Fighting for Lynne Stewart and Herman Wallace

by Laura Whitehorn
Originally published on

Fourteen years ago today, as I write this, I was walking out the front gate of a federal prison for women in California, released after 14 years and three months of incarceration as a political prisoner. Yet today, marking that anniversary, I feel particularly unfree.

This feeling goes beyond my general daily awareness that I am not free as long as scores of political prisoners—and millions of other incarcerated people—remain locked up in this country. Herman Bell, for example, whose phone call I am awaiting now, will mark his 40th year in prison on September 2nd; I recently visited Jalil Muntaqim in Attica; Jalil has already spent 42 years inside. Herman and Jalil are among a large number of former Black Panther Party members who remain political prisoners, nearly half a century after the massive movements and civil conflict that took the Civil Rights Movement into the revolutionary era of the 1960’s and 70’s.

My unease today stems particularly from the situation of two comrades: Lynne Stewart and Herman Wallace. Both are in prison for political reasons. Both are in their 70s. Both have late-stage, terminal cancers. Both are supremely eligible for compassionate release from prison so that they can care for themselves free of shackles and be cared for and embraced by their families and communities. Neither one has been granted such release.

You can find the details of their cases at several sites:

  • Part of Lynne’s story was in the New York Times today , but for the full story, go to;
  • Herman’s story is hard to comprehend fully: the story of a man who has served 41 years in solitary as retribution for starting a chapter of the Black Panther Party in Angola, Louisiana (with Robert King Wilkerson and Albert Woodfox). You can start with And Melissa Harris-Perry covered Herman’s case on MSNBC

Another anniversary recently passed—August 3rd, three years since the death from cancer of my dear codefendant, friend and comrade Marilyn Buck. In Marilyn’s case, the federal government exercised “compassion” by allowing her to leave prison (after more than 25 years) a scant 23 days earlier than her release date. She died three days short of the date that would otherwise have seen her walk out of the prison gates.

Today I want to feel my own freedom, and I can do that by pushing for Lynne’s and Herman’s. When our government parses out “compassion” in numbers governed by vindictiveness, we have to rescue a culture of humanity by fighting for justice and compassion. There are many things we can do in that effort. But for now, if you haven’t yet done so, sign the petitions urging compassionate release for Lynne and for Herman.

Then organize. Urge your friends, family, work associates to sign on too. Write to Lynne, Herman and other political prisoners. Let them know that you are exercising our freedom by fighting for theirs.