Inmate David Cattano stroked the bloody, bare stump where his right pinkie used to be.
"I cut this finger with a can top because the State Department won't let me renounce my citizenship," Cattano, 29, said yesterday. "I sent it to Griffin Bell as a protest."
Prison officials at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville discovered Cattano's finger in Thursday's outgoing mail. The envelope was addressed to the Attorney General.
Alarmed at the dismemberment, the second such in two months, the Justice Department is sending two attorneys to the maximum security institution Tuesday to listen to prisoner demands.
They will investigate possible violation of inmates' constitutional rights and inspect the five-year-old facility which has been the site of nine deaths - one a guard - and numerous stabbings since it opened. Cattano and inmate to represent 11 other Lucasville prisoners who have renounced citizenship and demanded to leave the country under th 1973 Helsinki Agreement on Human Rights.
Armstrong, 37, several his left pinkie at the second knuckle and mailed it to the State Department in December. it arrived Dec. 7 and was turned over to the FBI, which was has entered the investigation.
"We've trying to renounce our citizenship but the State Department won't let us," Armstrong said. "If our demands aren't met Tuesday, we'll set a date to cut another finger and send it to Jimmy Carter." Armstrong, who is serving a 5-to-15 year sentence for robbery, said he organized the protest in August even thought he has been in solitary 19 months.
A convict who has spent more than half his life incarcerated, Armstrong was a leader of the 1968 Ohio State Penittentiary riots that left five inmates dead and 10 wounded.
"I'm a Communist," he said, puffing a bummed cigarette. "I'm trying to get over the Berlin Wall from the other side."
Armstrong said his group has mailed over 8,000 letters to Washington since August, but did not receive a response until he amputated his finger.
"We don't want to get prison conditions involved because it will just cloud the issue. But that's not to say conditions are good, because they're not," he added.
Cattano, who is serving a 1-to 15-year sentence for robbery and has been in solitary confinement since amputating his finger said, "I'm not allowed to write letters or have any soap or toothpaste anymore."
When asked if prison conditions were the reason Cattano wanted to renounce his citizenship and leave the country, he said, "If I brought up the reasons, they'd use that as a ploy to extend the investigation.
State and Justice department officials are reserving comment on the situation.
Prison officials say the inmates can't renounce citizenship unless they are on foreign soil, won't happen until they have served their sentences.
But, while Cattano and Armstrong have attempted to keep prison conditions out of limelight, others have been complaining to state and federal officials.
"I believe the underlying motivation is the conditions at Lucasville and the fact the men are upset that this country will allow this to go on," said Cleveland attorney Christopher D. Stanley, who will advise Armstrong and Cattano when Justice Department lawyers arrive Tuesday.
Stanley, who won a court order last year to relieve overcrowding at Lucasville, said he had interviewed "250 inmates during the 2 1/2 years who tell the same story."
He said young prisoners are auctioned into homosexual slavery and that guards have been known to best prisoners. He said between one-third and one'half of the inmates are locked in their 6-by-10-foot cells 24 hours a day. "I've known of five to 10 suicides in the past two years, haning, and I would characterize them all as suspicious," he said.
Prison superintendant A. R. Jago denied there were any serious promlems at the $32 million facility, 75 miles east to Cincinnati.
"We've got one of the best industrial areas and school systems in the country," he said. "We've got metal, machine, print and shoe sjhops for the men."
The institution's mostly rural, white staff of 550 serve a mostly urban, black inmate population of about 2,100 boused in 1,610 cells.
George Lehner, a public information officer for the Department of Rehabilitation to other prisons in the state the 69-acre institution has "more TV sets available, more hi-fis and more best school system of any in the country."
But when reminded there have been eight inmates murdered at Lucasville since 1972, that two inmates were placed in isolation in December for writing a state representative "untrue statements" about the facilities and that a hunger strike has been going on in the solitary confinement area since Jan. 1, Lehner responded, "Prisoners don't have much to do except see themselves in the newspapers."
"On any given day there are three to four hunger strikes," he said, addinng, "I'm not in a position to commend how normal that is."