Russell Maroon Shoatz: One of Thousands of US Political Prisoners
by Stephen Lendman
Thousands of political prisoners languish in America’s gulag. It’s one of the world’s worst. It’s the largest by far.
It’s supplemented by dozens of global torture prisoners. They’re in numerous countries. They’re black holes of viciousness. Their existence alone reveals America’s dark side.
Marc Mauer heads the Sentencing Project. He’s a leading criminal justice system authority. His “Race to Incarcerate” book was groundbreaking.
It focuses on America’s rage to punish. To imprison. To fill prison beds. To commodify criminal injustice. To harm society’s most vulnerable.
To deny ethnic justice. To target racial emancipation. To spurn economic and social equality across gender and color lines.
To lock people away unjustly. To victimize them by judicial unfairness. To do so by get tough on crime policies. By guilty unless proved innocent. By three strikes and you’re out.
Russell Maroon Shoatz is a political prisoner. He calls himself a prisoner of war He’s a dedicated community activist. He’s a founding Black Unity Council member.
He’s a former Black Panther Party/Black Liberation Army member. He’s serving multiple unjust life sentences.
A petition to free Maroon reads as follows:
He’s (#AF-3855) “a 68-year-old prisoner held at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania, has been kept in solitary confinement for more than 21 years. He has been unable to hold his children or grandchildren or interact with others in a humane setting during this time, despite not having violated prison rules in two decades. He has suffered severe psychological anguish and his physical health has been worsened by the stress of prolonged isolation.”
He “spent nearly 40 years within the Pennsylvania prison system, 30 of those in solitary confinement.”
“During this time he has earned a reputation amongst prison staff and prisoners as a leader because of his consistent support for human rights inside and outside the walls.”
“We are distressed and outraged that an elderly man who is nearing his 70th birthday continues to be treated in such a cruel manner based on his constitutionally-protected support for human rights and in retaliation for his expressing political opinions disfavored by the prison administration.”
“Not having committed an infraction in more than two decades reveals that Russell Shoats is more than ready to re-enter the general prison population.”
“We, the undersigned, are calling on prison officials to end the solitary confinement torture of Russell Maroon Shoatz by releasing him into the general population of the prison immediately.”
Shoatz calls himself “a New African Political Prisoner of War, who at this moment” is serving multiple life sentences.
His ordeal began in 1970. He was convicted of involvement in killing a police officer.
He spent over four decades in numerous state, county and federal prisons. He was in maximum security ones. He was isolated in solitary confinement from 1991 through February 20, 2014.
He was held there despite his exemplary prison record. An earlier refusal to release him into the general prison population lied, saying:
“In the volatile atmosphere of a prison, an inmate easily may constitute an unacceptable threat to the safety of other prisoners and guards even if he himself has committed no misconduct; rumor, reputation, and even more imponderable factors may suffice to spark potentially disastrous incidents.”
“The judgment of prison officials in this context, like that of those making parole decisions, turns largely on purely subjective evaluations and on predictions of future behavior.”
In February, his lawyer confirmed his solitary confinement release. His son Russell Shoatz III said:
“We are very excited that this day has finally come. My father being released from solitary confinement is proof of the power of people organizing against injustice, and the importance of building strong coalitions.”
“I especially want to thank all of those who have supported the collective struggle to end my father’s solitary confinement, including my siblings and members of the Shoatz family, the Human Rights Coalition, Abolitionist Law Center, Scientific Soul Sessions, the entire legal team, UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, the 5 Nobel Peace Laureates, the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the dozens of other organizations and thousands of individuals who have participated in this effort.”
Shoatz explained his ordeal earlier as follows:
“The torture technicians who developed the paradigm used in (prison) ‘control units’ realized that they not only had to separate those with leadership qualities, but also break (their) minds and bodies and keep them separated until they are dead.”
He turns 71 in August. In the past nine months, he was transferred to three different Pennsylvania prisons.
He was isolated for working with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers. It advocates abolishing life without parole sentences.
Commutation is the only possible way now. It entails petitioning Board of Pardons members. It requires gubernatorial approval.
It involves what rarely happens. Virtually never some say. It reflects societal injustice writ large. America is its epicenter.
Abolitionist Law Center Executive Director Bret Grote is a Human Rights Coalition investigator. It’s a Pennsylvania-based prison abolitionist/rights organization. He spoke to Maroon. He called it “moving.”
“There are no words to adequately convey the significance of his release to the general population for him and his family,” he said.
“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.”
Maroon was born in August 1943. He’s one of 12 children. He was in and out of reform schools and youth institutions until age 18.
It was mainly from involvement in gang activities. They were unrelated to illicit drugs. He was married twice. He has seven children.
In the mid-1960s, he became politically active. He was a founding Black Unity Council member. In 1969, it merged with the Black Panther Party.
In August 1970, he and four others became known as the “Philly 5.” It was after a police officer was killed. Another was wounded at the time.
It followed a Philadelphia police station retaliatory attack. It responded to heightened community repression. It included cops killing a New African youth.
Maroon “was active on the armed front of the New African Liberation Army,” he said.
“All of my actions and activities during this period were in direct response to, and in direct support of the movement’s activities.”
“I was tried and convicted for the attack on the police station and sentenced to Life-Plus Imprisonment,” he added.
He escaped. He remained at large for weeks. He was hunted down. In October 1977, he was captured. From then through November 1989, he was kept in various “holes,” he said.
In numerous state, county and federal prisons, he added. In brutalizing maximum security ones. In one, he was forcibly drugged.
He was hospitalized once from criminal overdosing. In March 1980, he escaped again. He was recaptured. He remains in prison.
He deserves much better than he’s gotten. In May 2012, an international campaign to free him headlined “25 years in prison + 50 years of age = OUT.”
It was launched concurrently in New York and London. Theresa Shoatz is Maroon’s daughter. She advocates on her father’s behalf. She does it courageously.
Matt Meyer is a New York-based educator/activist/author/War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator. He campaigns on Maroon’s behalf.
He and Theresa call his case “one of the most shocking examples of US torture of political prisoners, and one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations regarding prison conditions anywhere in the world.”
“His ‘Maroon’ nickname is, in part, due to his continued resistance – which twice led him to escape confinement.”
It’s “based on his continued clear analysis, including recent writings on ecology and matriarchy.”
He hadn’t had a serious rule violation in over two decades. He was targeted for working as an educator.
For his political ideas. For being elected president of an officially sanctioned prison-based support group.
Punishing him violated his fundamental constitutional rights. Cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited.
His new book is titled “Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz.”
It includes essays on a wide range of topics. They include honest self-criticism.
One chapter is titled “The Question of Violence.” In it, Maroon wrote:
“More troubling is the fact that this male exhibitionist violence has also permeated the minds, practices, and circles of otherwise brilliant and well-meaning revolutionary thinkers.”
“Such theorists as the renowned Frantz Fanon, icons like Malcolm X and Kwane Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and others have unconsciously conflated the necessary utilization of defensive revolutionary violence, in seeking meaningful revolutionary socioeconomic and cultural change, with what they believed was a need for males to use ‘revolutionary violence’ to also ‘liberate their minds and spirits’ subservience imposed on them by the vestiges of slavery and the colonialism/neocolonialism of their times.”
“These individuals failed to recognize that their ‘revolutionary’ worldview would still leave in place the entire male-supremacist/patriarchal framework, an edifice that we can term the ‘father of oppression.’ “
“The destruction of this edifice will signal the true liberation they sought.”
“Otherwise, the ‘revolutionary violence’ they formulated must also be recognized for what it is: exhibitionist, ego-based male violence.”
State-sponsored viciousness defines America’s prison system. Gulag cruelty best describes it. It’s abhorrently discriminatory. It’s deplorably racially and ethnically biased.
It targets society’s most vulnerable. It’s unrelated to crime control.
Bret Grote said Maroon was transferred from one “torture chamber” to another.
Brutalizing treatment continued for decades. His dedication to helping other prisoners was “thwarted at every turn.”
He was punished for doing the right thing. He’s back in the general prison population. For how long remains to be seen.
Societies are best judged by how they treat children, the elderly, the infirm, their most disadvantaged and prisoners. America fails on all counts.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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