Hugo Pinell’s daughter Allegra invites you to join in honoring her father on April 23

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by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

On Aug. 12, 2015, within the walls of New Folsom Prison, freedom fighter and political prisoner Hugo “Yogi” Pinell of the San Quentin 6 was assassinated on the prison yard by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, with the assistance of the guards.

Seven months later, the community who loves him is coming together to remember his life and contribution to the Black struggle for self-determination and human rights. We will be celebrating his life on Saturday, April 23, 1-5 p.m., at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St. in San Francisco. Any and everybody from the community is invited.

We took this opportunity to do a Q&A with Yogi’s daughter, Allegra, about their relationship and the character and beliefs of her father.

M.O.I. JR: For the people who know nothing about Hugo Pinell, can you tell the people a little bit about who your father was?

Allegra: Well, my father was an awesome man in my eyes, but as far as what they say about him, my dad was a political prisoner, for 51 years, in the California Department of Corrections, and for 46 of those 51 years he was held in solitary confinement. He was actually on solitary confinement for 45 years, 10 months, but I just give him those last two months, so that’s why I say 46 years.

My father was a believer in unity, he fought for the rights of prisoners, he fought for unity and solidarity against racial bias or racial separation, and he was an awesome guy.

M.O.I. JR: Instead of just the politics of your father, what can you tell us about him as a father?

Allegra: Well, he was a very, very loving man – a man who had a lot of heart about everything. He taught me so much about just accepting where we are in life and what we’re doing in life and how to make the best of where we are and what we have.

We cherished every weekend that we shared together. We looked forward to it every weekend. My dad was extremely funny. He could sing. He was serious about health and weight and he was a jokester. He would make you laugh.

He made me laugh a lot. Whenever I am asked to talk about my dad, I get a big smile on my face because I think about all of the wonderful times I had with him. He was just – to receive that much love through a glass window is just unbelievable.

My father was a believer in unity, he fought for the rights of prisoners, he fought for unity and solidarity against racial bias or racial separation, and he was an awesome guy.

M.O.I. JR: What was important about your father’s politics? Why was he so much into politics as he related to you?

Allegra: Because of what he lived, he experienced and what he witnessed. He wasn’t just involved in this movement because he just wanted to be involved in something or he wanted to take up a cause. He took up a cause and he took up something because of the way it affected his life as a prisoner.

This is “the hug” that rewarded Hugo Pinell after 46 years of being barred from touching a friendly human being. Allegra, who had the pictures taken Aug. 2, says her father asked that if these photos were published, “the hug” should come first. In his last letter to her, written two days before he died, he wrote: “I felt uncomfortable posing for our first photo. I was nervous; somehow I mustered up a smile. Then you got almost behind me, put your arms around me and I felt wonderful.”
This is “the hug” that rewarded Hugo Pinell after 46 years of being barred from touching a friendly human being. Allegra, who had the pictures taken Aug. 2, says her father asked that if these photos were published, “the hug” should come first. In his last letter to her, written two days before he died, he wrote: “I felt uncomfortable posing for our first photo. I was nervous; somehow I mustered up a smile. Then you got almost behind me, put your arms around me and I felt wonderful.”

He was a prisoner who went through a lot of turmoil and he witnessed others go through a lot of turmoil there in prison, and if you’re a person who believes in justice and what’s right, you can’t just sit back and not say anything, and I think that my dad was that kind of a person.

You see something going wrong, you’re going to speak up about it. And that’s just who he was, unapologetically.

M.O.I. JR: One of the defining cases of your father’s political career was the San Quentin 6 case, which basically started on the day that George Jackson was assassinated, Aug. 21, 1971. Six people were accused of killing two guards and a number of prisoners in San Quentin.

Of those six people, five were released, and your father, who wasn’t even convicted of murder, was the only one of the six to stay locked up. Can you speak on how did he feel about that, how do you feel about that, and can you speak a little bit about that case?

Allegra: Well, I don’t know a lot about that case, because I was a little girl at the time. I just know what I’ve read and what my dad shared with me, and I think that it was just like they all said it was. It was something that went bad.

I don’t believe that it was the prisoners who were the ones that initiated that San Quentin 6 incident. I believe that it was initiated by the guards, as indicated in an investigative report, and I think that my dad was kept in prison for so long because of a broken system.

I think back to the interview, where Art Cribbs interviewed my dad and had a talk with him about his time there in prison, and then he wanted to speak with the warden. At the time this was Sacra – this was Folsom Prison too, back in those days, and the warden wouldn’t speak to him.

But a Sacramento official, whom he did not name, was quoted saying, “Hugo Pinell will either be an old man when he gets out of prison, if he doesn’t die there.” So I think that all encompasses why my dad was kept in prison and died in prison.

I don’t believe that it was the prisoners who were the ones that initiated that San Quentin 6 incident. I believe that it was initiated by the guards, as indicated in an investigative report, and I think that my dad was kept in prison for so long because of a broken system.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about what happened, as far as your understanding, on Aug. 12, 2015?

Allegra: Well, my understanding is that my dad was assassinated. That’s my understanding, that he was killed.

M.O.I. JR: And there were two members of a white supremacist organization that were also involved. Is that right?

Allegra: Per the media reports from the CDC (California Department of Corrections), they have two suspects in custody. There was a third who was possibly involved – he’s not coherent or he’s brain dead or something, I’m not sure – but I know that there are two that they’re going to prosecute for the murder of my dad.

I don’t recall what the paper said about what charges they were going to bring against them or anything; I don’t know that. I know that there are two men who are affiliated with the A.B. (Aryan Brotherhood) who are going to be tried for my dad’s murder.

M.O.I. JR: Do you know when this may go to court?

Allegra: Actually, the arraignment is public knowledge. The arraignment is March 11, 2016, so next week they are going to be arraigned and I’m assuming that a court date will be set then for trial.

M.O.I. JR: After the assassination of your father, I can speak personally from being a member of the staff of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, there was an outpouring from the California prison system and prisoners across the country, mourning the assassination of your father. Why was your father so important to the prisoners in the United States in particular and what is it that many of them relayed to you after his assassination?

Allegra: So the outpouring of letters that’s come in from the prisoners all in my heart can be summed up in one word, and that is love. So, my dad, although he was a prison activist and he fought for the rights of prisoners, he did it in the spirit of love and he really cared and believed about what he was standing for and fighting for all those years.

He just felt like prisoners should be treated like human beings. You know that out of the mouth of two or three, so let it be established. You’ve got prisoners writing into the San Francisco Bay View newspaper and they’re all saying the same thing in regards to the characteristics of my dad.

So I think that his time in prison is well known, especially if you’re an inmate. They all know about him, and his time there and the fact that he’s the longest held prisoner in solitary confinement. Spending 46 years in solitary confinement, it’s unheard of – the fact that he didn’t lose his mind, and he was still a kind person and he was just a good person.

The outpouring of letters that’s come in from the prisoners all in my heart can be summed up in one word, and that is love.

You know, people gravitate to that, to that characteristic in a person, especially when there’s injustice. And so I think that the response from the prisoners is because they know and they understand. It’s just like my dad choosing to become an activist. They all live the same life in prison, so it’s not like they don’t understand or know about my dad and how he lived, how he was treated in prison and how he, you know, suffered for many years.

And was not let out of solitary confinement and when they finally did let him out, he was assassinated. So, yeah, there’s an outpour, and I actually look at that outpouring of letters from the prisoners as an extension of my dad’s love and it has only validated the love that he gave me.

Most of the organizers of the big memorial for Yogi on April 23 also came to a smaller party Allegra hosted to celebrate Yogi’s birthday in March. On the left and right are Sundiata Tate and Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6, and between them are Yogi’s younger brother, Bobby Cayetano, and his son El Ray, who is proudly wearing one of the T-shirts that Allegra designed. – Photo: JR Valrey, Block Report
Most of the organizers of the big memorial for Yogi on April 23 also came to a smaller party Allegra hosted to celebrate Yogi’s birthday in March. On the left and right are Sundiata Tate and Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6, and between them are Yogi’s younger brother, Bobby Cayetano, and his son El Ray, who is proudly wearing one of the T-shirts that Allegra designed. – Photo: JR Valrey, Block Report

I’m just so grateful that the prisoners were bold enough to send that letter (about what really happened on Aug. 12) and I pray for them every Friday along with a group of other members (of our prayer circle) that’s praying for the prisoners. And my heart goes out to them because I can understand their discouragement or hurt, heart-hurt, heart-break, as a result of him being murdered.

M.O.I. JR: Last but not least, how do you want your father to be remembered? How do you feel that your father himself would have wanted to be remembered and what is important to pass on to the next generation about Hugo “Yogi” Lyon Pinell?

Allegra: I think that my dad was not the kind of person who wanted a lot of attention brought to himself; and if he were, he would have written books. If he were, he would have allowed people to write books about him, so he didn’t really want a lot of attention brought to himself.

And I remember saying to my dad, how come nobody knows, how come I didn’t know about you? I mean this wasn’t something that was like out there. And he said that it didn’t need to be, and I told my dad that his story did need to be told. I said it needed to be told because of the amount of time that they kept him in solitary confinement and how many times he was denied parole and not given another chance.

But if I were to think how he would want to be remembered, he would want to be remembered as somebody who cared deeply about people and particularly the prison class, because that’s what he knew. I think if he wanted the next generation to know something, it would be to not let your worst mistake be the sum total of who you are.

I think that he would say, listen to your parents. I think that he would tell young people to be proud of who they are and, you know, stand up for what they believe in – but don’t go to prison.

I think that’s what he would want. I think that he would really want young people, especially young people of color, not to wind up in the system because it’s a bad place and it’s just … it’s bad. But most of all, you can do a lot of bad things and you might be looked at as bad by people, but that doesn’t have to be the sum total of who you are.

You can become a new person by renewing your mind and, when you renew your mind, you can change who you are and the characteristics of what you used to be. And if I were to say anything to young people, I would say, listen to your parents. I would say that your parents and those elders who are speaking life into you are not just saying words that are meaningless. Those are words that are spoken out of life experience.

He would want to be remembered as somebody who cared deeply about people and particularly the prison class, because that’s what he knew. I think if he wanted the next generation to know something, it would be to not let your worst mistake be the sum total of who you are.

So, I’ve been listening to my dad speak to my son and telling my son about making wise decisions and picking the right crowds, always respecting and honoring your parents and the elders and listening to them. Yeah, people say that when they get old, but you know it’s only when we become older that we understand the mistakes that we made.

And my dad understood the mistakes that he made. And he owned up to the mistakes that he made in life. And if there was one thing that my dad wanted, more than anything in the world, it was to come back home and to honor his mom and his step-dad who stuck by his side for 51 years. That’s what he wanted; he wanted to come home and try to prove that he was grateful, because a lot of times when you’re in prison it doesn’t come across that way in a visit. So, now you got me crying.

M.O.I. JR: I appreciate it and again, our condolences. If there’s anything that you want people to do, what is it?

Allegra: Stand in unity, in solidarity, with those who are still suffering in solitary confinement. It was my dad’s wish that solitary confinement be shut down.

So if there was one thing that I could ask, that I would ask people to do is stand up on the outside for those who are in the inside. If we continue to stand up for our family members inside, and if we as a people come together on the outside, we can hopefully make some changes to a system that’s just ruined so many lives, so many lives.

So, we don’t have to be afraid or intimidated for standing up for a just cause. And it’s a just cause to stand up for shutting down the SHU.

Stand in unity, in solidarity, with those who are still suffering in solitary confinement. It was my dad’s wish that solitary confinement be shut down.

M.O.I. JR: Thank you, Allegra, for sharing your memories and your thoughts about your father.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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