GOOD FAITH, BAD FAITH – URGENT HOLIDAY UPDATE: MAROON’S PROCESS OUT OF SOLITARY THWARTED BY PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
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.
** ASK YOUR LOCAL MINISTERS, IMAMS, COMMUNITY LEADERS & OTHERS TO ADD THEIR NAME!!
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