For over 30 years, former Black Panther member and Philadelphia community activist, Russell Maroon Shoatz, has been held under torturous conditions, including two decades in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons. Shoatz’s successful escapes from two maximum-security prisons earned him the title “Maroon.”
In 2013, the first published collection of his accumulated written works along with new essays was released under the title, “Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz.” On April 5, a book launch was held at Temple University in Philadelphia. Members of Shoatz’s family were joined by local and national activists.
The event opened with a recorded message from political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is also serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania after being released from death row in 2011. Abu-Jamal reported that Shoatz was recently transferred from “the dungeons of SCI Greene” to “the hole” of SCI Mahanoy in southeastern Pennsylvania. Mahanoy is a lower-security prison, but Shoatz is still held in a solitary confinement unit.
Temple University professor, Dr. Anthony Monteiro, who was also an activist in Philadelphia around the same time as Shoatz, welcomed the gathering as part of a two-day symposium on W.E.B. Du Bois sponsored by African American Studies. The department is currently under attack from the College of Liberal Arts dean, Teresa Soufas.
Robert H. King, the only freed member of the Angola 3 and also targeted for his membership in the Black Panther Party, spoke of how he was inspired by conversations with Shoatz during his own 31 years of confinement. “Everyone who has been in prison for any length of time knows about Russell Maroon Shoatz,” King said. A legal case underway on behalf of the Angola 3 seeks to have the U.S. Supreme Court put limits on terms of solitary confinement.
Entertainment was provided by Fred Ho and Ben Barson, both jazz baritone saxophonists and political activists. New York-based activists Matt Meyer and Colia Clark completed the program.
Maroon’s daughter, Theresa Shoatz, announced that the Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz is calling for an intense call-in and write-in effort from April 8 to May 10 to bring pressure on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to release her father from solitary confinement and into the general prison population. For information on the campaign, visit russellmaroonshoats.wordpress.com.
Bulletin: On April 8, lawyers for Shoatz sent a letter to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel demanding that the government end the solitary confinement of their client.
Dan Kovalik, one of the attorneys representing Shoatz, said: “This type of long-term solitary confinement can only be characterized as torture. It violates a growing international consensus against such confinement, and it violates the Constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.”
The demand letter gives the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 30 days to release Maroon to the general prison population or face a federal civil rights lawsuit.