Former political prisoner Eddie Conway hosts this special episode of Rattling the Bars highlighting political prisoners that are still imprisoned after several decades.
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway, host of Rattling the Bars. As many well-known political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal continue to suffer in prison…
MUMIA ABU JAMAL: In an area where there is corporate downsizing and there are no jobs and there is only a service economy and education is being cut, which is the only rung by which people can climb, the only growth industry in this part of Pennsylvania, in the Eastern United States, in the Southern United States, in the Western United States is “corrections,” for want of a better word. The corrections industry is booming. I mean, this joint here ain’t five years old.
EDDIE CONWAY: …The media brings their stories to the masses. But there are many lesser-known activists that have dropped out of the spotlight, grown old in prison, or just been forgotten. For Rattling the Bars, we are spotlighting a few of their stories. There was a thriving Black Panther party in Omaha, Nebraska, headed by David Rice and Ed Poindexter. By 1968, the FBI had began plans to eliminate the Omaha Black Panthers by making an example of Rice and Poindexter. It would take a couple of years, but the FBI would frame them for murder.
KIETRYN ZYCHAL: In the 90s, Ed and Mondo both applied to the parole board. There are two different things you do in Nebraska, the parole board would grant you parole, but because they have life sentences, they were told that they have to apply to the pardons board, which is the governor, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, and ask that their life sentences be commuted to a specific number of years before they would be eligible for parole.
And so there was a movement in the 90s to try to get them out on parole. The parole board would recommend them for parole because they were exemplary prisoners, and then the pardons board would not give them a hearing. They wouldn’t even meet to determine whether they would commute their sentence.
EDDIE CONWAY: They served 45 years before Rice died in the Nebraska State Penitentiary. After several appeals, earning a master’s degree, writing several books and helping other inmates, Poindexter is still serving time at the age of 75.
KEITRYN ZYCHAL: Ed Poindexter has been in jail or prison since August of 1970. He was accused of making a suitcase bomb and giving it to a 16-year-old boy named Duane Peak, and Duane Peak was supposed to take the bomb to a vacant house and call 911, and report that a woman was dragged screaming into a vacant house, and when police officers showed up, one of those police officers was killed when the suitcase bomb exploded.
Ed and his late co-defendant, Mondo we Langa, who was David Rice at the time of the trial, they have always insisted that they had absolutely nothing to do with this murderous plot, and they tried to get back into court for 50 years, and they have never been able to get back into court to prove their innocence. Mondo died in March of 2016 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Ed is going to turn 75 this year, I think. And he has spent the majority of his life in prison. It will be 50 years in 2020 that he will be in prison.
EDDIE CONWAY: There are at least 20 Black Panthers still in prison across the United States. One is one of the most revered is H. Rap Brown, known by his Islamic name, Jamil Al-Amin.
KAIRI AL-AMIN: My father has been a target for many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many years of the federal government, and I think him being housed these last 10 years in federal penitentiaries without federal charges show that the vendetta is still strong. The federal government has not forgotten who he was as H. Rap Brown, or who he is as Imam Jamil Al-Amin.
JAMIL AL-AMIN: See, it’s no in between. You are either free or you’re a slave. There’s no such thing as second-class citizenship.
EDDIE CONWAY: Most people don’t realize he’s still in prison. He’s serving a life sentence at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson.
KAIRI AL-AMIN: Our campaign is twofold. One, how can egregious constitutional rights violations not warrant a new trial, especially when they were done by the prosecution. And two, my father is innocent. The facts point to him being innocent, which is why we’re pushing for a new trial. We know that they can’t win this trial twice. The reason they won the first time was because of the gag order that was placed on my father which didn’t allow us to fight in the court of public opinion as well as the court of law. And so when you don’t have anyone watching, anything can be done without any repercussion.
EDDIE CONWAY: Another well-known political prisoner that has been forgotten in the media and in the public arena is Leonard Peltier. Leonard Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement and has been in prison for over 40 years and is now 75 years old.
SPEAKER: Leonard Peltier represents, in a very real sense, the effort, the struggle by indigenous peoples within the United States to exercise their rights as sovereign nations, recognized as such in treaties with the United States. For the government of the United States, which has colonized all indigenous peoples to claim boundaries, keeping Leonard in prison demonstrates the costs and consequences of asserting those rights.
EDDIE CONWAY: Leonard Peltier suffers from a host of medical issues including suffering from a stroke. And if he is not released, he will die in prison.
LEONARD PELTIER: I’ll be an old man when I get out, if I get out.
PAULETTE D’AUTEUIL: His wellbeing is that he rarely gets a family visit. His children live in California and North Dakota. Both places are a good 2000 miles from where he’s at in Florida, so it makes it time consuming as well as expensive to come and see him. He is, health-wise, we are still working on trying to get some help for his prostate, and there has been some development of some spots on his lungs, which we are trying to get resolved. There’s an incredible mold issue in the prison, especially because in Florida it’s so humid and it builds up. So we’re also dealing with that.
EDDIE CONWAY: These are just a few of the almost 20 political prisoners that has remained in American prisons for 30 and 40 years, some even longer. Mutulu Shakur has been in jail for long, long decades. Assata Shakur has been hiding and forced into exile in Cuba. Sundiata has been in prison for decades; Veronza Bower, The Move Nine. And there’s just a number of political prisoners that’s done 30 or 40 years.
They need to be released and they need to have an opportunity to be back with their family, their children, their grandchildren, whoever is still alive. Any other prisoners in the United States that have the same sort of charges as those people that are being held has been released up to 15 or 20 years ago. That same justice system should work for the political prisoners also.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of Rattling the Bars. I’m Eddie Conway.
Studio: Cameron Granadino
Production: Cameron Granadino, Ericka Blount Danois