A special kind of courage

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“The trouble started when an inmate allegedly threw a liquid – possibly bleach — onto an officer Thursday night. A guard searching Cellblock J Friday morning was attacked by inmate Lincoln Love, 32, of Gary, serving a life term for murder and robbery, officials said.

Love was subdued and taken to the infirmary. But the confrontation escalated and four other inmates scuffled with guards in the staff supervisor’s office, and other prisoners took hostages.”

– Ed Stattmann, February 1985

This Juneteenth at 7:30 pm, Kan Can Cinemas is teaming up with “The Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2” for the showing of the locally produced documentary, “The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up” by TheKingTrill and multi-medium artist Too Black. It details the story of John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter, and how their lives intersected with that of fellow inmate Lincoln “Lokmar” Love at the Pendleton Correctional Facility and changed forever. Like so many stories before and after this one, I had never heard a word about it. There were no whispers or folktales shared in family game circles as the years went by such as, Michael Taylor.

At just over an hour long, The Pendleton 2 runs longer than it takes to get to the correctional facility from Indianapolis. It starts with narration from “TheKingTrill”, who bluntly speaks on having spent time incarcerated. After a brief examination of George Floyd and those who stood in witness to his murder, Trill asks a question quite pertinent to the rest of this documentary: “What would I have done? Would I have just stood there while a man with more similarities to me than differences is killed in the street?

There’s not a bunch of fluff or long scene set up in this film. We are instantly thrust into the world of Christopher Trotter, John Cole, and Lincoln Love and how their intersection one fateful night on J Block ended with one man severely beaten by the guards, and the other two men being sentenced to spending the rest of their lives behind bars. All because they didn’t sit back and let the guards beat a fellow Black man (Lincoln Love) to death.

Viewers are immediately pulled into the politics of prison life as current and former prisoners (some of which were witnesses and participants to the rebellion) give their account of what it was like to be an outspoken and educated political prisoner in the 80s, in Pendleton, Indiana.

“I was put in a position; either go home in 3 months or save the life of a fellow human being. I chose to save the life of another human being because it was morally the right thing to do.” (Christopher “Naeem” Trotter)

Sometimes being a witness means doing more than just witnessing; it means acting, even without full consciousness or expectation of consequences. We can’t always just film what’s happening or scream in protest – sometimes, to quell the situation, we must act. At the end of the documentary, Christopher Trotter asks what would the outcome had been if someone had stepped in while George Floyd was being murdered? The story behind the Pendleton 2 is that of sacrifice, selflessness and fearlessness. Without considering what the outcome against them would be, both men made the decision not to allow Lincoln Love to be senselessly killed. Officers began beating Love in front of the other prisoners, dragging his nearly lifeless body across the cold prison floor for all to see. After several attempts to legally intervene,

Cole and Trotter sparked a 17-hour prison rebellion, where officers were held as ‘hostages’ until their [simple and basic] demands were met.

And while other inmates participated in what was referred to as a riot, some of whom appear in the documentary, Trotter and Cole bore the weight of the consequences. After an unfair and biased trial, Christopher Trotter, who had three months left on his sentence, received 142 years in prison. John Cole had less than three years left when he was sentenced to 84 years. Two Black lives were stripped away for trying to save a third. All three men would go on to spend decades in solitary confinement.

This film also tells the story of prison racism and how empowered white men with legal weapons help control a system that supports their illegal actions.

It’s a story that reminds us of the harsh, unimaginable circumstances Black men face while in prison. Another reason this documentary is an important piece of cinematography history is because of the need for spaces to tell our stories and not rely on the words and journalism of the white press and media to dictate what those stories are (or how they get recounted). I opened this review with a quote from that same white media; notice how they summarize what happened and the chosen word selection: “subdued and taken to infirmary” are equivalent to being beaten with illegal batons in the head, almost to death. Those same “hostages” started out as the antagonists who, just moments earlier, promised that same beating to the men yelling for it to stop.

Shaping how our history is recounted is critical to its continuance.

Thank you to Too Black and TheKingTrill for an incredible film and the opportunity to hear from two men who chose to stand up for Black life.

Because as TheKingTrill put it in the opening of the documentary, “That is a special kind of courage.”

If you are interested in watching the film, “The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up”, there is an upcoming Juneteenth (June 19th) screening at Kan Kan Cinema. The showing begins at 7:30 pm and tickets are $10 per person and can be found here: Pendleton 2 Tickets.

Also, click here to make a financial contribution to help support the campaign to free both Christopher “Naeem” Trotter and John “Balagoon” Cole”, and click here to add your name to the petition requesting clemency on their behalf.

Januarie York is a freelance writer, published author & poet and creative curator. In addition to performing original works of poetry, she has produced several of her own spoken word theatrical shows that focus on uplifting and inspiring women and was named the first Center for Black Literature and Culture’s Poet Laureate.