Ode to a People's Defender
Black Panther Captain Warren Wells remembered as the People's Defender
Ida McCray and Kiilu Nyasha
Tuesday, July 10, 2001;
Warren William Wells was born in San Francisco's Alice Griffith projects
(Double Rock) on Nov. 13, 1947. His first struggle in a predominately Black
community was to overcome the stigma attached to his green eyes and light
skin. Nicknamed "Dub," Warren got his first taste of prison in 1963 when,
at the tender age of 16, he was sentenced as an adult to Soledad State
Prison. It was there that he met brothers like George Jackson, Eldridge
Cleaver, Alprentice Bunchy Carter, Hugo Yogi Pinell, Fleeta Drumgo, James
McClain, and others.
Like so many of our young Black men (and more recently our young sisters),
Warren got caught up in the revolving-door prison syndrome. As Soledad
Brother George L. Jackson noted, "Black men born in the U.S. and fortunate
enough to live past the age of 18 are conditioned to accept the
inevitability of prison. For most of us, it simply looms as the next phase
in a sequence of humiliations. Being born a slave in a captive society and
never experiencing any objective basis for expectation had the effect of
preparing me for the progressively traumatic misfortunes that lead so many
black men to the prison gate. I was prepared for prison."
While out of prison in 1967, Eldridge brought Warren into the Black Panther
Party, whereupon he became the Sergeant at Arms, or Captain Wells. He was
also dubbed "The San Francisco Kid." Dedicated and fearless, Warren was a
powerful functionary of the Party on both sides of the Bay. In 1968, he was
shot and wounded, along with Eldridge, during the fire fight between the
Panthers and police that martyred Lil Bobby Hutton, murdered in cold blood
by Oakland police.
Warren loved his people, his fellow prisoners. But he hated injustice,
racism and this rotten system, and knew exactly where to direct his
rage. Needless to say, this level of rebellious consciousness made him a
threat and a target.
Back in prison at San Quentin at the age of 22, Warren planted the seeds of
struggle, sharing all he had learned from the Party with his fellow
prisoners, raising political awareness and organizing prisoner
solidarity. One of his best friends was James McClain, who was martyred in
the Marin Courthouse Slave Rebellion of Aug. 7, 1970. It was McClain,
William Christmas, Jonathan Jackson and Warren who planned that guerrilla
move to free the Soledad Brothers, George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John
Clutchette. Their original plan was to use the hostages taken and make it
to a radio station to expose the murderous and brutal prison conditions
behind the walls of California prisons at that time.
Kumasi, one of the soldiers who spent time with Warren behind the walls,
made the following statement on learning of Warren's death:
"Warren Wells was a complicated and often misunderstood comrade whose
history of defiance toward authority and revolutionary activity reaches
back to the early ^A'60s. He was a key member of the prison movement, a
Captain in the BPP, and was at the center of the storm that raged through
the California prison system in the 1970s. There may have been cracks in
his personality, we all have them, but he will not be counted among the
broken men. And I'll miss him."
Warren and Kumasi were leaders in the development of a document known as
The Folsom Manifesto, which listed prisoner grievances and demands for
major changes in prison conditions, sentencing laws and labor rights as
well as an end to the death penalty (which actually happened in 1972,
although it was later rescinded). They smuggled it out of Folsom lockup to
the general population, resulting in the longest prison strike in
California history. On Aug. 24-25, 1970, Warren and Kumasi confronted the
San Quentin administration after organizing some 400 Black, Chicano and
White prisoners who stood together in solidarity behind the Manifesto.
In 1971, Warren was accused of planning bank robberies and other guerrilla
actions from his cell. When his lifetime comrade sister Ida McCray Robinson
hijacked a plane to Cuba, it was discovered that she had just visited
Warren the day before she was accused of air piracy.
Said Ida, "I learned from Warren how important the Black Panther Party was,
how love of people could be translated into a political context, how real
men treat women, and how to fearlessly soar like an eagle, i.e., take it to
"After 40 years, Warren knew what was important, that our responsibility
was first to our families, to take care of them and to take care of our
people, especially our youth. I loved Warren; I loved his spirit. He never
became complacent although he had been locked up most of his life."
On June 29, Warren died in the custody of the California Department of
Corrections after "minor" surgery at UCSF Hospital and 17 years, this last
bid. He is survived by his only son, Warren Wells Jr., his mother,
Marguerite Wells, two sisters, Patricia Ann Well-Caracter and Donetta
Wells-Ingram, a host of nieces and nephews and friends and comrades he has
known a lifetime.
"The indeterminate sentencing of so many lifers has to be done away with,"
says Ida today. "I really feel in my heart that if there was some hope of
their release, it would have made a difference in his days. We must work to
make the parole board and governor Davis give lifers a date in their
foreseeable lives when they can come home and be a part of the family, and
not a hindrance, 'cuz they are simply, very old."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Jul 11 2001 - 16:49:54 EDT