by Kiilu Nyasha
I’m delighted to report the rally for Yogi Bear was just wonderful. Headlined “49 Years of Injustice: Release Hugo Pinell,” decrying Yogi’s 49 years in prison, 43 years in solitary confinement and 23 years in the infamous Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit), the rally was held Sunday, June 9, 4 p.m., at Freedom Archives, 518 Valencia, San Francisco.
Big thanks to all the speakers and performers, plus all those who gave so generously of their time and dollars. A especially big thank you goes to that single spark, Big Ern (Ernest Shepherd), who got this whole campaign off the ground he hit running – after 45 years behind enemy lines.
It was a full house and a gathering of family and comrades, youth and elders that was off the charts – as were the performances of the Troublemakers’ Union musicians and their two young rappers/singers who subbed for Kaylah Marin, who couldn’t make it due to dental surgery.
Our sister Phavia Kujichagulia sat down and whaled on the drum before standing up and giving one of her most dynamic, politically astute spoken-word performances ever – with an audience-response chant: W.A.R.! warriors and revolutionaries (repeated). Our speakers were all right on, the film shorts had no technical difficulties and the show flowed almost flawlessly.
Another special big thank you goes to Manuel La Fontaine who helped organize and host it. Working with him was such a pleasure, so easy. Manuel is truly the “new man” (i.e., non-chauvinist). I got nothing less than full cooperation and respect from him.
One objective of the rally was to raise funds for Hugo’s legal defense. Attorney Keith Wattley of UnCommon Law, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in representing prisoners serving life sentences, is representing him at his Oct. 22 Parole Board hearing. I received a breakdown of the funds from Litika, Keith’s secretary, as follows: The rally raised $2,498; add to that $1,546 from other events – organized by Big Ern, et al, in Los Angeles – individuals and comrades.
Since Keith met his goal of $3,000 for the legal expenses leading up to the hearing, he has credited Hugo’s account with the balance. No doubt he’ll be needing those funds for future litigation.
Having learned from past mistakes – “A fall in the pit, a gain in the wit” (Chinese proverb) – we kept our expenses to about $100, thanks again to everyone’s generosity in donating time, space, printing, talent, equipment.
Thanks to Scott Braley for his incredible album of photos and the speedy turnover.
Below is devorah major’s incredibly moving poetic tribute to our Yogi Bear.
Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran and revolutionary journalist, hosts the TV talk show Freedom Is a Constant Struggle broadcast live on Thursdays at 5-5:52 p.m. on SF Commons, San Francisco Channel 76, and rebroadcast Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 29, and blogs at The Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha, where older episodes of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, along with her essays, are posted. More recent episodes can be found at www.archive.org. She can be reached at Kiilu2@sbcglobal.net.
Birthday Bop for Yogi
by devorah major
To look at you is to see the first peoples of the western globe –
Your eyes shaped into Garifuna, Black Carib and Arawak scarifications
Ancestors who fierce and true warred for freedom against the invaders.
Africa spills from your bone marrow smoothly painting your skin
Spain is molded in the slant of your cheekbones.
You are half the world housed behind bars, boxed far from sun and wind
Although they try to hide you, we find you and sing your praise song
none of us are free, if one of us is chained
When I look at you I see a life you never imagined
in your deepest nightmares’ most bitter moments.
A life you could not conceive and yet a life you live
back straight, head clear, arms and heart open.
You are more than the archetypes dressing you for decades:
Freedom fighter, long time warrior for the people
Political prisoner isolated for decades because you dare to see, to speak truth.
You are a man yet full of the wonder of an unshackled spirit
none of us are free, if one of us is chained
To look at you is to see the meanings of your name
A name you grew into through a coarse gravelly life
Hugo the strong willed one
Hugo of mind, heart and spirit kept true
Yogi as mystic finding freedom inside concrete walls
Yogi as laughing bear loved by many
And they’re cryin across the land,
And they will till we all come to understand.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, if one of us is chained.
Third Poet Laureate of San Francisco devorah major can be reached at email@example.com. The song lyrics for “None of Us Are Free” are by Solomon Burke.
How did Hugo Pinell become one of the longest held political prisoners?
Kiilu Nyasha writes in “Black August International (2003): A story of African freedom fighters”:
“On Aug. 21, 1971, in what was described by prison officials as an escape attempt, George Jackson allegedly smuggled a gun into San Quentin in a wig. That feat was proven impossible, and evidence subsequently suggested a setup designed by prison officials to eliminate Jackson once and for all as they had tried numerous times. However, they didn’t count on losing any of their own in the process. On that fateful day, three notoriously racist prison guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed. According to an eye witness, when Jackson was shot while running on the yard, he got up instantly and dived in the direction of some bushes. He was subsequently murdered while lying on the ground wounded.
“Six Black prisoners were put on trial – wearing 30 pounds of chains – in Marin County Courthouse charged with murder and assault. Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi), Luis Talamantez, Johnny Spain and Willie Sundiata Tate. Only one was convicted of murder, Johnny Spain. The others were either acquitted or convicted of assault. Pinell is the only one remaining in prison; all the others were released years ago. But Yogi has suffered prolonged torture in lockups since 1969 and is currently enduring his 13th [now 23rd] year in Pelican Bay’s SHU. He remains amazingly strong and revolutionary.”
In “Hugo Pinell: Is 42 years in isolation about to end?” Kiilu summarized Yogi’s situation last year:
“Hugo Pinell is in Pelican Bay SHU – no windows or natural light, very restricted possessions, no phone calls, 24/7 lockup unless permitted to exercise alone for an hour in an outdoor enclosure, no-contact visits of less than an hour only on weekends or holidays.
“Pelican Bay is isolated in the northwest corner of California, a very long trip by car. His mother, in her 80s with health problems, has continued to make that long trip to visit her son, now 67 years old. Can you even imagine not being able to hug your own son for over four decades?
“Yogi has been in solitary confinement for at least 42 years, first in San Quentin, Folsom and Corcoran and the last 22 in the Pelican Bay SHU. He was 19 when incarcerated in 1964; in prison 48 years altogether, he’s been in solitary confinement at least 42, despite 32 years of clean time – no write-ups.
“Yogi earned the enmity of the prison officials back in the 1960s when he was part of the ‘Black Movement’ behind California prison walls led by George L. Jackson, W.L. Nolen and many other conscious, standup brothers who made it safe for Blacks to walk the yards of California’s extremely racist gulags.
“On Aug. 21, 1971, in what has been deemed a setup, Soledad Brother George Jackson was murdered on the yard of San Quentin by prison guards. During this orchestrated attempted escape, however, three guards were also killed, along with two inmate ‘trustees.’
“This set the prison officials on fire, and they’ve been exacting revenge ever since on Hugo Pinell, the only defendant in the San Quentin Six case still in prison. The only defendant convicted of murder in the case, Johnny Spain, was released in 1988.
“Clearly Yogi is a political prisoner, although the U.S. rarely if ever admits to holding any political prisoners. Our revolutionary hero is still strong of mind and body, has maintained his health with a strictly vegetarian diet and a grueling exercise program. His character and personality are evident in the following missive to Terry Collins of KPOO Radio 89.5FM:
“My Brother Terry,
“Best of love and health to you and family. It’s good to hear from you, always, even through the hard times, because we can share and be solid company. Thank you for the kind words and for recognizing the great work of a few brothers in here, from so long ago, who were really serious about liberation and the transformation of self.
“For me, it begins with the new W.L. in San Quentin in March in 1967, because I remember the old W.L. in Soledad, in 1963-64, when he was consistently messing up, as were most of us youngsters. Therefore, when the new W.L. greeted me in San Quentin, and he was handing me some literature and telling me about the Black Consciousness studies, the Self Reliant Principles of living, the Black Liberation Movement and the building of the New Man, he became my principal example because I noticed the positive and significant changes in him. He used Malcolm as our primary example of self-transformation and he felt that all of us brothers could make that same transformation, and not talking about religion because that should be a conscientious personal choice.
“Yes, there was the objective of converting the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality, but that was only one phase of the self-transformation process, and that’s why Brother Malcolm played a big role in our mode of transformation. San Quentin was the best station in the CDC for Black prisoners to get socially and politically educated because we had some righteous brothers in the liberation movement paving the way for us to learn, grow and really transform.
“We had Muslim brothers receiving all kind of Black literature and consciousness material along with their religious material, and they would share it with all brothers interested in learning and changing. Also, by 1967, there were several Black organizations in the U.S. including the Panther Party in Oakland, founded in 1966, and some brothers were receiving revolutionary and world history material from some of these organizations and would share it.
“All of that literature was part of consciousness studies, our self-reliant principles of living and self-transformation process. Most of us were very young, doing short sentences (supposedly), had been through the gladiator stations, Tracy and Soledad, and the time and place was right for self-change. We had the teachers, examples, the literature, the means and the opportunities, so it was up to us, how seriously devoted we would be toward real self-change.
“This was a ‘wake up,’ ‘grow up,’ ‘self-transform,’ ‘liberate’ call and it was a voluntary thing, but to join the liberation movement we had to understand the meaning of liberate and, to embark on a commitment to freedom, we had to do away with old ways, old habits, f—d up mentality, the club, homeboy set mentality and attitude.
“It was in the self-transformation process, according to our teachers. The New Man (a lifetime building) represents constant growth. History teaches us how terribly we were damaged and left to try and figure out and fit in a social structure in which we would remain confined, controlled, limited and surviving in the revolving doors.
“Therefore, our best way to become free again but for good this time was and is the Malcolm self-evolvement way. Take as much control as possible of our minds, our senses, our energies, our emotional and spiritual powers and gradually create new selves.
“If we would have been self-transforming for the last 60, 50 years, there would not be millions of new slaves today and we would have the power to be making an impact and difference toward the building of the New World. Millions of us would be feeling so personally free, so new and strong and proud and rewarding of the constant evolvement work we put in over the years.
“This is what W.L. Nolen was emphasizing the most: self-transformation. We study, observe, we learn and use everything that’s positive, constructive, truly revolutionary and compassionate to begin transforming, building anew while constantly doing away with the old, like Malcolm kept growing. The wonderful thing is that we were in control of these constant self-changes and there is no time limit, but we have to keep at it even if sometimes we stagnate. Our new ways of living become our freedom road and goal. If we grow tired, upset, afraid, stagnant, we stay on that road and then keep on pushing and growing.
“I’m telling you how W.L. and the other great brothers were seeing things and realizing what we had to do to get out of prisons and become human builders and difference makers in the world. In the ‘50s, there weren’t many brothers in the CDC and they were getting victimized. Then, in the ‘60s, too many brothers were being sent to the CDC and the teachers felt we had to change, get out, become constructive and productive in society, while constantly transforming, and we wouldn’t have to occupy the cells in the CDC.
“Unfortunately, my brother, more prisons were built, more brothers sent to these prisons and hardly any new selves built? Something happened along the way. All I know is that our teachers kept saying: ‘No matter what, wherever we are, if we’re alive and able, we gotta keep pushing and growing. It’s the only personal way to continue our growth and become free.’
“Malcolm and Martin kept on pushing and evolving, in spite of the dangers and everything. You and Yuri and Kiilu, on the streets, have continued to push and grow. Even if you have stagnated, or get to feeling old, you keep on pushing and are serving the public, and being my good brother and friend. Thank you.
“There is so much I can share with you, but I wanted to give you a little passage of what was going on in San Quentin when I was transferred there from Soledad in March of 1967 and the great impact all that activity and new changes had on me, especially meeting some dynamic brothers and teachers, and my best example in W.L.
“I went through some bumps and stagnation before I started putting it all together and pushing on, but my foundation for change and struggle for freedom began in San Quentin in 1967.
To learn more about Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell, go to www.hugopinell.org. And send our brother some love and light: Hugo Pinell, A-88401, D3-221, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95531.