Letter from Health Experts Urging Immediate Release of Russell Shoatz

To Governor Tom Wolf, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro:

Re: Russell Maroon Shoats, AF3855 SCI Dallas

We are writing to urge you to release Russell Maroon Shoats, #AF3855, currently incarcerated at SCI Dallas. As medical professionals familiar with the details of Mr. Shoats’s situation and health, we know that Mr. Shoats is in imminent danger of death if he remains incarcerated. 

After treatment for prostate cancer several years ago, Mr. Shoats was diagnosed with Stage 4 rectal cancer in the spring of 2019 at age 75.  The cancer was discovered when he had emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction.  He received initial treatment at a hospital near Dallas SCI, where his family and friends were close enough to visit.  Then he was transferred to Fayette in western, PA, where there is an on-site chemotherapy/oncology unit.  Far away from family and friends, amid the COVID pandemic, he endured over 12 cycles of chemotherapy that completed in late July 2020.  He suffered side effects of painful hand neuropathy, fatigue, low blood counts, and weight loss.   

In late October he consulted with a surgeon who said that it was time to remove the rectal primary tumor, since the chemotherapy had successfully eradicated the distant areas of metastases.  The surgeon said surgery was planned within two weeks and it was critical it not be delayed.  At this time Mr. Shoats heard that there were 18 cases of COVID at Fayette. On November 13th, right before the surgery, after receiving the colon prep, he was tested COVID positive.   Since then, suffering severe gastrointestinal distress, he was put into medical isolation—24-hour solitary confinement—in the infirmary.

At age 77, debilitated from cancer and chemotherapy, in grave danger from COVID-19 infection, Mr. Shoats now faces life-threatening delays for the cancer surgery. We understand that there is currently a significant spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the Pennsylvania system, with resulting pressures on the prison health facilities. Mr. Shoats must be released immediately.


Robert Cohen, MD, Physician, NYC Board of Correction Commissioner

David Hoos, MD, MPH, Project Director, Population-based HIV Impact Assessment Program, ICAP, Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University, Former Associate Medical Director, New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute

Robert Fullilove, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia University Medical Center; Associate Dean, Community and Minority Affairs

Barbara C. Zeller, MD, retired Chief Medical Officer, Brightpoint Health; Dingmans Ferry, PA

145 Organizations Support the Immediate Release of Russell Maroon Shoatz

To Governor Tom Wolf, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro:

We, the undersigned Pennsylvania human rights and criminal justice organizations, demand the immediate and unconditional release of Russell Maroon Shoatz and all elderly Pennsylvania prisoners who’ve contracted COVID-19.

Russell Maroon Shoatz is 77 years old. A dedicated community activist, Shoatz has been incarcerated and serving multiple life sentences since 1972, including nearly 30 years in solitary confinement. He has stage 4 colon cancer and on November 11th, tested positive for COVID-19. Shoatz and other people in prison who have tested positive are being held in inhumane and unsanitary conditions. Shoatz is also being denied an urgent surgery to aid his colon cancer.

As COVID-19’s full-blown resurgence in Pennsylvania prisons ravages the most medically vulnerable, there is no moral justification for keeping elderly and infirm individuals incarcerated. Indeed, as indicated in “Decarcerating Correctional Facilities during COVID-19: Advancing Health, Equity, and Safety”—a recent publication from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—“decarceration is an appropriate and necessary mitigation strategy to include in the COVID-19 response in correctional facilities” and “individuals assessed as medically vulnerable or of low risk to commit serious crime should be suitable candidates for release during a public health crisis.” In addition, the authors’ research found “that people convicted of violent offenses have lower overall recidivism rates for all age groups compared with individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses [and] the recidivism rates are particularly lower for people 55 and over.” At his advanced age and in his medically compromised state, Shoatz poses neither a threat to public safety nor a recidivism risk. The same is true for many elderly incarcerated people in the state.

The time is now to do what’s right, and to model for the rest of the country what a rational and ethical response to the impact of COVID-19 on society’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations looks like.

We demand your prompt attention to this urgent matter and await your action securing the release of Russell Maroon Shoatz.




Abolitionist Law Center

Afro Yaqui Music Collective

Agape Community

Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign

Amistad Law Project

Anti-Racist Action Los Angeles


Bay Area SURJ

Black Hammer Orginization

Black Lives Matter Philly

Black Panther Party

Black Panther Party Pittsburgh

Black People United

Black Philly Radical Collective

Books Through Bars

Burning Books

CADBI – Delaware County

Caldwell Catholic Community

Campaign to Bring Mumia Home

Coalition to Free Mumia Abu Jamal & All Political Prisoners – San Diego

Chiapas Support Committee

Church of the Overcomer

Corporate Campaign, Inc.


Data for Black Lives – Pittsburgh Hub

Dorothy Day Catholic Worker

Erie Gay News

Emanuel United Church of Christ

Food Not Bombs Solidarity

South Philly Food Not Bombs

West Philadelphia Food Not Bombs

Freedom Archives

Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition

Gettysburg College Peace & Justice Studies Student Council

Gospel Nonviolence Working Group–Association of United State Catholic Priests

Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities – HEARD

Human Rights Coalition

Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!

Ignite Collective

JailBreak PGH

Jericho Movement

Jews Organizing for Liberation & Transformation (JOLT)

Justice Teams Network

KC Farm School

Learning For All Inc.

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

Let’s Get Free: The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee

Liberiamo L’Italia

Louisiana United International, Inc.

Maroon Global Network

Maroon Liberation School

Miracle Rose Bud



Movement Alliance Project

Mujeres que Luchan



New York City Jericho Movement

New York/New Jersey Cuba Si Coalition

No Cop Money PA

No Justice Under Capitalism

NSA 63rd Street Multicultural Academy of Academic Excellence

NYC Friends Of MOVE

NYC Free Peltier

Oakland Jericho

Organize The State Out

PA General Assembly

Payday Men’s Network

Pax Christi- Macon

People’s Organization for Progress

Philadelphia Community Bail Fund

Philly ABC

Philly Boricuas

Philly for REAL Justice

Philly Peace Park


Pittsburgh DSA

Pittsburgh Protests

Positive Women’s Network-USA

Prison Health News

Prison Radio

Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party

Project Hands On Inc

Project South

Psychotherapy Partners, LLC

Rainbow & Thunderbilts MultiMedia Inc.

Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP

Repair The World Pittsburgh

Rowan University

SALT (Students for Abolition, Liberation, and Transformation)

Science & Society

Science on the Go!

Sero Project, Inc.

Seton Hall University – Concerned 44

Solidarity & Mutual Aid Jersey City

Squad is Squad Worldwide LLC

SV DeBug

Timbuctu African Study Collective


Buddy Speaks Foundation

U.P.A.L (United parents against the lead)

Midwives Garden

Magic’s Music

47/78 byLlc

Spa Doulah-Lah, LLC

SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker

Students for Abolition, Liberation, and Transformation

SURJ Westchester

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons

The Center for Carceral Conmunities

The MOVE Organization

The ProLibertad Freedom Campaign

The Real Cost of Prisons Project

The WomXn’s Freedom Collective Party

Ubuntu Philadelphia

University of Pennsylvania

Radical South Asian Collective – University of Pennsylvania

Religious of the Sacred Heart

Student Labor Action Project – University of Pennsylvania

Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation

Penn Student Power

Penn Benjamins

Lambda Alliance

African-American Arts Alliance

Sphinx Senior Society

Coalition Against Fraternity Sexual Assault – University of Pennsylvania

Police Free Penn

Wear Your Voice Magazine

Women Lifers Resume Project of PA

World War 3 Illustrated

Wright Institute



Zion Travelers Baptist Church of Peeltown, TX.

Maroon Covid Positive – Call for Immediate Release

The second week of November we learned our beloved elder Russell Maroon Shoatz contracted COVID 19.  Maroon is a prisoner in Pennsylvania and a former Black Panther who has been imprisoned since 1970. He is 77 years old.

He has been living with stage 4 colon cancer since last year. And just as he was exiting the prison walls last week to get the tumor removed at a hospital, he was stopped at the door and asked to take a COVID test. He tested positive. Immediately they sent him to a small gymnasium where others with COVID are being quarantined in the prison. When he got there, he found 29 senior prisoners who said to him: “welcome. We’ve been waiting for you, we figured it wasn’t long before you got it too.”

This means that there are 30 seniors with COVID in a dank, cold gymnasium in a prison in PA. They are being held under the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Thirty men including Maroon had access to only one bathroom. Maroon was put in a space without a light and had go to the bathroom on himself because he couldn’t risk getting up and falling.

Maroon’s family and the community mobilized and we won his transfer to the infirmary. But we need him to come home.

But this human rights catastrophe is repeating itself across the state and across the country because prisons are a death trap in the age of COVID. Prisons are on lock down in PA right now because the virus is spreading like a storm. Country’s around the world like Iran and Turkey but the United States has refused to decarcerate it’s mostly black and latinx prison population.

Russell Maroon Shoatz is no danger to his community. He has stage 4 cancer and he has COVID. The civilized and humane thing to do is to allow him to go home to his family. We are asking for his immediate release and for the immediate release of all other aging prisoners over the age of 50 and those with pre-existing conditions for whom incarceration is a death sentence.

We ask for the immediately and unconditional release of Maroon!!

  • Continue to Call Governor Tom Wolfe Contact: (717) 787-2500
    • Russell Shoatz’s health is rapidly deteriorating. DOC#AF3855 and demand Immediate Release of Russel Maroon Shoatz. They track the calls from different phones and how many times they same number calls so please keep calling and activate your networks.
  • Read this letter from health experts demanding Maroon’s Release

Urgent: Maroon’s Health and Request for Support


Update from the Shoatz family:

As we mentioned last month, Maroon recently underwent surgery and had an extended stay in the prison infirmary.

We share with you now Maroon’s latest message on his health:

“As a Political Prisoner and fighter for over 50 years, I’ve now reached a point where those close to me can no longer shoulder the things they’re called on to do without broader community support.

Recently I was operated on, where it was discovered that I’m suffering Stage 4 colorectal cancer.

This is a CALL for donations to help us cover costs of treatment.

If the lying politicians can amass thousands of small donations, it speaks ill of our struggle against injustice if we will not support our own in similar ways!

Spread THIS call and help us!”

Straight Ahead!
Political Prisoner
Russell Maroon Shoats/z

While the news of Maroon’s ill health is of course disheartening to us all, we’re committed to doing everything in our power to ensure he receives comprehensive treatment for this latest diagnosis. Your support is critical to our efforts.

We’re reaching out to our extended community of support with a request for immediate donations towards Maroon’s medical costs. We hope to gain a holistic understanding of the treatments he’s received and make informed decisions about his medical care moving forward.

Donate here. Please give generously in this moment of heightened urgency.

We invite you to write Maroon directly and send him words of encouragement. Maroon’s Earthday is August 23!

Smart Communications
PADOC/SCI Fayette — Transferred this Week
Russell Shoats AF3855
PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg FL. 33733

As always, we thank you for your commitment, and we’ll keep everyone updated on next steps soon.

In love, strength, and solidarity,
The Shoatz Family and Friends

The picture at the top of Teresa, Maroon and Sharon was taken this past Monday. The photo below was taken in mid July. Maroon has his youngest sister on the right and his oldest sister on the left. Also pictured are Teresa, etta, Sharon and Russ III.

Visit July 14, 2019