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  • "When he talked, WE ALL listened:" A Tribute to Russell Maroon Shoatz

    by Sergio Hyland "You say that you're ready to learn. Well, if that's the case, you must be ready to accept the fact that everything you learned from the 'heroes' you mentioned in your letter, was wrong! I'll have my daughter send you some books, and then your education can really begin." Those were some of the words that Maroon wrote to me in response to the first letter I ever wrote to him. I was 30 years old, and had already developed a deep admiration for the man. I never imagined that he - and the things he taught me - would go on to change my life. I didn't know what to expect from him, and once I'd read his letter, I wondered if I'd made a mistake by reaching out to him. I mean, the "heroes" whom he criticized and claimed were wrong, were men who my generation grew up idolizing - Malcolm X, George Jackson, Huey Newton, and more. So when he said that everything I'd learned from them was wrong, I was distressed. And I didn't hide my feelings when I responded to his letter. See, at that time, Maroon and I were both being held in solitary confinement at SCI Greene, which, back then, was the most restrictive and oppressive "hole" in the state of Pennsylvania. And though we were on the same block (G-Block), we were on different pods (I was on G-A and Maroon was on G-C). Sometimes we'd be in the yard together, whenever the weather was rough, and the guards decided to combine the pods. That's when we'd get to talk to each other. And all I did was listen. The brother was so intelligent, and I couldn't believe that a man like him was in prison. The way he spoke, the manner in which he carried himself, and the way that others - including prison guards - respected him, made me want to learn as much as I could from him. When he talked, WE ALL listened. Fortunately, Saleem Holbrook and I were already friends by then, so I was pretty much primed to learn as much as possible from "the Old Man". But what I learned from Maroon, was something nobody else had ever tried to teach me. This tribute isn't the place to explain those lessons, because it gets too deep. But what I will say is that I loved Maroon. And in a letter to his son, I explained something that I'd never explained to anybody before: I grew up with my father in my life. I loved my father dearly, and even up until this day, my father is the greatest man I have ever known. But Maroon is the only other man who I have ever looked at in a similar way. The world suffered a tremendous loss when Maroon transitioned. My generation, and countless young men in prison, will all be touched by this loss. I have always vowed to carry on his teachings. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, some of which I had the pleasure of speaking with after Maroon was granted a compassionate release. I got to speak with him a couple of times, before he passed. It was difficult. I wasn't used to hearing him sound the way he did. But I made sure to remind him of the impact he continues to have on me and numerous others. Honestly, I'm finding it difficult to express the way I'm feeling in this moment. Maybe it has to set in. But I'm grateful for having the privilege of knowing Russell Maroon Shoatz. And I'm grateful that he wasn't like many other elders who have a disdain for the younger generations. He knew how to correct us without making us feel stupid. And he showed us what the real meanings of community, love, freedom, responsibility, and revolution were. I will miss him every day of my life - the same way that I miss my own father. And I will continue their legacies as best as I know how. Sergio Hyland @uptownserg

  • HRC Awarded 5k Grant for Prison Abolition Archive

    The Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University announced HRC as one of the recipients of the 2021-22 Turning Points in History Grant Program. The program includes a $5000 grant to support public-facing historical projects related to the theme of “Turning Points” in history. The “Prison Abolition Archive” is a collaborative project between local archivists, including Simon Ragovin (Drexel University) and Beaudry Allen (Villanova University) and activists Reggie West (Human Rights Coalition), Jackson Kusiack (Human Rights Coalition) and B. Preston Lyle (Human Rights Coalition). Funds will be used to create the "Prison Abolition Archive" (PAA) to document and preserve the administrative records, surveys, legal documents, 10,000+ letters from incarcerated people, and other archival materials collected by HRC over the last 20 years.

  • "Fight for them or they die:" Protestors rally against toxic prisons

    By Juliette Rando It was a sweltering Sunday afternoon in mid-September, but that didn’t stop dozens from gathering outside Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary to demand the closure of a toxic prison - SCI Fayette. In stark contrast to the tourists lining up for the “museum” like prisons are a historical artifact, the speakers emphasized the immediate and dire situation of individuals being poisoned by environmental hazards at SCI Fayette. “Can’t breathe, can’t eat, can’t smell. For a significant period of time. And then denied medical attention” — that’s how Dana Lomax-Williams summarized the situation for our kinmates incarcerated at Fayette. She explained how an investigation by the Abolitionist Law Center uncovered 17 deaths at Fayette between 2010-2013, 64% of which were due to cancer. This sad reality is a direct result of the fact that SCI Fayette was built on a coal ash dumping site that contaminates the surrounding air and water. The DOC is well aware of this fact - in fact, the drinking water at the prison is so polluted that prison staff sued for access to bottled water for themselves - and their dogs - and won. But they still force those incarcerated there to drink, bathe in, and cook with this poison water. Dana’s message resounded throughout the crowd, “The only option is for us to fight for them or they die.” Throughout the event, B. Preston Lyles, an organizer with HRC’s #ShutDownFayette campaign who was formerly incarcerated at SCI Fayette, seamlessly wove together the issues of mass incarceration and environmental racism, as he introduced the lineup of speakers including prison abolitionists, labor organizers, and environmental justice advocates. HRC’s Jackson Kusiak walked the crowd through the environmental history of Pennsylvania - from coal mining to fracking - and explained how that legacy of extracting the earth for profit has interfaced with the legacy of extracting human souls for profit through the prison industrial complex. Toxic corporations suck every last resource from the earth, and when there’s nothing left, they turn to warehousing people on that land so they can still turn a profit. That’s why SCI Fayette was built. And that’s why people incarcerated there are forced to drink the water- because they are treated as just another resource that can be extracted and then thrown away. Yet the crowd’s energy was that of determination, not despair. As BP elucidated, “We have been working to accomplish a mission that requires as many voices and as many votes and as loud of a scream as we can muster. This needs to be amplified all across the commonwealth, and the nation.”

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  • OUR CAMPAIGNS | HumanRightsCoalition

    Line separator OUR CAMPAIGNS FIGHTING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS . HRC fights for the rights of incarcerated people in Pennsylvania. Our campaigns focus on the myriad ways in which basic human rights are denied inside prisons- from solitary confinement, to toxic living conditions, to the continued incarceration of elderly people. Learn more about our campaigns below. STOP SOLITARY RELEASE THE AGING AND ELDERLY FIGHT TOXIC PRISONS STOP SOLITARY In 2015, the UN declared that more than two weeks of solitary confinement is “torture” and should never be used in any correctional setting. Yet in Pennsylvania, the DOC confines over 2,500 people in solitary for spans that last months, years, and even decades. Led by organizers who experiencd solitary firsthand, HRC advocates for the passage of legislation that would eliminate long-term solitary confinement and prohibit the use of solitary for vulnerable populations. JOIN OUR CAMPAIGN Solitary is a Public Health Crisis. Read our fact sheet to learn more. Read More > We can stop solitary through the passage of HB 497/ SB 832. Learn more about these bills. Read More > Are you a professional in the fields of Public Health , Medicine , Social Work, Criminal Justice, or Law? Please sign our letter to support eliminating long-term solitary confinement in PA. Read More > Sign on! RELEASE THE AGING AND ELDERLY Currently over 5,400 people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole (what we call "Death By Incarceration"). We believe that the incarceration of aging people is not only inhumane, but also unnecessary because older people are much less likely to re-offend after release. In the time of COVID-19, every prison sentence is a death sentence, especially for aging and medically vulnerable folks. Tell your representatives, the DOC, and Governor Wolf to #FreeOurPeople now! TAKE ACTION In partnership with groups across the state, we are advocating for decarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to save lives. R ead our demands below. Read More > Learn more about how we can abolish Death by Incarceration from the Abolitionist Law Center. Read More > Read about the only viable way for PA to decrease its elderly incarcerated population -- include everyone! Read More > FIGHT TOXIC PRISONS Across Pennsylvania, incarcerated people are subjected to environmental hazards like contaminated water, polluted air, and non-nutritious foods which lead to cancer and other health issues. Many PA prisons are located in toxic areas, such as SCI Fayette which was built on top of a toxic coal ash dumping site. We organize with people on the inside to advocate for humane living conditions. JOIN US Read the Abolitionist Law Center's investigation into the health issues caused by the toxic waste dump surrounding SCI Fayette. Read More > Read personal testimonies from people incarcerated at SCI Fayette about the toxic conditions and impact on their health. Read More > ​ Check out Issue 40 of The Movement to learn more about the conditions at SCI Fayette (Page 19). Read More >

  • ABOUT | HumanRightsCoalition

    Line separator ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS COALITION MISSION . Our mission is to empower prisoners’ families to be leaders in prison organizing and to teach them how to advocate on behalf of their loved ones in prison and expose the inhumane practices of the Department of Corrections. HISTORY . The Human Rights Coalition had its first meeting on June 4, 2001 at the house of the mother of one of the men who helped conceive the idea of HRC. ​ The meeting was small and a mix of prisoners’ family members and former prisoners. Many of those who attended, felt powerless in the face of the prison administration and its institutionalized discrimination, abuse, and torture. Yet the lives and well being of their loved ones were at stake – something they could not turn their backs to. ​ At the end of the meeting, however, there was a consensus that a great deal of powerful energy is lying untapped, that if properly focused could change the status quo of the prison system. The source of untapped energy was the constituency of former prisoners and prisoners’ families in this country. Thus HRC was formed, to aid and support prisoners’ families in coping with the stress and hardships created by having a loved one incarcerated, as well as to challenge the punitive retributive nature of the penal system; and, to work to transform that to a model of rehabilitation and successful reintegration to society. VISION . The prison system is based on a foundation of exploitation, punishment and corruption. Most of the people in prison are poor, brown, urban, functionally illiterate, unemployed or under-employed before they were locked down, and are there for non-violent crimes. It reflects all the other social inequalities in our system, and it does not work in its current incarnation. HRC’s ultimate goal is to dismantle and abolish the prison system and replace it with accountability, safety, fairness, and resilience, while focusing on healing instead of punishing. ​ We envision transparency within the criminal justice system – as no one should be above the law. We envision new laws to stop torture and abuse of prisoners, and for the public to show outrage not only for the prisoners in Iraq and other international locations of conflict, but also for prisoners’ rights here in the United States. We envision the prison officials and administration (i.e., guards, counselors, etc.) being held accountable for their actions or in-actions. We envision a “coalition” of families and organizations who seek to eliminate prison abuse and stand up for the human rights of prisoners by educating the public, advocating with prison officials, and lobbying state legislators. WHAT WE DO . Empowerment & Advocacy: We provide a safe place for family members of prisoners where there is no embarrassment associated with having a loved one in prison; HRC members are facing the same stigma, restrictions, dilemmas that you are going through this very minute. We respond to the letters asking for HRC’s help by educating family members on how to build a support system and organize their family, neighbors, and church around their individual issues. We also assure our members that abuse and torture will not be tolerated. The Michael Brown and Eric Garner crimes that were openly committed and excused are routine within the Department of Corrections and affiliations. ​ Bull Horn & Watch Dogs: We collectively address issues of abuse or torture (Emergency Response Network) using Facebook and Email to alert HRC members of reported and confirmed prisoner abuses and/or violations of human rights. To stand up against such violations we bring public awareness, by broadcasting on social media, radio, and newspapers; calling and/or writing to the prison, informing our legislators, and finally collaborating with supporters (i.e., Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project) in moving forward with next steps. A long-term struggle and the den of abuse and torture has been solitary confinement. We fight for a permanent change in the use and abuse of solitary confinement through legislation [could we include a link to our legislative packet of information about solitary confinement here?]. Two bills have been introduced (House Bill 497 and Senate Bill 832) that will end long term solitary confinement which is a noteworthy step in our in our fight for human rights. Learn more about our Solitary Confinement Work

  • Fight Toxic Prisons | HumanRightsCoalition

    Line separator FIGHT TOXIC PRISONS FIGHT TOXIC PRISONS Across Pennsylvania, incarcerated people are subjected to environmental hazards like contaminated water, polluted air, and non-nutritious foods which lead to cancer and other health issues. Many PA prisons are located in toxic areas, such as SCI Fayette which was built on top of a toxic coal ash dumping site. We organize with people on the inside to advocate for humane living conditions. Meetings are the last Mon of every month. JOIN US Learn more about toxic prisons Read the Abolitionist Law Center's investigation into the health issues caused by the toxic waste dump surrounding SCI Fayette. Read More > Read personal testimonies from people incarcerated at SCI Fayette about the toxic conditions and impact on their health. Read More > ​ Check out Issue 40 of The Movement to learn more about the conditions at SCI Fayette (Page 19). Read More >

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