Former Black Panther reflects on 27 years in jail <http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20001023/en/people-pratt_1.html> By Dan Whitcomb LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He spent years in solitary confinement talking to the ants crawling across his prison cell floor, convinced they were bringing him food. Now he chats by cell phone with Marlon Brando. Geronimo Pratt does not brood about his 27 years behind barsor about the evidence his lawyers found showing he was framed for a crime he never committed, possibly because late FBI (news - web sites) director J. Edgar Hoover wanted the Black Panther leader "neutralized." Pratt shrugs off talk about Hollywood movie dealsactor Sean Penn is interested in his story and Brando is a frequent callerand his mantle as America's so-called Last Political Prisoner, a status he earned in 1997 when a judge threw out his murder conviction and set him free. "I don't know if you call it bitterness, it's water under the bridge," Pratt said in an interview with Reuters. "Like we say, it 'done happened.' But, yeah, you wouldn't want it to happen to no one else's child, so you try to come out and expose the true culprits who make money and make fun, make all kind of things in their silly minds, their sick minds, by putting someone in prison for the rest of their lives or messing up someone's family." Pratt has come a long way since 1972, when a jury found him guilty of murdering 27-year-old teacher Caroline Olsen in Santa Monica two years earlier, unaware of evidence that the FBI had him under surveillance at a Panther meeting 333 miles away at the time she was shot to death. He was represented at that trial by Johnnie Cochran, now best known for winning an acquittal on murder charges for O.J. Simpson but then a young defense attorney. The two discussed the case and its aftermath to help promote a new book about the case, "Last Man Standing, the Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt" (Doubleday) by writer Jack Olsen. Naive Lawyer Confesses "I was very naive at the time of the trial. I felt I was going to win this case because I felt this was an innocent man," Cochran said in an interview with Reuters. "Geronimo always said: 'They're out to get me, they're out to get me,' and I would always say: 'Who's they? Who you talking about?' Well, I later learned 'they' was the FBI, the LAPD and the L.A. District Attorney's Office." Pratt. now 53, was sentenced to life in prison and spent his first eight years in solitary confinement alongside such neighbors as cult murderer Charles Manson. He was cut off from contact with the outside world after prosecutors branded him so dangerous that he could seize control of the entire prison. He survived a quarter century in California's toughest prisons with mental toughness earned during a childhood in the Louisiana swamps and two Vietnam War combat tours, he said. "I never felt like I was going to break. I did feel like I was going to check out, die, many a time. Then you end up escaping mentally and all of a sudden you find yourself free. That is the first time I experienced what I called true freedom," he said. "I went to Manila (in my mind) and saw the 'Thrilla in Manila,"" he said, referring to the famous 1975 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. "I thought to myself: 'I'm in the deepest hole there is, and I'm free.' I couldn't believe that I actually saw that fight. I later learned that was an eastern discipline called Astral Projection." With no human contact aside from the guards, whom he considered "straight up, the enemy," Pratt became desperate for any distraction, eventually turning to the ants that crawled through his cell and bit him regularly on the arms and legs. "I learned that the most intelligent living creatures that I've ever ran into were those ants. They would bite me and I would slap them and get mad and then they would bite me some more. Then you realize: 'What am I fighting for? This is their territory, their turf, they outnumber you,"" he said. "So I stopped killing them and I just submitted to them. And then I noticed that one day they began to come in and pile their crumbs in the corner and they had stopped biting my legs. And I started meditating and concentrating and focusing on that. And I started to get messages back," he went on. "I don't talk to most people about this because they don't have the mind to comprehend, but those (ants), they are so intelligent, after we started doing that they never bit me again. What they were doing was, they were bringing me food. They were actually bringing me food." Pratt was finally moved out of solitary after his long-time attorney Stuart Hanlon challenged his treatment as unfair. But he would spend another 19 years in prison, his appeals rejected by judges at every level, before Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey set him free. Water Under The Bridge He said he came away from his experience determined to change the U.S. criminal justice system but at the same time showing little bitterness about his years wasted in prison. "I want to expose this evilness that's set in place, that's institutionalized, that includes everything they call the criminal justice system," he said. "The prison industrial complex is very evil. It's like a doomsday machine." And Pratt, who since his release has moved home to Louisiana, said he has no regrets about his days as a revolutionary, despite the terrible price he paid. "Well, you know, we were young and naive and everybody was just fired up back in that day, trying to make a change. But the difference was, we were trying to do what was right. We weren't out here raping and robbing and killing people like ... all this crime today. We were not criminals," he said. Cochran remembers the day Pratt was freed as the best in his long career as a lawyer and insists that he would rather be defined by this case than by Simpson, a man whose picture dominates the entry of Cochran's law firm. "It's terrible. I don't want my epitaph to be: 'Here lies Johnnie Cochran, he once defended O.J. Simpson,"" Cochran said, sitting in his office under a framed copy of the New York Times front page from the day that Simpson was acquitted. "If you want to talk about my career, this case defines my career, Geronimo Pratt. And that's very important to me. This is a story they ought to hear."
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