Revolutionary Greetings to Maroon’s Global Network!
We welcome you back to our campaign newsletter, and we hope the early part of 2019 finds you healthy and inspired. This month, we’re celebrating five years since Maroon’s release to prison general population following over two consecutive decades in solitary confinement! While our work to free Maroon from prison continues unabated, we want to take a moment to recognize this important anniversary and acknowledge the hard work so many of you have put into this campaign for so many years. In this installment of the newsletter, we’re pleased to bring you Maroon’s latest message to his supporters, as well as several significant updates on comrades in the struggle, a campaign closely connected to our own, and a reminder of our call for submissions to The Maroon Project.
Five Years Since Maroon’s Release From Solitary
On February 20, 2014, just over five years ago, Russell Maroon Shoatz was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford, ending more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement, and 30 in total. This victory was achieved after Maroon brought suit in May, 2013, on the grounds that he had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that prison officials had deprived him of his procedural and substantive due process rights. It was aided significantly by international support from multiple highly regarded individuals in the human rights field, including five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez. For supporters new to the campaign, we invite you take a look back at this press release from Maroon’s lawyers at Abolitionist Law Center for some crucial context on the longstanding struggle to get him released.
And to all of our backers, here’s a brief message from Maroon on the occasion of this anniversary:
My Life Mirrors A Song
I was asked to write something on the fifth year of my release from 30 years of solitary confinement. At 75 and serving Life Without the Option of Parole, an old Frank Sinatra song comes to mind:
That’s what all the people say
Riding high in April
Shot down in May
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn, and a king
I’ve been up and down and back again
And I know one thing
When I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race
I was a puppet a long time ago. That’s before I became politically and socially conscious. Without that knowledge I was a mental pauper. After joining The Movement in the 1960s, I was forced to become a pirate in our struggle for freedom; by any means necessary! Writing, speaking, and working toward that goal is poetic in word and deed.
Decades in prison helped me understand the interlocking systems of economic, political, and social deprivations forced on billions around the world. And that I am a pawn in that web.
Still, I felt like a king after “liberating myself” from maximum security lock-ups a couple of times.
Right now I can only say I’m “back in the race.”
With Love & Solidarity,
Rest In Peace & Power,
As many of you are no doubt aware, longtime revolutionary, movement mentor, and godmother of Cuban Hip Hop, Nehanda Abiodun, who had been living in political exile in Havana for the past three decades, died at her home there on January 30th. We pay tribute to the life and legacy of this brilliant shero and warrior for her people, and invite you to read this statement on her passing from the New Afrikan People’s Organization.
In addition, Sharon Shoatz, daughter of Maroon, has written a touching reflection on meeting Nehanda nearly two decades ago:
“Nehanda was known to many as the Godmother of Cuban Hip Hop. During my visit to Cuba in 2000 with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), I had the wonderful opportunity of witnessing Nehanda interact with Cuban rappers, vibe with artist like M1 and Stic from dead prez, and partake in interviews with Dream, among other hip hop artists. The concert was a celebration of cultural solidarity, honoring the history and legacy of Black August and the need to free our political prisoners and prisoners of war.
Nehanda was also playing host to those of us visiting with the MXMG collective. It was during this time that I really witnessed the true grit and tenacity of queen warrior Nehanda. When I think of my time in Cuba, I always share this personal story as one of my most indelible memories of her. We were on our way to the Slave Route National Museum of Matanzas. On our way back from the museum the bus broke down. It would be four hours before a new bus would arrive to pick us up. Nehanda got off the bus and returned 15 minutes later, ushering everyone off. I wasn’t sure where we were going. My nephew and I looked at each other in a state of confusion. We ended up in a small community in the province of Matanza. I still to this day don’t know what Nehanda said or did. What I do know is whatever she said, the people of Matanza opened their homes, providing food, drinks, and music. It was as if we were at a block party. The children were in awe of my nephew’s handheld Game Boy. The kids engaged with each other, learning how to play the device. On that day, Nehanda taught me there are no obstacles we can’t overcome. It is this memory of Nehanda I will cherish and hold dear.
In the spirit of our ancestors, Rest in Power Queen Warrior Shero Nehanda!
Salute To Chokwe Antar Lumumba
This Black History Month, as we honor sheroes and heroes past, we also want to celebrate a living champion to the cause of social justice. A couple weeks ago, members of the Shoatz family were at Yale University to attend the 25th annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference, the largest student-run public interest conference in the US. Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Esq., mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, was one of three keynote speakers there, and made a profound impact on all in attendance. We invite you to learn more about the conference here, listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s recorded address to the conference here, and read this impressive biography of Mayor Lumumba from the conference’s program:
“The Honorable Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Esq. is the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, and the son of two life-long community activists—the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and Nubia Lumumba. Throughout his career, he has maintained a consistent presence in community projects and displayed a commitment to justice. Lumumba began his community work early on— serving as co-director of the Malcolm X Grassroots Day Camp and acting as an assistant coach for the Jackson Panthers. He received his BA in 2005 from Tuskegee University where he served as president of the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society and the Tuskegee Political Science Association.
Lumumba earned his JD and a Certificate in Sports & Entertainment law from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in 2008. After law school, he returned to Jackson, Mississippi and began his work as a junior associate at Lumumba, Freelon, & Associates.
Within a year, he was promoted to managing attorney and took on responsibilities pertaining to personnel and daily operations in addition to a challenging case load litigating criminal and civil cases, and representing sports and entertainment clients. His dedication to justice and commitment to community is further demonstrated by the numerous pro bono cases he undertook for clientele who struggled to afford legal services. He is a member of the Mississippi Bar Association and the Magnolia Bar Association. In 2013, he launched—Lumumba & Associates—a firm “Dedicated to Community. Invested in Justice.”
Photo: Teresa and Sharon Shoatz pictured with Lumumba.
Lumumba’s deep-seated commitment to his community expands beyond his career. As a founding member of the Mississippi Human Rights Collective, he co-organized the “Stand Up to Take It Down” rally at the State capitol to support the removal of the confederate insignia from the Mississippi State flag. He is the media representative of the Coalition for Economic Justice and is a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. His talent for organizing has been a vital component to previous city elections. He has served as the media chairperson for both the Jackson Ward 2 People’s Assembly and the late Mayor Lumumba’s Ward 2 City Councilman campaign. Lumumba also acted as a campaign coordinator for his father’s successful bid for Mayor in 2013 and was instrumental in co-crafting The People’s Platform.
In 2017, Attorney Lumumba defeated nine other candidates in the Democratic primary for mayor with a total of 55% of the vote. He went on to win the city’s general election by 93% of votes on June 6, 2017. As the mayor, one of the first challenges he negotiated was the state takeover of the Jackson Public School system. Chokwe Antar is married to Ebony Lumumba, and the couple has two daughters, Alake’ Maryama & Nubia Ngozi.”
For more from Mayor Lumumba, like and follow his official Facebook page here.
Pennsylvania Department Of Corrections To Rescind Restrictive Legal Mail Policy
We’re happy to share word of a recently announced reversal to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ six-month-old policy of interfering with prisoners’ mail. As those of you who closely follow Pennsylvania prison issues are no doubt aware, an unprecedented procedure of intercepting, photocopying, and then destroying legal mail sent to prisoners—as well as diverting non-legal mail to a contractor in Florida in order to scan then digitally forward it—has been in place since last September, initiated as part of a dubious effort to prevent the smuggling of “unknown substances” into prisons following a two-week lockdown last summer. Thankfully, as part of a legal settlement expected to be finalized in March, it appears that Pennsylvania state prisons will rescind this deeply invasive policy that violated prisoners’ First Amendment rights and attorney-client confidentiality. Learn more about this pending settlement here and here.
Members of the legal team who won the mail case pictured on left. -Legal workers from: PA Institutional Law Project, ACLU PA, Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project.
As of April, 2018, Maroon and others imprisoned within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections should be able to receive mail directly. We encourage you to be in contact with Maroon, as he finds great value and meaning in hearing from and interacting with his supporters. His mailing address is:
Smart Communications – PA DOC
Russell Shoats #AF-3855
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Update On The Maroon Project: Messages to Maroon from YOU!
As we mentioned last summer, on the occasion of Maroon’s 75th birthday, we’re launching The Maroon Project, a booklet filled with messages to Maroon from supporters old and new, highlighting what you’ve learned from Maroon’s writings and/or interactions with him over the years. The booklet will be shared directly with Maroon and made available to a general audience. We continue to invite and accept submissions for the project.
Here, again, is Maroon’s daughter Sharon, with more info:
To all those who have come in contact with Russell Maroon Shoatz, in Pennsylvania and beyond, my family and I would like to personally thank you for your support over the years. We are in the early stages of producing a booklet filled with messages to Maroon from YOU!
Maroon is considered a father figure to many throughout the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Many prisoners often say how his mentorship changed their lives for the better. We’ve also heard from many folks on the outside about how much their correspondence with Maroon helped develop their thinking on issues personal and political. In the interest of collecting these perspectives in a single place, and sharing them directly with Maroon, we want to invite his supporters to write brief messages, reflections, or letters of support, and help us make this a meaningful and memorable celebration paying homage to our dad.
Messages can focus on prison issues, aspects of the contemporary political landscape, insights on activism work, and/or any mentoring or support you may have experienced as a direct or indirect result of your interaction with Maroon.
Maybe you know a prisoner who is no longer here with us, but who shared with you their experiences of Maroon. Your voice is theirs. Perhaps one or some of Maroon’s perspectives, be it from his time with the Panthers, the Black Unity Council, the Black Liberation Army, or from his experiences since being locked up, have influenced your worldview, whether it was spoken to you directly or you read it in Maroon The Implacable.
Please send us your words, share with us your experiences, and express how our father has made a difference in your life or the life of those you know. While we’ll consider writings of up to 1,000 words, we’re primary looking for notes of 500 words or less. Messages, not manifestos. Feel free to address Maroon directly or construct your piece as an open letter to our family and extended support network. We also invite you to share with us any artwork you’ve created that honors or was inspired by our dad.
To be honest, you all will be educating my siblings and I. Many of you know our father in ways that we don’t! So we very much look forward to hearing from you. The sooner, the better!
Please send your correspondence to:
The Maroon Project
PO Box 429
Englewood, NJ 07631
You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We conclude with our sincere gratitude to all of Maroon’s supporters, and our hope for your success and well-being in 2019. As always, invite you to consider donating to our ongoing fundraising on Maroon’s behalf.
All contributions, no matter their size, make an impact and are greatly valued!
In love, strength, and solidarity,
The Shoatz Family and Friends