The US Parole Commission granted parole to US political prisoner Mutulu Shakur in October, who is now 72 after spending over 36 years behind bars. The decision was made public on November 10. Shakur is set to be released on December 16. Shakur is currently incarcerated at a federal medical center in Lexington, Kentucky due to his multiple health issues. The decision comes after decades of pressure from activists and the discovery by prison doctors that Shakur had only months to live.
“This is a moment for celebration over and above anything else, and then a continued rededication to free all of the political prisoners who continue to remain behind bars,” Eugene Puryear, host at Breakthrough News and author Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America, told Peoples Dispatch.
Shakur is a Black liberation fighter and a revolutionary health worker, renowned for his participation in and leadership of the Lincoln Detox Center. Lincoln Detox was a project of the revolutionary Puerto Rican diaspora group the Young Lords, designed to holistically rehabilitate poor and working class drug addicts in New York City. True to its ideological foundation, the detox program used the addiction treatment drug methadone, then incorporated holistic healing methods such as acupuncture to wean patients slowly off of the medication. The program also utilized socialist political education and community service as healing methods.
Shakur has been imprisoned for his alleged involvement in a 1981 bank robbery and the escape of fellow political prisoner Assata Shakur. According to his supporters, the case against him contains numerous irregularities.
Shakur has made numerous attempts at achieving freedom. The same judge who sentenced him, despite acknowledging that the revolutionary had been persecuted by the FBI through COINTELPRO, denied his compassionate release in 2020. The judge’s excuse was that Shakur was not close enough to death to justify his release.
In May of this year, United States Federal Bureau of Prisons doctors estimated that Shakur had six months to live. This put the incarceration system in a tough position—would they allow a well-respected elder to die in prison?
Mutulu Shakur was incarcerated under federal sentencing guidelines known as “old law” as he was convicted before 1987. This means that the decision to parole him rests with the antiquated US Parole Commission, which was meant to be phased out 20 years ago. The continued existence of the commission rests solely on the fact that there are around 200 prisoners still jailed under “old law”.
Finally it was not the courts that granted Shakur’s release. The federal parole commission caved under pressure from activists in October, paroling Shakur with far less than six months to live.
“It’s long overdue that this took place, and I think it speaks to the extreme vindictiveness of the legal authorities, judicial authorities and political authorities of the state of New York and the country more broadly to punish those who stood up bravely for the fight for Black liberation for so many years,” said Puryear commented to Peoples Dispatch. “But I think it’s also a tremendous victory for the people’s movements working for decades now to gain [Shakur’s] freedom and to gain the freedom of other political prisoners.”