Action Alert – Demand an end to Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson’s 34 years in solitary confinement

 Call and write PA DOC Secretary Wetzel today: 717-728-4109; 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050

 Cetewayo – A case of 34 years in the hole

 Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson is a politicized prisoner who has been held in solitary confinement by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) since 1979.

Despite his exemplary disciplinary record of the past 25 years, and his recently turning 61 years old, Cetewayo continues to be subjected to 23-24-hour lockdown in solitary confinement with its attendant austerity, monotony, and deprivations. He has not had human contact with anybody except prison guards in over 30 years.

This is far and away one of the worst cases of state torture in this country – and that is saying something. Decades of social isolation and sensory deprivation is unfathomable, unconstitutional, and in violation of international human rights standards.

On October 3, 2013, Cetewayo had his annual review hearing at SCI Frackville, where officials assess whether to continue his solitary confinement. The final decision will be made by Secretary John Wetzel, so we are asking people to contact his office TODAY and demand an end to the torture.

Call/Write to: PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel, 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050; Phone number: 717-728-4109; Fax: 717-728-4178

Additional background and Talking Points for Action Alert:

Convicted of homicide and sentenced to life without parole in 1971 when he was 18 years old, Cetewayo soon developed a close relationship with imprisoned members of the Black Liberation Movement. As happened to so many of his generation who took up the struggle for human rights, Cetewayo became a target for severe state repression.

Cetewayo was accused of being involved in nine attempted escapes from 1977 to 1987, although several of these were likely fabrications engineered by prison officials. Cetewayo never got off prison grounds or escaped custody during any of these alleged attempts.

After these escape attempts his disciplinary record has been exemplary, receiving less than a handful of misconducts for minor rule violations in the last quarter-century. There have been no allegations of – or actual – escape attempts since 1987.

Human rights begin at home. Cetewayo’s case represents a challenge to human rights activists that is long overdue. Ending the torture and repression of political and politicized prisoners is a core part of rebuilding a mass human rights movement within the U.S.

Support the call to release Cetewayo from solitary confinement!

Talking Points

1)   Use his government name (Arthur Johnson) and prison ID #AF3457.

2)   Arthur Johnson has been a model prisoner for a quarter-century, receiving only minor misconducts during this time.

3)   There is no justification for such prolonged solitary confinement. It violates international human rights standards, is cruel and unusual punishment, and is increasingly recognized as torture.

4)   Solitary confinement is not necessary to prevent escapes, which are extremely rare in the PA DOC anyway.

5)   Many prisoners have been successfully transitioned from long-term solitary confinement without incident, and older prisoners are far less likely to present disciplinary problems.

6)   Even if SCI Frackville does not recommend Johnson for release to the general population, Secretary Wetzel has an obligation to overrule the institution and to respect Johnson’s constitutional and human rights.


Thirty-four consecutive years in solitary is more than long enough!

DEMAND that Cetewayo be placed in general population IMMEDIATELY!

Call/Write to: PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel, 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050; Phone number: 717-728-4109; Fax: 717-728-4178

The U.S.’s 64-Square-Foot “Torture Chambers”

By Pam Johnson

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 19 2013 (IPS) – He has not had human contact or a good night’s sleep in nearly three decades. Every single day, he wakes to the sound of metal doors clanging open and a pair of disembodied hands pushing a tray of food through a slot into his 64-square-foot cell.

For the next 23 hours, he will stare at the same four walls. If he is lucky, he’ll be escorted, shackled at his ankles and wrists, into a “yard” – an enclosure only slightly larger than his cell – for an hour of solitary exercise.

This is how Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a prisoner in the restricted housing unit at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in northern Pennsylvania, has spent the past 22 consecutive years.

On Thursday, Shoatz’s lawyers submitted a communication to Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, urging him to inquire into why a “father, grandfather and great grandfather” is being held in extreme isolation despite having a near-perfect disciplinary record for over 20 years.

Read the rest here

Lawyers for Russell Maroon Shoatz submit request to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

October 17, 2013: Pittsburgh PA — Lawyers for Russell Maroon Shoatz submitted a Communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – Fall 2013, Juan Mendez, requesting that he inquire into Shoatz’s nearly 30 years of solitary confinement within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC). Shoatz is a 70-year-old, former Black Panther Party member who has been locked in solitary confinement at various state prisons for the past 22 consecutive years, and 28 of the past 30 years.

The request comes at a time when the campaign to release Shoatz from solitary confinement has been gathering increasing international attention. In August, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa marked the occasion of Maroon’s 70th birthday by sending a letter to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel that read: “We also affirm, in the strongest possible humanitarian terms, that now is the time for the immediate and unconditional release from solitary confinement and restricted housing of Russell Maroon Shoatz. After decades of solitary confinement – including the past 22 consecutive years – there is no reason for further delay. Continued confinement in 23-hour-a-day isolation is nothing short of torture.”

For the last 23 years, Shoatz has had an impeccable disciplinary record, and has not received on serious rule violation during this time. Despite his model behavior, advancing years, and health problems, the PA DOC has refused to release this father, grandfather, great-grandfather, human rights advocate, and published author into the general prison population.

“The Special Rapporteur on Torture has recently spoken out about similar instances of extraordinary long-term solitary confinement in the United States in Pelican Bay state prison and in the case of the Angola 3. Like these cases, the solitary confinement of Russell Shoatz is yet another extreme violation of international human rights standards,” said Jules Lobel, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the attorney who submitted the document to the Special Rapporteur on Shoatz’s behalf.

Although Shoatz is still held in the solitary confinement unit, he has been permitted more out of cell time in recent weeks, as prison officials inform him that he is being assessed for release from isolation. On September 23, 2013, Shoatz began a 60-day step-down program where he is permitted out of his cell as a block worker for approximately one-hour Monday through Friday.

Although this program represents the most out-of-cell time Shoatz has been afforded since he was in federal prison in 1991, and the most in a PA DOC prison since 1983, there is no guarantee that he will eventually be released into the general population. Prison officials have stated that he will merely be considered for release after the completion of the program.

The communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was submitted by Jules Lobel; Dan Kovalik, Senior Associate General Counsel for the United Steelworkers; Dustin McDaniel and Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center; and attorney Hal Engel.

The 14-page document observes that a 2011 report issued by the Special Rapporteur provided a “legal analysis . . . that resoundingly affirms the conclusion that U.S.-style solitary confinement units are prohibited under international law.” It called on the Special Rapporteur to “immediately initiate a prompt and comprehensive investigation into the facts surrounding Russell Maroon Shoatz’s nearly 30 years of solitary confinement in the PA DOC.”

The communication concluded by recognizing that even if he is soon released from isolation, “It is vital that the egregious violations of Shoatz’s human rights are recognized by your office and the international human rights community more broadly, both for his own sake, and for the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who have been subjected to these conditions of social isolation and sensory deprivation in U.S. jails and prisons over the years.”

ALC Protests Coal Ash Pollution at SCI Fayette

SCI Fayette and surrounding coal ash site
SCI Fayette and surrounding coal ash site

September 30, 2013



In the August 31, 2013 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the Department of Environmental Protection published a Notice of Intent to Issue Operating Permit 26-00057 for the Matt Canestrale Contracting, Inc. Labelle Site. This permit covers a barge unloading and transferring operation associated with a reclamation area in Luzerne Township, Fayette County. At this site, coal ash and FGD sludge are used as capping material on a coal refuse pile. In accordance with 25 Pa Code §§ 127.426 and 127.428, the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) herein files a timely protest and request for public hearing within 30 days of the publication of the Notice of Intent to Issue the Operating Permit.


The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is a Pennsylvania-based, not-for-profit corporation, certified by the Internal Revenue Service as a §501(c)(3) charity. ALC provides legal services to Pennsylvania prisoners and engages in educational and organizing work around injustice in the criminal legal and prison systems. We work closely with prisoners, their family members, and human rights defenders in advocating for the enforcement of international human rights standards in Pennsylvania prisons.

The State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette is located in LaBelle, Pennsylvania, and is within less than 500 feet from the LaBelle Site. As of August 31, 2013, SCI Fayette held 2,022 prisoners. State prisoners are by far the largest population group in the town of LaBelle, PA, and they are also the least considered. A sentence to prison does not – and should never – entail a person being subjected to carcinogenic living conditions.

The LaBelle Site is a 500 acre dump is located on top of the hill between the small community of LaBelle and SCI Fayette. SCI Fayette is practically surrounded by the dump, to the north, east, and south. Much of the prison facility lies just 500 feet from the dump boundary. The dump has been operated by Matt Canestrale Contracting LLC (MCC) since 1998, prior to the construction of SCIFayette in 2003. Previously the dump was the site of the largest coal preparation plant in the world operated by J&L Steel, which processed coal from nearby mines. Around 31.5 million tons of waste from processing coal were dumped at this site before it became a coal ash dump. The prep plant eventually closed in the mid-90s.

When MCC, the current operator, acquired the property it signed an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to “reclaim” the site and was given permission to dump coal ash as part of it’s reclamation plan. DEP says that this is a “beneficial use” of coal ash which will improve soil and water quality at the site. Under this agreement MCC was expected to close the dump. However, MCC has continued to operate well beyond the planned closure date and recently announced plans to begin accepting coal ash from an additional power plant starting in 2017.

The dump has been routinely in violation of state laws including the Clean Streams Law, Air Pollution Control Act, and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act; as well as federal laws including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; and the Clean Air Act. Despite this history of violations, DEP is considering renewing three permits for the site: the Coal Refuse Disposal Area (CRDA) permit, the Air Quality Operating permit and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

On June 13, 2013 the DEP held a hearing to take public comments on the Coal Refuse Disposal Area (CRDA) permit in which dozens of residents demanded that the site be shut down. Public comments and hearings are expected in the coming weeks and months regarding other permit renewals. Despite being much larger than the population of LaBelle, the prisoner population has never been included in the public participation process.

ALC believes that the failure to consider the impact of this site on the prisoner population represents a grave oversight that poses a threat of severe harm to an already vulnerable population. Coal ash contains many chemicals that are toxic to humans including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and selenium. The most likely form of exposure to these toxins is by breathing in dust from the site. Ash is routinely seen blowing off of the dump and out of the trucks that carry it. Black dust, presumably from the site, accumulates on houses in the town of Labelle as well as on the prison grounds. The chemicals in coal ash can cause or contribute to many serious health conditions including: skin, eye, nose and throat irritation; asthma; emphysema; hypertension; anemia; heart problems; nervous system damage; brain damage; liver damage; stomach and intestinal ulcers; and many forms of cancer including skin, stomach, lung, urinary tract, and kidney cancers

We understand that many residents of LaBelle suffer from headaches, fatigue, respiratory problems, kidney failure, and several forms of cancer. We have heard reports that some prisoners are already experiencing serious health problems potentially caused by exposure to toxic coal ash.

The ALC is aware of the human rights crisis inside of Pennsylvania prisons, which is currently the only state prison system ever to be under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Illnesses that are handled with ease outside of the prisons can often become far more complicated and harmful inside these institutions. Prisons have limited budgets and staff to provide health care, and the antagonistic relationship between prison staff and prisoners often leads to further inadequacies in care.

During the past several years, we have learned of a consistent pattern of human rights violations inside of Pennsylvania prisons, including dozens of documented incidents at SCI Fayette. We know how readily prison authorities will hide inconvenient evidence of substandard conditions, neglect, and mistreatment.

For the above reasons, ALC has initiated a fact-gathering effort regarding this matter in collaboration with the Human Rights Coalition, a statewide organization of prisoners, their families, and human rights defenders. We are concerned that state prisoners are being ignored in regard to this issue despite their being the most impacted population in the region. This situation is intolerable and un-democratic, and has no place in a society that values health and human rights.

Given the absence of any consideration of the LaBelle Site’s impact on prisoners, the preliminary reports we have received regarding serious harms to prisoners health, the history of regulatory noncompliance, and recent reports of continuing non-compliance, the ALC strongly opposes renewal of the Air Quality State Only Operating Permit.


Pursuant to 25 Pa. Code § 127.428, ALC requests a public hearing for air quality Operating Permit 26-00057. In addition, as the LaBelle Site is being treated as an Environmental Justice area, the Department must follow the lead of the Office of Environmental Advocate and require the appropriate heightened public participation requirements and permit review scrutiny. We request that the public hearing be held in a location convenient for the residents in and around LaBelle, such as the LaBelle/Luzerne Fire Hall, and at a time in the evening that enables those who work to attend and share their concerns.


As demonstrated above and in other submissions presented in this matter, MCC has failed to follow legally-required protocol, posing an extraordinary risk to human health. We urge the Department to deny the renewal application for the reasons stated above. The ALC strongly opposes renewal of the Air Quality State Only Operating Permit, and will continue to pursue this matter to ensure that the human rights of prisoners are not ignored.


[1] Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Monthly Population Report As Of August 31, 2013, page 1, accessed at:

[2] 25 Pa. Code §127.422.

[3] 25 Pa. Code § 123.2; 25 Pa. Code § 123.1(a)(9).

[4] 25 Pa. Code § 127.

[5] Nicholas J. Waryanka, Air Pollution Control Engineer, Air Quality Program, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Review of Application for Plan Approval Coal Refuse Reprocessing Facility, Matt Canestrale Contracting, LaBelle Site, Luzerne Township, Fayette County,” July 8, 1998.