with the “Arizona Tower Taker”
By S.A. Hasan, Prisonersolidarity.org
Nov. 24, 2007
[This exclusive interview tells the story of “Arizona
Tower Taker,” Ricky K Wassenaar, the man who decided to take
prison guards hostage in order to see his mother before she died.]
Why don’t you begin by telling our readers some background
about yourself and the situation.
RW: All right. I’ve been incarcerated, since
July 23, 1986, for committing two armed robberies in Tucson, Arizona.
I received two consecutive sentences of 15 and 28 years.
January 18, 2007, all of my appeals were exhausted. My repeated
requests for an out-of-state transfer had been denied. I was being
housed in a prison that was in the middle of the desert. This eliminated
any hope of escape and my future was looking pretty grim.
Hasan: Why were you requesting an out-of-state
RW: My mother lives in Michigan, and in 1999 her
health declined to the point where she was no longer able to travel
to Arizona to visit me. And since I still had 20 years before I
would be eligible for release, I sought a transfer so that I could
be closer to her, to see her before she passed away.
Unfortunately, Michigan is one of only a few states that aren’t
a member of the Interstate Corrections Compact, which permits states
to exchange prisoners. Since a transfer to Michigan wasn’t
possible, I requested a transfer to Ohio, Wisconsin, or Illinois.
The Prison Officials summarily denied my first two requests and
simply ignored my subsequent requests, despite the fact that I had
provided them with information concerning my mom’s health,
and my sister’s agreement to pay all costs incurred in the
Hasan: So they really had no legitimate reason
to deny your requests. That must have upset you.
RW: Absolutely! It was very frustrating.
Hasan: So, when your efforts to resolve this matter
administratively were in vain, what did you do next?
RW: I was a desperate man at that point. So I converted
my aborted escape plan into a plan to negotiate my way into a state
that was closer to my mom. My cellmate, “Pony,” was
doing three consecutive life sentences and his family lives in Main.
So he was game for whatever. On January 4, 2004, Pony and I were
working in the kitchen. Armed with shanks, we subdued the kitchen
guard and a civilian worker and locked the other 19 prisoners in
a storage area.
Then I dressed in the guard’s uniform and jacket and hid a
stirring paddle under the jacket. Leaving Pony to hold the kitchen,
I made my way to the gun tower, taking an empty lock-down tray with
me. The tower is located in the center of the prison yard, with
the kitchen to the East, the administrative building to the West,
four cell blocks to the South and five cell blocks to the North.
The gun tower is a three-story-high square fortress, approximately
60 foot by 60 foot. The tower guards are armed with AR-15 assault
rifles, 12-gauge-pump shotguns and several chemical agents, such
as pepper spray. The tower also has a control panel on the 2nd floor
that controls the security gates and doors in and around the yard.
When I reached the tower gate I pressed the access button and the
tower guard buzzed me in. I then walked to the tower door and pressed
the access button. The guard’s voice came in over the intercom,
asking: “Who goes there?” I knew he was looking down
at me from the 2nd story window, so I held the empty lock-down tray
up, in front of my face, and said: “hot baked goodies from
the kitchen.” He immediately buzzed the door open and I entered
the tower. After entering, I set the tray down, pulled out the stirring
paddle, and began climbing the spiral staircase to the 2nd floor.
It was 4:20 a.m. There were no lights on in the tower and it was
dark except for the outside lights that shown in through the windows.
When I reached the top of the stairs, I was relieved to find only
two guards, and neither one holding a weapon.
Hasan: Were there usually more than two guards in the tower?
RW: Yes. There’s a refrigerator and microwave
oven there. So, in addition to the two guards assigned to the tower
there are often several others hanging out, waiting for their shift
to end at 6 a.m. But what I didn’t know was that a new shift
commander had just begun working that shift, and he had told the
guards to stay active and alert, rather than hanging out in the
Hasan: That was very fortuitous for you!
RW: Definitely. Because once we put the plan into
action, we wouldn’t be able to abort. So, whatever and whoever
were in that tower had to be handled. So it was very fortunate that
the shift commander had implemented this new directive. So, anyway,
when I reached the top of the stairs a (6’4” and 260
pound) guard was walking toward me, asking about the tray of goodies.
But he stopped in his tracks when he saw the stirring paddle.
When I hit him he grabbed his face, turned around, and began swearing.
Before I could say anything the other (5’8” and 200
pound) guard let out a warrior’s yell and rushed me with fists
flying. He ran right into my left hook. It wasn’t until I
was cuffing them that I realized the second guard was female. I
used only the amount of force necessary to take control. The guards
were not injured at all.
After I gained control of the tower I phoned the kitchen to tell
pony to bring the hostages over. When Pony didn’t answer the
phone I began to worry, as he knew that I’d be calling. After
about 30 minutes Pony finally answered and told me that he’d
taken another guard hostage. I told him to bind the guards and civilians
together and to bring them to the tower, which is what he was doing
when two more guards entered the kitchen. Pony panicked and his
hostages escaped. He ran to the tower then, and I let him in. Our
plan had been to have several hostages and to use them to negotiate
for out-of-state transfers. But now we only had two guards as leverage.
Also, we’d only planned to remain in the tower for two or
three days, hoping to get the media involved to mediate the dispute,
and make sure that the Arizona Department of Correction (ADOC) would
keep its agreement.
Hasan: So you didn’t trust them?
RW: Man, Hasan, I wish you could listen to the
negotiating tapes they made. You’d be awed by how juvenile
and petty they acted. This included even the FBI negotiators. It
was like a game for them. It was like they didn’t want to
resolve the situation. The governor forbade any media involvement,
even after I said that we’d surrender as soon as we were allowed
to speak with the media. And I never broke my agreements with them,
despite the fact that they broke many and lied constantly. So, heck
no, I didn’t trust their promise to transfer us out of state.
It was a totally crazy situation that went on for fifteen days and
had 9 or 10 different negotiators.
Then, finally, they brought in an old-timer, a detective from Scottsdale,
Arizona, named “Bob.” He seemed to dislike the ADOC
officials even more than I did. Bob never broke his word, as the
other negotiators had, and he gained our trust. Bob gave us his
word that we would be transferred out of state. And today, Pony
is in Maine and I am about 800 miles from my mother, who lives in
Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Hasan: Did you receive more time for holding the
guards hostage, assaulting them, etc?
RW: They gave me 16 consecutive life sentences,
plus another 43 years.
RW: Arizona doesn’t mess around. They lay
Hasan: So, you chose to come to Ohio?
RW: Yes, and my decision to come here has apparently
offended a couple of lieutenants at the Ohio State Penitentiary,
who are now on a mission to make me regret that decision.
Hasan: How do you mean?
RW: Well, it’s not like I’m being physically
assaulted. At least, not yet. But I am being harassed in several
ways, which I have documented in grievances. I don’t want
this interview to run too long, so I’ll just tell you a few.
Whenever the lieutenants “search” my cell they totally
destroy and disrespect everything in it. They empty my legal papers
on the floor and shuffle them all together. I have three active
cases and a lot of legal papers. And it’s a disaster when
they’re all mixed together. They’ve also stolen my tooth
paste, thrown my tooth brushes and clothing on the floor and just
totally disrespected my meager belongings. I’ve been in OSP
for 16 months and they’ve done this to my cell 10 times so
far. This is in addition to the cell searches that are routinely
conducted. It happens every time I come out of my cell, for recreation
or to take a shower.
Also, I was given a ticket because my T.V. that I bought at the
ADOC commissary had two broken spokes, which left two tiny holes.
This did not affect the T.V. in any way. The damage happened in
Arizona and was documented by the ADOC staff, who allowed me to
retain possession of it. But the ODRC staff found me guilty and
seized my television for allegedly having been “altered.”
When my mother and sister sent me money to buy another TV. the OSP
staff illegally seized the money and sent it to ADOC as “restitution.”
I have filed a lawsuit against ODRC to get the money back. The free-world
people can check it out at www.cco.state.oh.us (case #2006-00293.Wassenaar
V.ODRC). It has been ongoing for a year, but I will prevail, as
the evidence is on my side.
Lastly, the OSP staff also removed my mother and siblings from my
visitation list before they could visit and have been frustrating
my efforts to get them back on the list. My family wants to visit
in April  if they can get back on the list. Because I am allowed
only one-hour visits, I will request to visit with them longer,
since will all be traveling here from Michigan. But I have a feeling
that this request won’t go smoothly either.
Hasan: So, OSP staff has prevented your family
from visiting you thus far?
RW: Yeah, by messing with my visiting list. But
a detective from Arizona also really went out of his way to harass
my family. He claimed to have received “info” from an
inmate in ADOC and used it to obtain a search warrant for my sister’s
house and place of employment. He seized computers from her home
and job, which got her fired after 12 years of employment. There
was no evidence found relating to the search warrants. He then searched
my mother’s and brother’s homes and seized their computers
as well, again finding no evidence.
Hasan: In a nutshell, you’re saying that
the prison officials at OSP and a detective from Arizona have been
harassing you and your family, in retaliation for the events that
took place in Arizona?
RW: Yes. And all I want is for these unnecessary
and vindictive harassments to stop.
Interviewer’s Note: After this interview was conducted, Wassenaar
finally lost patience, and retaliated, against one of the lieutenants
who routinely destroyed his cell. When Lt. Ritz came to his cell
and ordered Wassenaar to “cuff up,” he threw human waste
on him and demanded that he be left alone to do his time. Wassenaar
uttered this same sentiment during his Rule Infraction Board (RIB)
hearing. He received 15 days in isolation for his action. He has
been released, and prays that the prison officials will now just
leave him alone.
Ricky Wassenaar #497175
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505-4635
Ricky Wassenaar has studied law since his incarceration in 1986
and he often advises prisoners in their criminal appeals and civil
lawsuits. He is currently preparing to file another lawsuit against
the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), to
prohibit its continued censorship of magazines and other publications.
He is also trying to convince ODRC officials to provide educational
television stations, such as The Learning Channel, The History Channel,
Discover, etc. It is well-known that education is essential for
rehabilitation, yet few “free people” are aware that
the ODRC provides prisoners with only the most minimal and elementary
educational opportunities. Wassenaar would appreciate receiving
your responses to this interview. Please enclose a self-addressed,
pre-embossed stamped envelope when writing to him at the above address.
may contact Ricky Wassenaar directly by writing to them at the addresses
listed above. The following link offers tips for writing to prisoners: