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
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
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…
The Shoatz Family and Friends
Upcoming fundraiser in Philadelphia Save the Date