Author Archives: Family and Friends

Mutulu featured in An Injustice! Mag

Mutulu Shakur: Proof That a Different Kind of Prison is Possible

He helped us and paid with his life

By Pam Bailey

In 1988, Mutulu Shakur, a Black-liberation leader and stepfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was convicted in connection with the robbery of a Brink’s armored truck, during which three people were killed (although not by him). He has been incarcerated for 35 years now and has repeatedly been denied both parole and compassionate release, despite a record of peaceful and productive leadership in prison.

Now, at age 71, Shakur has been diagnosed with advanced bone marrow cancer. An oncologist has told the court that even with successful treatment, Shakur will likely die within two to three years. Without treatment, or if it fails, he is expected to live fewer than 11 months. Nearly 55,000 people have signed a petition calling on President Biden and the federal Bureau of Prisons to grant Shakur immediate compassionate release.

James Carpenter, released in 2020 after serving 24 years, is one of those signatories. But unlike most of them, he has personal knowledge of the role model Shakur has become. They were incarcerated together back in the early 2000s.

“They should let that man go home,” he says. “He’s been nothing but positivity and an uplifter of people, always working to intervene in conflicts and find solutions to problems. The concept of tolerance and cultural diversity that is so big right now? I heard it from him years ago.”

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The Intercept Covers the BOP Failure to Release Dr. Shakur

by Natasha Lennard

See full article at The Intercept.

Eligible for Release in 2016, Mutulu Shakur Remains Behind Bars With Worsening Cancer

Judicial discretion and an antiquated parole system are turning the Black liberation leader’s illness into a death sentence.

Mutulu Shakur was not sentenced to die in prison, but die in prison he may. The 71-year-old icon of Black liberation struggle has been incarcerated for over three decades. The rules governing his 1988 sentencing set his presumed release date for 2016. Yet, despite an impeccable institutional record, he has been denied release by the federal parole commission nine times. He remains behind bars, while an incurable cancer is now spreading through his bone marrow.

Reforms and policy shifts in certain state parole systems, including New York’s, have seen the long overdue release of a number of aging former Black Panthers like Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim in recent years. Held in the federal system, however, longtime prisoners like Shakur face further layers of institutional intransigence and procedural arcana.

Shakur, the stepfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges alongside a number of Black liberationists and leftist allies for his involvement in the 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored truck during which a guard and two police officers were killed. He was also convicted for aiding in the prison escape of Assata Shakur.“He has been praised by current and former Bureau of Prisons staff, and BOP’s own assessment tools establish that he poses absolutely no risk.”

A member of the Black nationalist organization Republic of New Afrika who worked closely with Black Panther Party members and New Left activists, Shakur was at the forefront of liberatory struggle. As a renowned acupuncturist, he was a central figure in the movement to bring holistic health care and self-determination to Black residents in the Bronx in the 1970s, blighted as the New York City borough was by police violence, poverty, and heroin addiction. That landed Shakur in the crosshairs of the federal government’s malicious COINTELPRO campaign to decimate racial and social justice movements.

Yet the demand for his release now has nothing to do with the political underpinnings of his arrest, trial, and conviction. If any party is displaying ideological excesses, it is the federal justice system apparently acting against its own standards in the case of a Black liberation elder.

“Dr. Shakur is a 71-year-old man who has been imprisoned for over 35 years, undergoing treatment for bone marrow cancer,” Shakur’s attorney, Brad Thomson of People’s Law Office, told me. “He has been praised by current and former Bureau of Prisons staff, and BOP’s own assessment tools establish that he poses absolutely no risk, should he be released.”

Shakur is aging and ill. He has served his extensive prison time and has accepted full responsibility for his actions. Like other long-imprisoned Black liberation elders, including Mumia Abu-Jamal and Sundiata Acoli, the alleged grounds for Shakur’s continued incarceration are without merit, even according to the purported logics of our brutal criminal legal system. The Department of Justice’s own risk assessment tool categorizes Shakur at the absolute lowest risk of recidivism; the rates of reoffending for people in his age group are already vanishingly small.

A top oncologist’s recent medical declaration on the state of Shakur’s health stated that, even with ameliorative cancer treatment, he would likely die within two to three years; in the highly possible event that treatment fails, Shakur is expected to live fewer than 11 months. His mandatory release date is in 2024, but his family, friends, and supporters believe he cannot survive that long. With an accordant sense of urgency, Shakur’s legal team is currently trying every available legal, statutory, and bureaucratic avenue to see him released.

“Due to bureaucratic and administrative failures, arbitrary abuses of discretion, and inconsistent applications of the law, Mutulu and most others in his position have been denied the relief that were designed for them,” said Thomson.

Shakur was incarcerated in the federal system under a set of harsher sentencing guidelines, known as “old law,” because he was convicted for crimes that took place before 1987, when the guidelines changed.

Those convicted under “old law” and eligible for parole remain beholden to a moribund body known as the U.S. Parole Commission. The commission was intended to be phased out decades ago: The new sentencing guidelines eliminated parole for defendants convicted of post-1987 federal crimes, dramatically decreasing the need for the federal commission.

The cases of fewer than 200 people sentenced under “old law” and eligible for parole — all of whom are aging and many of whom, like Shakur, are infirm — remain under the discretion of the commission. Only two federal parole commissioners make all the decisions, and they do so with a vested interest in keeping those imprisoned under “old law” inside to justify the commission’s very existence.

Their stated reasons for denying Shakur parole have been no less than absurd. They said, for example, that Shakur lacked the appropriate remorse for his actions and remained a threat to the general public because he had signed off letters to friends and supporters with the phrase “stiff resistance” — the very resistance to injustice that has made Shakur a trusted mentor to dozens of formerly incarcerated men.

Steven Hinshaw, one of the numerous men who found a mentor in Shakur while imprisoned alongside him, told me how Shakur was unique in his ability to break through the extreme race-based gang segregation encouraged in federal prisons. Hinshaw, who is white and has mixed-race children, now works as a truck driver and owes his determination to Shakur’s inspiration. “Anyone who has been in the yard with him knows that he solves problems and builds bridges,” Hinshaw told me. “He has a gift for helping people see themselves.”

The commissioners also cited an alleged “serious” violation: He was put on loudspeaker during a call with a professor and her class in 2013. It’s not clear why this constituted a violation, let alone a serious one. That the subject of the class was Shakur’s support for the founding of a truth and reconciliation commission in the United States — to reckon, through peaceful conflict resolution, with histories of racism — made for a grim irony.

A letter signed by numerous civil rights organizations urging President Joe Biden to grant “corrective clemency” to “old law” federal prisoners described the U.S. Parole Commission as “an abusive and insurmountable barrier to any hope of due process or release.”

“‘Old law’ prisoners like Dr. Shakur have essentially fallen through the cracks,” Shakur’s attorney, Thomson, told me. “Due to administrative failures, the laws establishing how and when ‘old law’ prisoners should be released are not being followed, and there is almost no accountability for these failures. Meanwhile, many new reforms are not being retroactively applied to prisoners sentenced under the ‘old law.’”

An antiquated parole commission has not been Shakur’s only barrier to freedom. Alongside his numerous parole denials, an application for Shakur’s compassionate release was rejected by a judge last year. At the time, the judge noted that Shakur had “tolerated chemotherapy with no adverse effects,” but his body was nonetheless ailing: hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, and the aftereffects of a 2013 stroke, not to mention the high risk of contracting Covid-19 in prison. Studies have found that longtime incarceration ages a person by a decade. Shakur did indeed contract Covid-19 last year, from which he recovered. His cancer, though, once in remission, has returned.

The judge who denied Shakur’s compassionate release in effect told the aging prisoner to reapply only when he was at death’s door. These were the conditions, after all, under which Shakur’s co-defendant Marilyn Buck, who was convicted on the same charges, was released on July 15, 2010. She died of uterine cancer on August 3 that year.

“Should it develop that Shakur’s condition deteriorates further, to the point of approaching death, he may apply again to the Court, for a release that in those circumstances could be justified as ‘compassionate,’” wrote Judge Charles Haight Jr. in his decision.

Haight was no impartial arbiter: Thanks to the vagaries of the federal system, the judge tasked with ruling over Shakur’s compassionate release request was the very same judge who sentenced him to prison over three decades ago. Haight was 90 years old when he last ruled against Shakur’s release.

Following the return of Shakur’s cancer, his legal team has again applied for compassionate release, but they are not relying on this single avenue for his freedom.Shakur has been denied a staggering 976 days of earned good time, which he is owed.

Shakur’s attorneys and several legal scholars also believe that he could be freed without relying on the unbounded discretion of the parole commission or the judge. He should, they argue, be released immediately based on no more than the correct calculation of so-called good time credit to reduce time served.

Shakur is an “old law” prisoner but has not been credited with the appropriate “good time” days as required by “old law” rules. According to his legal team, Shakur has been denied a staggering 976 days of earned good time, which he is owed. Once properly accorded to him, he would be eligible for immediate release. Shakur is in an administrative remedy process to get this time restored.

A spokesperson from the Bureau of Prisons told me by email that “any inmate who believes their ‘good time’ is inaccurately calculated, may file a formal complaint on the matter” but declined to comment on any specifics regarding Shakur’s case.

Shakur and his team have yet to hear back about either his “good time” calculations or his request for compassionate release.

“I don’t see what they’re not seeing. They’re disregarding him as a person,” said another of Shakur’s numerous formerly incarcerated mentees, Anthony Jordan, of the authorities keeping his mentor behind bars. For eight years, 33-year-old Jordan was imprisoned in the same unit as Shakur, whom he describes as an “inspiration, an uplifting spirit beyond words.” Jordan added, “He’s been incarcerated my whole life. I can’t comprehend it. I can’t imagine how that must feel.”

No one, least of all a community healer like Shakur, should have to.

August 2021 Legal and Health Update

We deeply appreciate everyone’s ongoing concern and actions in support of Mutulu. His situation is extremely urgent and his health is deteriorating rapidly. Family & Friends of Mutulu Shakur and the legal team are actively working to secure his freedom through compassionate release, clemency and all other administrative and legal avenues. Please sign the online clemency petition if you haven’t already and share it with others! We filed yet another compassionate release petition to the Bureau of Prisons on August 12th. He needs more attention and advocacy for the BOP to grant his petition.

A member of Dr. Shakur’s legal team who has known him for decades visited recently. He was shocked to find him in constant pain from the bone marrow cancer with nothing offered him for pain except highly addictive oxycodone, which he refuses to take so he can stay as focused and strong as possible under these circumstances. It is sad that the only pain medication being offered to him is a dangerous opioid not dissimilar to the opioids he developed acupuncture protocols to detox people from.

All across the nation, human rights and social justice organizers and the acupuncture and healing community are calling for the release of Dr. Shakur! Stay tuned to the Family & Friends of Mutulu Shakur social media accounts (links in sidebar) for updates!

Maroon Party for Liberation Gathering (March 20, 2021)

Join Maroon Party for Liberation this Saturday, March 20th from 3-5pm EST, for a screening of a short film on the radical history of acupuncture produced by Eana Meng followed by a discussion featuring:

  • Talib Shakur (son of Dr. Mutulu Shakur)
  • Dr. Shadidi Kinsey (former student of Dr. Shakur & founder of PEACE Health Center)
  • Bro. Shep (Veteran Black Panther & Zulu King)
  • Laura Whitehorn (former political prisoner & activist)

Join via Zoom

We, the North Sphere of the Maroon Liberation School, have initiated a response to the opioid epidemic (along with addictions of all kinds, trauma and stress relief) in a way that amplifies some of the genius that emerged after the Human Rights Movement through the efforts of Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Republic of New Afrika healer and acupuncturist.

We are inviting people to come together and extend the celebration of 50th Anniversary of the Lincoln Detox Center by considering it’s contribution to our current health crisis through a national Zoom Gathering on Saturday, March 20th from 3 to 5 pm Eastern.

The week following that gathering, we are inviting organizers to create Healing Hubs in tune with the unique needs of their communities. Right now, we have Healing Hubs being coordinated in Vermont, Los Angeles and Chicago (New York needs a co-coordinator) and are inviting others to consider generating a healing hub in their respective communities anytime March 20 – 28.

NADA, an easily accessible acupuncture technique developed by Dr. Mutulu Shakur was a grass-roots, people-powered response to heroin being planted in Black communities to halt/slow the progress of Human Rights for all. Now, with almost 2 million suffering from opioid addiction in the United States, we wish to emphasize this effective solution made available by Dr. Mutulu Shakur and support actions that can free him as a political prisoner.

2021 Health & Legal Update

On October 14th, the stem cell irrigation started. On October 20th, I had a mandatory parole hearing, which I was again denied. I was notified of this denial on January 12th, and my next hearing will be in 2022. The final stage of the stem cell transplant took place from October 28th until November 14th, during which I was hospitalized. Upon my return from the stem cell procedure in November, I received the denial of compassionate release by the sentencing judge. Two days later, I was infected with COVID-19, in light of my immune system being compromised from stem cell replacement. I was put in quarantine in an unfavorable isolated area of the unit. I survived and won the battle to overcome the virus– now I am in the recovery period.

We are still waiting on a district Judge ruling on the Ninth Circuit habeas corpus petition and a response from the BOP on the renewed compassionate release petition in light of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, all past decisions have referred to a pre-trial motion filed in 1988 as a consideration in denying my release. This I believe is contrary to the spirit and intent of pre-trial motions, but more importantly offers no facts or law pertaining to the relief requested, from the manipulation of constitutional right filed in 3 federal jurisdictions over the 30-odd years of carrying out this sentence. Again I want to thank you all. There are still some avenues for release to explore available and I’m requesting your support.

I continue to hope that you are all healthy and using your wisdom to stay so. This virus is no joke, and clearly apolitical.

Mud and Water,
Dr. Mutulu Shakur


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NYT notes Mutulu and young Tupac’s backing vocals on ‘A Grain of Sand’ Album

A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle of Asians in America, a 1973 Paredon Records release, is widely recognized as the first album of Asian American music. Chris Kando Iijima, Joanne Nobuko Miyamoto, and William “Charlie” Chin deliver their activist message through simply–recorded acoustic guitars and vocals, with the occasional accompaniment of bongos, bass, and di zi, a Chinese flute. Soul, jazz, and blues elements are interwoven in the American folk style of the songs. The artists were also influenced by their solidarity with African American and Latin American social movements; for example, their musical collaboration with Puerto Rican duo Flora y Pepe and exposure to Latino artists while living in New York. The liner notes include a political statement by the musicians, lyrics, and a list of Asian American publications from the era:

All tracks can be purchased through Smithsonian Folkways

The album Yellow Pearl released on Paredon was the poetic and groundbreaking “A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle by Asians in America,” which included anthems like “We Are the Children” and “Free the Land,” featuring backing vocals from Mutulu Shakur (his stepson, Tupac Shakur, sang along to “A Grain of Sand” as a child, according to Smithsonian Folkways Magazine). It was recorded in two and a half days at a small New York studio and that no-frills spontaneity brings the music alive still.

New York Times, February, 10, 2021