Memories of Maroon

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Russell-Maroon-Shoatz, Memories of Maroon, Abolition Now! His name is almost legendary: Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, an affiliate of the Black Panther Party, activist and Black revolutionary.

My teenage memory is sparse about him, other than what I read in the paper – and largely disbelieved. As a member of the Black United Liberation Front, I prepared a leaflet in his support, calling for letters to be written to him.

Occasional news flashes intervened, but such reports became all the more rare and his name faded into the mist of memory, of all except his family and closest comrades.

Until 1995, when I was transferred to Greene’s ominous Death Row, folks assumed I knew him, although we’d never met. Again, we saw each other sparingly, until a cool day, perhaps in 1998, when we were near each other in the “yard” – actually, the “cage” – separated only by two walls of fencing.

He praised my newest book, “Faith of Our Fathers” (Africa World Press: 2004), a study of African-American and African spiritual traditions. I was thrilled he’d read and enjoyed it.

Faith-of-Our-Fathers-by-Mumia-cover, Memories of Maroon, Abolition Now! The next time I saw and really talked to him was Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, around 7 a.m., the day after I left Death Row. We both tried to ignore the biting sub-freezing temperatures in t-shirts, boxers, under thin, flimsy orange jumpsuits, with “yard” lasting only an hour.

Even though not formally on “the Row,” I unconsciously expected two hours of yard, but Maroon knew better. He launched into an analysis of the Occupy Movement that left me stunned with his brilliance, insight and succinctness. I thought to myself, “Whoa! This guy has thought long and deeply about this; I’ve got to sharpen up my game!”

According to Maroon, this new formation showed how technology has transformed not only communications, but organizing itself. It cut out the middleman – went straight to the potential activist, and convinced him or her to engage or disengage. He explained that this new social medium gave impetus to organizing in Tahrir Square, Cairo, but also in the U.S.-based Occupy Movement. Organizing would never be the same, he said.

For three frigid mornings on C pod, Maroon and I met for just under an hour, and I left impressed each time. For here was a man who was arguably one of the longest-held Black political prisoners in America – with the possible exception of former Black Panther Chip Fitzgerald of California – unquestionably one of the longest-held men in Pennsylvania’s solitary for over 30 years. And although nearly 70 years old, his mind was as sharp as a cactus, informed, analytical, intuitive, acute.

Three days – three hours – and then I was gone.

Maroon – writer, historian and theorist – remained, as he does to this day. His loving family continues to fight for his release from the tortures of “the hole” by making people aware of the plight of Maroon.

© Copyright 2012 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s latest book, “The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America,” co-authored by Columbia University professor Marc Lamont Hill, available from Third World Press, Keep updated at For Mumia’s commentaries, visit For recent interviews with Mumia, visit Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews. Send our brotha some love and light: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.

Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz

A campaign to free Russell Maroon Shoatz, dedicated community activist, founding member of the Black Unity Council, former member of the Black Panther Party and soldier in the Black Liberation Army, will launch May 5 with an event at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in New York City.

Free-Russell-Maroon-Shoatz, Memories of Maroon, Abolition Now! For 30 of his 40 years in prison, Maroon has been held in his cell for 23-24 hours every day, deprived of social interaction and environmental stimulation in conditions widely acknowledged as torture due to their traumatic psychological impact.

A coalition of supporters, organizations and rights groups is calling for an end to Maroon’s unjust imprisonment in what he calls the “torture chamber” of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Greene, a maximum security prison where he is forced to wage a daily battle for sanity and survival.

They demand that Maroon be immediately released into General Population, along with other prisoners who share his “detention statistics”: 25 years in prison + 50 years of age = OUT!

We demand that Maroon be immediately released into General Population, along with other prisoners who share his “detention statistics”: 25 years in prison + 50 years of age = OUT!

Maroon’s imprisonment is an outrage on many levels: Not only has his family been denied their brother, father and husband for four decades, but the entire prison population has also been denied a teacher and organizer of unparalleled prowess.

Despite not violating prison rules in over 20 years, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has deemed Maroon a permanent security threat based on his efforts to educate other prisoners about human rights, personal empowerment, and the importance of participating in movements for social justice.

How you can help

To learn more and get involved, visit Maroon’s website,

Sign the petition calling on prison officials to end the solitary confinement torture of Russell Maroon Shoats by releasing him into the general population of the prison immediately.

It states: “During (Maroon’s 40 years in prison) he has earned a reputation amongst prison staff and prisoners as a leader because of his consistent support for human rights inside and outside the walls. Prison officials claim that Mr. Shoats is a security threat due to past escapes and attempts, though new evidence has surfaced that his continued solitary confinement is based on secret and fraudulent evidence of a non-existent plan to take over a prison in the 1980s. Prison officials also identified Maroon’s political associations as a basis for continuing to torture him via solitary confinement.”

Write to Russell Maroon Shoats, AF-3855, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg, PA 15370.