Now at the age of 77, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz has spent the majority of his years through the most horrific treatment by state. As a Black Panther during the height of Frank Rizzo’s reign of terror, he was convicted as a young adult alongside what was then dubbed the Philly Five—a group of revolutionaries who were charged with the alleged shooting of a police officer.
Between prison breaks and prison riots, Russell was shuffled between various correctional facilities across the state of Pennsylvania—Huntingdon, Camp Hill, Greene—with the only constant being the usage of solitary confinement as his punishment. Despite having spent decades under permanent lockdown in an uncomfortably small enclosure, he never once surrendered his commitment to the Black freedom struggle.
Today, Russell faces a new, and unprecedented, challenge as a political prisoner. After having contracted COVID-19, he was removed from the general population at S.C.I. Dallas and forced into quarantine. But in a correctional facility, quarantine carries a completely different meaning—one which is far more terrifying and disturbing.
According to testimony from Russell himself and details provided by his family, those in prison who contract COVID-19 have been relocated to a gym by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in order to prevent further spread of the virus. What they consider to be a “gym,” however, more resembles a “refugee camp” in his estimation: thirty people are forced to share a single toilet, made to live in tight spaces, and denied the medical treatment they need to recover.
His recent accounts confirm what we’ve already known for too long: correctional facilities have never been concerned with the comfort and safety of those whom they hold captive. Instead, they’ve always been places in which people are punished for defying the will of tyranny—that much has been true for Russell ever since he was incarcerated in 1972. COVID-19 has simply become another justification for inhumane policies like the usage of solitary confinement as a form of so-called quarantine.
At Prison Radio, we show solidarity with Russell’s cause. As an elder of our movement who has colon cancer and is thus highly susceptible to the virus, the question of his liberation has become about life or death. That’s why we’re calling Governor Tom Wolf to demand that he free those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 within Pennsylvania’s correctional facilities. Amidst a time when their survival is most threatened by the negligence of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, our persistent call to decarcerate and abolish is more important than ever before.
While the pandemic continues to infect tens of thousands of prisoners across the state, the time to act is now. Join us in advocating for Russell’s compassionate release and the rest of those who remain locked up in correctional facilities that are utterly inhospitable to their health—they need your support more than ever.
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz can be contacted at the following mailing address:
Smart Connections/PA DOC
Russell Shoats #AF-3855
SCI-Dallas PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733
All PA-based organizations, please sign a community letter demanding the immediate release of Russel Maroon Shoatz.
New Go-Fund Me to support the Shoatz Family
For sample tweets and graphics, check out the #FreeMaroon Social media kit
When We Fight, We Win!
Prison Radio Staff