Human rights advocate Russell Maroon Shoatz has been locked in solitary confinement for 28 of the past 30 years. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1972. Although he escaped in 1977 and 1980, resulting in a stint in solitary confinement, he was released to the general population in 1982.
After his release to the general population, Shoatz became involved with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers (PAL). He wanted life-sentenced prisoners to work with their non-incarcerated family members and other supporters to repeal life without parole sentences. This idea resonated with other prisoners, increasing PAL membership from roughly a dozen people to more than 100.
When Shoatz was appointed interim President of PAL in early 1983, however, he was placed back in solitary confinement. Besides a 19-month period from November 1989 to June 1991, prison officials have refused to release him from solitary confinement ever since, despite his impeccable disciplinary record during that period and for the past 23 years. This week he filed a lawsuit demanding an end to the torturous conditions of isolation in a 7-by-12 foot cell, always illuminated by lights, for 23-24 hours per day.