Today, few know how bad it was for Black and Brown people back in George and Yogi’s day

by Pablo Piña

I was sitting in my cell in administrative segregation when the news station here in Corcoran announced that Hugo Pinell had been killed at Folsom Prison and that a riot had followed the attack on him. Both were not surprising to me; there were many prisoners who did not like Hugo for what he stood for, but at the same time there are and will always be brothers who will stand up against any injustice.

Two legends, Khatari Gaulden and Hugo Pinell, sit in the sunshine on the San Quentin yard in 1976. – Courtesy Kiilu Nyasha
Two legends, Khatari Gaulden and Hugo Pinell, sit in the sunshine on the San Quentin yard in 1976. – Courtesy Kiilu Nyasha

But the thing that stood out the most is not who done it, or even why, but what happened with the end to hostilities that everyone was talking about. What they showed is that you cannot trust what folks say. It hasn’t changed.

The end to hostilities should have prevented that attack on Hugo. Then again, the media has been displaying much about Yogi throughout all the struggles to end solitary confinement. I have been in the system over 30 years and was in the system when Yogi and George Jackson and the rest were all in the Adjustment Center, and the guards and George were killed in 1971.

An entire generation has come and gone since then. Very few in the system today even know who they are. Nor do they know how bad conditions were back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, especially for Black and Brown people both in the system and out in the streets.

Only the old soldiers can see that far back. Assassination was a normal way of life in California. This is what brought about the inspiration and need for the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets and many other revolutionary parties that felt the need to organize. The police were murdering us regularly out there.

Inside the prison walls it was no different. Race riots were common and the Black people were constantly the ones being gunned down.

I met brothers who were so badly shot up and maimed and crippled from guards’ gunfire that it still affects me. I’m not going to give a history lesson. That’s not what I intended to do when I started writing this article. But I wanted to say a few things that I feel were not said.

Prison was very different when Yogi first came to prison. Yogi was involved fully when he began his prison term. He didn’t have to because he was Latino, but he knew oppression, lived it and, like most freedom fighters, he saw a cause that needed him, that he could help others like himself.

There’s been a lot of rumors floating around that the move on Yogi was because of the rape conviction that sent him to prison in the first place way back in 1967 or about then. I think that’s bullshit.

Yogi was involved fully when he began his prison term. He didn’t have to because he was Latino, but he knew oppression, lived it and, like most freedom fighters, he saw a cause that needed him, that he could help others like himself.

When Yogi was sent to prison it was worse than it is today. You think being railroaded just happens now. If a guy just bumped into a girl and she cried assault they’d charge the guy with everything they could think of to get you to plead guilty to something if they’d drop the rest.

I seen guys charged with rape because a prostitute was caught with him in a backseat of a car and she yelled rape when the cops walked up. I’m not defending Hugo’s conviction. What I am saying is look at the man. See a predator is always going to be a predator; they are sick and that’s all they think about and do.

Yogi gave himself to the revolutionary calling. He was going to do all he could for revolutionary change even if it meant spending his life in prison. He was not a deviant. He put in more working hours and sweat in the system than many today would never be able to do in their lifetime. The boy was a soldier and you got to respect that.

When I heard on the news what happened, the first thing I thought of was who would kill an old man. I know I couldn’t do it. I may give him a beating if he had it coming, but there’s a big if.

Hell, there’s no honor in killing an old guy. But people today, they have no scruples, very little respect for anyone. Which is why we have so much bullshit going on in the prisons and on the streets today. Yogi spent a lifetime in segregation, over 40 years and most of that as him just sitting in prison, disciplinary free.

Yogi gave himself to the revolutionary calling.

I spent over 30 years in prison security housing units (SHU), where I met Yogi and many other brothers who were just as dedicated to the revolutionary cause. And like Yogi, they’d been sitting in SHU for decades, buried in tombs while the world around us changed.

These youngsters out on general population run around jumping on folks, acting like they are doing something. They scratch up a guy and they think they did something. In my younger days, we considered that a P.C. move.

Yeah, they killed old boy Yogi. Two guys on an old man. I’d be ashamed of myself when I was young. I’d knock fools out; I never had to have help.

Whatever their reasons, that should have been handled in a more sensible way and because it wasn’t, it should remind all you brothers, “Don’t be misled, and don’t be fooled. Be alert at all times.”

Look for a purpose in life. If you’re going to spend a lifetime in prison, let it be for a worthy cause.

I believe Yogi lived up to all he expected. He knew what it might bring and still hung in there. Rest in peace, bruh.

Send our brother some love and light: Pablo Piña, D-28079, SATF Ad Seg E1-238, P.O. Box 5246, Corcoran CA 93212.