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Russell “Maroon” Shoatz is a 70-year-old man serving out the remainder of his days at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville – a rural Pa. state prison about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In 2005, Shoatz was diagnosed with prostate cancer; he’s done what he can to deal with related medical issues from behind bars.
Despite his age and his ailment, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has opted to keep Shoatz warehoused in solitary confinement – a living arrangement (if one can call it that) in which prisoners are kept alone in a cinder block cell 23-hours per day, and then ushered outside for an hour that involves making the most out of standing inside a cage with one’s feet chained together. This is not a new arrangement for Shoatz. Aside from an 18-month span between 1989 and 1991 when he was temporarily held in the general population at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, this former Black Panther and longtime activist has spent his prison time in “the hole” since April 1983. That’s 30 years in solitary.
Prison officials argue that Shoatz – who was one of five members of the New African liberation movement convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in August 1970, as well as a two-time prison escapee in the late 1970s and early 1980s – deserves to reap what he’s sown by remaining in solitary confinement assumedly until he dies. But activists all over the country are requesting leniency for a man who’s not asking to be released from prison, but who’s merely asking to be allowed human contact outside the barbaric circumstances of his experience in the hole. The latest plea has been circulating among civil rights groups for the last week or so and is reposted here.
From the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh:
It is with some surprise and sadness that we must report that once again the progress of wrongfully incarcerated Russell Maroon Shoatz has been delayed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), thereby continuing his over twenty years of torturous uninterrupted solitary confinement. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, prison officials at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville informed Maroon that the prison would not release him into its general population, claiming that there is another prisoner at SCI Frackville who Maroon has a “separation” from (the two cannot have contact with one another). For this reason, SCI Frackville stated that the prison would not be sending the required documentation for review of his solitary confinement to PA DOC Secretary Wetzel. Instead, Maroon was told that SCI Frackville intended to transfer him to another prison that could then consider him for release into the general population.
After Maroon’s successful completion of a prison-initiated “step down program” designed for the very purpose of ending his long-endured torture, his family, friends, and legal team were cautiously optimistic that the consistently positive reports coming directly from prison authorities would result in his humanitarian release, at least into prison general population. Every twenty days during the sixty-day “step down” initiative, Maroon’s case came under administrative review, and he passed all areas of concern – including the evaluations of some of the most conservative of guards – with flying colors. SCI Frackville’s position is contrary to what Maroon had previously been told: complete the 60-day step-down program successfully, and the formal review of his solitary confinement will occur. Now, prison officials are declaring that it is necessary to transfer Maroon for the third time in less than a year despite his perfect record of compliance.
Maroon has carefully observed, and supporters have followed, the strictest of adherence to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections policies, in a clear decision to abide by the DOC efforts to correct an inhumane injustice which has begun to gain world-wide attention. Maroon continues to act in good faith. This callous, bad-faith reversal on the part of the Program Review Committee puts the case back into the court system and the political sphere – where we must once again raise the stakes in spotlighting this unprecedented and cruel behavior. As we are well aware, the continued solitary confinement of Maroon violates every United Nations and international legal guideline against the treatment of the incarcerated, especially long-held prisoners who are now senior citizens.
As the world mourns the passing of unrepentant former political prisoner Nelson Mandela, and prepares for the season celebrating peace on earth, good will towards others, this news raises the question of who is truly behind Maroon’s continued torture? Free Maroon Campaign chair Matt Meyer noted, “As someone fortunate enough to have met with President Mandela personally, and in direct contact with South African Archbishop Tutu who remains extremely concerned with the ongoing condition of Russell Maroon Shoatz, it is clear that those in Pennsylvania in positions of power have not taken to heart the most basic human rights issues involved. Mandela always reminded us that the truest test of the legitimacy of a government is how it treats its prisoners. Archbishop Tutu, so well known for his commitment to reconciliation, understands that this set-back, however temporary, reveals that the current government of Pennsylvania has utter disregard for basic decency and the lives of its less well-to-do citizens.”
The Campaign is currently developing strategies in response to this new situation, and reminds supporters that this holiday season is an especially important moment to collect names of clergy, lay people, and community leaders – to add to the Call by the three Nobel Peace laureates who are demanding Maroon’s immediate release (see attached). Names and titles of new signers of this Call should be forwarded to the Campaign (firstname.lastname@example.org) by the end of business day, Friday, January 10, 2014.
Maroon asks that all supporters and friends be sure to “stay vigilant.” As we work to protect our incarcerated elder, let us re-commit ourselves to creative and powerful work in Maroon’s tradition and upholding his legacy – keeping our focus “straight ahead” towards freedom.
For more information, please visit the Abolitionist Law Center’s site.
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