ACTION ALERT: MAROON’S RELEASE FROM SOLITARY THWARTED BY PA DOC
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.