Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, died barely 52 days after being freed from prison on December 17th. He was 78 years old at the time.
Shoatz’s death was confirmed by the Abolitionist Law Center, a group that successfully battled to get him out of solitary confinement.
Shoatz was a fervent jail abolitionist who campaigned against solitary confinement after serving nearly half of a 50-year sentence in the same conditions. On October 26, he was freed from prison and died at his sister’s home, surrounded by his loved ones.
“It is with overwhelming sadness, we join our communities in sharing this news,” the Center tweeted. “Our beloved friend, comrade, mentor, client, and inspiration, Russell Maroon Shoatz transitioned from this life on Earth today. Rest easy, and in power. Long live Maroon.”
According to The Black Wall Street Times, Shoatz was released on compassionate grounds owing to his advanced stage of colon cancer, which is his likely cause of death. He was imprisoned for 49 years, 22 of them in solitary confinement.
Following his 1970 conviction of life without the possibility of parole for his role in an attack on a Philadelphia police station that killed one officer and injured another, he was labeled a political prisoner.
Members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army took it upon themselves to safeguard their communities against police violence and misbehavior during the time.
Shoatz gained the moniker “Maroon” after eluding capture on two occasions. Enslaved Africans who fled their Spanish captors and established free communities were referred to as maroons in the early Americas.
Russell Shoatz III, Shoatz’s son, told the press that the institution was unable to adequately care for his father and that his release demonstrates that incompetence. He said, “What’s in the transcripts are the evidence that the prisons don’t have the capabilities to take care not just of their healthy prisoners.”
“They definitely don’t have the ability to take care of their geriatric prisoners,” he continued. “And that they have effectively killed my father.”
Shoatz spearheaded the President of the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers in 1983 during his second capture, lobbying Congress to remove life terms without parole. He was released from solitary prison in 2014 and filed a lawsuit against the state’s corrections system for “cruel and unusual” treatment.
Death through Incarceration is a term coined by advocates fighting to modify the rules governing life without parole convictions. Shoatz devoted a significant portion of his life to this endeavor. According to the Amsterdam News, he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers in 1983. (PAL). This group advocated for the abolition of life sentences without the possibility of parole and solitary incarceration.
He recounted spending 23 hours a day in a cell with “about 84 square feet of floor area” in his deposition. In 2017, he was granted $99,000 and was released from solitary confinement permanently.
“REST EASY FIGHTING MAROONS. THERE ARE MANY NOW AND TO COME WHO WILL DERIVE INSPIRATION FROM YOUR VALOROUS EXAMPLES — INSPIRATION THAT WILL ‘ARM THEIR SPIRITS’ TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. … TIL VICTORY OR DEATH!!!”