[sixties-l] Former Black Panther reflects on 27 years in jail

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 10/24/00

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    Former Black Panther reflects on 27 years in jail
    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 
    "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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