The death and life of Hugo Pinell
By JAAN LAAMAN
It was with true sadness that , on August 13th, I received the news that legendary California prison activist Hugo Pinell, was killed in a California prison. This is Jaan Laaman, your political prisoner voice and let me share a few thoughts about the life and death of this extraordinary man.
I never personally knew Hugo Pinell. The simple reason for that is because Hugo Pinell was locked up in California state prisons for 50 years! That is insane. It is hard to wrap you mind around the reality of someone being held captive for 50 years. Even more insane, for most of those years he was held in isolation-segregation cells.
Hugo was just released from segregation and it is being reported that he was killed by two white prisoners. There was a serious uprising or riot that also took place at this time.
Hugo Pinell spent decades teaching, advocating and struggling for Human Rights, justice and dignity for prisoners. He taught and fought for racial and revolutionary unity among all prisoners. Locked up in 1965, like many other prisoners at that time, Hugo became politicized inside the California prison system. In addition to exploring his Nicaraguan heritage, Hugo was influenced by activists like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, as well as his comrades inside, including George Jackson. His leadership in combating the racism and brutality of prison officials made him a prime target for retribution and Hugo soon found himself in the notorious San Quentin Adjustment Center.
While in San Quentin, Hugo and five other politically conscious prisoners were charged with participating in the August 21, 1971 rebellion, which resulted in the assassination of George Jackson by prison guards on that day. Hugo Pinell, Willie Tate, Johnny Spain, David Johnson, Fleeta Drumgo and Luis Talamantez became known as the San Quentin Six. They had a very public 16 month trial. The San Quentin Six became a global symbol of unyielding resistance against the prison system and its violent, racist design. Hugo spent decades in segregation, but continued to work for racial unity and human rights for prisoners.
Personally, I am of course upset that a brother like Hugo was killed, by what I have to assume were some reactionary fascist minded prisoners. But truly what I mainly feel is sadness, profound sadness at this news.
Hugo Pinell is gone. His bid, his sentence is now ended. After 50 years of captivity, that is not a bad thing. Even as an elderly
person, in his 70s, Hugo Pinell died in the struggle. The hands that struck him down, it is reported, were prisoners, but the actual force that killed him was the capitalist police state prison system that holds 2.2 million men, women and children in captivity.
Hugo Pinell, we will remember you brother and your strong life long example of resistance. We will continue this resistance and this struggle for Freedom.
A statement from 3 of the San Quentin 6 for Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell
Hugo Pinell was assassinated at new Folsom State Prison. this is another
example of the racism people of color inside those prisons are confronted
with on a daily basis. like Comrade George, Hugo has been in the cross
hairs of the system for years. His assassination exemplify how racist
working in conjunction with prison authorities commit murderous acts like
this. We saw it on the yard at Soledad in 1970 and we see it again on the
yard at Folsom in 2015.
His life was a living hell. We witness the brutality inflicted on him by
prison guards as they made every effort to break him, he endured more
than fifty years of sensory deprivation, for decades he was denied being
able to touch his family or another human being, as well as attempts on
his life. This is cruel and unusual punishment! Hugo is not the monster
that is being portrayed in social media / news media. The CDC is the real
During the six trial we really got to know Hugo. He was as we all were
under a lot of stress. His stress was heavier than mines because he had
the additional load of being beaten on regular occasions. We saw the
strength of his of his spirit, and through it all he manage to smile.
We mourn the loss of our comrade brother, yogi. We have been hit with a
crushing blow that will take some time to recover from. We must expose
those who under the cover of law orchestrated and allowed this murderous
act to take place. The prisoners who did it acted as agents of the state.
It comes at a time when prisoners are collectively trying to end decades
of internal strife. Those who took his life have done a disservice to
our movement, their actions served the cause of the same oppressor we
fought against! No longer do you have to endure the hatred of people who
didn’t even know you and never dared to love you. You have represented
George & Che well, and we salute you!
David General Giap Johnson
Luis Bato Talamantez
Willie Sundiata Tate