Just 52 days of freedom, after spending nearly five decades of imprisonment, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, 78, became an ancestor Friday, Dec. 17, at his sister’s home. A judge had granted his compassionate release on Oct. 26 due to declining health, and he was relocated from a Pennsylvania state prison to an area hospice care for cancer treatment.
“What’s in the transcripts are the evidence that the prisons don’t have the capabilities to take care not just of their healthy prisoners, they definitely don’t have the ability to take care of their geriatric prisoners, and that they have effectively killed my father,” Russell Shoatz III told media at his father’s release.
Shoatz was convicted for allegedly ambushing a Philadelphia police station in 1970, resulting in the death of one cop and the serious wounding of another, then sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
He escaped prison in 1977, and again in 1980, thus earning his nickname “Maroon.” In 1983 he became president of the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers (PAL), which lobbied to abolish life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement.
The outspoken Black Panther and Black Liberation Army activist also founded the Black Unity Council and participated with the New Afrikan liberation movement. Plus, he was an influential advocate for prisoner’s rights.
He spent 22 years in solitary confinement prior to being released back into general prison population in 2014. He sued the Department of Corrections for “cruel and unusual” punishment, describing the inhumane conditions and mental health issues as horrid. He won the lawsuit in 2017 and was awarded $99,000 and a permanent reprieve from solitary confinement.
Shoatz also described enduring severe depression and anxiety. “I was infantilized for so long,” he added in his deposition. Supporters say it was done as retaliation for Shoatz’s efforts to organize other “lifers” in combating “death by incarceration,” a.k.a. life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Shoatz’s relatives contend prison officials allowed his health to progressively worsen to stage four colorectal cancer, prior to releasing him, as intentional medical neglect.
Speaking on his recent visit with Shoatz, former political P.O.W., Kagi Toure says: “I visited him over the ‘no thanks forgiving day of mourning.’ He was happy to finally be home, but they let him go into hospice just to die. His mind is still sharp, although the cancer is eating away at his body. He remains strong and steadfast. We wound up watching ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and talked about ‘the tribunal,’ where the U.S. was found guilty of genocide against New Afrikan people. We were making moves to save his life and keep him out of jail, but he ran out of time.”
In Maroon’s own words (1995): “Rest easy Fighting Maroons. There are many now and to come who will derive inspiration from your valorous examples, inspiration that will ‘arm their spirits’ to fight the good fight…’til victory or death!!!”
Maroon Shoatz’s janazaa (Muslim funeral) was yesterday @ a Philly mosque & his body was interred yesterday @ a local cemetery.