ALC’S NEXT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: ROBERT SALEEM HOLBROOK

The Abolitionist Law Center’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that it has selected Robert Saleem Holbrook as the organization’s next Executive Director. Robert Saleem Holbrook has a long history of community organizing and previously served as ALC’s Director of Community Organizing, a role in which he oversaw the organization’s expansion into abolitionist organizing and litigation in the city of Philadelphia. He also led and participated in ALC’s advocacy and litigation campaigns against long term solitary confinement and death by incarceration sentences.

Saleem joined ALC in 2018 following his release from prison after 27 years of incarceration for an offense he was convicted of as a child. Saleem had a long history of organizing in defense of prisoners and social justice. In 2001 Saleem helped co-found the Human Rights Coalition, an organization founded by incarcerated people and their families to advocate against solitary confinement and to defend the human rights of prisoners. In 2005 he helped found HRC’s Pittsburgh Chapter when while imprisoned at SCI-Greene. HRC was founded at the height of mass incarceration in Pennsylvania and was the torch bearer for ALC. 

In 2006, Saleem met ALC’s Legal Director Bret Grote, who joined HRC-Fed Up! as a volunteer organizing against solitary confinement. In 2014, Saleem was a founding member of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI), a constellation of Pennsylvania-based prisoner support groups and activists who’ve been at the forefront of the struggle to abolish Life Without Parole (death by incarceration). During Saleem’s incarceration, he was heavily influenced by the narratives and contributions of Political Prisoners in Pennsylvania including Russell Maroon Shoatz, Fred Burton, and Mumia Abu-Jamal. While incarcerated Saleem wrote extensively on political prisonerssolitary confinementpolice violenceand racial discrimination in mandatory sentencing.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together during my tenure as Executive Director. We’ve built a powerful tool for organizing and defending the most oppressed, and Saleem has been an integral part of that work from the beginning. The second lawsuit we ever filed was Holbrook v. Jellen, a piece of litigation that Saleem organized from prison, even writing the first draft of the complaint. We won that lawsuit, and many more since. Saleem’s dedication, determination, and vision has been proven time and time again in the intervening years. I applaud the Board of Directors’ decision, and I can think of no better person to lead the Abolitionist Law Center during this critical period for the movement to abolish prisons and state violence.”
– DUSTIN MCDANIEL

Saleem will succeed Dustin McDaniel, who will transition into ALC Director of Operations overseeing finances and administration. “Dustin helped take an abolitionist idea birthed by activists within and outside the Pennsylvania prison system and bring it into reality. He helped lay a strong abolitionist foundation that we will be building upon for years to come. We are grateful for his leadership and we all look forward to him bringing his determination, discipline and passion into his new role within ALC.” says Robert Saleem Holbrook.


FROM THE ALC BOARD OF DIRECTORS

“Robert Saleem Holbrook is a leading abolitionist thinker, organizer, and activist. His activism on behalf of incarcerated people and his tireless work on behalf of all people facing state violence and oppression provide a model of leadership, courage, and perseverance. Saleem’s work is an example of what it looks like to implement abolitionist theory into actual change on the ground and everyday practice. His relentless drive will build upon the Abolitionist Law Center’s bold and transformative litigation, organizing, advocacy, and public education.  In the legacy of those freedom dreamers who have come before him, Saleem demonstrates the power of hard work and imagination in our collective struggle to transform our society and push for radical change and liberation for all.”

– JAMELIA MORGAN
ALC BOARD PRESIDENT

“Saleem’s appointment reflects the history, vision and mission of ALC, and that is to abolish class and race based mass incarceration in the United States, litigate on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, and to prioritize the struggle to acknowledge and free all U.S. held Political Prisoners. Saleem’s life experience, involvement and community respect makes his appointment truly revolutionary. After having sacrificed decades in prison, we stand behind his dedication uttered in his own words: “Having been sentenced to death by incarceration as a juvenile, I am committed to doing everything I can to bring others home.” 

– JIHAD ABDULMUMIT
ALC BOARD MEMBER
FORMER POLITICAL PRISONER

Abolitionist Law Center files suit against PA prison officials on behalf of Robert Saleem Holbrook, Human Rights Coalition, and Professor Kristi Brian

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MEDIA RELEASE: Human Rights Coalition sues prison officials for censoring political dissent and human rights advocacy

January 9, 2014: Philadelphia, PA — The Human Rights Coalition (HRC), politicized prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook, and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian brought a lawsuit yesterday against several employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC currently held at SCI Coal Township.

“Today HRC is going on the offensive to fight back against prison censorship,” editor of The Movement and HRC-Philadelphia activist Patricia Vickers stated. “It is long overdue that prison officials are held to account for their attempts to silence those who speak out against this abusive system. The rights, health, and lives of our loved ones are at stake.”

The suit, Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al., filed by the Abolitionist Law Center, details a series of confiscations of Holbrook’s mail since January 2012 that includes academic correspondence with a college professor and issues of The Movement, essays written by Angela Y. Davis and James Baldwin, a newsletter published by HRC which focuses on prison abuse, solitary confinement, and ways that prisoners’ family members can come together to challenge human rights abuses and injustice in the criminal legal system.

The content of the materials censored by SCI Coal Township and Central Office officials touch on the most vital issues of the operation of the prison system in Pennsylvania: juveniles sentenced to die in prison, deaths in solitary confinement, repression of human rights defenders inside prisons, advocacy efforts by families of prisoners, and the pervasive racism that defines the criminal legal system in Pennsylvania and the U.S. In this context, freedom of thought, speech, and association carry life or death consequences.

Plaintiff Robert Saleem Holbrook, a 39-year-old prisoner who is serving a sentence of life-without-parole for a conviction imposed when he was 16-years-old, wrote about prison censorship in an article published in October 2012, “Censorship on the Prison Plantation: Extinguishing Dissent”:

“[T]he prison mailroom supervisor at the prison I am incarcerated in (SCI Coal Township) reflexively denies all books by Black/Latino authors that provide a radical critique of prisons, as well as all publications that contain articles written by prisoners that critique prisons from an adversarial position. Every issue of the Human Rights Coalition newsletter “The Movement” has been denied by this institution, as well as informational brochures and flyers related to HRC’s advocacy on behalf of prisoners. It is not the information contained in these newsletters that the prison censor fears, because none of the material is threatening or inflammatory. What angers the censor and the prison administration is that prisoners are taking the initiative to challenge their imprisonment and conditions of confinement without apology! On the pages of these publications, prisoners are demonstrating that they possess a voice and are ensuring that their voice be heard.”

“This lawsuit challenges the ability of PA DOC officials to target political dissent and human rights defenders with arbitrary censorship,” said Bret Grote, an attorney with the Abolitionist Law Center representing the plaintiffs in the case. “The First Amendment protections at stake extend far beyond the confines of this particular case, and touch upon the daily lives of millions of people in this country who are in prison or who communicate with people in prison.”

Complaint – Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al.

Contact:           Patricia Vickers           hrc.philly.support@gmail.com                        267-331-6001

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

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