Research Committee on International Law and Black Freedom Fighters
In our review of the conditions of confinement for New Afrikan/ Black [*Throughout this paper, the terms New Afrikan and Black were used interchangeably.] political prisoners and prisoners of war, it is important to remember the reasons that the United States government wants them confined. The U.S. will not allow Black people to
exercise their right to self-determination. All of these freedom fighters have committed
their lives to fighting for the liberation of Black people. U.S. intolerance of this political
position held by Black people is historical. There have been many Black political prisoners throughout the history of the United States, all of whom have been jailed as a part of the government’s attempt to silence resistance. One of the most notable early political prisoners and someone who may not
immediately come to mind in this context is Marcus Garvey. As his movement, the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.), spread throughout the country and his call for self-determination was heeded by more and more Black people, the
government’s plan to destroy him was implemented. He was jailed on charges of mail fraud and deported. We find that during the past three decades there has been a steady increase in the
number of people imprisoned because of their political views and actions. Many of the
New Afrikan political prisoners and prisoners of war came from the Black Panther Party and/or the Black Liberation Army (BLA). The F.B.I.’s notorious COINTELPRO effort to destroy the Black liberation movement is primarily responsible for the imprisonment of numerous former Panthers and BLA members.
We also find that as the prison population became more politicized, the level of
repression to which it was subjected was heightened. Prison rebellions increased and
many prisoners who were targeted as organizers or leaders within the prisons were
subjected to beatings and lengthy periods of total isolation. Such is the case of the
Reidsville Brothers, who in 1978, participated in a rebellion by Black prisoners at
Reidsville Prison and demanded an end to guard brutality, degrading living conditions
and racist attacks from white inmates. The prison officials retaliated with beatings and
Stark in its illustration of this heightened repression is the Attica Prison Rebellion,
which occurred in 1971. In response to demands from prisoners who had taken over
Attica seeking more humane treatment, Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York State,
ordered that state troopers retake the prison by force. This order was given despite on-
going negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the Attica situation. In essence, Gov.
Rockefeller ordered the mass murder of 43 people; 34 prisoners and 9 guards.
Rockefeller’s barbarism was rewarded when he was selected to serve as vice-president to
So we see that the attitude of the U.S. government towards prisoners’ concerns is
one of intolerance and indifference. And, with respect to political prisoners, the
imposition of egregious conditions is part of a systematic effort to destroy any visible
signs of resistance. The intent of the government in imposing these conditions is two-
fold; destroy the will of the political prisoner and send a strong message to supporters and
followers that their resistance will be met in kind.
The United States government continues to deny to the world that there are
political prisoners within its borders. It maintains this position at whatever cost necessary.
Recall the almost immediate removal from office of U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations, Andrew Young, when he publicly acknowledged the existence of political
prisoners within the U.S.
Back in the 1970’s, Jalil Bottom, one of the New York Three, recognized the
significance of raising the issue of political prisoners held within the U.S. in the
international arena. Thus, in 1976, he launched the National Prisoners Campaign to
Petition the United Nations. This effort was widely supported by political and progressive
prisoners resulting in a petition being submitted and discussed in Geneva, Switzerland.
This work formed the impetus for Lennox Hinds and the National Conference of Black
Lawyers to invite the U.N. International Commission of Jurists to tour numerous U.S.
prisons and interview political prisoners. Their findings raised serious questions about the
treatment and reasons for confinement of the many political prisoners they interviewed.
Type of Sentence
As a general rule, political prisoners have been given the harshest sentences
possible. Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Panther and staunch supporter of the
MOVE members who were bombed by Philadelphia police, is on death row in
Pennsylvania for defending himself and his brother from a vicious beating by local
After years of court battles, Gary Tyler finally had his death sentence commuted
to life imprisonment.
Johnny Imani Harris, who was originally serving 5 consecutive life sentences at
the infamous Atmore Prison at the time a rebellion broke out, was subsequently
sentenced to death in 1974, because of his participation in a rebellion during which a
prison guard died.
Oscar “Gamba” Johnson, also an Atmore inmate convicted of participating in the
rebellion, is serving a 148-year sentence.
Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, was sentenced to life and despite his exemplary prison
record, has been denied parole 9 times.
Sekou Odinga, was sentenced to life plus 40 years with a recommendation of no
Assata Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were sentenced to life plus 30 years.
Fortunately, in 1979, Assata was liberated from prison and she is now living in exile in
Cuba. This was the only way to put an end to the horrendous conditions under which she
had been confined.
Each of the nine MOVE defendants was sentenced to 100 years.
Bashir Hameed and Abdul Majid, were both sentenced to 25 years to life.
Seth Hayes and Teddy (Jah) Heath are also serving 25 years to life sentences.
Baba Odinga is serving a 25-year to life sentence.
Donald Taylor, a former member of De Mau Mau which was a clandestine self-
defense formation within the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam formed to defend against
racist attacks from white troops, was sentenced to 150 to 200 years without parole.
The New York Three (Herman Bell, Jalil Bottom and Albert Nuh Washington)
were each sentenced to 25 years to life.
Mutulu Shakur was sentenced to 60 years.
Kuwesi Balagoon was sentenced to 25 years to life.
Jihad Abdul-Mumit, a former Panther and BLA member, was sentenced to 14
years for a parole violation which did not involve a new arrest.
Prior to his recent release due to prosecutorial misconduct, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad,
was serving a life sentence.
Solitary Confinement and Administrative Detention
In the early 60s, a meeting of social scientists and prison wardens was convened
by director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett. The main speaker was
Dr. Edward Schein, a social scientist. He presented his theories on brainwashing and the
application of such techniques to achieve behavior modification with the prison
population. Among the twenty-four techniques suggested by Dr. Schein were the
1. physically remove the prisoner to an area sufficiently isolated in order to
break or seriously weaken close emotional ties;
2. segregate all natural leaders;
3. prohibit group activities that do not fit brainwashing objectives;
4. systematic withholding of mail;
5. create a feeling among the isolated group of prisoners that they have been
abandoned by and totally isolated from the community;
6. undermine all emotional supports; and
7. preclude access to literature which does not aid in the brainwashing
James Bennett urged the participants in the meeting to experiment with Dr.
Schein’s theories within their respective institutions.
Approximately a decade later, the “experiments” that grew out of that meeting in
1961 began cropping up all around the country. The glaring similarities between Dr.
Schein’s techniques and the treatment received by the vast majority of Black political prisoners serve to enforce the belief that there is a thinly disguised attempt on the part of
the U.S. government to psychologically destroy political prisoners.
Marion Penitentiary in Illinois is the highest level security prison in the country.
This is where the first control unit was established. Its main focus is sensory deprivation
and solitary confinement. A disproportionately high number of political prisoners have
been sent to Marion. Many of them have had lengthy stays in the control unit there. The
control unit consists of small soundproof box-type cells. Since 1983, the entire prison has
been on lock-down status. This means that all prisoners are locked in their cells 23 hours
a day. They are permitted only one hour outside the cells to shower and take recreation
on the tier. Twice a week, for two hours at a time, outdoor recreation in a small fence-
enclosed area is permitted at the whim of the guards.
The cells at Marion consist of a stone bed and a toilet/wash bowl. No contact
visits are allowed with social visitors. All legal visits are monitored by video camera and
guards. All meals are taken in the cell. No phone access to lawyers is permitted unless the
prisoner can prove that his lawyer wants him to call. Only two ten minute calls per month
are permitted to family and friends. Marion is the epitome of the implementation of Dr.
Schein’s theories on isolation and segregation.
Sekou Odinga was immediately designated to Marion upon being sentenced to 40
years plus life. After spending three years at Marion in lock-down status, he was
transferred to Leavenworth in general population. When a bogus investigation of escape
charges commenced, he was snatched during the early morning hours and thrown in
administrative segregation. Shortly thereafter, he was moved to a new special housing
unit (SHU) modeled after Marion. Sekou remained in the SHU after the investigation
cleared him of the escape allegations. After 9 months of being held in solitary
confinement at Leavenworth, Sekou was returned to Marion. He spent a month in the
control unit there, and then was moved to D Block, which is also under 23-hour lock-
down as previously described.
Sundiata Acoli spent 5 years in the Management Control Unit (MCU) of Trenton
State Prison. He was the first prisoner sent there. At MCU, Sundiata was locked down 24
hours a day in a cell that was smaller than the space requirement for a German shepherd
dog set by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. No contact visits were
allowed. All meals were taken in the cell. Strip searches were required every time he left
the cell for any reason. Cavity searches were frequently imposed. In 1979, just months
before the liberation of his co-defendant, Assata Shakur, he was secretly transferred
during the middle of the night to federal custody at Marion. (He was a New Jersey state
prisoner.) Sundiata remained at Marion for 8 1/2 years before he was transferred to
Leavenworth. Like Sekou, he was also placed in administrative segregation during an
investigation of the same bogus escape charges. He spent 6 months in SHU before being
returned to general population.
James “Blood” Miller spent over 6 years at Marion before his eventual release last
Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt spent 8 of his 20 years of incarceration in solitary confinment.
Hugo A. Dahariki Pinell, one of the San Quentin Six, spent 20 years in solitary
Prior to her liberation, Assata Shakur spent over 20 months in solitary
confinement, often housed in men’s facilities.
Oscar (Gamba) Johnson, Gary Tyler and Johnny Imani Harris have all spent over
5 years in solitary confinement.
Chui Ferguson-El spent 8 years in federal custody in general population without
any disciplinary infractions. Last year, upon his transfer to Pennsylvania, he was
immediately thrown in solitary confinement (the “hole”). In response to his attorney’s
inquiry, the state prison officials stated that Ferguson-El would spend the balance of his
sentence in the hole because “he had previously been shown to be a threat to security
while in federal custody at Lewisburg Penitentiary”.
In late 1988, Bashir Hameed, a member of the BLA and a well-respected Muslim
leader among the prisoners, was placed in solitary confinement at Shawangunk Prison in
New York State because of his leadership and organizing abilities.
In early April of 1990, Abdul Majid, a member of the BLA, was put in solitary
confinement (the box) because of “his status in the Muslim hierarchy”. The official
“charge” made against Abdul was for demonstrating. It was alleged that he urged a cook
not to prepare food for the Ramadan evening meals. Despite the fact that the cook
testified at his hearing that no such conversation had taken place, Abdul was condemned
to a year in the box at Great Meadows Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. The
box consists of a 6’x8’ cell where Abdul is locked in for 23 hours a day. Recreation is
twice a week alone in a fenced cage that is 6’x9’ feet. Showers are allowed twice a week
unless a social visit is to occur. Visits are allowed once a week.
New York State has recently passed legislation which implemented more lenient
guidelines for the use of administrative segregation.
In the 70s, a group formed in Pennsylvania State Prison known as the Black
Liberation Front. They sought religious freedom and protection from human rights
violations. They were labeled as terrorists by the prison administration and singled out for
punishment. Joseph “Joe Joe” Bowens was held in a control unit for 5 years. Russell
“Maroon” Shoats, a BLA member, was held in solitary confinement for 3 years and
Clifford “Lumumba” Futch was held in a control unit for 14 years.
Distance from Family and Supporters
In keeping with Dr. Schein’s suggestion that behavior modification can be
achieved by separating a prisoner to weaken or break emotional ties, most of the New
Afrikan political prisoners and prisoners of war have been confined far away from their
families and supporters. For instance, Geronimo had been incarcerated in northern
California at San Quentin for many years. He had a large base of support including his
defense committee located in the Bay Area of California. Last year, in retaliation for his
offer to testify on behalf of Filiberto Ojeda Rios who was on trial in Puerto Rico,
Geronimo was transferred to Tehachapi Prison which is located in Southern California.
Nuh Washington is confined at Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York.
This facility is located in the far northwestern corner of the state. Nuh’s lawyers and
primary base of support are in New York City.
Mutulu Shakur is confined at Lompoc Penitentiary in Lompoc, California. His
family, friends, lawyers and support committee are all located in New York. Despite
these factors, he was immediately designated to Lompoc by the Bureau of Prisons.
In order to understand the punitive nature of a transfer, we must first appreciate
the disruption in routine that a transfer causes. When a prisoner is transferred, he/she is
placed in administrative segregation, usually for one month. During this time they cannot
work and whatever work status they had previously achieved is lost. No educational
program can be pursued during this time and prior educational credits are seldom
transferable. Personal items are frequently “lost” and many weeks may pass before a new
visitors’ list is established for the prisoner. During this waiting time, visitors are
frequently frustrated by being refused visits even though they were previously approved
on another facility’s list. Additionally, friendships and contact with other inmates are
Herman Ferguson has been moved all over New York State in the past two years.
Punitive transfers have been extensively used against the New York Three. Nuh
Washington has been transferred 10 different times in the past 17 1/2 years. Jalil Bottom
has been in six different New York State facilities in the past 12 years.
Before Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt was transferred to Tehachapi, it took a court order
to keep him from being transferred to Folsom Prison where it was clear that his life
would be endangered.
Upon being arrested, most of the Black political prisoners and prisoners of war
were beaten and tortured. Abdul Majid suffered several damaging blows to the head
when he was beaten at the time of his arrest. Jamal Joseph, Kazi Toure (he was brutally
beaten while handcuffed), Chui Ferguson, Sundiata Acoli, Sam Brown (his neck was
broken and medical attention withheld), Assata Shakur (she was refused adequate
medical attention for a gunshot wound), Nuh Washington (he was also refused medical
attention for gun shot wounds to the face) and Sekou Odinga were all subjected to
brutality when arrested.
Sekou was captured after a shoot-out with police. During the shoot-out his
companion Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata, was murdered by the police while he was lying on
the ground wounded and unarmed. Sekou was then arrested and tortured for many hours
while the police attempted to interrogate him. He was beaten so badly that he was
unrecognizable and his pancreas was almost destroyed. During the torture sessions,
Sekou’s head was repeatedly flushed in the toilet, his toenails and fingernails were ripped
out and cigarettes were snuffed out all over his body. He was hospitalized for three
months and his eyesight was damaged as a result of this beating.
Dhoruba Bin-Wahad was set-up for an armed attack from another inmate by
guards. His lawyers had to seek an order of transfer from the court in order to avoid
further incidents at that facility.
Psychological torture is also employed against Black political prisoners. James
“Tarif” Haskins, a BLA member, has been subjected to tactics of mind manipulation and
drugs from which he suffered hallucinations.
The labor of prisoners is used to maintain the prisons. Refusal to work is one way
to guarantee receipt of an incident report and disciplinary action. Sometimes, as a form of
punishment, groups of prisoners are taken to the fields and forced to work under the
threat of guns. Upon his arrest in California, Mutulu Shakur was held at Florida State
Prison in the East Unit. The East Unit was a replica of Marion. Here, prisoners were
forced to work in the fields as punishment for various disciplinary infractions.
Health and Medical Care
In general, the health and medical care provided to prisoners is abhorrent. Bashir
Hameed suffers from acute hypertension. His medication must be increased regularly.
His prison doctor has determined that continued confinement in the box creates a
substantial danger of a stroke. Despite his doctor’s request that he be removed from the
box, the Shawangunk administrators have refused to move him. Sometimes Bashir’s
blood pressure is so high that medication does not bring it back down.
Ahmed Evans was a Black nationalist leader from Cleveland, Ohio who was
incarcerated in the infamous Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Due to medical
neglect, he died of cancer at the facility.
When Sundiata Acoli was transferred from the MCU at Trenton State Prison to
Marion, his entrance physical exam revealed that he had been heavily exposed to
tuberculosis while at MCU.
Kuwesi Balagoon, a member of the BLA who was serving 25 years to life for the
attempted Brinks armored car expropriation in 1981, died in a New York State
correctional facility due to gross medical negligence. Despite exhibiting all the tell-tale
signs of AIDS, Kuwesi was not transferred to a hospital for medical care until ten days
before his death.
Visitation, Religious Freedom, Legal Access, Personal Hygiene
Extensive background checks are done on all visitors of political prisoners. This
includes legal and social visitors. These visits are closely monitored by prison officials
and are sometimes denied for fabricated reasons.
Legal and social visitors are usually harassed by prison officials in an effort to
discourage them from visiting. Frequently, family members, friends and lawyers travel
many miles to visit a prisoner only to be denied a visit because they have not followed
some procedure that either does not exist or has already been complied with to the letter.
Social visiting time is reduced with no explanation. Legal visiting rooms often times are
not supplied to lawyers and paralegals. Without notice to the prisoner or the visitor, the
visitor’s name is removed from the prisoner’s visiting list, preventing the visitor from
gaining access to the prison until a new background check is completed. Although the
check can be completed in less than 24 hours, visitors and inmates are usually told that it
will take 6 to 8 weeks to complete a background check.
Without explanation or rationale, rules are imposed that infringe on the religious
freedom of political prisoners. Particular targets of this sort of harassment are Muslims,
MOVE members and prisoners who wear their hair in long locks. For instance, despite
his religious practices, Chui Ferguson-El was placed in administrative segregation
because of his refusal to cut his hair. There has been frequent and widespread
interference in the attempt by Muslim prisoners to observe Ramadan in accordance with
their religious beliefs. This type of harassment resulted in Abdul Majid being sent to the
box for a year.
It is very difficult for political prisoners to remain in regular contact with lawyers
if they are in solitary confinement. Phone access to lawyers is extremely limited. Sekou
Odinga must present a letter from his attorney stating that the attorney wants him to call
the office in order to make the collect phone call. All phone calls are monitored. When an
attorney calls the prison requesting that a political prisoner be allowed to call back to
their office, the message is not given to the prisoner except in extremely rare instances.
Prisoners in federal custody are only allowed to correspond with their attorneys,
immediate family and those individuals with whom they were friends prior to their
incarceration. The obvious hardship this works on political prisoners serving lengthy
sentences is that with each passing year, they grow further away from developing new
All social mail is read and for political prisoners, most if not all, is photocopied.
Although the prison authorities do not admit it, it is the belief of this author and many
others that the legal mail of political prisoners is also read and photocopied.
Reading material is sanctioned according to the whim of the institution. Political
materials come under heavy scrutiny. I understand that the Freedom Now literature is
being banned from some institutions. At Wende Correctional Facility, Nuh Washington is
not allowed to receive any books, hard cover or paperback, unless they come from the
publisher or a book store. However, he can receive photocopies of books. There’s no
rationale for this rule.
Surveillance While Incarcerated
The growing trend in the incarceration of political prisoners is to place them in
small monitoring units within or adjacent to a larger correctional facility. As a result,
“mini-Marions” are cropping up around the country. MCUs and SHUs are the “popular”
choice of prison officials when it comes to political prisoners and prisoners of war.
At Shawangunk, a Close Supervision Unit has been opened that is separate and
apart from the main facility. The CSU prisoners take their recreation separate from the
rest of the prison population in a separate recreation space except for two times a week.
All recreation for the entire prison is done after 6 p.m. They have a separate mess hall.
There is a low guard-to-inmate ratio. Every single move made by an inmate is monitored
and logged on a daily activity sheet. Each inmate must be in a program 8 hours a day.
The prisoners who are housed there are told that there is no way that they can be
transferred out. The position of the New York State Department of Corrections is that
once a prisoner is placed in the CSU, that is where they will serve the balance of their
time. Since October 5, 1988, the prisoners in the CSU have staged a shut down of the unit
and they have been locked in their cells. Some of the political prisoners in the CSU are
Maliki Shakur Latine, Herman Bell, Al Musadig Yusef of the Williamsburg 4 and Bashir
Hameed prior to his removal to the box where he has remained for the past 20 months.
Another form of surveillance used against political prisoners is that of an escort.
The prisoner is not allowed to move anywhere in the prison without an escort. This is the
method used for Nuh at Wende. He is not even allowed to come to legal visits without his
escort pacing back and forth just outside of the legal visiting room.
Through this discussion, I have attempted to give you a comprehensive view of
the conditions under which New Afrikan/Black political prisoners are incarcerated. Some
of these conditions are not unique to Blacks or political prisoners. However, in light of
the large number of Black political prisoners and prisoners of war, an analysis of the
treatment they receive will aid in an understanding of the plight of all political prisoners
and prisoners of war.
Images up top by Unk RBG Street Scholar
Haki Kweli Shakur 5-25-51ADM 16
August Third Collective-NAPLA NAIM
New Afrikan Political Prisoners In The U.S. Video Haki Shakur