaking station
because here they're supposed to teach you
to come back into society and live accord-
ing to society's rules. But me, especially-be-
ing a black person, how could I expect to
live by society's rules if society's r u l e s
aren't gonna meet my needs?" he asks bit-
terly
"All the average black man in prison
can hope to achieve is some kind of token-
ism. You say, 'Well, cool it, I accept this
job and want to be taught.' Well, that's not
m.
Love was surprised, though, when he
placed extremely high on the tests and was
offered an internship teaching English at
Cassidy Lake. "This was a ,hell of a thing,
you know, me being a teacher," he says.
He accepted the job and became the first
black intern at Cassidy Lake.'
"When I got there I could see a lot going
on that wasn't in the curriculum. The black
students were blamed for everything that
went wrong and w e r e constantly being
harrassed - Ii k e their spending money
would be withheld or they'd be locked up

Still Johnson needed someone for the
course - and Love had been a good intern.
So he was hired as the prison school's first
black academic teacher.
Before starting, though, Johnson pri-
vately asked Love to change the name of
the course to waylay potential community
displeasure. Love refused and Johnson
gave in, grudgingly. But the lines of de-
marcation were drawn.
LOVE USED a mildly militant reading
list which included both K i n g and
Cleaver. He taught integrated classes with
an average reading level of sixth-through-
eighth-grade.
"Everyone read all these books," he says.
"Pretty soon the blacks became real po-
litically conscious. And the wvlite students
weren't uptight but were cool."
Classroom discussions carried over into
Afro Club meetings. And Love set up a
Malcom X Day in March'as an assembly
version of his class.
"The shit started coming down a f t e r
that. They wanted me to put down Cleav-
er, who naturally was most popular among
the students. Well, I wouldn't."
Love claims the Afro Club became the
scapegoat for all Cassidy Lake problems.
Love accuses Johnson and his aides of
inciting white reaction against the club.
"Nothing like that happened," denies
Johnson. "But I would guess t h a t the
whites would be categorically against the
club because of its nature."
W HEN FIGHTING erupted between
white and black students June 9 on
the eve of Ronald August's acquittal in the
Algiers case, three blacks were transferred

warden
back to Jackson. Johnson recommended
time be added on their original sentences.
The club protested the transfers, asking
for a meeting with Johnson to discuss dis-
cipline policies. They vowed they would
.not eat until Johnson complied. Johnson
did not comply.
. Instead on June 12 he telephoned Wa-
terloo Prison Camp, 10 miles down t h e
road, reported a riot and ordered in the
Waterloo riot squad.
Except for the symbolic hunger strike,
no one had even threatened a riot. But
when the riot squad arrived, armed with
Mace a n d loaded shotguns, it found 19
Afro Club members gathered in the hall
outside Johnson's office. They had been
summoned there on the pretext Johnson
was willing to talk to them.
They w e r e handcuffed and bussed to
Jackson, from where they were scattered
to other penal camps.
"WE HAD TO get rid of the troublemak-
ers," Johnson explains. "They were
threatening the security of the school.
They were aggressive predator types who
coerced other students into joining them."
"Bullshit," Love refutes. "The club gave
the guys self-respect, which is something a
prison warden can't tolerate."
Most students have lower-class back-
grounds like Love. Besides changing their
attitudes about themselves, Love tried to
change their values about societal status.
"Man, you know the cats at Cassidy all
want to get somewhere," Love explains.
"But come off it they ain't ever gonna
get a college degree and some white-collar
job. They're gonna end up back on the
streets with no purpose-except to get high,
lose a lousy job, then jack a store and get
busted."
Cassidy's record of rehabilitation is bet-
ter than most prison schools-but nowhere
near its stated ideal of 90 per cent.
The Afro Club had planned to coordinate
post-prison schooling and job placement
for its members, independent of Johnson.
It also wanted students to continue as cor-
responding members after being released.
"Solidarity is a dangerous thing in a
prison," Johnson surmises. "It undermines
authority."
JOHNSON SKEWERED Love on the
pointed sticks of "maligning authority
and fostering student unrest" when ' he
fired him the day after the transfers.
Johnson's prime example was an in-
cident on the transfer day.
Love watched the shotgunned squad
march the 19 away in helpless rage. Finally
he asked Paul Maynard, head counselor,
to intervene on behalf of the club. When
Maynard just grinned back, Love called
him a "punk jackass."
"To use abusive language in talking to
a superior shows a definite lack of respect
for our system of authority," Johnson
claimed later at an appeal hearing.
THE TWO-NIGHT appeal before the
. Chelsea Board of Education also fo-
cussed on Love's bureaucratic faults e.g.
filing late teacher reports-information
supplied by Maynard who admitted spying
on Love since Malcolm X Day.
Chelsea's school board had jurisdiction
over Love because he'd been hired under a
special proviso which gave Chelsea extra
state aid in exchange for formalizing his
contract.
Chelsea has since discontinued this prac-
tice, disavowing any affiliation with Cas-
..idv LaT.al

-ki

on Gus Harrison's door. Harrison is direc-
tor of the State Board of Corrections.
The group demanded an investigation of
Johnson and a guarantee no time would
be Added to the sentences of the transfer-
red men. Harrison mollified them by agree-
ing to the latter in writing, although added
time is almost automatic with a disciplin-
ary transfer.
Lambert Pierce, one of the 19 club mem-
bers; was to have been released June 20.
None of his relatives had joined the group
and it was mid-July before anyone dis-
covered someone had glued an extra 10
months on the expiration date.
Jackson prison officials could give no
reason for the addition. So the group went
back to Harrison's office July 18. They
watched grimly as Harrison ordered
Pierce's release.
"Before they let me go, though, a prison
official came down and told me to tell
Photos by Thomas R. Copi
everyone to lay off-or the rest of the
guys would pay the consequences," Pierce
says.
BUT THE CASSIDY LAKE incident is
not over yet. State Rep. James Del
Rio (D-Detroit) and State Sen. Basil
Brown (D-Detroit) want the state legisla-
ture to investigate.
In an apparent move to head off an
investigation, Harrison has pledged "to
take all steps necessary to (resolve the situ-
ation." At the same time, he's been trying
to discount the continuing line of attacks
against the Johnson administration.
A similar story of politically based trans-
ferring involves James Robinson, a Univer-
sity of Michigan student convicted on a
narcotics charge. He was hustled out of
Cassidy Lake last September when he chal-
lenged Johnson's policies.
Robinson was editor of the student news-
paper. He questioned Johnson's record on
allowing few black students into a preferred
studies-pass program which caters Cassidy
students to community colleges.
AfterJ ohnson refused tn cnmment nn the

Pitton blasts Johnson for ignoring al-
leged homosexual attacks by white students
on black students.
Johnson confirms the existence of homo-
sexuality at Cassidy Lake-"you have it
wherever you 'have men living together
but we try to control it." He denies that it
is a problem.
PITTON ALSO describes discriminatory
rule enforcement,
"We are basically scared little people
who wouldn't be here in the first place
few didn't need ,help," he says. "After we
get a taste of prison, of its hypocrisy and
dehumanizing effect, it is no wonder that
such an alarming number of us return
to crime.
"How can we be expected to become good
citizens when we are treated like slaves
with no rights?
"I'm going to tell the truth until they
find a way to silence me," he concludes.
That was Pitton's statement in July,
Early this month Pitton was sent back
to Jackson.
Love joins in, "Prison teaches black men
they were right to have no respect for the
law."
But Johnson maintains that Cassidy
Lake is different. "We're all counselors
here, not custodians."
"Everything's back to normal now,"
Johnson insists, painstakingly avoiding
mention of the chapel's partial burning in
a demonstration which followed the trans-
fer of the 19.
(If Johnson handed out any punish-
ments for the burnings, he's not admitting
any.)
IN FACT he'd rather not talk about the
entire controversy. "Our Lansing office
has the offical report on it," ,he advises.
"Maybe you could talk to them."
If the investigative threat gains momen-
tum in'the state legislature, Johnson would
be a likely purge by Harrison to insure
stability of the overall penal system.
"I worked my way up here at Cassidy
Lake," he reflects faintly. "I like it here ...
and my family likes Chelsea."
LOVE, WHO got married last month, is
living in An Arbor now, working as a

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