10 Years of Life-Affirming Work Challenging Death-Dealing Institutions 

The week before we celebrated our 10th Anniversary at the Abolitionist Law Center an ALC client was granted compassionate release – the 10th time we have brought somebody home under Pennsylvania’s restrictive medical transfer law since October 2021. Incarcerated people are only eligible for release from prison under this statute if they are near death, often unable to walk, and required to go into hospice or nursing care.

Board Member Kempis Ghani Songster, Executive Director Saleem Holbrook, and Client/Comrade Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson at ALC’s 10th anniversary celebration

As movement lawyers, we understand that our work is not just about structural change, class action injunctions, or monetary damages. At its core, our work is rooted in being there with and for our community when they are facing their darkest moments and most difficult challenges. It is a sick society that lets people die in prison and we will use every means available to bring people home while they have life left.

This life-affirming work against these death-dealing institutions has deep roots in ALC’s history and our abolitionist movement in Pennsylvania. 

In 2013, we filed our first case, which challenged the 22 years of solitary confinement of Russell Maroon Shoatz. He was released from solitary 9 months later. In 2021, we filed our first compassionate release petition, and Maroon was again our client.

Maroon was more than a client. He was a comrade, a movement elder, a father and grandfather, and a mentor to our abolitionist community. He fought for us so we fought for him. Since our first case we have filed 10 more challenges to solitary confinement. And since he was granted compassionate release in October 2021, we have now brought 10 people home through these filings.

Maroon taught us to fight for our whole community and we lift up his legacy in our continuing missions to abolish solitary confinement, death by incarceration, prisons, and all that stands in the way of the liberation of our world.

RSVP Today for ALC’s 10th Anniversary Celebration!

RSVP for ALC 10th Anniversary

Join the Abolitionist Law Center to celebrate 10 years of working to dismantle the criminal punishment system, protect incarcerated people and bring them home, and build collective power and a world rooted in liberation and self-determination.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
World Cafe Live
3025 Walnut St, Philadelphia

This festive “pay what you wish” reception will honor our community of people impacted by the criminal punishment system and our comrades, allies, and supporters. The evening will include hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar with one complimentary drink per person, entertainment, and a brief program.

Space is limited! We urge all guests to register in advance to reserve a spot.

To donate without a registration, enter Contact Information then scroll to the bottom and choose “Make a ‘Pay What You Wish’ Contribution” of any amount.

Abolitionist Visions: A Fundraiser to Fight the Prison State

War Cries

Abolitionist Visions: A Fundraiser to Fight the Prison State

Joy KMT, Blak Rapp Madusa, Jacquea Mae, Russell Shoatz III and more!

The Abolitionist Law Center is throwing a fundraiser at the Bricolage Theatre in downtown Pittsburgh. Join us on May 10th for a night of poetry, song, hip-hop, and prison abolition. Tickets are 
$10-$20 sliding scale. No one will be turned away. Food and drink provided. Parent and child-friendly. Doors open at 5pm – program runs from 6-8pm.

RSVP via our Facebook Event PageBricolage Theatre, 937 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

PRE-PURCHASE TICKETS VIA ALS’C PAYPAL: Donate $10-$20 (or more) prior to May 10 and your name will be added to the admission list.


Joy KMT – Joy KMT is self-taught&queer&black&femme&hood&poet&mother&lover&. She works from the possibility of the personal to be collectively transformational. Her work often blends the magical with the reality of living at the crossroads of multiplicities. Website: http://joykmt.com/

Blak Rapp Madusa – Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Mel Carter also known as Blak Rapp Madusa emerges from the ghetto streets of Pennsylvania, taking the conscious music movement by storm. Through melodic lyricism this rapper/activist/poet paints a vivid picture of the black experience in America, the black nationalist movement, social and political justice ideologies interwoven with the spiritual inspiration of Islam. This artist is on a mission for change by spreading a positive message and a call to action for all oppressed people. Website: http://www.reverbnation.com/blakrappmadusa

Jacquea Mae – an amazing singer, actress,and spoken word artist that has graced the mic at several open mic events, theatrical productions, & has featured as a singer at many venues throughout the city of Pgh,PA. Ms. Mae continues to receive rave reviews for her powerful, often passionate, free, uninhibited, soulful, from the gut performances. Website: http://www.reverbnation.com/jacqueamae4


Russell Shoatz III – son of political prisoner/prisoner of war, and Abolitionist Law Center client, Russell Maroon Shoatz

Terrell Johnson & Saundra Cole – After being framed for a murder he did not commit in 1994 in the Hazelwood murder of Pittsburgh, Terrell Johnson and his wife Saundra Cole set out on a mission to free him. In 2012 he was released from 17 years in prison after being acquitted at a retrial.

Donna Hill – President of Fight for Lifers West and mother of Charmaine Pfender, an Abolitionist Law Center client who has spent 29 years in prison for killing a man who was attempting to rape her. Self-defense is not a crime!

Jasmine Gonzales-Rose – Critical Race scholar, University of Pitt Law Professor, and Abolitionist Law Center board member

Bret Grote – Co-founder and executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center


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).

Part 1:

Part 2:

National Lawyers Guild Panel on Political Prisoners & Solitary Confinement

SAN JUAN, Oct 25 2013 – The struggle against the torture of solitary confinement is an urgent necessity in building liberation movements in North America.  That was the message conveyed to attendees of a major panel on political prisoners and solitary confinement at the National Lawyers Guild’s annual convention held in San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 25, 2013.

Organized by the Abolitionist Law Center and the NLG Mass Incarceration Committee, the panel featured Jihad Abdulmumit, former Black Liberation Army political prisoner and national co-chair of the National Jericho Movement to Free Political Prisoners; Clarisa López Ramos, daughter of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera; political prisoner and world-renowned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal via recorded statement; and Azadeh Zohrabi, California attorney for Pelican Bay prisoners.

Unfortunately, Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón could not be on the panel as planned due to health issues, but there was an unexpected panelist when Edwin Cortes, Puerto Rican political prisoner freed by President Clinton in 1999, grabbed the mic.

Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center moderated the panel and also spoke about the campaign to end the nearly 30 years of solitary confinement for Russell Maroon Shoatz.

Systemic and severe violations of international human rights law are an endemic—and suppressed—feature of prison conditions in the United States.  During the last thirty years the United States has embarked upon a project of race- and class-based mass incarceration unlike anything the world has ever seen.  Emerging in this same period has been the regime of super-maximum security prison units, where people are held in solitary confinement between 22-24 hours a day, seven days a week, often for years on end.  These units are defined by extreme restrictions on visitations, phone calls (which are often prohibited), incoming and outgoing mail, limits on in-cell legal and personal property, and prohibitions on cell decorations.  Medical neglect, physical and psychological abuse, food deprivation, racism, and other human rights violations flourish in these conditions, which are effectively hidden from public scrutiny.  Hundreds of thousands of people cycle in and out of the psychologically toxic and emotionally harmful conditions of solitary confinement every year, with more than 80,000 people held in 23-24 hour lockdown on any given day in jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers.

The speakers presented an inspiring and diverse set of stories, insights, and ideas to the 130-150 people in attendance.  Jihad Abdulmumit urged the crowd to recognize the context of struggle when discussing political prisoners in the United States, rather than fixating on the question of guilt or innocence.  After all, nobody ever asked if Nelson Mandela participated in the armed struggle (he did, of course), but instead recognized that he was fighting for the freedom of his people.  The same standards should apply to freedom fighters held in the belly of the imperial beast.

Bridging the struggles of the Black Liberation Movement and the Puerto Rican Liberation Movement was the commentary of Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Articulating how the pathology of white supremacy infected early 20th-century U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence regarding Puerto Rico, Mumia traced the arc of struggle of generation after generation of Puerto Ricans in and out of U.S. prisons, as part of their efforts to free their homeland from the crime of colonialism.

Clarisa López Ramos presented a moving account of the anguish and hardship that solitary confinement imposes on the families of prisoners.  She spent many hours of her childhood building a relationship with her father, Puerto Rican political prisoners Oscar López Rivera, through the glass partition of the non-contact visiting booth in the United States Penitentiary at Marion, the prototype for supermax prisons.

Next, Azadeh Zohrabi laid out a brilliant overview and analysis of the prisoner human rights movement in California, which has been led by visionary prisoners held in the Pelican Bay State Prison control units.  Her call to “abolish” solitary confinement elicited a powerful round of applause from the audience.  Noting that she views the prisoners she represents in a class action lawsuit more as her colleagues than her clients, Azadeh enlisted dozens of audience members to assist with advocacy on behalf of the health care needs of men still suffering the effects of the most recent California prisoner hunger strike, which included more than 30,000 prisoners at its peak.

Edwin Cortes then joined the panelists after being introduced by Jihad, who he served time with at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  Cortes emphasized the importance of recognizing that the Obama presidency represents the “same old racism” with a different face, urging those in attendance to continue the struggle for liberation.

Finally, Bret Grote discussed the case of Russell Maroon Shoatz, Pennsylvania political prisoner who is represented by the Abolitionist Law Center in his efforts to be free from nearly 30 years of isolation, including the last 22 years consecutively.  Grote emphasized the structural role of solitary confinement, observing that solitary is used to terrorize the prison population; the prison population is then used to terrorize poor communities in general and communities of color in particular; socio-economic conditions in these communities are used to keep the middle classes in line; and these classes carry out the social, economic, and political agendas of the powerful few who control society.

If the feedback received by the ALC is any indication, those in attendance at the panel left better prepared and inspired to move the struggle against this system forward.