Rattling the Bars: Black Panther Freed from Solitary (2/2)
Eddie Conway continues his discussion with the daughter of former Black Panther Russell Maroon Shoatz, who just won a legal victory against the Pennsylvania Department of Correction, ending his 22 years in solitary confinement
EDDIE CONWAY: Thanks for joining me again. I’m talking to Theresa Shoatz about her father’s recent victory in the country system against the Pennsylvania Department of Correction in reference to solitary confinement and this is the second part of this segment. So Theresa, explain what happened in the court and where we are today with that.
THERESA SHOATZ: Well with the settlement, daddy–we knew it would be a tough fight. When daddy wrote the book, Maroon the Implacable, I did a book tour and I met an attorney who said, we don’t do that in America. We don’t keep people in solitary confinement. And I told him it does happen. Let me speak with you later. We spoke and eventually [Hal Ingle] who was a retired lawyer with a [Reed & Smith], he joined the legal team with the Abolitionist Law Center with Bret Gote and they began working together and this is how we came to this victory. Now in this victory, there is a monetary component there but Maroon has been in jail for so long, he doesn’t care about money. So the money is—when you talked earlier about we can further the legal case in reference to getting him out of prison, to where he’s free. Maroon has already given the money out.
One of the key factors and what we agree, none of the children—Maroon has 7 children by 2 different women. He’s still married to my mother Thelma Shoatz. The mothers are going to get a quarter each of it and Maroon wants to set up a nonprofit organization. Something like the Rosenberg Fund for Children where Maroon will help assist family members with children who need transportation to prisons. The lawyers are handling all of that, so the money is really not even there.
Maroon hasn’t—the same way Maroon fought for his community and fought for prisoners in solitary confinement, when you landed on Maroon’s block although there was no personally contact, Maroon would yell and he would scream to new prisoners coming onto the unite he was on. And he would try to tell them keep the wheel spinning. You know, I’m going to get you a book. I have my daughters mail you a book. A lot of those guys didn’t make it. Maroon’s seen over 12 plus youth in their 20’s kill themselves in solitary confinement at CI Green Prison.
Daddy said they would come in strolling and he said within 6 months he would see them walking like zombies. They had them medicated. Some of them he couldn’t reach. But for the most part the ones that he did reach you could not come on his unite without taking his history class. He had a history class. You had to learn geography and he would do this by ripping his sheet in strips and he would attach this study list to a paper where he would poke a hole in it and he would fish it which the prisoners call fishing it. He would attach an ink pen to weigh it down and he would fish it over to the next door then that person would fish it to the next person. Then they all would work answering the next question then they’d fish them all back to daddy. A lot of those guys are out of solitary confinement. And they credit their lives and their change their turnaround to Maroon.
Most of them had made a complete turnaround. They’re in population and they’re educating other prisoners.
CONWAY: Okay and so now what do you expect to happen. Okay I understand the settlement was for like 99 thousand dollars or something like that and you had just kind of said that he had already dispersed with it. But what do you expect to happen in the future in reference to his case?
SHOATZ: Well he didn’t get 99 thousand let me make that clear.
CONWAY: I mean it’s being reported as 99 thousand. What happened? What really happened?
SHOATZ: Honestly what really happened is Maroon didn’t get 99 thousand. Maroon never—Maroon, in the last discussion, in the mediation thing they didn’t want to mediate so the judge said you have to come to some agreement. But the messages. Maroon wasn’t in front of the judge. The judge was in a separate room. The defense was in one room and the prosecutor was in another room. And the plaintiff. They went back and forth for little pieces of paper believe it or not. With each other comments and what they would do and what they wouldn’t do. And finally, what we really wanted as I said earlier Maroon wanted to get on the stand and testify.
But what it came down to was number 1 we wanted Maroon to be evaluated, to see a psychiatrist. We wanted Maroon to never ever be placed in solitary confinement because although solitary confinement is the buzzword now, some prisons are finding ways to recreate it. They’re empting out cells, solitary cells, but they’re coming up with gang or rules for people..
CONWAY: Special security unites. Special housing units, yes.
SHOATZ: Right and so we never wanted him ever, ever again to be placed in solitary confinement. Since he was so isolated all those years, he didn’t want to be forced to be housed with another prisoner. Which was very fair because I’m getting so many letters from prisoners who’ve been released from solitary confinement but they don’t know how to live with another prisoner. And with his settlement there was a monetary settlement and he got those 3 things and his attorneys were paid.
Now you know when we first began this case, I had to introduce Fred Ho a musician out in New York who directed Scientific Soul Session. Fred donated a huge lump sum of money to daddy’s legal team before dying of cancer. So that helped get the ball rolling. The money was there to bring on experts. Then when [Reed & Smith] came on board and they had 2 of their employees, pro-bono, help the Abolitionist Law Center out we couldn’t lose. It was an automatic win.
CONWAY: But what do you see as going forward for his future?
SHOATZ: Well Maroon has set a precedent. Wow. I get so emotional with this because there’s a prisoner [Cheddar way] who spent more time in solitary confinement here in Pennsylvania than Maroon has. There’s Joseph Bowen, “Joe-Joe” Bowen, who’s still in solitary confinement and they don’t want to release him. The door is open now. These people now [Cheddar Way] is filling a suit against the Department of Corrections here in Pennsylvania. Eventually if they don’t release Joseph Bowen from Pennsylvania Solitary Confinement Unit at CI [Co-Township] he will file a suit and sue as well. So you know once—and see it’s not about the money. It’s about making these people acknowledge what they have done. I’m still really—yes I’m emotional, I’m happy with the win but it’s almost as if you have black men being gunned down in America and there’s no apologies there’s no apologies out there. There’s no excuse for what’s going on out there in America and eventually some lawyers will approach those family members, those victims, and say let’s sue the local police department. And they’ll get some kind of settlement and you’re on your way out of here. Then the next person could be murdered the same day.
So it’s the same thing going on with my father. Yes, he’s opened the door for other victims here in Pennsylvania that are still in solitary confinement. But we would rather had also made some other impact. This is a big impact. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a win. It’s a win. I don’t care how small, how big. But the real issue of the injustice inside the country’s prison system, the judiciary system, and everything else that goes along with this rotten system has not been addressed.
CONWAY: Okay tell me this. I mean obviously he’s around my age. We’re all kind of contemporaries. How is his health and how do you see going forward in terms of getting him out of there completely? Not just in general population but out of the prison system. How? Is something being done—organized around that because that’s ultimately the goal that you’ve been fighting for 40 years for.
SHOATZ: So we didn’t see this. I didn’t even see this 10 years ago that we would get a settlement like this. I didn’t see it. My whole job the last 10 years was to maintain his heath and boy I did it. I was up in the faces of the Department of Medical here in Pennsylvania. Our governors, our state representative because I figured one day we’re going to free Maroon. But I have to maintain his health.
So there was a number of health issues. Even when Maroon finally was released from solitary confinement within months he was urinating blood and he came down with prostate cancer. Almost right after the release into population and he survived that. The only thing is he’s having some side effects. We didn’t put this out a month and a half ago but Maroon has collapsed twice. He hit his head. He’s having these dizzy spells and we think it’s because of the medication that’s balancing his hormones to prevent the prostate cancer from returning.
Maroon didn’t tell us that he’s been collapsing like this. Prisoners called us on the last—when he collapsed was some weeks ago and there was a young prisoner walking behind him and he seen Maroon losing his footing. And he grabbed Maroon and Maroon tried to shake him off because Maroon, he just doesn’t know who he’s really surrounded by. But the young brother was trying to help him but he collapsed anyway. We did not hear from the medical department there for 5 days. Had not the prisoner told us we wouldn’t have known.
So we jumped all down their throats. Within–Maroon stayed in the hospital. They checked his heart and everything. They’re saying he’s okay. It may be the side effect of the medicine. So that’s the stuff we have to look out for.
One of the doctors told me—I said you know you have my family, my siblings and I in the palm of your hands. You’re squeezing the life out of us by not telling us what’s going on. He said if you do me a favor I’ll do you a favor. He said Maroon is right here right now. I said okay give him the phone. Tell him that I’m on the phone. He said no. I said okay walk over to him and put the phone to his ear. He said no I’m not doing any of that. You need to tell your people to back off. I said you thought that was something? I said that was just my siblings and I because we did round the clock calls. My sister would do at 12 noon. My brother would kick in at 3 and I kick in at 4pm. So Maroon is feeling better but he’s had cataracts, he’s had heart issues, and we’re following the lead of [RAP] in New York.
CONWAY: Okay what is that, Aging Prisoners? What’s that stand for?
SHOATZ: I don’t want to give you the incorrect name but.
CONWAY: It’s for aging prisoners that’s being kept across the country way beyond their parole and probation time.
SHOATZ: Right and every state has a number of elderly prisoners which it’s a waste of tax payer dollars. These people most likely, they don’t return to prison. What more can you get out of sentence? Maroon has been in jail for more than 40 years and he’s in his 70’s. What more can you get out of that?
So that RAP is in New York and they’re coming close to freeing their elderly prisoner. So here in Philadelphia is CADBI and what they are doing is they’re doing the same kind of work. They’re looking to end the life sentence. Not so much just focus on elderly but there is a group inside of CADBI focusing on the elderly. But bigger than that, they’re fighting to eliminate the life sentence here in Pennsylvania.
CONWAY: Well okay, tell me this then because we’re going to have to wrap this up. What is it that you would like the public to do if anything in relation to helping Russell Maroon Shoatz?
SHOATZ: Well, first of all I want to thank all of our supporters because although my family, my sister, and my brother Russell was very dedicated to freeing my dad, we couldn’t have done it without the support of the community. People on the outside, people in the movement, financially, the New York Political Prisoner Dinners every year had financially held my dad over.
What we want people to do is stay focused, stay committed. Don’t give up. This thing is big and they’re going to keep going with this injustice, this prisoner system because it’s big. But this bubble isn’t that big that we can’t burst it. We’re going to put out more information in reference to what our follow through plan is. Every month there is a Maroon newsletter that goes out and the website is RussellMaroonShoatz.Wordpress.com or RussellMaroonShoatz.com and you’re receive the monthly newsletter. There’s also Russell Maroon Shoatz Facebook where you can hear the updates and where we’re going with this.
Where we’re going with this is really to release him with the age that he has. We have to really look out for it because when I look at black lives matters, those folks who wind up political prisoners who are out there in the streets marching and supporting victims of police brutality, daddy says the same thing that’s going on now. We were kind of skeptical, well I was, about releasing the win—the settlement because what’s going on now in the country with the 5 police officers being killed and daddy said no, no, no. This is the right time to release my settlement because it shows this shit is still going on 40 something years later. People are still being gunned down by the cops. Yes, release it. And this is why we released it. It is a crucial time. It’s so crucial that Maroon is really inside. He’s in an uproar about it because it’s like our people can never, never catch a break. Everything we get, we have to fight for or someone has to die for and that shouldn’t be.
CONWAY: Okay so we’re going to probably revisit this again and I will be back in contact with you so we can have an update on where the campaign and strategy for his release is going to go.
SHOATZ: Thank you Eddie and I’m so glad that you’re home.
CONWAY: I thank you for joining me.
SHOATZ: And I thank you as well.
CONWAY: Okay and thank you for joining in this special edition of Rattling the Bars.
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