A former member of the Black Panther Party has been released after spending 49 years in prison, 22 of them in solitary confinement.
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, 78, was a former member of the militant organization and its underground arm, the Black Liberation Army, in the late 1960s. Shoatz was found guilty and sentenced in 1970 to life in prison after he and fellow Pennsylvania-based comrades attacked a Philadelphia police station that left one officer dead and another seriously injured.
Shoatz’s release date came exactly 55 years after the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded in Oakland, California, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in October 1966.
A judge granted Shoatz a compassionate release on Oct. 28, 2021, so that he could attend to an advanced stage of colorectal cancer.
Shoatz got his nickname “Maroon” after he successfully escaped prison twice. After the second time, he was placed in solitary confinement for 22 consecutive years. He later became the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers in 1983 with the objective of abolishing life sentences without the ability to receive parole.
When Shoatz exited solitary confinement after more than two decades in 2014, but was still imprisoned, he successfully sued the Pennsylvania Department of Correction for “cruel and unusual” treatment. Shoatz was awarded a total of $99,000 and a permanent reprieve from solitary confinement after enduring inhumane and grotesque living conditions and the subsequent mental issues he suffered.
Shoatz’s son, Russell Shoatz III blames the DOC for a terminal form of cancer that his father is not expected to survive from.
“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, and that they have effectively killed my father.”