Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was seen today in the prison infirmary where he was lucid, able to speak, but complained of nausea, abdominal pain and was unable to keep any liquids or food down. He was seen by the doctor where the decision was made to send him to a hospital for diagnostic testing. The head nurse at SCI Dallas has been very cooperative and has kept the family informed regarding his condition. Maroon is unable to make calls, receive emails or have any visits. The family is also working with Maroon’s legal counsel.
The family is asking that you keep his spirits up once he returns to SCI Dallas by sending get well letters to the address listed below.
Smart Communications/PADOC SCI Dallas
Russell Shoats AF3855
PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg FL. 33733
Globally, 2016 has been dominated by political, economic, and social changes in the Northern Hemisphere. Massive upheavals have been occurring, seemingly churned up by the millions of asylum seekers fleeing wars and economic- and climate-related depredations in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
The upshot of these upheavals brought proto-fascists to challenge the welfare states of Western Europe and the guinea pig economic systems of the former Soviet states. The Left there has either been crushed (Greece), is now on the ropes (Spain and England’s Left Laborites), or is circling the wagons (Germany and the Scandinavian countries), while Russia under Putin is using its military muscle to try to replicate what China has been doing in the economic sphere: remain independent of the U.S. and Western economic domination.
In South America, the once promising Bolivarian bloc has disintegrated. And while Ecuador and Peru continue to resist, the uplifting of the dirt-poor masses on the rest of the continent is in a tailspin, with their true leaders one step away from prison—or worse.
In the Caribbean, the Haitians continue to suffer unspeakable climate, economic, andpolitical hardships. Puerto Ricans may soon join them. The late Fidel Castro, whatever one may say about his decades in power, was instrumental in assuring all Cubans and thousands of poor allied peoples received free quality health care and education; something a rich country like the U.S. has refused to do. Rest in Power Brother Fidel.
Africa remains a victim of centuries of colonial and neo-colonial rule and plunder. Despite the heroic resistance by its people, nowadays—by and large—they are being dominated by their “Big Men” and the western corporations.
The Middle East is a horror show that needs no comment, except to point to Rojava in Northern Syria. There, the Kurds are leading a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and secular social, political, economic, and cultural struggle that we need to follow and support.
India continues its economic push, Myanmar’s experiment in “democracy”—and its civilian/military government—slowly moves along, while Pakistan and the rebels in Afghanistan continue their struggle against the agents of imperialism.
North Korea continues to skate near nuclear annihilation, due to a regime that inherited an inability to divorce itself from an ideology that has lost its usefulness. Not so for China, which is operating as if the Earth is a GO board, and is gaining influence everywhere, while the U.S. attempts to surround it, as if it’s playing chess, and the Chinese mainland is the king it can cut off and checkmate. Otherwise, for the most part, tens of millions of others in South Asia and the Pacific islands are struggling to stay alive.
The election of Donald Trump for President has focused the world’s attention on what the right wing populist backlash has made crystal clear: the neo-liberal economic engine has allowed the large corporations to move from country to country, utilizing the cheapest labor they can uncover, which has all but destroyed the elevated living standards that used to be the pride of the U.S. and Western Europe, leaving in its wake a handful of multi-billionaires who have more wealth and control than the Devil himself! And when the millions who are looking to Trump to rescue them wake up, there’s no telling how volatile things will get (remember that Americans got more guns than any people who are not involved in a shooting war).
Can a President Trump meet their expectations to “Make America Great Again”?
DOES A CHICKEN HAVE LIPS? DOES A SNAKE HAVE HIPS?
Trump will be able to get enough from Congress for some infrastructure projects to aid a portion of voters. Remember, Obama was able to push through a large “stimulus plan” to rescue the banks and GM, as well as spread around millions for a few years. But beyond something like that, Trump’s rivals in the Republican-controlled Congress, and the long established sentiments on the Right that hate ANY plan resulting in an increase of the country’s debt, will limit the jobs and “stimulus” money Trump has to spread amongst his following. When Trump goes back to his box of tricks, he’ll discover that a king cobra has eaten all of the rabbits he was hiding there. The cobra represents the little understood, galloping TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES that are rapidly replacing the need for human labor. Think how retail sales, plus truck, bus, and cab drivers, will be on the verge of getting cut by as much as the capital the few remaining giants can pull together for the DRIVERLESS VEHICLES once the mergers end. Bye-bye Fed-Ex, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, the millions of skilled 18-wheel truckers, and hello to the driverless vehicles and the drones that will allow Amazon, et al, to better do their thing, all the way down to delivering pizza! And why should forward-looking large corporations go along with a President Trump to hire his followers (except for a kickback), instead of some 3-D printing technology? I ain’t scratched the surface. Being in prison prevents me from fully researching this angle, but I can still “see the writing on the wall.”
Then 2016 has helped us better grasp the CLIMATE CHANGE threat. This is already the HOTTEST YEAR on record. And it’s admitted that the Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic ice caps are disappearing at a rate that assures us coastal cities across the entire world will have an almost impossible engineering job in order to survive another 20 years. All the while, Trump is filling his White House Cabinet with fossil fuel advocates. Apparently Trump plans to keep his promise to “drain the swamp”… so he can then fill the vacuum with oil and coal. Great! And don’t forget our side’s failure to take baseline measures, such as fostering a culture, far and wide, of growing as much of our own food as we can.
Water Protector praying with water in the face of militarized police in Standing Rock.
Winter at Standing Rock
Closer to home, the Prison Industrial Complex continues to destroy lives: Mumia Abu-Jamal and thousands of other prisoners are being denied Hep-C treatment and other basic medical care.
NEVER FORGET that Trump vowed to round up and deport MILLIONS of undocumented peoples ASAP. That is certain to more than double the numbers of people being held!
On a personal level, I continue to (again) teach myself to “walk and chew gum” through Square Stepping and Tai Chi. Being forced to limit my leg workouts to tiny control unit cells and exercise cages for decades robbed me of the ability to mount stairs and even turn once through a doorway, since I was always all but carried along in chains whenever I left said cells. Though I maintained my leg strength, outside of walking in a straight line, my balance resembles that of a toddler, though much better than when I first got out of that hell hole!
I’m re-bonding with extended family members as well.
WITHIN ANY CRISIS RESTS OPPORTUNITIES. I’m calling on EVERYONE to rise to this challenge and figure out ways to overcome these added difficulties, as you can count on me to do.
Finally, you must get others to join you in deluging the White House and President Obama with the message that to protect his legacy amongst the world’s progressive people, HE MUST USE HIS POWERS TO RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS UNDER HIS ULTIMATE CONTROL BEFORE LEAVING OFFICE.
Welcome to our July newsletter. In these ever-turbulent times, where tragic news seems a constant, we hope this message finds you and your loved ones in both good health and resilient spirits. After a momentous last month, we’re pleased to bring you the latest info on Maroon’s lawsuit settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and brief report backs from both the Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation’s recent meeting with Pennsylvania state officials and the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons’ recent convergence in Washington D.C.
Maroon Sues The D.O.C. and Wins!!!
In case you missed our special bulletin two weeks ago, a settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged Maroon’s 22 straight years of solitary confinement. The settlement brings an end to litigation begun in 2013, which resulted in Maroon’s initial release from solitary in February, 2014. To say that we’re thrilled with this news would certainly be an understatement.
Ahead of this latest victory, Maroon was visited for Father’s Day by his daughter, Theresa, and grandson, Hakeem. (pictured above) In Theresa’s words, “I spent Father’s Day with Maroon and my son. Maroon was so upbeat and proud of the moment. Several prisoners nodded and others sent warm greetings. One even came over to where we were seated, wanting a hug from me. Maroon jumped between us and said, ‘Time out! This is my Father’s Day visit, with my daughter. Give me some space!” The prisoner got the message, and I took it to mean that we need more visits like this one.”
As mentioned in our July 11 press release, “In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.
Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: ‘I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!’ ”
We invite you to read our full press release, including the supportive comments of United Nation’s Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, whose expertise helped ensure this victory.
In addition, we share with you this article from The Guardian regarding the settlement and its potential positive impact on the cases of other Pennsylvania inmates who have suffered through similarly unrestricted use of solitary confinement, as well as the following video clip from the July 12 episode of Democracy Now!, a program that’s vocally supported our efforts over the years.
Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation Goes to Harrisburg
On Thursday, June 23, the Campaign to Restore Meaningful Commutation hit the Capitol pushing a 12 point platform that would change regulations and practices of the barely functional commutation process. About 25 people traveled to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh and 10 more from Philly. Upon arrival from Pittsburgh a devoted crew raced up to the office of Jason Dawkins, co-author of HB 2135, where he met them with open arms. House Bill 2135 was introduced on June 9, and has the ambition to Expand Parole Eligibility for Life Sentences. This bill would make people eligible for parole after 15 years served, and as Jason said in our press conference, “This bill would abolish life without parole.” Can you believe a State Rep said those words?!
Rep Ed Gainey from Pittsburgh gave a rousing speech at our rally in support of the bill. This is extra powerful because, tragically, his sister was murdered just a month ago. Additional surprise speakers included: Rep Joanna E. McClinton from Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, who was extremely encouraging and really applauded our efforts, and Rep Patty Kim of Dauphin County, who also stepped to the mic, talking about an impactful meeting she had with women at Muncy.
To read the full reportback about the campaign’s visit to the Pennsylvania capitol, and how you can plug into ongoing organizing, please visit here.
Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons Goes to D.C.
For over a decade, June 11 has been a day of action in solidarity with eco-anarchists imprisoned for their actions in defense of the Earth. Since its inception in 2004, the June 11 day of action and other acts of solidarity have been instrumental in winning shorter sentences or early release for eco-prisoners, including Jeff Luers and Eric McDavid. Yet committed earth defenders such as Marius Mason, targeted in the FBI’s “Greenscare,” are still serving harsh sentences in maximum security prisons for their actions in defense of the Earth.
Meanwhile in Appalachia, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) plans to build a massive maximum security prison on top of a former mountaintop removal coal mine in Letcher County, Kentucky, surrounded by sludge ponds and coal processing operations. This amounts to an environmental justice nightmare, where prisoners who are disproportionately low-income and people of color face toxic conditions behind bars.
photo: Kilaika Anayejali kwa Baruti, Eka Asase Yaa, Theresa Shoatz & Shandre Delaney attendees at Toxic Prison Conference in DC
From June 11 to June 13, people from around the country converged on Washington, D.C. to network, strategize, and take direct action against toxic prisons and continue to fight for the freedom of political prisoners.
Stopping one prison is not a magic bullet to ending the U.S. police state, the one that gave way to the world’s largest prison nation and in turn serves as the apparatus of repression that keeps the planet shackled to industrial capitalism… But it’s a pretty good place to build from.
To read about the campaign’s convergence in D.C., and how you can get involved, please visit here.
We remain deeply indebted to all of you who continue to offer your support and solidarity to the struggle for Maroon’s freedom, and against prisons and policing more broadly. And while we say it every month, we really do want to hear from you! Please feel free to contact us directly with your thoughts, questions, and ideas to strengthen our work on behalf of Maroon and all u.s.-held political prisoners.
We also invite you to consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. While Maroon’s recent settlement obviously includes a financial component, much of that money will be redirected, per Maroon’s wishes, to efforts that support other long-held prisoners and their families. Accordingly, your direct contributions for Maroon’s well-being at SCI Graterford remain important.
Please also consider contacting Maroon directly. He wants to hear from his supporters! Write to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246
In Maroon’s own words,
The Shoatz Family and Friends
July 11, 2016: Pittsburgh PA —A settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged the 22-year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. This brings an end to litigation begun in 2013. In February 2014, following an international campaign on behalf of Shoatz, he was released from solitary confinement.
In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.
Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: “I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez, said: “This settlement is a major contribution to the quest to outlaw prolonged solitary confinement in the US and around the world. I congratulate Mr. Shoatz and his family for not giving up and his team of lawyers for a committed and highly professional approach to justice.”
Shoatz had been held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) since 1983. For 19 months between 1989 and 1991 he was held in the general population of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. Upon return to the PADOC in 1991 he was immediately placed back in solitary confinement and held there until February 20, 2014, when he was released to the general population at State Correctional Institution Graterford, 10 months after he filed suit in Shoatz v. Wetzel.
The case challenged the more than 22 consecutive years that Shoatz spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Shoatz, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Shoatz also challenged violations of his procedural and substantive due process rights.
As noted by Judge Eddy in her February 2016 decision ordering a trial in the case, plaintiff’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, stated in his report in the case that Shoatz has spent “virtually his entire adult life in complete and coerced social isolation (and sensory deprivation) – which is among the most abnormal and pathogenic environments in which it is possible to place a human being.”
The decision also quoted United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, who was another expert for the plaintiff:
The conditions of detention of Mr. Russell Shoatz, in particular his indefinite solitary confinement eventually lasting 29 years, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under customary international law standards. . . . [E]ven if isolation of inmates is not per se contrary to those practices, indefinite or excessively prolonged regimes of solitary confinement like the one suffered by Mr. Shoatz certainly do. In addition to the excessive duration and indefinite nature, his isolation contradicts the trend of all civilized Nations in that it was imposed on the basis of status determinations unrelated to any conduct in his part, and through a meaningless procedure that did not afford him a serious chance to challenge the outcome.
Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Shoatz included the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations also endorsed his release from isolation.
In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez and Matt Meyer discussing Maroon at this link).
Shoatz was represented in this case by Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Harold J. Engel; and Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt.
Welcome to our April newsletter! This month, we bring you the latest on Maroon’s forthcoming trial, a brief message on the recent passing of long-held political prisoner Abdul Majid, audio from a recent panel discussion on solitary confinement at the University of Pittsburgh Law School (including Albert Woodfox and Robert King), and part two of an interview with former political prisoner Ashanti Alston, regarding presidential politics, parenting, and Palestine.
As always, we thank you for your continued support and solidarity. Please feel free to contact us directly with your thoughts, questions, and ideas to bolster our efforts on behalf of Maroon and all u.s.-held political prisoners.
Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. As we prepare for Maroon’s court date in July, and various activities in Pittsburgh and beyond to highlight the trial, your financial support is especially important at this time.
You can connect directly with Maroon by writing to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246
The Shoatz Family and Friends
Maroon’s Goes to Court in Pittsburgh this July – You Coming?
As we mentioned last month, a trial date of July 11, 2016, has been set for Maroon’s suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violations of his 8th and 14th Amendment rights during his over two consecutive decades in solitary confinement. If you missed some of the recent coverage on Federal Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy’s ruling that Maroon’s suit must be decided by jury trial, check out Victoria Law’s article, “How a Former Black Panther Could Change the Rules of Solitary Confinement,” published in The Nation, to get up to speed.
We’re hoping to have a big turnout of supporters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in order to generate broader support for and press coverage of Maroon’s case. Please let us know if you’re thinking of coming. We’re trying to gauge interest and pull appropriate resources together. The trial is set to start on July 11th and will probably last three days. We will probably set up a press conference the morning of the 11th and hope to pack the courtroom on the 12th. We imagine jury selection will take place on the 11th and would rather have you attend on Tuesday, the 12th. More information to come…
Abdul Majid Joins the Ancestors
We send our heartfelt condolences to the family and supporters of Abdul Majid, who died on April 3, 2016, after serving over 30 years at Five Points Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Abdul was involved in many of the Black Panther Party’s community-based survival programs, including free health clinics, free breakfast for children, the fight to decentralize the New York City public schools and police department, and more. For this reason, he was targeted by COINTELPRO, charged and convicted of murder and attempted murder of a police officer. Abdul and his co-defendant, Basheer Hameed, were forced into three separate trials. The first trial ended in a hung jury – divided along racial lines; the second trial was declared a mistrial by the judge immediately after the jury acquitted Basheer of the murder charge; both were finally convicted in a third trial. Abdul was sentenced to 33 years to life. Basheer Hameed made his transition in prison in 2008. Abdul was scheduled for a parole hearing next month.
While incarcerated, Abdul was well-known and respected for his work with the Lifer’s Organization, both inside and out of the New York State Department of Corrections, for facilitating classes, along with his leadership and counseling skills. In addition, he was active in helping young male prisoners cope with long sentences, conduct legal research, and provide civics training. Find out more here.
Rest in peace and power Abdul! We LOVE you!
Voices from Solitary Confinement
On April 15, 2016, the International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Prolonged Solitary Confinement convening took place at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. A panel discussion entitled, Experiencing The Harm and Suffering: The Prisoner’s Perspective, featured Albert Woodfox and Robert King of the Angola 3, Dolores Canales, executive director of California Families Against Solitary Confinement, among many others. We invite you to listen to a recording of this panel, moderated by Bret Grote, of Abolition Law Center and Maroon’s legal team, and Jules Lobel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Ashanti Alston Interview
Finally, we bring you the second installment of a two-part interview with Ashanti Alston, former Black Panther, soldier of the Black Liberation Army, and political prisoner of a decade and a half. In part two of the interview, Ashanti shares his thoughts on the presidential race, parenting, and why he flies a Palestinian flag on the house.
Our continued love and gratitude to you as we push forward in the fight for Maroon and all political prisoners.