Time to Fight Back: Statement from Legal Counsel in Support of Professor George Ciccariello-Maher

June 4, 2017: The Abolitionist Law Center, together with Eisner & Dictor, P.C. have been retained by tenured Professor George Ciccariello-Maher as legal counsel for the purpose of defending him from the ongoing efforts of reactionary forces to pressure Drexel University to unlawfully terminate him. Following months of concerted harassment of Professor Ciccariello-Maher and his employer, including numerous death threats against Ciccariello-Maher, Drexel University has caved into pressure and convened a so-called “Committee of Inquiry” to review unspecified “conduct” of the Professor in light of unspecified University “policies.” In doing so the University has intimated that the Committee may recommend termination of Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s employment.

As the Professor’s legal counsel we have notified Drexel University that any termination of his employment would be beyond the authority of this Committee as it has been constituted in violation of the University policy requiring that discipline or adverse action against tenured faculty must “be carried out under the standards approved by the American association of University Professors (AAUP).”[1] These standards are set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings[2] and its Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure.[3] The Committee of Inquiry has not been formed and is not proceeding pursuant to these standards, and as such any adverse action against Professor Ciccariello-Maher would be patently unlawful.

To be clear: any adverse employment action taken against Professor Ciccariello-Maher in this matter will render the University liable for breach of contract.

Thus, we are demanding that Drexel University abide by its avowed commitment to academic freedom and cease the ominous and unjustifiable inquiry into his political speech and opinions. The mere formation of the Committee of Inquiry that is investigating Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s “conduct” to ascertain if any “policies” of the University have been violated represents a dangerous, chilling precedent for any academic whose opinions or modes of expression contravene political orthodoxies.

On Saturday, June 3, in response to a request that Professor Ciccariello-Maher address the Committee, we wrote the Committee and the Provost requesting information regarding the conduct being investigated, the policies at issue, and the AAUP standards being used. We informed the Committee of the following:

This is a very serious matter. In recent months, Professor Ciccariello-Maher has been the subject of a concerted attack by forces of right-wing revanchism, including hordes of neo-Nazis and white supremacists of the alt-right, Fox news, and Pennsylvania Republican Party State Senators. These forces are broadly aligned around a virulent and reactionary project of chauvinistic nationalism that is mobilizing racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic elements of society pursuant to a politics of scapegoating. Academic freedom and free speech are values to be protected with even greater vigilance in such an environment. This Committee must critically and fearlessly evaluate how Drexel University has allowed itself to be put in a position where it is enabling these forces. Anything less falls woefully far beneath the standards of academic freedom that are supposed to animate a democratic society.

We are heartened to see the emerging mobilization on behalf of Professor Ciccariello-Maher and look forward to working with his supporters and all the others who are mobilizing against the ceaseless rightwing attacks on public intellectuals who make principled and serious commitments to combating white supremacy, challenging police violence, struggling for social transformation, supporting movements for liberation, and fostering an ethic of solidarity. Make no mistake about it, Professor Ciccariello-Maher is being targeted because he has made such commitments, and we will diligently participate in the fight back on behalf of our client.


/s/ Bret Grote

Bret Grote, Esquire

Legal Director
Abolitionist Law Center


/s/ Benjamin N. Dictor

Benjamin N. Dictor, Esq.

Eisner & Dictor, P.C.


[1] Drexel University Tenure and Promotion Policy, § VII. Termination of Tenured Faculty.

[2] Accessible at: https://www.aaup.org/report/statement-procedural-standards-faculty-dismissal-proceedings.

[3] Accessible at: https://www.aaup.org/report/recommended-institutional-regulations-academic-freedom-and-tenure.

The Fight to Keep Mumia from Being Silenced

The trial for Abu-Jamal v. Kane happened on the same day that news of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s health crisis reached his supporters. This post provides a summary of both events, and includes links for further updates on efforts to defend Mumia’s life.

On March 30th, a trial was held in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in the cases of Abu-Jamal v. Kane and Prison Legal News v. Kane, two lawsuits challenging the Silencing Act. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Silencing Act, also known as 18 P.S. § 11.1304, last October. The law allows the Attorney General, county District Attorneys, and victims of personal injury crimes to bring lawsuits in civil court against “offenders” of a personal injury crime, in order to enjoin conduct that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Actions that could prompt a lawsuit include “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

The law was passed in response to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s delivery of a pre-recorded commencement speech for students at Goddard College. Leading up to and in the wake of this speech, the Fraternal Order of Police, Governor Corbett, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and a number of legislators staged a media campaign designed to whip up a frenzy of support for depriving Abu-Jamal, and any other “offender,” of their constitutional right to free speech.

Two weeks after the bill was signed into law by former Governor Corbett, Abolitionist Law Center and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Prison Radio, the Human Rights Coalition, Robert Holbrook, Kerry Marshall, Donnell Palmer, Anthony Chance, and Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The lawsuit is seeking a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional and an injunction against its use by the Attorney General and the District Attorney for Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs in Abu-Jamal v. Kane filed a motion for preliminary injunction on the same day the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed Prison Legal News v. Kane, which was also seeking to overturn the law. Both cases were before Chief Judge Conner in late February for a hearing on defendants’ motion to dismiss. Judge Conner dismissed the claims against District Attorney Seth Williams from both lawsuits in a ruling on March 7th based on his explicit disavowal of enforcement, a promise to not bring a lawsuit under the Act, until there is a determination of its constitutionality. The District Attorney was a prominent supporter of the law prior to its passage by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The judge also ruled that the Plaintiffs in the two cases could proceed to trial on the claims against the Attorney General, and the trial was scheduled for March 30th.

Read the decision here – Abu-Jamal v. Kane motion to dismiss ruling

mumia_trial 043015 - joseph piette
The legal team and supporters after trial for Abu-Jamal v. Kane – photo by Joseph Piette

The trial on March 30th, approximately 5 months after Corbett signed this ill-fated bill into law, was “on the merits,” meaning that the judge will be making a final ruling on the constitutionality of the Act. Following the hearing, attorneys for the plaintiffs felt good about their chances for success. “Many court challenges on First Amendment grounds hinge on one basis for finding a law unconstitutional,” said ALC Legal Director Bret Grote. “However, the Silencing Act is plainly a violation of the First Amendment for several reasons, and we think we presented those reasons to the judge well.” We are hopeful that Chief Judge Conner’s ruling will be handed down in the next couple of months.

Read an article describing the trial arguments here — Pa. law sparked by Goddard alumnus under review

Almost immediately after conclusion of the trial, the positive atmosphere amongst the legal team and supporters was interrupted by the news that Mumia Abu-Jamal had lost consciousness and had been moved from SCI Mahanoy for emergency care at the nearby Schuylkill Medical Center. His blood sugar count was at 779: he was in diabetic shock. His sodium level was 160. Since January, Mumia has been suffering from a severe case of eczema that was reportedly treated with antibiotics and steroids, which caused an allergic reaction. His life threatening medical crisis continues and has now been labeled late-onset diabetes, which should have been identified and treated far earlier than it was.

Press conference on March 31st, with Mumia's family and supporters - Photo by David McKeown
Press conference on March 31st, with Mumia’s family and supporters – photo by David McKeown

Mumia’s supporters and family members, together with ALC attorneys, rushed to the hospital to intervene on his behalf, but were prevented from speaking with him and were denied any information about his condition for more than 24hrs. The prison did not notify Mumia’s attorneys or family members of his health emergency, and if not for the fact that supporters were at the prison that morning to visit with him, a visit that was denied because he’d been sent to the hospital, it would likely have been days before news of his condition reached his loved ones. The situation bears echos of the recent passing of political prisoner Phil Africa of the MOVE organization, whose condition was not shared with his relatives until the day before his death, the cause of which remains unknown.

Prison Radio is raising funds to pay for outside doctors to meet and consult with Mumia about his illness and treatment, in order to ensure that his life is not threatened again by the extreme lack of competence among medical staff within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC). We encourage everyone to please donate to the Indiegogo campaign, and to share it far and wide:

You can DONATE at this link.

Mumia’s supporters are also organizing to push the PADOC to allow outside medical care for Mumia, and are circulating a petition. Their most recent update makes clear that he is suffering and still at risk:

His blood sugar registered in the mid 200s today and continues to fluctuate, and although Mumia is still very weak, he was better than on Friday. He told us that the doctors gave him a double shot of insulin right before he came out for the visit, likely in an effort to make him appear temporarily more energetic than he is. This concerns us because insulin overdose is a possibility in these instances. Again Mumia has not yet been seen by a diabetes specialist, although the general practitioner told him today that perhaps he needs to see a nutritionist. This is a sign that our muckraking is working, since the news has gotten around that he was given spaghetti for lunch when his blood sugar registered at 336.

However, despite this modest progress Mumia  struggled to get out of his wheelchair so that we could take a photo of him. He remained in the wheelchair for the rest of the visit.

More updates can be found HERE and HERE.

Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project to Launch at Jail Oversight Board meeting on Thursday

Jail workers, human rights advocates, community groups, and inmates’ family members seek an end to appalling health care at ACJ

PITTSBURGH- Allegheny County area advocacy organizations will announce the launch of the new Allegheny County Jail, Health Justice Project this Thursday, at 4:30 p.m. during the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meeting, with a press conference to follow.  The ACJ Health Justice Project seeks to ensure that members of our community incarcerated at ACJ receive comprehensive health care.

This Thursday marks one month since Frank Smart, 39, died, after less than a day in ACJ custody.  “I lost one whole child because of one pill. All he needed was one pill,” said Tomi Harris, mother of Frank Smart, who died at ACJ on January 5, 2015.  During a phone call hours before his death, Frank said that he was not being provided his anti-seizure medication.  Unfortunately, Mr. Smart was not the first member of our community to lose his life at the hands of Corizon Prison Health Management under the careless watch of Allegheny County officials.  It is time to act to ensure that no more fathers, sons, sisters or wives suffer dire health consequences as a result of unconstitutionally inadequate care created by Corizon’s poor management and cost cutting measures.

Over 18,000 residents of Allegheny County pass through ACJ each year.  Once there they are experiencing unacceptable delays in receiving medical care and the denial of necessary prescriptions simply because Corizon has deemed crucial medications too expensive.  Compounding matters, the medical staff at ACJ are being denied critical supplies and organizational supports they need to provide care: all with an almost $12 million annual cost to Allegheny County.

Despite repeated warnings and admonishments from public officials and private citizens alike, Corizon is refusing to even admit there is a problem.  This should come as no surprise from a national prison profiteer that has been named in over 660 medical malpractice lawsuits.

The ACJ Health Justice Project calls on Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper and the members of the Jail Oversight Board: Judge Cashman, Judge Williams, Ms. Lazlo, Ms. Moss, Sheriff Mullen, and Dr. Walker to step up to the plate and sincerely oversee the abysmal medical care at ACJ.  They cannot continue to look the other way when the mortality rate at the ACJ is twice that of the national average.  The ACJ Health Justice Project calls on these members of our County government to ensure that members of our community are not being sentenced to death at the time of incarceration at ACJ.  Corizon Health has shown time and time again that they do not care about the health and well being of our community.

Rich Fitzgerald, Warden Harper, Judge McDaniel, Judge Williams, Ms. Lazlo, Ms. Moss, Sheriff Mullen and Dr. Walker, have the responsibility to stop these human rights abuses.  Do not commit another taxpayer dollar to Corizon Health, show them the door this September.  Our community deserves better.

Organizations endorsing the project include the Abolitionist Law Center, the PA Institutional Law Project, United Steelworkers, New Voices Pittsburgh, We Change Pittsburgh, the Garden of Peace Project, the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up!, and Fight Back Pittsburgh.

Contact:    Randa Ruge                      rruge@usw.org         412-522-9687
Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz    amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org 412-434-6175

Action Alert – Demand transfer and medical treatment for prisoner locked up next to toxic coal ash dump

Nicholas Morrissey and his daughter before his illness
Nicholas Morrissey and his daughter before his illness

Nicholas Morrissey #HL6873 is a prisoner at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette who is suffering from debilitating neurological problems for which he has been refused evaluation and treatment by prison medical staff.  SCI Fayette is located next to a massive coal ash dump in Southwestern PA, as documented in the recent report No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institute Fayette

Nick has been locked up at SCI Fayette since 2008.  Last year, he began to experience a number of debilitating health problems.  He writes, “One day I woke up and it was difficult for me to walk and see… I started getting dizzy and I couldn’t keep my balance and I started getting a numbing feeling in the left side of my body.” He quickly developed more symptoms:  tingling sensations and muscle spasm, loss of mechanical function in his arms and legs, memory loss, hair falling out, and extreme weight loss.

Take action today: Call and request that the PA Department of Corrections:

1) Transfer Nicholas Morrissey from SCI Fayette due to the risk that his health problems are being caused or made worse by the coal waste dump; and

2) Provide Nick with immediate diagnostic care by a specialist outside the prison, including an MRI.


SCI Fayette Superintendent Brian Coleman: 724-364-2200

PADOC Secretary John Wetzel: 717-728-4109

Background information:

“My life has completely changed in the last year.  I went from an athletic and healthy person, to a frail sickly man who can barely walk.” -Nicholas Morrissey

Early this year, after a series of blood tests, Nick was diagnosed with and began being treated for hyperthyroidism.  With treatment, Nick’s thyroid levels returned to normal, but most of his symptoms persisted or worsened.  The cognitive problems, muscle spasms, and temporary loss of function in his arms, legs and face, became more severe, leaving him unable to walk or get out of bed on many days.

Despite the persistence of these debilitating symptoms the prison’s medical department has refused to perform further evaluation or take him to an outside specialist for diagnostic care.  He has been told by medical staff that his symptoms are in his “imagination” and that he needs to “man up.”  He writes, “When I told the doctor that it was difficult for me to walk and that I couldn’t control my body anymore, I was kicked out of his office and threatened with being sent to the hole.”  Nick has filed several grievances in response to the neglect and intimidation exhibited by medical staff, all of which have been dismissed.  He and his family are concerned that his declining health is related to the massive coal waste dump surrounding the prison.

Talking points for phone calls to the Department of Corrections:

  • If you are calling Secretary Wetzel, ask for Secretary Wetzel’s office.  If you are calling SCI-Fayette, ask for Superintendent Coleman’s office. You will be transferred to an assistant in one these offices. Please make calls to both offices.
  • Tell them you are calling about Nick Morrissey #HL6873, a prisoner at SCI Fayette who is experiencing neurological problems including severe muscle spasms, loss of motor function, and memory loss.
  • Explain that Nick has been diagnosed and treated for hyperthyroidism, but his symptoms have persisted and cannot be explained by his thyroid problems.  Medical staff have refused further evaluation and diagnostic testing to determine the cause of his symptoms and have exhibited willful neglect toward his illness.
  • Tell them you are aware that SCI Fayette sits next to a large coal ash dump and that the Human Rights Coalition and the Abolitionist Law Center recently released a report which demonstrates that prisoners are at risk of exposure to pollution from the site. Tell them you are concerned that Nick Morrissey’s health problems could be related to the pollution from the dump.

Request that SCI Fayette:

  • Transfer Nicholas Morrissey from SCI Fayette immediately, due to the risk that his health problems are being caused or made worse by the coal waste dump
  • Provide Nick with immediate, in-person, diagnostic care by a specialist outside the prison, including an MRI.

MEDIA RELEASE: Russell Maroon Shoatz released from solitary confinement – first time in general population in more than 22 years

Maroon in Gen Pop

February 20, 2014: Pittsburgh PA —  Russell Maroon Shoatz was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford this morning, ending more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The news was confirmed by Maroon during a legal call with an attorney from the Abolitionist Law Center.

Maroon’s son, Russell Shoatz III, said, “We are very excited that this day has finally come. My father being released from solitary confinement is proof of the power of people organizing against injustice, and the importance of building strong coalitions. I especially want to thank all of those who have supported the collective struggle to end my father’s solitary confinement, including my siblings and members of the Shoatz family, the Human Rights Coalition, Abolitionist Law Center, Scientific Soul Sessions, the entire legal team, UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, the 5 Nobel Peace Laureates, the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the dozens of other organizations and thousands of individuals who have participated in this effort.”

The move comes after Maroon, who turned 70-years-old in August 2013, was transferred to three different Pennsylvania prisons in the past nine months. It marks the first time that Shoatz has been in the general prison population in the state of Pennsylvania since 1983, when he was placed in solitary confinement due to his work with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers to abolish life-without-parole sentences. For a 17-month period between 1989-1991, Maroon was held in the general prison population at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Maroon brought suit in May 2013 on the grounds that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that prison officials have deprived him of his procedural and substantive due process rights for keeping him in solitary confinement without meaningful review and on insufficient grounds. He is represented by Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt; Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Daniel Kovalik of the United Steelworkers; and retired Reed Smith partner, Hal Engel.

On Monday, January 27, United States District Magistrate for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Reed Eddy, issued a decision denying defendants’ motion to dismiss in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel. The ruling allowed Russell Maroon Shoatz to move forward with the legal challenge to his more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement.

The campaign to release Shoatz from solitary confinement has also been gathering increasing international attention, including the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations endorsed his release from isolation, as well as growing number of clergy. In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez discussing Maroon at this link).

Abolitionist Law Center Executive Director, Bret Grote, said, “My talk with Maroon today was very moving. There are no words to adequately convey the significance of his release to the general population for him and his family. This is a significant victory for a growing people’s movement against solitary confinement and the human rights violations inherent in mass incarceration. If we continue to work hard and support one another in this movement, these victories could very well become a habit.”

The Abolitionist Law Center would also like to thank all our donors for your support, without which this victory would not be possible. The fight continues, both on behalf of Maroon and the many other prisoners being subjected to inhumane conditions. Please consider adding to your support by donating to our current fundraiser, so we can continue to press for justice in the Pennsylvania prison system.

Contact:             Bret Grote                 bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org             412-654-9070



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 (freemaroonshoatz@gmail.com) 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


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 www.FreeLorenzoJohnson.org
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!

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