by Abolitionist Law Center
Feb. 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, U.N. Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, the five 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 and 1991, Maroon was held in the general prison population at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.
“There is no doubt; this is a PEOPLE’S VICTORY!” declares Scientific Soul Sessions. “(At the beginning of the Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz) three years ago, Maroon’s name was hardly known beyond a small circle of dedicated prisoner rights activists. Over the past years – on the political, artistic and cultural fronts – we have seen the founding of the Campaign, the funding and initial coordination of Maroon’s legal team, the publication of Maroon’s collected essays, and the organization of countless events and soul sessions across the U.S.
“These achievements are only the beginning. By answering the calls to action, we created a tidal wave of momentum that must be maintained until it is unstoppable. The power of the people proved to be a far greater force than the system, which would have been happy to see Maroon die without ever again feeling the embrace of his loved ones.
“In a matter of weeks, Maroon went from a feces infested dungeon inside the criminally insane Restricted Housing Unit at SCI Graterford with nothing – not even a blanket – to general population because of the people’s vigilance, voice and committed support to fight this injustice and stop the torture of Russell Maroon Shoatz.”
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.
“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.”
On Monday, Jan. 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 a 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].”
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.”
“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 the Abolitionist Law Center via Bret Grote at firstname.lastname@example.org or ALC, P.O. Box 8654, Pittsburgh PA 15221.
Democracy Now! Time for Compassion? Aging Political Prisoners Suffer From Illness, Long Solitary Confinement, broadcast Dec. 23, 2013
Democracy Now! Russell Shoatz III speaks about Russell Maroon Shoatz, his father and U.S. held political prisoner, broadcast Sept. 30, 2013
Democracy Now! Russell Maroon Shoatz speaks, broadcast May 22, 2011