A Son’s Fight for His Father’s Freedom
Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz and Russell Shoatz III share how they built an unshakable relationship in spite of incarceration and separation
This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men. The series, which comprises 30 essays and conversations over four weeks, points to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons are not solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems — and calls for a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first.
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz is an activist, writer, founding member of the Black Unity Council, former member of the Black Panther Party, and soldier in the Black Liberation Army. Incarcerated since 1972 and now 77 years old, Maroon is serving multiple life sentences in Pennsylvania as a U.S.-held political prisoner of war. After escaping prison twice, in 1977 and 1980, he earned the name Maroon from fellow incarcerated men, a nod to Africans who fled chattel slavery and created autonomous communities throughout the Americas. His son, Russell Shoatz III, is a longtime activist, educator, and live event producer. For the past three decades, he’s worked tirelessly for his father’s freedom and that of all U.S.-held political prisoners.
Below, Maroon and Russell discuss their life together while being kept apart, the traumas they’ve suffered at the hands of the carceral state, and how, in spite of all of this, they still have an unbreakable relationship as educators, as freedom fighters, and as father and son.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz: From as far back as I can remember, my son has intrigued me with his analysis on a multitude of different subjects. I guess it should come as no surprise since the Shoatz family is steeped in a long tradition of education and profound thinkers.