Last week, a federal judge in Louisiana ordered the immediate release of Herman Wallace, a former Black Panther who had been kept in solitary confinement for over 42 years after organizing prisoners at Angola Prison to desegregate the prison and after being convicted, without any physical evidence, of murdering a guard at the prison.
Wallace’s conviction was overturned after his trial was found to be unconstitutional, but the state of Louisiana initially refused to release Wallace and had to be forced to do so by a federal judge, who threatened to hold the state in contempt. Wallace, who was suffering from lung cancer, died just three days after being freed, but not before a jury in West Feliciana Parish, La., had re-indicted him.
Now all eyes are on another critically ill political prisoner, Lynne Stuart, who is suffering from stage 4 breast cancer in a federal prison in Texas.
“Speaking about the dream of freedom, we think of Herman Wallace,” said Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, who plans on visiting Stewart this weekend at the prison, which he calls a death camp. “Speaking about political prisoners, we see that the injustice goes on.”
Her initial request for compassionate release was turned down in August, with a judge saying the Federal Bureau of Prisons had to file for her release. Stewart has now refiled her request.
“Now another month has passed, and I am getting increasingly irritable that these jokers are so cavalier with my life and what time I have left,” said Stewart, who is calling for a national protest in support of her compassionate release on Oct. 8, her 74th birthday. “You and your comrades, friends [and] acquaintances can gather at your local federal courthouse or post office to remind them that we will not let me die in a cell.”
Stewart was an attorney known for representing poor and unpopular defendants and was first sentenced to 28 months for providing material support to a terrorist, her client Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Her time in jail was extended when she was later sentenced to 10 years for perjury at her first trial.
“Lynn is the same as the day she went in, but her body is failing; she is dying of cancer. Her lungs are closing down. The growth is effecting her breathing,” said Poynter.
But despite her ailing health, Poynter says Stewart is still looking at the good in her life too, telling him that the good news is the prison has provided her with a wheelchair now that walking has become painful for her.
Poynter explains that while Stewart has been receiving letters of support from every state in the country and from around the world, they continue to put pressure on President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Bureau of Prisons, who can actually release her. But they need to gather even more support and put pressure on these institutions in order to actually get her freedom.
“The greatest state is that of political prisoners who believe that the people will free them,” said Poynter. “There cannot be justice for yourself; there has to be justice for us all.”
Those fighting for justice agree.
“Defend Lynne, defend yourself,” says the voicemail message for the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition in New York. “With deep urgency and great importance, we are asking friends and supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal to come out in numbers on Tuesday, Oct. 8 to celebrate the birth of attorney Lynne Stewart and demand that the Bureau of Prisons release Lynne, now, on the basis of compassionate release.” The coalition is planning an Oct. 8 celebration at 80 St. Marks Place at 7 p.m.
Groups are organizing similar events and protests in Albany, N.Y.; San Francisco; Seattle; Fayetteville, Ariz.; and San Jose, Calif., with many more in the works.