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Black August: An inside look at prison life

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The year was 1985. Christopher Trotter, a former member of the United States armed services, was serving a four-year sentence for petty theft at the Indiana Reformatory (now known as the Pendleton Correctional Facility), former home to infamous bank robber John Dillinger and infamous instances of corruption and gross mistreatment of inmates under the leadership of former Superintendent Edward L. Cohn.

In 1988, Cohn was reprimanded for not following prison protocol in restraining prisoners. Reportedly inmates were bound by placing handcuffs around their wrists and connecting them to leg irons with a short chain in a position that allowed them neither to stand up nor lay straight.

On Feb. 1 of that year, in an attempt to protect fellow inmate Lincoln Love, who was being beaten, Trotter along with co-defendant John Coe, found himself at the center of a riot in which seven correctional officers were stabbed and three employees were held hostage for 17 hours.

“We did not go to commit an act of violence. We went to prevent an act of violence that was already happening on a prisoner who was being beaten while he was handcuffed and shackled” said Trotter of that fateful day in February.

Trotter, who had experienced beatings himself while an inmate at the reformatory, described the environment as a “pressure cooker” as there were several instances of violence against prisoners especially those who were African-American.

He says he intervened on the behalf of Love after hearing other prisoners scream, “They’re killing him!” “It was how I was raised,” says Trotter “I know deep down in my heart of hearts that it was the right thing to do. Had I walked away I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.”

As a result of his involvement in the riot, Trotter was given an additional sentence of 142 years. Of the 32 years he has already served 11 have been in solitary confinement, a portion of those years were spent in a windowless cell.

Trotter, now 52 years old, shared his remorse for the people who were hurt as a result of the incident, two of whom were his parents, now deceased – his father as a result of stroke and his mother in a car accident.

Patricia Shelton, a close friend of Trotter’s has taken the charge of sharing his story with people all over the world. “I got reacquainted with Chris after my brother called me and told me about his interview on MSNBC Lockup” says Shelton. The two have been corresponding via letter, telephone, and supervised visits at the correctional facility ever since.

“It’s time for him to come home because he has paid his debt to society. No one was killed, no lives were taken. Just his,” Shelton said. She hopes that if more compassionate people heard his story they would be touched as well.

Due to financial strains, the family of Christopher Trotter has not been able to retain a lawyer. In a letter posted to his profile on the petition site change.org, Trotter details his legal predicament – “I have a petition for post-conviction relief that has been dormant since 1992. The state public defender withdrew from my case in 1998. Then in 2002, all my legal documents (14-year-old transcripts, dispositions, witness statements, etc.) mysteriously came up missing. There has been no activity on my post-conviction petition since 1998. The state of Indiana will not provide me with another copy of my trial transcripts without charge, and I do not have the financial means to hire an attorney.”

Even in the midst of such adversity, Trotter and Shelton use faith in God as the foundation to maintaining a positive outlook on their future. In a very hopeful gesture the pair have began writing “Already Done, Home 2013” on the back of all their envelopes, many of which contain uplifting “spiritual vitamin letters” the two share to keep their spirits high.

When asked how Trotter keeps himself going, Shelton said, “Chris keeps to himself these days for the most part. He spends time with the Lord. He speaks to the younger guys that are troubled and encourages them to put God first – his former cellmate was serving three life sentences and he just kind of gave up on life. Chris spent time ministering to him and a few months later he passed away. Just think if Chris wouldn’t have spoken with him his soul would have been lost.”

On the role of faith in his will to survive, Trotter said, “I’ve survived all the assassination attempts on my life, I’ve survived the isolation … but not on my own. It was only through the grace of God that I survived it.”

Shelton has written to several politicians on Trotter’s behalf including Gov. Mike Pence, and the office of President Barack Obama. She received correspondence from the White House that explained that the president is working diligently to pass legislation that will prevent such harsh sentencing from happening.

In an effort to keep Trotter’s story going, Shelton has created Facebook and Twitter profiles on his behalf. As a result people from as far away as Ireland, Australia, and Sweden have become involved in Trotter’s cause. “These people just can’t comprehend the level of injustice we experience here in America,” says Shelton.

For more information on Christopher Trotter’s story visit indianapolisrecorder.com/blogs.

Black August movement

Black August is a movement that originated out of the California prison system to honor fallen members of the Black liberation movement of the 1970s, many of whom had been imprisoned or assassinated.

Some notable figures of the movement are George Jackson, Angela Davis and Assata Shakur.

Black August has evolved to include film festivals, hip-hop concerts, and mass letter writing initiatives to prisoners all over the world with all activities structured to focus on spreading the message of liberation and activism.

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