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