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 ( 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.


The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound – Isaiah 61:1

Russell Maroon Shoatz, a senior citizen (age 70) and grandfather who currently suffers from impaired vision because of cataracts, was originally imprisoned in January 1972, after years of playing a leading role in the Black freedom movement of his native Philadelphia PA. As was an endemic pattern during the 1960s and 70s, prominent community organizers doing civil and human rights work were prime targets of the FBI’s illegal Counter-Intellience Program, with special focus on Dr. Martin Luther Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers – which Shoatz was a member of. He has been held for thirty-plus years in solitary confinement. Such “prolonged” solitary confinement is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, according to UN Special Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez.In April and May 2013, in the wake of Maroon’s transfer to a different prison, many concerned activists called and wrote letters to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) on his behalf. They received replies suggesting that his transfer to the general prison population was in process. In August, however, Shoatz was transferred once again to a third facility, with no change in the conditions of his confinement.To mark the date of Maroon’s 70th birthday on August 23, 2013, three Nobel laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland – sent a letter to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel that read, in part: “We 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.”

We, religious and other community leaders, join these three distinguished voices, along with a host of others, calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to release Russell Maroon Shoatz into the general prison population. The time has long since passed. It would be an appropriate step to mark that time of year when we should all attempt, once again, to remind ourselves of our humanity.

Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz

Democracy Now! Profiles Aging Political Prisoners

Democracy Now! recently broadcast a program dealing with aging political prisoners, and the elderly prison population more generally. The program specifically discussed the cases of Lynne Stewart, the Angola 3, Seth Hayes, Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz, and Oscar López Rivera. Videos of the program are embedded below, and a transcript of the discussion can be found here.

Time for Compassion? Aging Political Prisoners Suffer From Illness, Long Solitary Confinement

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Part 2:

“If the Risk Is Low, Let Them Go”: Elderly Prison Population Skyrockets Despite Low Risk to Society

Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson delivers over 1,000 petition signatures demanding dismissal


PictureLorenzo’s mother; daughter; Bret Grote; wife, Tazza

December 18, 2013, Harrisburg, PA. Over 1,000 petition signatures and letters were delivered to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane on Wednesday, December 18, 2013, demanding that her office dismiss the murder charges against Lorenzo Johnson, an innocent man, and release him from prison. New legal filings are pending in the Pennsylvania courts with new evidence of Johnson’s innocence – including his presence in New York City at the time of the Harrisburg murder and the identity of the actual killers – as well as police and prosecutorial misconduct. The Attorney General has until January 1, 2014 to respond to Johnson’s new state court appeal.This action was organized by the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, spearheaded by Lorenzo’s wife, Tazza and other family and friends, to send a message to the Attorney General that an international campaign is growing and will not stop until Lorenzo is free.

A press conference followed the delivery of the petitions. As Tazza stated, “1,000 signatures means we are not in this alone … I won’t stop until he’s home. There is nothing and no one that can stop me from fighting for what’s right.” Also speaking at the event were Jeffrey Deskovic, an Exoneree and founder of the Deskovic Foundation for Justice; William Lopez, New York Exoneree; Bret Grote, Esq., Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center; and Rachel Wolkenstein, an attorney working with the Campaign.

Johnson was released from prison once before, after the October 2011 reversal of his conviction by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals due to insufficient evidence. This is equivalent to a judicial acquittal. In January 2012, Johnson reunited with his family, worked in construction and spoke out for others who are innocent and imprisoned. After a last minute petition by the PA Attorney General, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision, reinstated Lorenzo Johnson’s conviction and ordered him back to prison to serve a sentence of life without parole.

Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison in New York for a rape and murder he did not commit before being cleared by DNA evidence, set up a foundation to help other innocent people. He drove Lorenzo Johnson back to prison after the US Supreme Court reinstated his murder conviction. Deskovic said, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do since being released, to turn somebody back to prison. It was a very emotional and difficult journey on the way there…. As we were rotating drivers, he [Lorenzo] said, you know, look how crazy this is, I’m driving myself back to prison to resume a life sentence without parole for a crime I’m innocent of.“

Deskovic also announced the launch of a confidential tip line (917 929-2964) to receive information that could lead to additional new evidence.

Innocent and Framed

Bret Grote explained the history of Johnson’s frame–up. “Although Johnson was not even accused of participating in the shooting, only of allegedly being near the alley where the murder took place, he was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1996 at the age of 22.  Lorenzo was not even in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on the night of the murder of Tarajay Williams. He was 170 miles away, back home in New York when the murder occurred. For several months, police detectives threatened Johnson with a murder charge unless he falsely accused a friend of the murder and drug dealing. When Johnson refused he was charged with first-degree murder as an accessory to murder.

“There was no ballistics or other physical evidence against Johnson. The main prosecution witness was a confirmed drug addict who had motive to testify in order to secure favorable treatment from the police. She now admits that she lied at trial. Other witnesses admit they were coerced into lying or staying silent, threatened by detectives with being falsely charged with crimes or promised leniency. New evidence points to the actual perpetrators.”

On August 5, 2013, Johnson’s attorney Michael Wiseman filed an appeal petition in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas seeking a new trial based upon Lorenzo Johnson’s actual innocence supported by newly discovered evidence. The filing contains new sworn affidavits from a police detective, from people who had knowledge of the murder, knowledge of the real killer(s), information that discredits the key prosecution witness, Carla Brown, as well as evidence that Johnson was in New York at the time of the murder and could not possibly be involved.

The newly discovered evidence contains numerous instances of unconstitutional conduct on the part of the police and prosecution in Johnson’s case. Johnson and his trial counsel were never told that the prosecution’s star witness, Carla Brown, was questioned on the night of the shooting and was worked on for months by detectives to get her to implicate Johnson. Key pages of early police reports have been withheld from Johnson and his attorneys for eighteen years.

Suquan Ripply Boyd also provided an affidavit to Johnson, revealing for the first time that he was coerced by Detective Kevin Duffin into providing a false statement. Boyd and Johnson were in New York City on December 14-15, 1995, at the time the murder occurred. Prior to the trial, Boyd signed a statement that he could not recall the exact date after Duffin threatened him with a longer prison sentence than the one he was serving at the time on an unrelated case.

In an interview with AP on the day of the press conference, Wiseman spoke to the legal import of the new filings, “These affidavits constitute newly discovered evidence – they make clear that the Commonwealth withheld from Mr. Johnson exculpatory evidence that would have demonstrated his innocence, would have destroyed the credibility of the already highly suspect primary witness against him, and would have unquestionably changed the outcome of the trial.”

At the Harrisburg press conference, Rachel Wolkenstein spoke of the fight to free Lorenzo Johnson, one of the 100,000 innocent men and women imprisoned in the United States, many the result of the ‘war on drugs’ that has driven mass incarceration. She quoted from Johnson’s statement, ‘Intolerable’: ‘I speak for all innocent prisoners. Justice for us is exoneration or vindication of all charges. Anything besides that fuels more and future corruption.”  When asked about inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system, Wolkenstein replied, “It is a system of injustice, of racial and class bias, and thoroughly corrupt.”

This action was covered by network ABC-TV, and broadcast in Harrisburg, PA and in NYC as well.  The Associated Press release, titled, “Allies of briefly freed Pa. inmate seek dismissal,” was printed in dozens of newspapers coast to coast, including the Washington Post and SF Chronicle. It was filmed by political videographer Lamar Williams and covered on the Innocence Project Blog.

PA Attorney General Kane Response

The press conference and delivery of petitions compelled a response from the Attorney General and lets her know there is a growing international campaign fighting for Lorenzo and his immediate freedom.

Last week we were told the Office of the Attorney General is “not set up” to receive petitions. However, on Wednesday the Attorney General’s office sent their director of constituent services, Philip McCarthy, to receive the petitions from Tazza, Jeffrey Deskovic, and Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center.

Speaking to the Associated Press on Wednesday, spokesperson for the Attorney General, Joe Peters, said, “Obviously, the Supreme Court accepted our argument. However, Attorney General Kane is always interested, in every case, in justice. If there is new evidence or information, we are interested in that.” They also announced they are meeting with Lorenzo Johnson’s lawyers on January 15, 2014.

Contrary to Peters’ statement, however, the Attorney General’s office has already opposed hearing Lorenzo Johnson’s new evidence and won the denial of Lorenzo Johnson’s Motion to File a Second Writ of Habeas Corpus in the federal court. The Third Circuit adopted Attorney General Kane’s outrageous assertion that Johnson had not made out a prima facie claim for relief.

Build the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson

This Action was an important step in the fight to free Lorenzo Johnson. We need to increase the numbers of people who sign Lorenzo’s Freedom Petition, write letters and help publicize his case. Add your support to the over 1000 petition signatories who come from a dozen countries and throughout the U.S, including Alina Dolat, Amnesty International, France; Heinz Leitner, a retired Federal Minister of Labour in Vienna; PA Human Rights Coalition-Fed-Up; Abolitionist Law Center; Decarcerate PA; IAC, Philadelphia, PA, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Pam Africa, Francis Goldin, Noelle Hanrahan, Zahara Hill, Chris Kinder, Anne Lamb, Ralph Poynter, Carole Seligman and hundreds others. Regular reports on Lorenzo Johnson’s case and his own commentaries can be found in: Justice Denied, Prison Radio, SF Bay View News and Socialist Viewpoint.

Lorenzo to All Supporters of his Fight for Freedom, December 18, 2013:

Dear Supporters,
First and foremost, I hope that everyone and their family holiday and New Year goes accordingly.  I also would like to thank everyone who has signed my Freedom Petition. I encourage everybody to get others to sign and get involved. With the right support and public awareness, my Injustice can come to an end. As long as everyone remains silent about situations like mine, they will continue to take place. A second is too long to be in prison when you are Innocent, so eighteen years…                  “The Pain Within”
Lorenzo Johnson
“Free The Innocent”

Sign the Freedom Petition
Contribute to Help Lorenzo’s Family Fight for His Freedom

Free Speech and Historical Truth in the Case of the Lucasville 5-plus: Journalists and prisoners file lawsuit against censorship in Ohio prisons


Journalists, a professor, and a group of prisoners brought a civil rights lawsuit against Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) officials on Monday, December 9, asserting that prison officials violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in restricting media access to prisoners convicted of crimes related to the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising in order to stifle public discussion.

“The First Amendment guarantees to all people the right of free speech; this right cannot be extinguished at prison walls,” said Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Prisoners have a right to speak.  The public has the right to know.   Suppressing the freedom of speech of prisoners has only one purpose: to keep the truth from being reported.”

The complaint states three causes of action:

1)    Prison officials are denying media requests based on the anticipated content of the interviews in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment;

2)    Prison officials do not have a rational basis for denying media interviews with prisoners convicted of crimes stemming from the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment;

3)    The restrictions on media and public access to information are unreasonable restrictions on speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment.

The media plaintiffs are Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Christopher Hedges, James Ridgeway of Solitary Watch, and Derrick Jones, a theater and film instructor at Bowling Green State University. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is representing the plaintiffs.

All five prisoner-plaintiffs were framed for homicides that occurred during the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising. The uprising lasted 11 days. Nine prisoners and one prison guard were killed during the uprising.

Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Keith Lamar (aka Bomani Shakur), Jason Robb, and George Skatzes are four of the prisoner-plaintiffs who are part of a group collectively referred to as the Lucasville 5-plus. These men were framed and sentenced to death for homicides that occurred during the 1993 Lucasville uprising, and have been held in solitary confinement for the last 20 years, fighting Ohio’s ongoing efforts to execute them. The “plus” refers to the numerous other prisoners framed up in the aftermath of the uprising who received sentences other than death.

A fifth prisoner-plaintiff, Gregory Curry, is serving a life sentence after being convicted for a homicide occurring during the riot in a trial fraught with perjured testimony, suppressed evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct.

As the state persists in its efforts to execute the Lucasville 5, the fight over historical truth continues as well, with lives hanging in the balance. Access to media in this context involves more than the protection of an abstract right, but instead implicates the most fundamental questions about the humanity of people in prison and the tyranny of the state.

The lawsuit claims “Defendants and their predecessors have for twenty years denied all face-to-face media access to prisoners convicted of crimes committed during the April 1993 uprising[.]” In addition to denying requests by Hanrahan, Ridgeway, Jones, and Hedges for interviews with prisoners convicted of crimes related to the uprising, reporters from the Columbus Dispatch, the San Francisco Bay View, and the Associated Press in Columbus have been denied access to those prisoners as well.

In contrast, prisoners convicted of crimes that are unrelated to the 1993 uprising have been permitted to speak with journalists and media workers from WTVG 13 (ABC Toledo), The New York Times, Fox 25 News in Lima, Ohio, French national TV channel France 2, the Edinburgh Evening News, BBC News, Channel 35 in Lima, Ohio, Towers Productions in Chicago, News of the World of Glasgow, Sunday Post of Glasgow, The Times of London, Cicada Films, and WJW-TV in Cleveland, Ohio.

The lawsuit is the latest effort by supporters of the Lucasville 5-plus to challenge the state of Ohio’s efforts to control the factual narrative and the political meaning of the Lucasville uprising. Staughton Lynd, a lifelong political activist, author of several books (including Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising), and attorney has stated, “the truth about these events remains untold in the courts as well as in the media.”

ALC will continue to follow this case and support efforts for the Lucasville 5-plus.

Panel Discussion: Solitary Confinement and Political Prisoners (Video)

National Lawyers Guild – Solitary Confinement and Political Prisoners: The Use of Prison Isolation in Policing Radical Politics. San Juan, Puerto Rico. October 25, 2013.

Moderator: Bret Grote (Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center)

Panelists: Jihad Abdulmumit (Co-chairperson of the National Jericho Movement); Clarissa López Ramos (daughter of Oscar López Rivera); Mumia Abu Jamal by recording (Journalist and Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild); Azadeh Zohrabi (Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and member of legal team representing Pelican Bay prisoners).

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Pennsylvania solitary confinement inmates charged with rioting due in court

By Daniel Arkin, NBC News

A group of Pennsylvania prison inmates who claim they were savagely beaten and abused by guards while held in solitary confinement three years ago are due in court Monday on charges that they sparked a riot in their unit.
Authorities allege that in April 2010 six inmates at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Dallas provoked an uproar after they barricaded their cell doors and windows with bedding, forcing guards to forcibly remove the men, according to the police criminal complaint.
And yet the prisoners and their advocates claim they were simply staging a peaceful protest they say was designed to draw attention to rampant abuses and deplorable conditions in the security housing unit — from food deprivation to medical neglect.
Read the rest here


To: Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane
Office of the Attorney General, 16th Floor
Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Lorenzo “Cat” Johnson is an innocent man. But he has spent most of the past 18 years serving a sentence of life without parole. For several months after the 1995 murder of Tarajay Williams, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania drug dealer, police detectives threatened Johnson with murder charge—unless he falsely accused a friend of the murder and drug dealing. When Johnson refused he was charged with first-degree murder as an accessory to murder and began his non-ceasing fight to prove his own innocence.In fact Johnson was in New York City when the murder took place. His trial was a travesty of justice. The police and prosecution kept evidence of his innocence secret and coerced witnesses into lying. There was no ballistics evidence against him. The main prosecution witness was a confirmed crack addict. No witness testified linking Lorenzo directly to the murder.

Lorenzo Johnson won his freedom in an October 2011 federal court of appeals decision stating his conviction was based on insufficient evidence—a judicial acquittal. A federal judge then released Johnson on bond and he rejoined his family, worked in construction and spoke out on behalf of other falsely convicted innocent people.

Just four months later, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and reinstated his murder conviction, arguing U.S. Constitutional protections could not be used to overturn a state jury conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence. Johnson voluntarily returned to prison to fight for justice and legal vindication of his innocence.

In August 2013 a new post-conviction state appeal was filed. New evidence is further proof of Lorenzo Johnson’s innocence and that his conviction was a frame-up. The main prosecution witness has now admitted she lied at the trial. Other witnesses admit they were coerced into lying or staying silent, threatened by detectives with being falsely charged with crimes or promised leniency. There is new evidence pointing to the actual murderers. There is no evidence to support Lorenzo Johnson’s conviction.

Eighteen years in prison for an innocent man is 18 years too many. The Pennsylvania Attorney General should dismiss Lorenzo Johnson’s charges. Lorenzo Johnson should be immediately freed from prison!

Dated:_____________      Name: _______________________________
Address: _______________________________

This Petition to Free Lorenzo Johnson is distributed by Lorenzo Johnson’s family. Contact them at
Demand: Free Lorenzo Johnson, Now!
Call or write: Kathleen G. Kane, Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General, 16th Floor
Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-3391
Fax: 717-787-5211

Sign the petition by filling in the form here and ask family and friends to sign also by printing out a PDF of the file and mail to: Lorenzo Johnson, PO Box 1008, Yonkers, NY 10702.

Lorenzo Johnson’s Family encourages everyone outraged by this injustice to write or call the PA Attorney General and Demand: Free Lorenzo Johnson, Now!