For nearly 50 years, a man of faith by the name of Russell Shoatz has remained behind bars in the Pennsylvania state prison system.

Russell has been imprisoned, incarcerated and caged since the reign of racist terror that former Philadelphia police commissioner, and later mayor, Frank Rizzo showered upon his constituents. Russell endured 30 years of inhumane solitary confinement, and even amidst a lifetime of caging, set himself on a clear path of faith and mentorship to people inside and outside of the prison walls, ourselves included.

When he was released from solitary confinement, after winning a civil suit against the department of corrections, Russell’s life entered a new phase of trial: his health. Over the past few years, he suffered first from prostate cancer and then was diagnosed in 2019 with colorectal cancer. He survived 12 rounds of chemotherapy before being approved for surgery to remove his primary cancerous mass in fall of 2020. In October of 2020, prison guards infected the prisoners of State Correctional Institute Dallas (PA) with COVID-19 and Russell was placed into lockdown and later diagnosed with the deadly virus. After months of delays, he finally received his surgery only to find that the cancer had again metastasized. In the spring of 2021, it was confirmed that he has terminal Stage 4 colorectal cancer.

In conversations since, Russell has expressed that he is at peace with entering the transition from life to death, and his desire to spend his final days surrounded by family and close friends. With this declaration, his legal team at the Abolitionist Law Center in Pennsylvania, filed a petition for medical transfer to home hospice care in July. The grounds were that he had met all of the necessary requirements, including being of model behavior, being unable to walk without the use of a wheelchair or other medical assistance devices, and that a prison environment cannot and will not support proper care for Russell and his rapidly deteriorating health.

The hearing was scheduled for August 3rd, 2021 and after receiving all arguments and letters in support of Russell’s medical transfer, the hearing was called into recess for a week.

On August 12th, 2021, Judge Kai Scott declared that she believed in redemption, that she believed that every person had a right to die in comfort, surrounded by loved ones. However when she had the authority to do so, she was denied the release of Russell to hospice care. It was her belief that this 78 year old elder is a threat to the community. This elder Russell Shoatz, has mentored hundreds, inspired thousands with his spirit, faith, strength and love, and is now suffering greatly under the weight of the disease that will claim his life. Russell is not a threat to the community nor anyone outside of his community, even to those that seek to have him remain imprisoned.

And thus, we ask you today for your support. Please join us as we pray for Russell every Monday, Thursday and rain-day. We ask that you consider how you can support our caged elders and their families. We ask you to join an alliance of other faith leaders, committing to speak out to your congregations about the story of Russell Shoatz. It is not unique, it is the story of many, but it is a story that is unfolding NOW.

We invite you to join us in conversation and in action. We would like to learn about what community work is important to you, your faith and your congregation. We would also like to learn how you and your congregation can support Russell, a father, a son, an elder and a man of faith, in devotion, love, and service to God.

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