Rattling the Bars: Herman Bell
In this episode of Rattling the Bars, Eddie Conway looks at the motivations behind the brutal assault on Herman Bell, a 69-year old political prisoner incarcerated since 1973
HERMAN BELL: Hi. This is a message from Herman Bell. Here’s something direct from me. So where to begin, what to say? As I want you to connect with me, I want you to feel my hand in yours. I want you to see and experience my journey.
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to this episode of Rattling The Bars. I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore, Maryland. Recently, a political prisoner in the state of New York named Herman Bell, who was a member of the Black Liberation Army and a former member of the Black Panther Party was assaulted and attacked in a New York state prison. We want to look at circumstances of that attack and what it actually means for this particular political prisoner who’s been in prison for several decades now.
Is the investigation, internal investigation by the administration on this?
ROBERT BOYLE: From what I understand, but they would know more about what’s going on internally. It’s important to note that there’s still these very serious disciplinary charges against Herman. I would want to add that not only does he have a clean disciplinary record, the following day, September 6th, he was scheduled to have his first three-day family reunion visit with his wife in nearly three years.
EDDIE CONWAY: You’re saying three days before that visit that you all had been fighting for for years, he got beat up?
NANCY BELL: Right. Right. Now, I don’t know. I could speculate that this guy knew that he was going to have the visit and that’s why he started. I don’t know. How do I know, you know?
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay.
NANCY BELL: That’s a fair speculation, you know?
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m not going to ask you to speculate but does it seem like this might have been an incident created to stop him from getting parole or winning release?
ROBERT BELL: Well, that certainly is not beyond something that they would do.
NANCY BELL: He was on the phone in the yard. He was talking to me on the morning of September 5th. He was on the phone. When we were on the phone, I remember him saying, “Oh, there’s some guys having a fight over there.” Just two guys, you know? It’s a common occurrence. It happens. Then he says, “Oh, there’s another two guys over there having a fight.” Then he says, “Oh, now all these guards are coming out. They’re probably going to close the yard pretty soon.” Then all of a sudden he goes, “I gotta go. Goodbye.” He hangs up the phone. I remember thinking I never heard him hang up the phone that quick, you know?
ROBERT BELL: This particular prison, Great Meadow, known as Comstock, is notorious for arbitrary excessive force and beatings of inmates. It is a prison where 99% of the guards are Caucasian and from the area and over 80 to 85% of the prisoners are men of color. It is notorious for beatings, and then reports on it in the exposés in the newspapers and essentially, they get away with it. They very well know who he is, but it’s also, it’s systemic. The violence is systemic.
NANCY BELL: This guard thought that Herman hung up the phone too slow, like one or two seconds too slowly. Apparently, Herman was in line with the other guys to go back to the, you know, you go back in through the same way. They were all lined up to do that and then this guy, Saunders, pulls Herman out of the line and takes him, you know, tells him to put his hands behind his back but no cuffs. That’s how they do it in an escort. They walked into another area. It was a foyer between two mess halls or something like that. There were no cameras in there, there were no other prisoners in there and it was only Herman he took there. Then all of a sudden, this guard, Saunders hauls off and hits him.
He told me he was so shocked and stunned that he did that. He couldn’t figure out why would he do that.
HERMAN BELL: See, I’m not a criminal in this strict sense of the word. I’ve never posed a danger to civil society. I never sought personal gain for my political action, never robbed, never threatened, coerced nor intimidated anyone in civil society. I’ve never sold drugs. But I did, as did many others, militantly resist the unrelenting structural violence of white racist domination and control that have afflicted the Black community since Black people were brought here as slaves.
NANCY BELL: They picked him up at one point, you know, just lifted him off the ground. One of them did that so they could knee him in his chest and that’s how they broke his ribs. Then another one grabbed his head, on the left side of his head and slammed it into the concrete ground three times.
EDDIE CONWAY: Throughout his years of imprisonment, Herman Bell has been actively working to serve the interests of the community. He have started garden projects in Maine to help communities that were in food deserts. He have actively helped organize activities around the United Nations human rights programs and encourage other young people to engage in school, college, etc. Since Herman Bell’s beating, he has been moved to another prison and placed in general population. There’s an ongoing pending investigation of the officer’s acts.