By Ashley Lucas, Plough
I. FATHER, PANTHER, SOLDIER, SPY
In 2014 in Pennsylvania, Russell Maroon Shoatz was released from twenty-two consecutive years of solitary confinement into the general prison population. This is twenty-one years and fifty weeks longer than the length of time in solitary the United Nations has deemed to be torture. Having spent so much time in a small space, he had trouble walking and could not climb the stairs to the cafeteria. He felt overwhelmed by other people, whose presence he had so desperately missed for all those years. Known to his supporters inside and outside the prison as a Black liberation leader, he now found it physically difficult to stand up tall. That he was even alive was more than many who considered him a cop killer wanted: they believed that his punishment should have been death.
Later that same year, in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s body was left in the street for several hours and no charges were ever filed against the officer. In response, Black Lives Matter bloomed into a protest movement. Despite all that had changed since Russell went to prison in 1972, this was a direct echo of the past. Nearly fifty years before, in Philadelphia, he had witnessed a similar killing of a young Black man by a police officer, even down to the body neglected by authorities on the scene and the lack of repercussions. This and other such events catalyzed Russell and his activist friends to become militant revolutionaries.
A Black Panther in prison makes a reckoning: the story of Russell Maroon Shoatz.