Russell Maroon Shoatz: Presente!
He was born Russell Shoatz of Philadelphia in 1943. A pivotal event occurred when he was a young child that marked the years of his life and sent him on a trajectory that cost him most of his life lived in a state prison cell. He was just five years old when he and his father were looking out the window of the family’s home in West Philadelphia when they witnessed several cops beating a black man on the street.
In a 2017 interview with the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, Shoatz recounts the following: once the cops got the black guy in their car, one of them turned and blurted, “Any of you other niggers want some of this?” And I saw our neighbors begin to shut their doors and withdraw from their windows while my father took my hand and pulled me away from our window as well. Right then, at the age of five, I determined that what had occurred was wrong.
From that age of five, Shoatz tells us until his mid-thirties, he felt a deep sense of humiliation and rage. These feelings compelled him to help organize the Black Unity Council and later led him to the Black Panther Party and finally the Black Liberation Army, the BLA. And those relationships led him to conflicts with the state, armed conflicts that led him to decades in prison doing several life terms and long years in the hole.
1977 would prove a turning point, for that was when Shoatz and for others broke out of Huntington State Prison and Central Pennsylvania. One of the men got trapped before he could escape, another got killed on a mountain side, and two others were caught by nightfall. Maroon, however, wasn’t one of them. He stayed free for about a month before recapture, and he was beaten brutally once they found him. He expected nothing less, but the experience transformed him.
Before his escape, he was known as harun, an Arabic name meaning Aaron, the brother of Moses. Afterwards, he took the name Maroon for the African slaves who rebelled and ran away from bondage into the hills and swamps of the American. He found out something else: that humiliation, that incessant rage that rang from his youth, had passed like a summer storm. He was Maroon, one who escaped the bondage of prison.
He spent 49 years in prison and was a brilliant teacher to generations of younger black men. He was a serious student of history. And after released for medical reasons on October 2021, he lived for 52 days in freedom with his sister, his children, and the rest of his family before he returned to his ancestors. He was Maroon, free at last again.
This is Mumia Abu-Jamal, saying love, not fear.
These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.