[Pnews] Weeks After Guards Attacked Him, Political Prisoner Herman Bell Is Being Denied Family Visits

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 29 20:09:39 EDT 2017


Weeks After Guards Attacked Him, Political Prisoner Herman Bell Is Being 
Denied Family Visits

Essay by kihana miraya ross. Introduction by Akiba Solomon

Herman Bell, a 69-year old political prisoner, has been imprisoned since 
1973 for the killing of two New York City police officers. Bell, who was 
a member of the Black Panther Party at that time, plead not guilty at 
trial and stated that witness coercion and prosecutorial misconduct led 
to his conviction.

On September 5, he suffered an unprovoked assault by up to six guards at 
the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. According 
to Bell, guards punched him in the face, slammed his head into the 
concrete floor three times, pepper-sprayed him in his face and mouth, 
and kneed him in the rib cage. He sustained two broken ribs. Three weeks 
after the attack, his vision remains blurry and he suffers from 
headaches and dizziness.

Bell, who has not had a disciplinary infraction for over 20 years, was 
charged with assaulting prison staff and has been placed in solitary 
confinement without sufficient medical treatment. Advocates are calling 
for Bell to receive adequate medical care, to have the disciplinary 
charges against him dropped, to be returned to general population, for 
the officers who assaulted him to be fired and for the reinstatement of 
family visits. Bell had been scheduled to begin a three-day visit with 
his wife around the time of the beating. It would have been their first 
in over 2 1/2 years. Here, Bell’s daughter-in-law, kihana miraya ross, 
reflects on how vital visits are for both Bell and their family.

Herman Bell is the best man. Yes, he is a political prisoner. He is an 
activist. He is a tireless soldier in the fight for justice. He is all 
of those things. But he is also a husband. He is a father. He is a 
grandfather. He is my children’s grandfather—a grandfather they have 
only had the opportunity to spend time with in prison visiting rooms.

When the girls were young, they would wait anxiously in the Eastern 
Correctional Facility visiting room for their “gandpa,” as they used to 
call him, to come out. As soon as they would see him, they would try to 
dart over to him, fighting for lap time. I would literally have to hold 
them back because Herman had to check in at the desk before he could sit 
down with us. As soon as came over, I would sneak in my hug while the 
girls were tethered to his legs. When he would sit down, he would prop 
both girls on his knees and talk to them about what was going on in 
their world—allowing them to establish some sense of normalcy in their 
relationship. Where kids on the outside might ask their grandpa for an 
ice cream cone, the girls would request something sweet from the vending 
machine. He would always oblige.

As the girls have gotten older, their grandpa has moved prisons. At 
Comstock, the prison where he recently suffered an unprovoked assault by 
multiple guards, the visiting rooms are constructed in such a way that 
there is always a 2.5- to 3-foot table between visitors and prisoners. 
We have to reach over the table to attempt hugs and kisses—never quite 
being able to embrace completely.

Even so, as young women ages 12 and 16, my daughters still eagerly wait 
for their grandpa to come out. As soon as Herman sits down, Sage goes 
and gets a bunch of napkins and a pencil. She begins drawing little 
lines for the game formerly known as hangman. Simone, quite the budding 
feminist, tells a story that exemplifies patriarchy to get her grandpa’s 
reaction, preparing to lovingly school him if necessary. They talk about 
their classes, friends and extracurricular activities. And then, as if 
they are toddlers again, my daughters ask their grandpa if they can get 
something sweet from the vending machine.

We live thousands of miles away from Comstock; seeing Herman is only 
possible through the support of the Rosenberg Fund for Children’s Attica 
Prison Visit program. So in those long stretches between visits, there 
are the phone calls. Calls are where Herman finds out about the trees 
we’ve planted and the houseplants we’re nursing. When I first moved into 
my new house, Herman asked me to walk him through the layout, to tell 
him where we built the bookshelves and where the plants live. It was our 
way of having him over— of showing him our “new digs” as he called it. 
We paint pictures of our lives for him so that he has something tangible 
to hold on to in his world. We talk of not “if” but “when” he gets out. 
We talk of buying a big house and living together as a family—of porches 
in the summer and Jack Daniels-spiked lemonades. That’s how we hold on 
until our next visit.

My favorite times with Herman are when he’s in the mood to tell stories. 
He never asks, “Do you want to hear a story?” Rather, he suddenly 
transports the girls and me from the bleak visiting room to a summer in 
Mississippi or a rainy San Francisco day. Herman’s stories don’t really 
have a beginning or an end. We just somehow find ourselves inside them 
until I notice Herman glancing at the clock. Then we are back in the 
visiting room, and it’s nearing 3 o’clock, and we’re figuring out how to 
squeeze in the last little bits of everything before it’s time to say 
goodbye. Then there’s the lump in my throat. My daughters squeezing 
hands under the table. Me whispering to them, “Wait,” so that they 
remember not to cry until grandpa can’t see us anymore.

Then the guards yell, “Visiting is over.” Despite the barrier of the 
table, we hug. We hug again. We begin that goodbye, where he goes one 
way and we go the other. He turns around to wave again. We wave. We blow 
kisses. I throw up a power fist and he throws it right back. We get one 
last glance and then he’s gone. The iron door shuts and the tears push 
their way down our cheeks.

kihana miraya ross is the daughter in law of political prisoner Herman 
Bell and mother of his two beautiful granddaughters. This piece is 
written as the author’s elderly father in law sits in solitary 
confinement, after having been brutally beaten by guards.

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