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!

Food Security, Garden Winter Clean-Up & Release Aging People From Prison

Greetings Maroon supporters,

We’re back with our monthly newsletter on behalf of U.S.-held political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. Many thanks and much respect for your continued support and solidarity as we push on in the struggle to free Maroon.

This month, we bring you Maroon’s latest essay, which explores the importance of food security, especially among working class people, in the era of climate chaos; an invitation to the winter clean-up at Maroon’s urban garden in Philadelphia on the morning of Sunday, December 6; and updates on ongoing efforts to release aging prisoners in the U.S.

 Maroon and younger sister Muriel Adam-El's first time together in over 43 years, Graterford.
Maroon and younger sister Muriel Adam-El’s first time together in over 43 years, Graterford.

Feel free to contact us.

Connect with Maroon 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
December 2015

 

The Real Walking Dead

As many of your are no doubt aware, in recent years, Maroon has become a louder proponent of eco-socialism and food security, encouraging us to develop our capacity to locally and sustainably grow organic, healthy food, and in the process, unplug from the corporate food structure. In his latest essay, he expounds on this subject, writing:

“If you have not accepted that we are experiencing a mass extinction, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, then count yourself amongst The Real Walking Dead.

Admittedly, this is a subject that is so mind-boggling, even those who are courageous enough to face the fact that there is an almost airtight scientific case leaving little room for doubt, generally themselves succumb to an overpowering fatalism, leading to escapism.

But those who profess to have “grabbed the bull by the horns” must, at minimum, strive to replace their dependence for food on the very system that is driving this destruction of life as we know it. If you are not moving towards food security, then face it: you too are one of the The Real Walking Dead!”

Read Maroon’s essay in full here 

sharon joy garden
Maroon’s sister Joy lifts up a tomato in front of the mural of their mother Gladys.

Maroon Garden Winter Clean-Up

In accord with Maroon’s latest writings on food security, we invite you to join family and friends at the Maroon Garden winter clean-up, on Sunday, December 6, at 10 a.m.

Located at Sayre Junior High School, on 58th and Locust in Philadelphia, the Maroon Garden aims to educate the local community around issues of ecological and food justice. Please come join us for a day of clean-up, in support of further developing this site as a thriving community resource. Bring weed wackers, heavy gardening tools, rakes, gloves, and plenty of muscle!

0fdd6c56-dbc7-4aab-90ef-b899a1bd3822Release Aging People From Prison

Longtime Maroon supporter etta cetera recently interviewed Mujahid Farid of the organization Release Aging People from Prison, about their five-point platform and the latest developments in efforts to gain the release of elderly prisoners.

Check out the Center for Justice at Columbia University’s new report “Aging In Prison: Reducing Elder Incarceration and Promoting Public Safety

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We close by sending out our deep gratitude for your support, and our hope to celebrate greater victories with you in the days to come…

The Shoatz Family and Friends

Maroon Pays Tribute to Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, Maroon’s Son Hassan Reflects on a Visit with his Father, and We Fight to Save Kerry Shakaboona Marshall

Greetings Maroon supporters,

Welcome back to our monthly newsletter/e-mail blast on the status of U.S.-held political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. Continued thanks and respect for your interest, involvement, and solidarity.

This month, we bring you a brief poem from Maroon paying tribute to recently deceased freedom fighter Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, a touching reflection penned by Maroon’s son Hassan upon visiting his father, and some important information on the fight to save longtime Pennsylvania prisoner Kerry Shakaboona Marshall, who Maroon calls “a man [who has] the makings of a University professor, doctor, or scientist … never one to waste a single moment in bettering himself and others he could assist.”

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

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

Connect with Maroon 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
October 2015
pinellRemembering Hugo “Yogi” Pinell

Following news of Hugo “Yogi” Pinell being killed at New Folsom Prison this past August, Maroon wrote a brief poem paying tribute to the longtime prison activist and social justice hero. If you missed our newsletter two months back, please visit our website for more info on Pinell’s remarkable life. Maroon’s poem can be read below.

Why Hugo “Yogi” Pinell Will Be Remembered
By Russell Maroon Shoatz
Copyright 2015 © Pampata

Hero
Unbroken
Giant
Outstanding

Young-at-heart
Openhearted
Genuine
Inspired

Powerful
Implacable
New man
Egalitarian
Long-standing
Loving

Exceptionally Well Done!

hassanMaroon’s Son Hassan Reflects on a Visit with his Father The visits are always good when I get to see that smile on my father’s face.

The long drive, my forgetting to have exact change for vending machine cards, locker expenses, and other visiting procedural protocols, was just a part of the anxiety I was feeling, as I began to inch closer to the front of the check-in line. You see, the last time I made the three-hour trek up the highway one Saturday in July, I was turned away with a simple explanation. “Sorry, it’s not his visiting block today,” the prison guard had uttered, as she stared at what must have been the most bewildered expression I had mustered on my face since high school physics.

Unbeknownst to me, that day in July just so happened to be Family Day. Hence, the explanation as to why there were so many small kids, babies, and single mothers there. I recall thinking to myself, freedom, next to life itself, has to be the highest priority valued by humans. Anything short of that, I surmised, must be like death itself.

Because of the sheer number of visitors for Family Day, inmate visits were divided according to last name, with some visits occurring on Saturday and the others on Sunday. As I came to grips with not being able to see my father because I came on Saturday and not Sunday, I glanced around the room looking at all of the fractured families. Women with children were cluttered throughout the check-in area. Their valiant attempts to maintain a semblance of family life, I noted. At that very moment, I stopped feeling sad for myself, knowing that all I had to do was come back another day. But it was not that simple for all of those kids who longed for their fathers or for the mothers forced to do family life solo.

As I exited the prison grounds and began driving down the long road back towards the interstate, I tried to recollect back some 40-plus years earlier, wondering about my own mother’s plight, and how she was confronted with this same issue in the early ’70s. My memory was blank; I could not recall one visit in which my mother accompanied me to see my father. Was my subconscious suppressing painful past events or was the passage of time doing what it naturally does? Was Mom traumatized by her own interactions and past deeds in the struggle that she could not bear any more? Had she gotten too close to the fire and possibly steps away from being incarcerated herself? I speculated that it had come down to two options: being a mother or being a lover. In many regards, her fate, as well as that of other like-minded associates who aggressively challenged the status quo, was up in the air, and she was probably under tremendous pressure. Their plights intertwined with my father’s and
he ultimately received multiple life sentences.

Read the rest of Hassan’s reflection here

shakaSave Shakaboona

Kerry Shakaboona Marshall was 17 when he was arrested in 1988. As a result of the “Get Tough on Crime” movement, he was sentenced to life in prison, which is equivalent to DEATH by Incarceration. He is one of 500 youth in the state of Pennsylvania who received mandatory LIFE sentences with total disregard to their mental capacity, education, and any emotional and physical trauma they’d encountered. Let us say NO to this barbaric system beginning with Kerry Shakaboona Marshall!

Since being imprisoned, Shakaboona has matured into a committed and principled advocate for human rights both inside and outside the prison system. He can regularly be heard advocating for the most disadvantaged in his commentaries at Prison Radio. He is also the Co-Editor of The Movement, a magazine published by the Human Rights Coalition, where his written commentaries can be found.

His Life MATTERS!

Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) is needed for a re-sentencing defense team of experienced individuals who will advocate zealously for a sentence other than DEATH by Incarceration for Kerry Shakaboona Marshall.

Visit the Indigogo Site to learn more and contribute to our efforts.

“Twenty years ago I met him at the end of the line, in a Super Maximum Security section of Pennsylvania’s state prison in Greene County. There he was serving a natural life sentence – imposed on him while he was still a juvenile – because the system of injustice had taken a wayward kid and condemned him to spend the rest of his life within the confines of prisons.

Yet the Shakaboona I met as a man had the makings of a University professor, doctor, or scientist, and by then was never one to waste a single moment in bettering himself and others he could assist.

As an elder who must leave this life in the not-too-distant future, I’m comforted to know that he continued to grow and better himself, and thus my own grandchildren will benefit from the kind of man he has developed himself to be: One of the best humans walking the planet Earth!”

– Russell Maroon Shoatz

As always, we offer you our profound gratitude for your support, and our hope to celebrate greater victories with you in the days to come…

The Shoatz Family and Friends

Prisoners’ Families Organize to Resist Incarceration and Its Costs

By Victoria Law |Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission”

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(Image: Women’s eyes, prison fence via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

For the past 27 years, Patricia Vickers has felt the cost of her son’s life sentence. He spent six years incarcerated in Greene County, Pennsylvania, nearly 330 miles from Philadelphia where Vickers lives. She visited him every other month. Each visit cost her several hundred dollars.

“It was $20 or $25 for gas each way,” she told Truthout. She often received speeding tickets as she raced to get to the prison before it began its 11:30 am count, in which staff members count every prisoner to ensure that no one is missing. If she arrived even two minutes late, she was forced to wait until 1 pm for her visit. So Vickers sped down the highways, reducing the 7.5-hour drive to six hours. Nearly every time, she was pulled over and issued a $110 speeding ticket.

Now, her son is in a prison three hours away. Vickers visits three times a year, spending $100 on gas. She also spends approximately $30 buying snacks from the prison vending machine. Visitors are not allowed to bring cash; instead, they purchase a card for $2.50 and add money to it. The card is reusable but if a visitor loses it, they also lose any money placed on the card. In addition to the cost of visiting, there are other expenses.

“The phone bill used to be crazy,” Vickers said, recounting that accepting collect calls from the prison would add $80 to each month’s bill. “I had to get the phone turned off a couple of times, so I could just catch up on the costs.” Vickers also sends her son money each month. In the early years, she would send $10 or $20, whatever she could scrape out of her budget. “I tried to help him, but I had another child, two older sons and grandkids,” she said. “Sometimes I’d say, ‘I’m sorry son.'” Now that her youngest child is an adult and out of the house, Vickers sends her son $50 each month, a practice known as “putting money on his books,” paying a surcharge of $5.95 per month to the prison services corporation JPay each time she does so.

One in three families reported going into debt to pay for phone calls or visitation.
Across the United States, family members have similar stories of the financial costs of their loved ones’ incarceration. In September 2015, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together and Research Action Design released “Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.” The report, which includes interviews, surveys and focus groups with formerly incarcerated people and family members in 14 states, examines the financial and emotional costs of incarceration. Not surprisingly, it found that women bear the brunt of these costs. In other words, Vickers’ experience is more the rule than the exception.

Vickers has never gone into debt, but other families have not been as fortunate. The report found that the average debt incurred for court-related fines and fees alone was $13,607. Given that more than half of those caught in the criminal legal system live at or below the poverty line (defined as $11,770 or less per year) and over two-thirds of those in jail report incomes of less than $12,000 per year before their incarceration, these fines and fees place a huge burden on their family members.

Families also take on the costs associated with incarceration, such as sending money, paying often exorbitant costs for phone calls and traveling long distances to visit. One in three families reported going into debt to pay for phone calls or visitation.

“Who Pays?” also explores the emotional tolls of having a loved one behind bars. Diana Zuñiga has been visiting her uncle and father in prison since she was 5 years old. As a child, she recalled visits as big family events, full of joy at seeing her loved ones. But, while they did their best to hide negative emotions from her, she also remembers the sadness, hopelessness and guilt under the surface in her family. When she was in fourth grade, Zuñiga began to realize that incarceration wasn’t the norm for everyone. “I began making up professions for my father because I felt the shame of having an incarcerated parent,” she told Truthout. “It wasn’t until after high school that I really started coming to terms with their imprisonment and that it was okay that I loved them. I started understanding them as human beings who made mistakes and their mistakes look like this.”

The report also explains how criminalization, and the ensuing costs, impact trans and gender-nonconforming women. As a Black trans teenager in Louisiana, Milan Nicole Sherry had been arrested several times for sex work. “Queer and trans youth don’t have a lot of job options or resources, so we turn to sex work as survival,” she told Truthout. Sherry was one of 10 siblings; her mother’s sole income was from disability benefits. Although Sherry’s bond was set between $150 and $200, she explained that “to bond me out of jail would mean taking away from my siblings’ food, clothes, needs, and I wasn’t going to do that.” Instead, each time she was arrested, Sherry spent two to three weeks in jail before she was released with credit for time served. But, she noted, many queer and trans youth no longer have family connections at all, having been kicked out. Instead, she explained, “We build families within our communities.”

These families and these communities are fighting back. They’re not only challenging the high costs associated with incarceration, but also organizing to change the laws that send their loved ones to prison and keep them locked away.

In 2001, Patricia Vickers received a call from poet and activist Walidah Imarisha, who was reaching out to family members to create the Human Rights Coalition to organize families to fight against abuses within the prison system while advocating for policies that reduce incarceration. At first, Vickers was reluctant to attend a meeting. “I didn’t really understand what was going on,” she explained. “I was ashamed.” After several missed meetings and follow-up calls, she showed up at a meeting. There, family members talked openly about having loved ones in prison and answered letters from people inside.

“I realized I had somebody to talk to,” Vickers recalled. “I didn’t have to be ashamed of loving my son in prison. I didn’t have to defend him to anyone.”

“We try to create legislation by looking at how our loved ones are impacted.”
She kept returning, helping to answer letters first from the men whose families were involved in the Human Rights Coalition and, as word spread, from many others incarcerated across Pennsylvania. In 2010, after a call-in campaign succeeded in getting Vickers’ son transferred from Greene to a different prison, the Human Rights Coalition formed an emergency response network in which members and supporters were mobilized to call the prison whenever abuse was reported. “We found that when we called the prison about any one individual, the abuse would stop,” Vickers explained.

Now, Vickers and other family members are fighting to end Pennsylvania’s practice of life without parole, a policy they call “death by incarceration.” In June 2015, the Human Rights Coalition helped launch the Campaign to End Death by Incarceration. Currently, Pennsylvania has 5,100 people sentenced to life; nearly 500 were juveniles when sentenced. The campaign hopes to change that, first by raising public awareness and then by pushing for legislation that allows people to apply for parole.

In New Orleans, Milan Nicole Sherry and members of the grassroots group BreakOUT! are fighting practices and policies that funnel queer and trans youth of color into jails and prisons. In 2011, Sherry was one of five trans youth who, recognizing the need for a space of their own in New Orleans, founded BreakOUT! The group’s first campaign, called “We Deserve Better,” challenged police interactions with queer and trans youth. “We were seeing illegal stop-and-frisks, particularly for trans women who were targeted and arrested as sex workers for being in a ‘known prostitution area,'” Sherry said, adding that police frequently misgendered youth, groped them to determine their genitalia and propositioned them for sex. BreakOUT! members developed a policy prohibiting this harassment, groping and abuse. After nearly a year of advocacy and organizing, BreakOUT! succeeded: The New Orleans Police Department adopted the policy.

To ensure that the voices and stories of queer and trans youth were included in “Who Pays?” Sherry also facilitated having BreakOUT! members share their experiences. “Incarceration isn’t just an LGBT experience. It’s not just a heterosexual experience. We wanted to bridge those gaps,” she said. By sharing their stories, BreakOUT! members intend to bring more visibility and awareness of their issues to the larger society. And, instead of waiting for social justice gains to trickle down to their members, BreakOUT! centers the experiences of trans women of color. “If things get better for trans women, then things will be better for the rest of society,” Sherry said. Of course, improvement is an uphill battle. As of October 2015, 20 trans women have been murdered in the United States, a number that doubled since May 2015 when BreakOUT! erected a bulletin board over New Orleans’ Broad Street Bridge.

“For family members, organizing is a way to do something and not just sit back and wait.”
Diana Zuñiga is also organizing to end the laws that rip families like hers apart. She is now the statewide organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a coalition of over 70 organizations that aims to reduce the number of people in prison as well as the number of prisons and jails throughout the state. Her work with CURB brings her in contact with people who have been directly impacted, whether through their own incarceration or through a family member. “We try to create legislation by looking at how our loved ones are impacted and how to broaden it to affect others,” she explained.

On October 11, 2015, Zuñiga, CURB members and family members of incarcerated people throughout the state were able to celebrate a legislative victory. That Sunday morning, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law SB219, expanding access to the state’s Alternative Custody Program, which allows people in prison to complete their sentences under home confinement in order to care for their families. As reported earlier in Truthout, three years after the program was implemented, fewer than 200 people had been approved for early release. Co-sponsored by CURB and advocacy organization Justice Now, SB219 specifies that a person’s medical or psychiatric condition can no longer be the sole basis for exclusion, requires that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation assist Alternative Custody Program participants with medical coverage enrollment and allows applicants to appeal a denial.

“This is a major victory for people in prison with dependent family members. It supports family reunification,” Zuñiga declared in a celebratory press release later that day. “We want to use this momentum to push for people to be able to participate in the program regardless of conviction offense, and to push counties to implement family reunification strategies as well. Now is the time to continue working for incarcerated people and their children.” To do so, she told Truthout, “We need to listen to family members and focus on policies that will bring people home. We need to amplify the voices of those impacted.”

Across the country, Vickers shares that sentiment. “For family members, organizing is a way to do something and not just sit back and wait. But as long as we don’t say anything, it’s going to keep on. From the cradle to the prison, then back to the community, then back to the prison.”

VICTORIA LAW

Victoria Law is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women and co-editor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities. She edits the zine “Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison” and proudly parents a New York City high school student.

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September 2015 Newsletter

Maroon’s Latest Writing, Reportback from the Free Her Justice Advocacy Conference, and Interview with Selma James

Greetings Maroon supporters,

We’re back with our monthly newsletter on the status of U.S.-held political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. Many thanks and much respect for your continued support and solidarity as we push on in the struggle to free our beloved father, grandfather, husband, and mentor.

This month, we bring you Maroon’s latest writing, a brief essay reflecting on some of what he’s currently reading; a short reportback from the Free Her Justice Advocacy Conference in August; and the final installment of our interview series with human rights champion and longtime Maroon supporter Selma James.

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

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

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

As always, we offer you our profound gratitude for your support, and our hope to celebrate greater victories with you in the days to come…

Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Between ROJAVA and Dystopiaasmallkeycanopenalargedoor-cover-web

Maroon recently penned a brief essay reflection on some of the latest literature he’s had an opportunity to read. He explores the current political realities in the Rojava region of Syria, celebrating the civil and political organizations that have led to an anti-state and anti-capitalist experiment valuing feminism, direct democracy, ecological stewardship, and ethnic, linguistic, and religious pluralism in the midst of ongoing military threat, as explored in the book A Small Key Can Open A Large Door, published by the Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness collective. He then touches on the dystopia of Octavia Butler’s Parable Of The Sower, assessing the extent to which the current crises of climate change, late capitalism, and “sci-fi bio-tech” have made the landscape of Butler’s novel far more factual than fictitious.

He writes:

ROJAVA: An autonomous region of over 1,400 square miles in war-torn Syria.

Dystopia: An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and fearful lives.

Finally reading again.

Since the beginning of 2015, my health concerns have severely hobbled my ability to read and write as I would have otherwise been able. Between struggling to obtain proper treatment for prostate cancer, as well as cataract surgery, accompanied by the need to record, chronicle, and share most of that with family and supporters, I was left with little energy to do more than respond to legal matters and correspondences, then read news periodicals… that didn’t require much effort.

With the cancer in remission, and having finally undergone the cataract surgery, I’m back to teaching myself “to walk and chew gum,” something the sensory deprivation of solitary confinement left me unable to do. That’s a subject I will tackle in the future. Stay tuned Torch Bearers, you’re gonna need that knowledge…

Some of what I’m reading needs to be shared, namely A Small Key Can Open A Large Door – The Rojava Revolution, edited by Strangers In a Tangled Wilderness

Then, since I’ve found it hard to indulge in fiction, I’m embarrassed to say that a close friend recently dropped a book on me that showed me how shortsighted that can be: the uncanny, futuristic novel penned over 20 years ago by the late Octavia E. Butler, Parable Of The Sower.Octavia_Butler-02

The news never misses an opportunity to highlight the tragic plight of the latest refugees who are fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Harrowing footage and frantic pleas are juxtaposed with the dramatic acts of desperate young men that are fodder for Hollywood screenwriters.

The wars and devastated societies they are fleeing are too numerous to discuss here, but A Small Key Can Open A Large Door gives us an inside look at one of those conflicts: ROJAVA.

This entity is comprised of three separated cantons, situated on the Syrian border with Turkey. Together they cover over half the border. Within are 380 cities, towns, and villages. The largest city contains 400 people. Three and a half million once inhabited the three cantons, but brutal wars have caused one million to join the desperate migrants trying to get into Europe and elsewhere. ROJAVA is populated by Kurds, Arabs, Yezedis, Assyrians, and Turkmens. The dominant religion is Islam, though small numbers practice Christianity and lesser-known spiritual traditions. Yet they all are in a life-and-death struggle with other “professed” Muslims of ISIS/ISIL, as well as Syria, Turkey, and those countries’ allies who are agents of global capitalism and imperialism. A sometime confusing geopolitical mix that demands study and patience to understand.

Case in point is the ROJAVAN city of Kobane (in the canton of the same name). Its men and wimmin fighters have the distinction of defeating a determined siege and merciless assault by a much better armed and equipped ISIS/ISIL force. This victory has been much misunderstood due to the U.S. and its allies’ bombings, which came very late during the battle, supposedly to help the ROJAVANS, but actually as a strategic means of manipulating them into serving as “boots on the ground” for the U.S. military and its allies in their war against ISIS/ISIL.

The civil and military organizations that have been functioning in the three cantons have little in common with those found in other conflicts, with the most outstanding being their rank and file, battle-hardened, semi-autonomous womyn militia, numbering 10,000, while thousands of other wimmin are in mixed militias or canton police, and special armed units that respond to allegations of male abuse (domestic or otherwise). In many other ways, the civil and political organizations of the collective entities have proven remarkable, even as compared to much, much smaller ones who face nothing like the physical threats the ROJAVANS live with! Millions who are struggling to exist free from centuries of hate, domination, and exploitation practiced by nations and communities across the globe. A herculean undertaking indeed!

The ROJAVANS are breaking new ground and showing the world that they can and need to develop new ways of viewing many things, which will help us tackle and overcome the terrible situations we now find ourselves in. Justice cannot be done to their contributions here; you must look into that on your own.

On the other hand, the late Octavia E. Butler’s Parable Of The Sower painted a portrait of what we all may face in this age of climate change, late capitalism, and “sci-fi” bio-tech’s visionless “developments”… it had the effect of both scaring the hell out of me, while at the same time energizing me! Fear can do that (smile).

Now I’m an eco-warrior ever since I took the time to research the subject. Before then, I really couldn’t say what the truth was. Even the harsh oppression I’ve experienced as a political prisoner failed to allow me to grasp more than the “academics” of what climate change and late capitalism would look like—since I was still provided with water, food, shelter, and clothing, etc. Octavia E. Butler’s brilliance caused a true believer like me to stop “plodding along” and use my imagination to explore what we are headed for—up close!

So moved was I by that novel that I have since obtained four more of her novels: Parable Of The Talents, Fledgling, Kindred, and Survivor. And I plan to read everything by her I can get my hands on.

Even though the Parable Of The Sower is decades-old fiction, much of what Butler wrote is being played out in real life across the planet. And Hollywood blockbusters like The Hunger Games, its follow-ons, and similar 21st century dystopian movies, though thought-provoking and entertaining, are no substitute for the horrors in her work that are almost a mathematical certainty to befall us as things presently stand.

Check out that nexus between ROJAVA and Octavia’s vision of dystopia. Then tell me how you see things…

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Free Her Justice Advocacy Conference Reportback

Longtime Maroon supporter etta cetera attended the Free Her Justice Advocacy Conference at the Harvard School of Law last month.

She writes:

Free Her:

Formerly Incarcerated Women Gather in Boston to Educate, Agitate, and Organize
In the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Harvard School of Law, about 300 hundred or so formerly incarcerated women, activists, and allies came together the first week of August to share stories and collaborate for change. Organized by Families for Justice as Healing, the first night kicked off with a youth panel uplifting the voices of young abolitionist organizers, themselves the children of an incarcerated parent.

We talked about no longer differentiating between “violent” and “non-violent” offenders, and that we needed to stop throwing “violent” offenders under the bus. We asked, “What crime is that harsh that you would separate a child from their only caregiver?”
One thing that set this conference apart from others was the profound love and gratitude that enveloped the space. Before each woman spoke it seemed she couldn’t help but lift up the names of other women who had deeply impacted and changed her life. The culture of appreciation and gratitude was so pervasive you could almost hear our chests expanding, our hearts growing with each new voice on the stage.

Deborah Small received enthusiastic applause for shifting the conversation from mass incarceration to mass criminalization.

This isn’t a conversation about getting out of prison. This is a conversation about freeing our minds. Because when your mind is free a person can’t lock you up. As long as we believe that punishment is an appropriate response to people’s behavior, the system will continue to deliver it. As long as we continue to punish our children the way our slave masters punished us, the system will continue to deliver it up.”

 Follow this link for writing, audio recordings, and video of the Free Her conference.

Selma James Interview

Selma James, writer, activist, co-founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, and coordinator of Global Women’s Strike, was interviewed by Raphael Cohen, for the campaign to free Maroon, in Oakland, California, April 25, 2015. In the conclusion of this 4-segment series, James discusses the importance of the Palestinian struggle, and connects the dots between anti-prison organizing in the U.S. and political solidarity with the Palestinian people. She then offers some closing thoughts on contemporary social justice activism, and what keeps her hopeful and committed to the cause of liberation. Watch the interview segment here, and take a look back at parts 1 to 3 if you missed them this summer.

Follow the link by clicking here

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Black Lives Matter, Tribute to Hugo Pinell, Health Update & More

MAROONBLMAugust 2015

Greetings Maroon supporters,

This month, we bring you a final update on Maroon’s recovery from radiation treatment of prostate cancer; a brief report back from a birthday gathering held for Maroon in Philadelphia; the latest installment of our interview with Selma James, human rights champion and longtime Maroon supporter; and a tribute to Hugo Pinell, beloved hero of the Prison Liberation Movement, tragically killed this month at New Folsom Prison in California.

The opening image is a poem Maroon recently penned to honor and inspire  The Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland.

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

Feel free to contact us with your own ideas and connections to strengthen our efforts. Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. No amount is too little, and all contributions make an impact.

As always, we offer our deepest thanks for your support, and our hope to celebrate with you the full and unconditional release of Maroon, and all political prisoners, in the days to come.

Free Maroon! Free Em All!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Health Update:
Major Health Problems Overcome!

Maroon Writes:

This will be the final report because as you will read below, thankfully, I have overcome the “major health problems” that I have been wrestling with. (HOORAY!!)

It’s been eight weeks since my last radiation therapy session, and as doctors forecasted, I have gotten better and better.

I still have to take about a dozen different associated medications, and my daughter Sharon has faithfully researched and provided me with detailed information on all of them. So far the side effects are not ones that cause alarm.

Gonna close by thanking everyone who has helped me and my family members prevail on the prison establishment to provide me with proper health care services. And you can depend on me to continue my decades-old efforts geared towards struggling for human rights.

Straight Ahead!
Maroon

To read Maroon’s full detailed health journal follow this link.

Maroon’s Birthday – August 23, 1943

On Saturday, August 22, friends and family of Maroon gathered at Philadelphia’s Sayre Recreation Center to celebrate Maroon’s 72nd birthday and pay tribute to Maroon’s mother, the late Gladys Shoatz.

Taking a page from writings in Maroon The Implacable, those in attendance worked to continue the rehabilitation of the center’s outdoor space into a thriving community garden, named in commemoration of Maroon’s mother.

Maroon supporter Connie Grier wrote on the day of the event, “Sometimes, in order to SEE the vision, you have to BE the vision. Today is a beautiful day, not just weather-wise, but because of a beautiful thing that is manifesting. Even I, with my allergies, hatred of all things grass, and aversion to bugs, knew I had to spend some time here today. My heart brothers have spoken. Today, in honor of the earthday of Russell Maroon Shoatz, a community garden is being rehabbed. Men, young and old, have pledged to participate.
Maroon wants the community to benefit and bond over nutrition, farming, and health. There are red radishes, corn, and beans growing already, but the vision is ready to be expanded to the entire space. Nothing happens in isolation. When communities come together, magic occurs. A great beginning.”

Selma James Interview – Part 3

Selma James, writer, activist, co-founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, and coordinator of Global Women’s Strike, is interviewed by Raphael Cohen, from Free Maroon Bay Area, in Oakland, California. In part 3 of this 4-segment series, James shares her impressions of Maroon’s recent writings on the limitations of democratic centralism and vanguardism in political organizing.

Echoing Maroon, she blasts the tendency of careerist politicians to use this model as a means of usurping power from the grassroots in an effort to advance their own undemocratic agendas. She talks of avoiding this longstanding trap in order to keep power in the hands of the masses. She then discusses her late husband C.L.R. James’ classic text on the history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins, and reflects on Maroon’s opinion that, 75 years since its initial publication, it remains one of the most important books in politicizing U.S.-held prisoners today.

As Black August draws to a close, it’s a timely moment to reflect on the Haitian Revolution, and this book’s acclaimed role in inspiring resistance to racist oppression. Read Maroon’s essay on the ongoing importance of The Black Jacobins here.

Tribute for Hugo Pinellhugo-pinell

The Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz joins in mourning the loss of Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, longtime prison activist and social justice hero who, as many of you are no doubt aware, was killed at New Folsom Prison earlier this month.

As our friends at Critical Resistance write, “Imprisoned since 1965, Hugo Pinell—like many other people of his time—was politicized while inside, educated and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and other freedom movements on the outside. Hugo became a part of the Prison Liberation Movement, which saw the prison as a front of struggle connected to the global upsurge of oppressed people against colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy.

This was a period of intense education, organizing, and resistance among imprisoned people—some locked up as political prisoners, some transformed while inside, nearly all targeted by prison administrations for their political stances and activism.

In 1971, Hugo, along with five other prisoners at San Quentin State Prison in California, were charged with raising a rebellion at the facility’s Adjustment Center, during which prisoner movement leader George Jackson was assassinated. Several weeks later, actions commemorating the assassination of Jackson by prisoners at Attica went on to spark the massive rebellion at that prison. The story and political trial of the San Quentin Six helped people across the planet to understand the conditions inside prison, the resistance of prisoners, and the connection across the walls that the Prison Liberation Movement was trying to make.”

Please click here to read the full tribute to our fallen comrade.

Rest In Power Yogi!