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  • An image depicting Russell Shoatz in a campaign video calling for his release.

    An image depicting Russell Shoatz in a campaign video calling for his release. | Photo: Vimeo / Vagabond Beaumont

This settlement may be an impetus to release other prisoners serving long solitary confinement sentences.

A former Black Panther revolutionary who was placed in solitary confinement for 22 years has won a US$99,000 settlement and a permanent release from solitary, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

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Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was convicted back in 1970 for the first-degree murder of a Philadelphia police officer, in an attack that was conducted at the Philadelphia police station. His nickname is a reference to slaves who escaped in North and South America, and was given to him after he escaped twice from prison.

Even while imprisoned, Shoatz did not quell his political activism. Since the 1980s, he’s been fighting to win release by lobbying for the repeal of life sentences without parole. He also became president of the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers in 1983.

First placed in solitary confinement for several years, he was placed in solitary again in 1991, where he remained until 2014.

While in isolation, Shoatz had no major violation but was still placed on a restricted release list which requires a prison superintendent to recommend his release. Authorities denied his requests over the years, citing his past escape attempts and political activism.

Unsurprisingly, Shoatz suffers from severe depression and anxiety as a result of his confinement.

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In a statement through lawyers with the Abolitionist Law Center, Shoatz said that he has always chosen to fight and cited Frederick Douglass.

“Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand,’” said Shoatz.

Shoatz’s granting of a trial in his lawsuit comes on the heels of another former Black Panther, Albert Woodfox being released from prison after a record number of 43 years in prison.

Next month, the head of the state’s prison system will be testifying in a case the Abolitionist Law Center has filed on behalf of Arthur Johnson, who has been in isolation since 1979. While the settlement only applies to Shoatz, it may be an impetus to release other prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for even longer.


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