Maroon’s Win, Commutation, Parole for Lifers and Toxic Prisons

Greetings Fighting Maroons! marron

Welcome to our July newsletter. In these ever-turbulent times, where tragic news seems a constant, we hope this message finds you and your loved ones in both good health and resilient spirits. After a momentous last month, we’re pleased to bring you the latest info on Maroon’s lawsuit settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and brief report backs from both the Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation’s recent meeting with Pennsylvania state officials and the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons’ recent convergence in Washington D.C.

Maroon Sues The D.O.C. and Wins!!!

In case you missed our special bulletin two weeks ago, a settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged Maroon’s 22 straight years of solitary confinement. The settlement brings an end to litigation begun in 2013, which resulted in Maroon’s initial release from solitary in February, 2014. To say that we’re thrilled with this news would certainly be an understatement.

Maroon with Theresa and Hakeem, SCI Graterford, Father's Day, 2016

Ahead of this latest victory, Maroon was visited for Father’s Day by his daughter, Theresa, and grandson, Hakeem. (pictured above) In Theresa’s words, “I spent Father’s Day with Maroon and my son. Maroon was so upbeat and proud of the moment. Several prisoners nodded and others sent warm greetings. One even came over to where we were seated, wanting a hug from me. Maroon jumped between us and said, ‘Time out! This is my Father’s Day visit, with my daughter. Give me some space!” The prisoner got the message, and I took it to mean that we need more visits like this one.”

As mentioned in our July 11 press release, “In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.

Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: ‘I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!’ ”

We invite you to read our full press release, including the supportive comments of United Nation’s Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, whose expertise helped ensure this victory.

In addition, we share with you this article from The Guardian regarding the settlement and its potential positive impact on the cases of other Pennsylvania inmates who have suffered through similarly unrestricted use of solitary confinement, as well as the following video clip from the July 12 episode of Democracy Now!, a program that’s vocally supported our efforts over the years.

Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation Goes to Harrisburg

On Thursday, June 23, the Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation hit the Capitol pushing a 12 point platform that would change regulations and practices of the barely functional commutation process.  About 25 people traveled to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh and 10 more from Philly.  Upon arrival from Pittsburgh a devoted crew raced up to the office of Jason Dawkins, co-author of HB 2135, where he met them with open arms. House Bill 2135 was introduced on June 9, and has the ambition to Expand Parole Eligibility for Life Sentences. This bill would make people eligible for parole after 15 years served, and as Jason said in our press conference, “This bill would abolish life without parole.” Can you believe a State Rep said those words?!

Rep Ed Gainey from Pittsburgh gave a rousing speech at our rally in support of the bill. This is extra powerful because, tragically, his sister was murdered just a month ago. Additional surprise speakers included: Rep Joanna E. McClinton from Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, who was extremely encouraging and really applauded our efforts, and Rep Patty Kim of Dauphin County, who also stepped to the mic, talking about an impactful meeting she had with women at Muncy.

To read the full reportback about the campaign’s visit to the Pennsylvania capitol, and how you can plug into ongoing organizing, please visit here.

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Members of Let’s Get Free with Rep Dawkins and Rep Gainey

Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons Goes to D.C.

For over a decade, June 11 has been a day of action in solidarity with eco-anarchists imprisoned for their actions in defense of the Earth. Since its inception in 2004, the June 11 day of action and other acts of solidarity have been instrumental in winning shorter sentences or early release for eco-prisoners, including Jeff Luers and Eric McDavid. Yet committed earth defenders such as Marius Mason, targeted in the FBI’s “Greenscare,” are still serving harsh sentences in maximum security prisons for their actions in defense of the Earth.

Meanwhile in Appalachia, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) plans to build a massive maximum security prison on top of a former mountaintop removal coal mine in Letcher County, Kentucky, surrounded by sludge ponds and coal processing operations. This amounts to an environmental justice nightmare, where prisoners who are disproportionately low-income and people of color face toxic conditions behind bars.

IMG_7080photo: Kilaika Anayejali kwa Baruti, Eka Asase Yaa, Theresa Shoatz & Shandre Delaney attendees at Toxic Prison Conference in DC

From June 11 to June 13, people from around the country converged on Washington, D.C. to network, strategize, and take direct action against toxic prisons and continue to fight for the freedom of political prisoners.

Stopping one prison is not a magic bullet to ending the U.S. police state, the one that gave way to the world’s largest prison nation and in turn serves as the apparatus of repression that keeps the planet shackled to industrial capitalism… But it’s a pretty good place to build from.

To read about the campaign’s convergence in D.C., and how you can get involved, please visit here.

We remain deeply indebted to all of you who continue to offer your support and solidarity to the struggle for Maroon’s freedom, and against prisons and policing more broadly. And while we say it every month, we really do want to hear from you! Please feel free to contact us directly with your thoughts, questions, and ideas to strengthen our work on behalf of Maroon and all u.s.-held political prisoners.

We also invite you to consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. While Maroon’s recent settlement obviously includes a financial component, much of that money will be redirected, per Maroon’s wishes, to efforts that support other long-held prisoners and their families. Accordingly, your direct contributions for Maroon’s well-being at SCI Graterford remain important.

Please also consider contacting Maroon directly. He wants to hear from his supporters! Write to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246

In Maroon’s own words,
Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Maroon Sues DOC and Wins! Settlement Reached

Settlement reached in Shoatz v. Wetzel

July 11, 2016: Pittsburgh PA —A settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged the 22-year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. This brings an end to litigation begun in 2013. In February 2014, following an international campaign on behalf of Shoatz, he was released from solitary confinement.

In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.

Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: “I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez, said: “This settlement is a major contribution to the quest to outlaw prolonged solitary confinement in the US and around the world. I congratulate Mr. Shoatz and his family for not giving up and his team of lawyers for a committed and highly professional approach to justice.”

Shoatz had been held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) since 1983. For 19 months between 1989 and 1991 he was held in the general population of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. Upon return to the PADOC in 1991 he was immediately placed back in solitary confinement and held there until February 20, 2014, when he was released to the general population at State Correctional Institution Graterford, 10 months after he filed suit in Shoatz v. Wetzel.

The case challenged the more than 22 consecutive years that Shoatz spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Shoatz, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Shoatz also challenged violations of his procedural and substantive due process rights.

As noted by Judge Eddy in her February 2016 decision ordering a trial in the case, plaintiff’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, stated in his report in the case that Shoatz has spent “virtually his entire adult life in complete and coerced social isolation (and sensory deprivation) – which is among the most abnormal and pathogenic environments in which it is possible to place a human being.”

The decision also quoted United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, who was another expert for the plaintiff:

The conditions of detention of Mr. Russell Shoatz, in particular his indefinite solitary confinement eventually lasting 29 years, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under customary international law standards. . . . [E]ven if isolation of inmates is not per se contrary to those practices, indefinite or excessively prolonged regimes of solitary confinement like the one suffered by Mr. Shoatz certainly do. In addition to the excessive duration and indefinite nature, his isolation contradicts the trend of all civilized Nations in that it was imposed on the basis of status determinations unrelated to any conduct in his part, and through a meaningless procedure that did not afford him a serious chance to challenge the outcome.

Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Shoatz included the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations also endorsed his release from isolation.

In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez and Matt Meyer discussing Maroon at this link).

Shoatz was represented in this case by Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Harold J. Engel; and Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt.

Contact:

Russell Shoatz III   rshoatz@gmail.com  347-697-5390
Theresa Shoatz     tiye1120@gmail.com 267-456-7882
Bret Grote  bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org  412-654-9070

Mobilizing for Pittsburgh Trial, Solitary Voices, Majid – Rise in Peace

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Greetings Maroon supporters,

Welcome to our April newsletter! This month, we bring you the latest on Maroon’s forthcoming trial, a brief message on the recent passing of long-held political prisoner Abdul Majid, audio from a recent panel discussion on solitary confinement at the University of Pittsburgh Law School (including Albert Woodfox and Robert King), and part two of an interview with former political prisoner Ashanti Alston, regarding presidential politics, parenting, and Palestine.

As always, we thank you for your continued support and solidarity. Please feel free to contact us directly with your thoughts, questions, and ideas to bolster our efforts on behalf of Maroon and all u.s.-held political prisoners.

Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. As we prepare for Maroon’s court date in July, and various activities in Pittsburgh and beyond to highlight the trial, your financial support is especially important at this time.

You can connect directly with Maroon by writing to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246

Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Maroon’s Goes to Court in Pittsburgh this July – You Coming?

As we mentioned last month, a trial date of July 11, 2016, has been set for Maroon’s suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violations of his 8th and 14th Amendment rights during his over two consecutive decades in solitary confinement. If you missed some of the recent coverage on Federal Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy’s ruling that Maroon’s suit must be decided by jury trial, check out Victoria Law’s article, “How a Former Black Panther Could Change the Rules of Solitary Confinement,” published in The Nation, to get up to speed.

We’re hoping to have a big turnout of supporters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in order to generate broader support for and press coverage of Maroon’s case. Please let us know if you’re thinking of coming. We’re trying to gauge interest and pull appropriate resources together. The trial is set to start on July 11th and will probably last three days. We will probably set up a press conference the morning of the 11th and hope to pack the courtroom on the 12th. We imagine jury selection will take place on the 11th and would rather have you attend on Tuesday, the 12th. More information to come…

indexAbdul Majid Joins the Ancestors

We send our heartfelt condolences to the family and supporters of Abdul Majid, who died on April 3, 2016, after serving over 30 years at Five Points Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Abdul was involved in many of the Black Panther Party’s community-based survival programs, including free health clinics, free breakfast for children, the fight to decentralize the New York City public schools and police department, and more. For this reason, he was targeted by COINTELPRO, charged and convicted of murder and attempted murder of a police officer. Abdul and his co-defendant, Basheer Hameed, were forced into three separate trials. The first trial ended in a hung jury – divided along racial lines; the second trial was declared a mistrial by the judge immediately after the jury acquitted Basheer of the murder charge; both were finally convicted in a third trial. Abdul was sentenced to 33 years to life. Basheer Hameed made his transition in prison in 2008. Abdul was scheduled for a parole hearing next month.

While incarcerated, Abdul was well-known and respected for his work with the Lifer’s Organization, both inside and out of the New York State Department of Corrections, for facilitating classes, along with his leadership and counseling skills. In addition, he was active in helping young male prisoners cope with long sentences, conduct legal research, and provide civics training. Find out more here.

Rest in peace and power Abdul! We LOVE you!
Voices from Solitary Confinement

On April 15, 2016, the International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Prolonged Solitary Confinement convening took place at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. A panel discussion entitled, Experiencing The Harm and Suffering: The Prisoner’s Perspective, featured Albert Woodfox and Robert King of the Angola 3, Dolores Canales, executive director of California Families Against Solitary Confinement, among many others. We invite you to listen to a recording of this panel, moderated by Bret Grote, of Abolition Law Center and Maroon’s legal team, and Jules Lobel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Ashanti Alston Interview

Finally, we bring you the second installment of a two-part interview with Ashanti Alston, former Black Panther, soldier of the Black Liberation Army, and political prisoner of a decade and a half. In part two of the interview, Ashanti shares his thoughts on the presidential race, parenting, and why he flies a Palestinian flag on the house.

Our continued love and gratitude to you as we push forward in the fight for Maroon and all political prisoners.

Free Maroon! Free Em All!

The Shoatz Family and Friends

New Court Date, Tribute to Mondo, Interview with Ashanti Alston

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Spring Greetings Maroon’s Global Support Network!

Welcome to another installment of our monthly newsletter. Much respect and deep gratitude to everyone who’s reached out and stayed engaged with the latest developments in Maroon’s case.

A special thank you to Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.47.54 PMthose who came out for last month’s Mahogany Stroll, our successful Maroon Wear Fashion Freedom Fundraiser in Philly! We’re so grateful to all the designers who donated clothing and supported this event: Hamlet Tallaj from Hamlet’s Vintage, Shelyta Shoatz Vanhorn from Tranquility Wearable Art, TAR, ZED’s Gifts, UCBC, Movie Star Handsome, ThoroughBred Attire, World-Town, and Tru Design. Thank you to all the amazing models for WORKING THE RUNWAY!!! And thank you to Malikah from One Art for the beautiful venue!

This month, we bring you another international media write-up on Federal Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy’s ruling in support of Maroon, a save-the-date for Maroon’s trial in Pittsburgh, a farewell to political prisoner Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langaan, a petition to support political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes, and part one of an audio interview with former political prisoner Ashanti Alston, regarding his own activism with the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, and its connections to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

As always, please feel free to contact us directly with your thoughts, questions, and ideas to support our work on behalf of Maroon and all u.s.-held political prisoners.

Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. No amount is too little, and all contributions make an impact.

You can connect directly with Maroon by writing to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246

Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

International Press for Maroon!

In the aftermath of last month’s ruling by Federal Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy that Maroon’s suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violations of his 8th and 14th Amendment rights must go forward and be decided by a jury trial, international press outlets have begun to cover Maroon’s case history and the potential his trial holds to challenge the long-term and politically retributive uses of solitary confinement against U.S. prisoners. Check out Renée Feltz’s article, “Former Black Panther Granted Trial to Contest 22 Years in Solitary Confinement,” published two weeks ago by The Guardian.  And if you missed it in last month’s blast, here’s Victoria Law’s article, “How a Former Black Panther Could Change the Rules of Solitary Confinement,” published in The Nation.

Please help spread these articles to your individual networks, particularly to those who may not yet know about Maroon’s history and imprisonment. As we move forward to Maroon’s trial, we’ll need as much support as possible to make his case known farther and wider than ever before.

Save the Date! Maroon’s going to Court!

A tentative trial date of July 11, 2016, has been set for Maroon. We’ll of course be packing the courtroom in a show of support, and will be building up to the date with a number of events and fundraising initiatives, about which we’ll let you know more in the coming weeks. In the interim, we ask that those of you who may be able to join us in the courtroom, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, save the date of July 11.  If anyone in the network has capacity to organize a fundraiser for this mobilization please do! If you are in Pittsburgh and want to help on the ground please contact – maroonconnect@gmail.com

Details to follow as soon as we have them…

Maroon Has Wings  – Interview with Ashanti Alston

Please check out the first installment of an interview with Ashanti Alston, former Black Panther, soldier of the Black Liberation Army, and political prisoner of a decade and a half. Allston speaks about the impact Maroon had on him while he was incarcerated, embracing his own resistance to authority within the Panthers,  and organizing for Black Lives as a teenager in the 70’s.

Did you know Ashanti and his life long comrade, Jihad Abdulmumit were the first teenagers to be tried as adults in New Jersey AND they defeated the Feds who were trying to frame them in that case?

Ashanti also discusses the Black Lives Matter convening in Cleveland, the importance and preciousness of relationships, studying in prison, escape attempts, all that you risk when you engage in the struggle, and all that you love when you’re committed to justice.

This interview was recorded in Providence, Rhode Island by etta cetera in early February with the company of Biko and Yasmine.

Thank you Ashanti for sharing your experiences, wisdom and encouragement with us. Thank you for reminding us to continue to keep up the STRUGGLE WITH THE HOPE OF WINNING.

Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langaan joins the Ancestors

55f023a9ef652c6f104481c4b7ebd35bWe send our heartfelt condolences to the family and supporters of Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, who died of respiratory failure on March 11, 2016, at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary. Mondo was serving a life without parole sentence for the 1970 murder of an Omaha policeman, a crime he vigorously denied all the way to his prison deathbed. Active in his youth with the Black Panther Party and the United Front Against Fascism, Mondo attracted the unwanted attention of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who ordered Mondo and his colleague Edward Poindexter removed from the streets.

We invite you to read Michael Richardson’s  article at Moorbey’z Blog and Linda Kennedy’s article at the San Francisco Bayview, both of which pay touching tribute to Mondo’s committed activism and artistry before and throughout his imprisonment. Rest in peace and power Mondo!

5 Minute Solidarity Action! Support Seth Hayes

indexRobert Seth Hayes has been incarcerated since 1973. Like Mondo and Maroon, Seth was a victim of the FBI’s illegal COINTELPRO activities. Prior to his imprisonment, Seth worked in the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for Children program. His knowledge of the effects of racism on the Black community convinced him that the Black Panthers’ program of community service and community self-defense was what was needed.

A husband, father, grandfather, and brother, Seth has been behind bars for 43 years. He is nearing his tenth parole hearing, scheduled for June of this year, and a petition in support of his release, directed at Tina M. Stanford, Chair of the New York State Board of Parole, has begun circulating. We invite all of Maroon’s supporters to lend your names and signatures to the petition. Free Robert Seth Hayes!

Our thanks and love as always for your continued solidarity.
Free Maroon! Free Em All!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Big Victory for Maroon, Albert Woodfox! & Fashion Fundraiser

maroon bannerFebruary 2016 Newsletter

Greetings Maroon supporters,

Hope this message finds you in good health and spirits. In this month’s newsletter, we bring you word of a tremendous development in Maroon’s suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, an update on the recent release of long-held political prisoner Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, and a reminder about the Maroon Wear Fashion Freedom Fundraiser, coming up this weekend in Philadelphia.

As always, please feel free to contact us directly with your own ideas and connections to bolster our efforts in support of Maroon and all u.s.-held political prisoners.

Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. No amount is too little, and all contributions make an impact.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 3.58.11 PMAlso, as we mentioned last month, Maroon is very interested in dialoguing with supporters around current social justice issues, and responding to any questions you may have with regard to the essays he penned in Maroon The Implacable or the ones that we periodically post on this site. He’d love to hear what topics you think he should address in future writings, so feel free to reach out and begin or continue a conversation with him.

Connect directly by writing to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246

Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Federal Judge Eddy Rules on Maroon’s Behalf!

Earlier this month, we received word that Federal Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy of the U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania ruled that Maroon’s suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violations of his 8th and 14th Amendment rights must go forward and be decided by a jury trial. As many of you know, we’ve just celebrated the two-year anniversary of Maroon’s release into the general prison population at SCI Graterford, following his over 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement.

Maroon’s legal team had filed a lawsuit on his behalf shortly before the release, stating that such long-term solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of due process. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections had sought summary judgment of the case, arguing that Maroon’s claims were moot and that it was protected by qualified immunity. Judge Eddy denied this motion, and instead recognized that the risks and harms faced by Maroon and corroborated by Dr. James Gilligan were sufficiently serious and obvious enough to Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and SCI Greene warden Louis Folino that a jury could find for Shoatz on all claims. This is a major victory, and represents the first time in the country that long-term solitary confinement will be put on trial.

No trial date has been set yet, but we applaud the work of Maroon’s entire legal team and will obviously keep you up to speed on any and all developments. Please take a moment to read Victoria Law’s article “How a Former Black Panther Could Change the Rules of Solitary Confinement,” published this week in The Nation, for a fuller break-down of this significant new, and how Maroon’s case could have far-reaching implications for all U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement.

Albert Woodfox image_quoteAlbert Woodfox, your freedom fuels us!!
YES YES YES!

In addition to the positive news regarding Maroon’s case, we learned this week that Albert Woodfox, held in solitary confinement for over 43 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, was finally freed. Though justice was long denied in Albert’s case, we nevertheless celebrate and take inspiration from his release, and hope for more outcomes of this sort for our many still-held political prisoners.

As our friends at Democracy Now! stated in their February 22nd broadcast, “The former Black Panther spent more time in solitary confinement than anyone in the United States, much of it in a six-by-nine cell for 23 hours each day. Albert Woodfox was released Friday after he entered a plea of no contest to charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary of a prison guard more than four decades ago.

Prior to Friday’s settlement, his conviction had been overturned three times. Albert Woodfox was serving a five-year sentence for armed robbery at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola when he and fellow prisoner Herman Wallace were accused in 1972 of stabbing prison guard Brent Miller. The two men always maintained their innocence, saying they were targeted because they had organized a chapter of the Black Panther Party to address horrific conditions at the Angola prison, a former cotton plantation. Woodfox, Wallace, and a third man, Robert King, became collectively known as the Angola 3. For decades, Amnesty International and other groups campaigned to free the three men. Woodfox was the last remaining member of the group to be released.”

For a comprehensive discussion about this decision, Woodfox’s reasons for accepting a plea deal, the Angola 3’s history, and their still pending civil lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Corrections, please watch Albert’s first televised interview since being freed, with Democracy Now!, here

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Fashion Freedom Fundraiser

Finally, the Maroon Wear Fashion Freedom Fundraiser, themed

“The Mahogany Stroll,” takes place this Saturday, February 27th, from 3 to 8 pm, at 1Art, 1431-39 N. 52nd Street, in Philadelphia.

Featuring one-of-a-kind designer pieces from Hamlet’s Vintage in New York City, Zed’s Gifts and African Cultural Arts Forum in Philadelphia, as well as limited edition collectors items from socially conscious designers who are donating their talents to raise funds for and awareness around Maroon’s case, this free and child-friendly show is not to be missed!

Please come out if you’re in the area, and if you’re not, please share word of the event with anyone you know who is. We’ll not only be celebrating the latest advances in Maroon’s case, but highlighting the brilliant artwork created by members of Maroon’s broader support community. Look forward to seeing you there!

Many thanks and much respect for your ongoing support and solidarity,

The Shoatz Family and Friends

January News from Maroon’s Global Network

Celebrating Two Years Since Maroon’s Release to General Prison Population, Report-back from the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee’s 20th Anniversary Political Prisoner Family Dinner, and Bryan Stevenson on Strategies for Justice

January 2016 Newsletter

Greetings everyone,

Hope the start of 2016 is treating all of you well. The Shoatz Family and Friends welcome you back to our monthly newsletter and extend our gratitude for your ongoing support of U.S.-held political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. As we’ve said many times before, it’s because of YOUR care, concern, and commitment that the struggle to free Maroon, and all political prisoners, advances.

February 20th, 2016, will mark two years since Maroon was released into the general prison population at SCI Graterford, after over 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. This was a long-sought and hard-won victory, brought about by innumerable forces, and especially Maroon’s legal team and the Abolitionist Law Center. As his legal team said at the time, “There are no words to adequately convey the significance of his release to the general population for him and his family. This is a significant victory for a growing people’s movement against solitary confinement and the human rights violations inherent in mass incarceration. If we continue to work hard and support one another in this movement, these victories could very well become a habit.” If you’re new to our newsletter, or just want to refresh your memory on Maroon’s case history and the factors at play in his return to general population, please take a moment to read our media release from the week of Maroon’s transfer in 2014, available here.

While we of course continue to work for Maroon’s full and unconditional release from prison, we are inviting supporters to celebrate this anniversary by writing to Maroon directly and letting him know what you’ve found most inspiring and informative in any of his own written work. He’s especially interested in dialoguing with supporters around current social justice issues, and responding to any questions you may have with regard to the essays he penned in Maroon The Implacable or the ones that we periodically post on this site. He’d also love to hear what topics you think he should address in future writings. You can contact him at the below address, or tweet thoughts/questions to @RussellMShoatz using the hashtag #AskMaroon. He’ll write back to your letters directly, while we’ll collect, forward, and respond to your tweets with his replies. Don’t be shy!

Russell Shoats #AF-3855
SCI-Graterford
P.O. Box 246, Route 29
Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246

Supreme Court Ruling on Life Sentences For Juveniles
and President’s Executive Actions On Solitary Confinement

Like many of you, we were thrilled to hear news this week of the Supreme Court ruling that juveniles previously sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for homicide offenses are now covered by a 2012 decision that banned the practice going forward. The Court’s ruling that Miller v. Alabama—the case barring mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole sentences—does, in fact, apply retroactively, means that the over 500 people in Pennsylvania who were sentenced as children to die behind bars now have the opportunity to be resentenced! Read more about this landmark decision here.

Following that decision, President Obama issued executive orders banning the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons, and severely limiting its use for initial offenses by adult prisoners, stating what many of us, and certainly Maroon, have been arguing for years: namely that the practice is grossly overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences. The president’s reforms will apply broadly to the approximately 10,000 federal inmates, including juveniles, currently serving time in solitary confinement. Read more about his executive actions here.

pictured: Maroon with son Russell, daughter Sharon, and newsletter editor Raphael Cohen, SCI Graterford, December 29, 2015

Malcolm X Commemoration Committee 20th Anniversary
Political Prisoners Family Dinner

A couple weeks ago, Sharon Shoatz, Maroon’s daughter, attended the 20th Annual Political Prisoners Family Dinner, a gathering that brings together family members of current and former U.S.-held political prisoners in order to maintain connection and garner support for those still locked up or recently released.

As Sharon writes in her reportback from the event:

“When asked to write this piece, I was transported back some two decades ago, when the Dinner was held in Harlem at the Adam Clayton Powell State Building. I began looking at pictures prominently displaying the many years of Political Prisoners Dinners shared with my brother Russell, sister Theresa, Sunni (Sundiata Acoli’s daughter), and even Yuri Kochiyama, who during the era of the infamous Judge Sabo, was willing to give up her courtroom seat to my brother and I, so we could enter the room jam-packed by the F.O.P. (Fraternal Order of Police) during Mumia’s trial. I of course have so many memories and pictures of comrades and cubs, far too many to name. …

I began to think about the overwhelming support and outreach garnered for and from the Political Prisoners Dinner, and how this annual event has been and will always be one of the many great legacies of Iyualaa and Herman Ferguson. …

Guest speakers included Sekou Odinga and Lynne Stewart. Sekou was released in November of 2014, and received a resounding standing ovation for his ongoing struggle, and his 14 months of freedom. He spoke about how the money garnered from the Political Prisoners Dinners sustained him during his incarceration. He went on to speak about how everyone could do something—anything—from monetary support, to transportation for family members, to visiting loved ones.”

To read Sharon’s piece in its entirety, including a list of ten things YOU can do for the freedom of political prisoners, drafted by Joan Gibbs, General Counsel for the Center for Law and Social Justice, please follow this link.

Russell, Sunni, Sharon, and fellow comrades at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem

Bryan Stevenson on Strategies for Justice

Lastly, we bring you longtime Maroon friend and supporter etta cetera’s audio recording of Bryan Stevenson, the brilliant social justice lawyer and storyteller, speaking at the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last Monday, January 25, the same day of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on those convicted as juveniles now being able to challenge life sentences! Lawyer, activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson delivers a rousing talk on strategies for achieving justice in the era of mass incarceration. Listen here

As always, please feel free to contact us directly with your own ideas and connections to help build and broaden our efforts.

Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. As we mentioned in our fundraising appeal last year, we aim to regularly send Maroon basic necessities, from boots to books, so that he can remain in good health and spirits. To this end, we need your support. No amount is too little, and all contributions make an impact.

We close, as always, by reemphasizing our deep gratitude for your solidarity and our vision of greater victories in the days to come. In Maroon’s own infamous words…

Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Upcoming fundraiser in Philadelphia Save the Date

fashion

Report-back from the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee’s 20th Anniversary Political Prisoner Family Dinner

by Sharon Shoatz – January 2016

When asked to write this piece, I was transported back some two decades ago, when the dinner was held in Harlem at the Adam Clayton Powell State Building. I began looking at pictures prominently displaying the many years of Political Prisoners Dinners shared with my brother Russell, sister Theresa, Sunni (Sundiata Acoli’s daughter), and even Yuri Kochiyama, who during the era of the infamous Judge Sabo, was willing to give up her courtroom seat to my brother and I, so we could enter the room jam-packed by the F.O.P. (Fraternal Order of Police) during Mumia’s trial. I of course have so many memories and pictures of comrades and cubs, far too many to name. I thought, “Wow, what a flashback, and these throwback pictures with me looking like…” Well, we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!

I began to think about the overwhelming support and outreach garnered for and from the Political Prisoners Dinner, and how this annual event has been and will always be one of the many great legacies of Iyualaa and Herman Ferguson.

Upon arriving, I was greeted by none other than the strong warrior shero, the lovely Iyualaa. Greeting her and her family brought back fond memories of Safiya Bukhari, who invited me to my first New York City Political Prisoners event.

The room was filled with guests, supporters, comrades, cubs, and family members.  Dequi was visibly roaming the room as the drums were being played and Zayid began as he always does with libations for the ancestor sheroes and warriors. His voice permeated the room as the kick-off for the 20th anniversary of the dinner began. Guest speakers included Sekou Odinga and Lynne Stewart. Sekou was released in November of 2014, and received a resounding standing ovation for his ongoing struggle, and his 14 months of freedom. He spoke about how the money garnered from the Political Prisoners Dinners sustained him during his incarceration. He went on to speak about how everyone could do something—anything—from monetary support, to transportation for family members, to visiting loved ones.

Lynne Stewart, the revolutionary lawyer, echoed Sekou’s sentiments, and spoke about the injustices that still exist, while also reading a piece of poetry that was near and dear to her heart.

The food and desserts were well-prepared and in abundance. The legendary raffle and auction of sponsored items—from CDs, books, artwork, and clothing—was tremendous.

Dequi’s commitment to carrying on the torch and the legacy of the Political Prisoners Dinner with such an indelible spirit is commendable. For all of you reading this, dig deep and acknowledge how a small deed such as a monetary contribution to or communication with any of our Political Prisoners can mean so much.

Joan Gibbs, General Counsel for the Center for Law and Social Justice, has shared with us 10 ways in which we can support our revolutionary sheroes and heroes, for which this event was ultimately designed.

SO DIG DEEP!!!
The Struggle continues…

Free all Political Prisoners and POWs.

Ten Things YOU Can Do for the Freedom of Political Prisoners by Joan Gibbs, Esq.

The Freedom of all Political Prisoners requires the building of a mass united Movement. To that end here are ten things you can do to contribute to the building of such a Movement:

  1. Write to, and if you can, send money to the Political Prisoners. Let them know that you support and care about them. The addresses of all the Political Prisoners can be found at www.thejerichomovement.com
  1. Join Jericho &/or one of the other Political Prisoner support committees;
  1. Challenge the myth that Political Prisoners do not exist in the united states. Educate your family, friends, co-workers, and members of your faith-based community, if you belong to one, about the existence of the Political Prisoners and campaigns for their Freedom;
  1. Organize a meeting on Political Prisoners at your home, union hall, faith-based institution, local coffee shop, bar, wherever you regularly hang out;
  1. Post information about Political Prisoners on your Facebook page;
  1. Send e-mails and Twitter messages to your friends/followers calling for the Freedom of Political Prisoners;
  1. Even if you didn’t vote for them or don’t vote, let your elected representatives know that the Freedom of Political Prisoners is one of the issues that you are concerned about. The addresses of all elected officials from the President to the City Council are readily available on the Internet;
  1. Put up a poster/picture of Political Prisoners in your home/windows;
  1. Organize, support, and attend rallies, pickets, and demonstrations calling for the Freedom of Political Prisoners;
  1. Be Creative! Be Creative!