Russell Maroon Shoatz is a prisoner of war held by the u.s. government for being a revolutionary and walking his talk. After decades behind bars, he is of ill health and in urgent need of medical care – which the State seems intent on denying him…
In the 1960s Russell Maroon Shoatz became active in the Black Liberation Movement, being one of the founding members of the Black Unity Council which would eventually merge with the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1969.
As the Black Panther Party was targeted for intense government repression, and suffered due to its own internal divisions, Shoatz was one of those who joined the underground. In 1970, along with five others, Maroon was accused of attacking a police station, which resulted in an officer being killed. This attack was carried out in response to the rampant police brutality in the Black community. For 18 months Maroon functioned underground as a soldier in the Black Liberation Army, until his capture in 1972.
Of the thirty five years since, Shoatz has spent over twenty in the “holes” of various prisons, locked down for 23 or more hours daily. Twice he escaped – once in 1977 and again 1980 – but both times he was recaptured. Today he is kept locked down twenty-three hours a day under conditions of sensory deprivation in a Pennsylvania control unit where he is serving multiple life sentences. This is the notorious Greene State Correctional Institute, the same place Mumia Abu Jamal is being held and where Abu Ghraib torturer Charles Graner worked as a guard.
After decades behind bars, Shoatz nevertheless remains a committed revolutionary; in his words he is “a New Afrikan freedom fighter who will not rest until the New Afrikan peoples are free from oppression, in a free and self-governing nation.”
As is the case with so many other prisoners, both in amerikan prisons and dungeons around the world, the fact that Shoatz remains unbroken serves as a provocation to the guards, whose love for their State requires that they reject their own humanity. In 2005 Maroon suffered from pain in his groin, and was misdiagnosed with prostate cancer, before a letter-writing campaign by supporters forced prison officials to allow him to undergo a biopsy. It turned out he did not have cancer, but a bad infection which required antibiotics – clearly disappointed that the freedom fighter was not about to die, guards carried out an orchestrated campaign of harassment, “searching” (i.e. trashing) his cell, seizing various personal necessities (i.e. toilet paper!), and tearing the bandages off of him.
Medical neglect is a euphemism for amerika’s unofficial death penalty, the purposeful denial of any competent medical care to the over two million people currently held behind bars in that country. In the case of political prisoners and prisoners of war, this “neglect” is inflicted as a cruel and purposeful weapon, as reactionary guards and prison officials often feel that revolutionaries are “getting off easy” by “only” being buried alive in prison, and ill health offers them the chance to actually torture and kill our comrades.
Over the years many warriors – too many to list them all – have sufered the tragic consequences of such abuse.
On March 13th 1998 Merle Africa – who had seemed in good health despite a 30 to 100 year sentence stemming from the police raid on the MOVE compound in 1978 – became suddenly ill and died; prison officials later insisted that she had died of complications related to ovarian cancer. In December 1999 Albert “Nuh” Washington – one of the “New York Three”, Black Liberation Army fighters who had been framed for assassinating police officers in the early seventies – was diagnosed with liver cancer. Despite calls to release this elder so that he could spend his last months with his family and loved ones, the prisoncrats refused, and on April 28th 2000 Washington died, alone, and behind bars. On January 21st 2001, Teddy “Jah” Heath – a Black Liberation Army combattant who had spent almost thirty years in prison, framed in 1973 for kidnapping a drug dealer as part of the BLA’s struggle against narcotic genocide in the Black community – passed away from stomach cancer, which had only been detected months before. On December 7th 2005, Richard Williams – a working class euro-american who engaged in armed struggle against imperialism, and had been in prison since 1984 – died of liver failure caused by Hepatitis C. Williams’ health had deteriorated quickly during fifteen months that he had been held in the hole following the September 11th attacks.
These are just a few of our beautiful comrades whose liberation from prison only came after they had left this world, slain by the deadly and State sanctioned policy of medical neglect. In all of these cases our comrades died after battling for years with undiagnosed health problems, the (exremely) late diagnoses and the prison officials’ refusal to take health complaints seriously being THE MOST SERIOUS aggravating factor.
Many other comrades remain alive, but with serous health concerns left unattended to, abandoned to their own devices in situations where healthy food, warm clothes and opportunities to exercise can be impossible to come by – never mind respectful or competent medical care. For example, Robert “Seth” Hayes – a BLA prisoner of war who has spent over thirty years behind bars following a shoot-out with police (convicted of killing a police officer, he has always maintained his innocence) – was diagnosed with both Hepatitis C and adult onset diabetes in 2000. In 2002, while he was held at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, supporters had to mobilize as Hayes was refused any regular blood sugar monitoring, was obliged to work in conditions that negatively affected his health, and despite being prescribed both Pegetron and Rebetron (which have numerous serious side effects including driving up blood sugar and blood pressure) the prison administration cut off all monitoring of his medical status, claiming that it was not needed. Here too it seems that the officials hoped that by providing as little medical monitoring as possible to allow health problems to get worse, all the while retaining the excuse that “nobody knew”.
This is just one example of how prisoners, and especially political prisoners, are “treated” by the prison medical system.
And now, once again, it seems that this weapon is being wielded against our comrade Russell Maroon Shoatz.
For a year now Shoatz has suffered from irregular heartbeats, and as of March 2007 this has degenerated into a heart flutter, shoulder and chest pains and lightheadedness. All of which indicate serious underlying heart problems, the kind that could lead to stroke or heart attack.
Despite his complaints, the prison officials have simply given Shoatz support stockings to wear, sporadic and inadequate electrocardiogram (ECG) reviews, and aspirin. Nothing has been done to look for or correct the underlying problem – which as we have seen, is all part of the State’s murderous modus operandi in such cases.
Shoatz recently wrote a letter to his outside supporters asking for help. He needs to see a heart specialist, to be given a stress test and be fitted with a holter monitor in order to pinpoint the problem. This is all necessary before he can be prescribed proper treatment.
People are asked to write the following officials and let them know that we are aware of Shoatz’ condition, and feel that he needs to receive the appropriate medical care (a heart specialist, stress test and a holter monitor). Please also send a copy of your letters to Family and Communities United, a Philadelphia organization that offers support to prisoners’ children, and with which Maroon’s own daughter Theresa Shoatz is active (address below).
The prisoncrats to contact are:
Secretary Jeffrey Beard, PhD
Pa Department of Corrections
2520 Lisburn Rd.
P.O Box 598
Camp Hill, Pa 17001-0598
Superintendent Louis Folino
169 Progress Dr.
Waynesburg, Pa 15370
And Diana Thomas (folino’s assistant)
Mrs. Reese Medical Director
169 Progress Dr.
Waynesburg, Pa 15370
Family and Communities United can be reached at:
Families and Communities United
P.O Box 9476