by Kiilu Nyasha and Donna Wallach
August 1, 2012
In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 9, under which people serving
indeterminate life sentences in California State prisons could be denied parole and another
parole hearing for 3 to 15 years, instead of the established 1 to 5 years.
Prop 9 proponents argued that people convicted of serious crimes were being released from
prison too frequently. This simply is not the case. In 2008, about 30,000 people were serving
life sentences, and about 4,000 applied each year to appear before a two-member panel for a
parole recommendation. Less than one percent received release dates in a given year. In 2006,
e.g., only 23 lifers were granted parole, less than 0.5 percent of those eligible for
The California Parole Board held a hearing for Hugo Pinell on January 14, 2009, at which time
they denied him parole and scheduled him to return to the board in 15 years! However, since
Prop 9 was not in effect in 2009 when his hearing was scheduled and postponed, the decision
had to be rescinded.
A new parole hearing was scheduled for May 2012, at which Hugo anticipated a 15-year hit;
meaning he would not return to the Parole Board until 2027 at age 82! However instead, Hugo's
board hearing was postponed another year due to CDCR's new gang validation rules of 2012.
Uncommon Law, the law firm of Keith Wattley, is handling Hugo's case now, and they think they
can get some relief for him under the new rules. So let's take this year to do everything we
can to support Hugo and help him to stay strong in that hell hole for another year.
Hugo Pinell, affectionately known as Yogi Bear by his friends, has been in Pelican Bay
Security Housing Unit (SHU) since 1990 -- no windows or natural light, very restricted
possessions, no phone calls, 24/7 lockup unless permitted to exercise alone for an hour in a
small concrete pen, also known as a dog-run; no-contact visits which are limited to an hour
and a half, if you are lucky, only on weekends or holidays and only one visit per day. Yogi
lives in a small 6' x 8' cell. In his cell he sleeps on a concrete bed, if you can call a
concrete board a bed, has a metal toilet, a sink and a TV, and has extremely limited contact
with the other prisoners in his section of the SHU, there are eight pods of cells in his
unit. Armed guards stand non-stop watch over him and the other men. Basically Yogi spends
every hour of every day by himself, day in and day out, unless family or a friend comes to
visit him on a Saturday, or a Sunday or a holiday.
Yogi has been in solitary confinement for at least 42 years at San Quentin, Folsom, and
Corcoran State Prisons, and the last 22 in Pelican Bay SHU. He was 19-years-old when
incarcerated in 1964 and has spent a total of 48 years in prison altogether. Despite 32
years of clean time (no write-ups) he remains in solitary. Solitary confinement is considered
to be torture, which is illegal under international law and our own Constitution.
Pelican Bay is isolated in the Northwest corner of California, just 10 miles south of the
Oregon border, a very long trip by car (the only means). His mother, in her 80s with health
problems has continued to make that long trip to visit her son, now 67 years old. Can you
even imagine not being able to hug your own son for over four decades?
Yogi earned the enmity of the prison officials back in the 1960s when he was part of the
"Black Movement" behind California prison walls led by George L. Jackson, W. L. Nolen, and
many other conscious, standup brothers who made it safe for Blacks to walk the yards of
California's extremely racist gulags.
On August 21, 1971, in what has been deemed a setup, Soledad Brother George Jackson was
murdered on the yard of San Quentin by prison guards. During this orchestrated escape attempt,
however, three guards were also killed, along with two inmate "trustees." This set the prison
officials on fire and they have been exacting revenge ever since on Hugo Pinell (Yogi), the
only defendant in the "San Quentin Six" case still in prison; convicted of assault on a
prison guard. The only defendant convicted of murder in the case, Johnny Spain, was released
Clearly Yogi is a political prisoner, although the U.S. rarely if ever admits to holding any
political prisoners. Our revolutionary hero is still strong of mind and body, has maintained
his health with a strictly vegetarian diet and a grueling exercise program. His character
and personality are evident in the following missive to Terry Collins (reprinted in full at
the end of this article).
It would be a good thing for those with resources to contact office of Attorney Keith Wattley of
The UnCommon Law at (510) 271-0310 or
contact his secretary Ritika via email RAggarwal@uncommonlaw.org
to help Yogi with financial assistance in covering his legal fees. The law office is a 501(3)c
and you can get tax deductions.
Thanks to Kiilu for most of this!
Power to the people!
LETTER TO TERRY COLLINS FROM HUGO "YOGI BEAR" PINELL
My Brother Terry,
Best of love and health to you and family. It's good to hear from you, always, even thru the
hard times because we can share & be solid company. Thank you, for the kind words and for
recognizing the great work of a few brothers in here, from so long ago, who were really
serious about liberation and the transformation of self. For me, it begins with the new W.L.
in San Quentin in March in 1967, because I remember the old W.L. in Soledad, in 1963-64,
when he was consistently messing up, as were most of us youngsters. Therefore, when the new
W.L. greeted me in San Quentin, and he was handing me some literature and telling me about
the Black Consciousness studies, The Self Reliant Principles of living, the Black Liberation
Movement and the building of the New Man, he became my principal example because I noticed
the positive and significant changes in him. He used Malcolm as our primary example of
self-transformation and he felt that all of us brothers could make that same transformation,
and not talking about religion because that should be a conscientious personal choice.
Yes, there was the objective of converting the criminal mentality into a revolutionary
mentality, but that was only one phase of the self-transformation process, and that's why
brother Malcolm played a big role in our mode of transformation. San Quentin was the best
station in the CDC for black prisoners to get socially and politically educated because we
had some righteous brothers in the liberation movement paving the way for us to learn, grow
and really transform. We had Muslim brothers receiving all kind of black literature and
consciousness material along with their religious material and they would share it with all
brothers interested in learning and changing. Also, by 1967, there were several black
organizations in the U.S. including the Panther Party in Oakland (1966) and some brothers
were receiving revolutionary and world history material from some of these organizations and
would share it.
All of that literature was part of consciousness studies, our self-reliant principles of
living and self-transformation process. Most of us were very young, doing short sentences
(supposedly), had been thru the gladiator stations, Tracy and Soledad, and the time and
place was right for self change. We had the teachers, examples, the literature, the means
and the opportunities, so it was up to us, how seriously devoted we would be toward real
self-change. This was a "Wake up"- "Grow up"-"Self transform "
-"Liberate" call and it was a voluntary thing, but to join the liberation movement
we had to understand the meaning of liberate and, to embark on a commitment to freedom, we
had to do away with old ways, old habits, f---d up mentality, the club, homeboy set mentality
It was in the self-transformation process, according to our teachers. The New Man
(a lifetime building) represents constant growth. History teaches us how terribly we were
damaged and left to try and figure out, fit in a social structure in which we would remain
confined, controlled, limited and surviving in the revolving doors. Therefore, our best way
to become free again but for good this time was and is the Malcolm self-evolvement way. Take
as much control as possible of our minds, our senses, our energies, our emotional and
spiritual powers and gradually create new selves. If we would have been self-transforming
for the last 60, 50 years, there would not be millions of new slaves today and we would have
the power to be making an impact and difference toward the building of the New World.
Millions of us would be feeling so personally free, soo new and strong and proud and
rewarding of the constant evolvement work we put in over the years.
This is what W.L. [Nolen] was emphasizing the most; self-transformation. We study, observe,
we learn and use everything that's positive, constructive, truly revolutionary and
compassionate to begin transforming, building anew while constantly doing away with the old,
like Malcolm kept growing. The wonderful thing is that we were in control of these constant
self changes and there is no time limit, but we have to keep at it even if, sometimes we
stagnate. Our new ways of living become our freedom road and goal. If we grow tired, upset,
afraid, stagnant, we stay on that road and, then, keep on pushing and growing.
I'm telling you how W.L. and the other great brothers were seeing things and realizing what
we had to do to get out of prisons and become human builders and difference makers in the
world. In the 50s, there weren't many brothers in the CDC and they were getting victimized.
Then, in the 60s, too many brothers were being sent to the CDC and the teachers felt we had
to change, get out, become constructive and productive in society, while constantly
transforming, and we wouldnÕt have to occupy the cells in the CDC.
Unfortunately, my brother, more prisons were built, more brothers sent to these prisons and
hardly any new selves built? Something happened along the way. All I know is that our
teachers kept saying "no matter what, wherever we are, if we're alive and able, we
gotta keep pushing and growing. It's the only personal way to continue our growth and
become free." Malcolm and Martin kept on pushing and evolving, in spite of the dangers
and everything. You and Yuri and Kiilu, on the streets, have continued to push and grow.
Even if you have stagnated, or get to feeling old (smile), you keep on pushing and are
serving the public, and being my good brother and friend. Thank you.
There is so much I can share with you, but I wanted to give you a little passage of what was
going on in San Quentin, when I was transferred there from Soledad, in March of 1967, and
the great impact all that activity and new changes had on me, specially meeting some dynamic
brothers and teachers, and my best example in W.L. I went thru some bumps and stagnation
before I started putting it all together and pushing on, but my foundation for change and
struggle for freedom began in S.Q.1967. You can share this with Kiilu and whomever else. I
hope your family and you are doing well and in good health. Take care and stay in touch. Let
me know you received this.
(END OF LETTER)