Few of us know the name, Hugo Pinell.
That’s because the last time it was in the newspapers was probably in 1971, or 1976, when he was tried as a member of the famous San Quentin Six, six young Black prisoners facing assault charges stemming from battles with prison guards at the notoriously repressive California prison.
Yet that wasn’t the beginning, nor the end of things.
Hugo Pinell (known as ‘Yogi’ by his friends) came to the US as a 12-year old, from a small town on Nicaragua’s east coast. If he knew then the hell he would face in America, would he have left the land of his birth? We’ll never know.
He came. And he spent the last 42 years in prison — 34 of them in solitary! He hasn’t had a write-up in 24 years.
Now, his family and lawyer are seeking his parole after a lifetime in some of the most repressive joints in America.
Why so long? Why so many years? The answer, not surprisingly, is politics. Hugo was a student and comrade of the legendary Black Panther Field Marshall, the late George Jackson, with whom he worked to organize other Black prisoners against the racist violence and prison conditions of the ’60s and ’70s.
Consider this: when Hugo was sent to prison, Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, bombing in the Vietnam War was intensifying, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive!
Of his introduction to the prison system, Yogi would later write:
” I was 19 years old. I turned myself into the authorities to clarify the charges. The deputies beat me several times , the Public Defender and the Judge influenced my mother into believing that I would be sentenced to death unless I pled guilty. At their insistence with the understanding that I would be eligible for parole after 6 months. When I arrived at the California Department of Corrections, I was informed that I had been sentenced to three years to life.”
California’s notoriously unjust indeterminate sentencing has led, in part, to the present prison overcrowding that now threatens to bankrupt the system. California’s prisons are roughly 172% over capacity, and parole is a broken, nonfunctional agency.
That’s not just my opinion, but California’s state senator, Gloria Romero (D.-Los Angeles) has called the present regime a “failure,” particularly the parole system.
Despite California Gov. Arnold Schwartzeneggar’s 2004 promises of major reforms of the parole system, which would lead to significant prisoner population reductions, the incarceration rate has soared. Today, there are a record 168,000 people in 33 state prisons, nearly double the rated capacity.
As Hugo Pinell seeks parole, California is spending $7.9 billion — (yeah–with a ‘b’!) in the next fiscal year, an increase of $600 million a year for a prison system that has one of the worst recidivism rates in the nation (60%!).
Clearly, the so-called “Correctional and Rehabilitation” Department has failed in its mission to do both.
Support parole for Hugo Pinell. 42 years is more than enough.