Letters to the Editor

From a Prisoner

Dear Socialist Viewpoint,

My case is but one among many that again shows the wrongfulness of our country’s inhumane justice system.

For the last nineteen years I have been in prison for a crime I didn’t commit. Having no trust in the justice system, I refused to put my life in the hands of a court appointed lawyer and represented myself as my own lawyer, which resulted in my actually winning a mistrial.

The majority of the jury members said they didn’t believe I had committed the murder of a neighborhood drug dealer.

The assistant District Attorney who had failed to convict me, stated in deep anger in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We can’t wait to get a different jury.”

This statement meant a lot more than what the assistant DA said on the surface. It was no coincidence an ex-assistant District Attorney was sitting on my new jury during my retrial. Not only did she sit on the jury, she
mysteriously became the foreman of the jury!

Further, not only was she a friend of the prosecutor who had failed to convict me in her first trial, she was also a friend of the co-prosecutor of the second trial who was hand picked by the prosecutor of my first trial, and who co-prosecuted the case from behind the scenes.

Sixteen years later the man who committed the murder came forward with an affidavit stating it was he who killed the drug dealer and not me. Still the Philadelphia court system is trying to keep this dirty secret under the rug.

I need all the help and support I can get from the people. I’m seeking true lawyers, investigators, funds, friends, letters, information, or just to communicate with people who will reach out to a prisoner of injustice.

Warren Henderson #BQ 4775
1100 Pike Street
Huntingdon, PA. 16654-1112

The Man Without a Country

By Joe Johnson

In the 1960s the U.S. government, using the Smith Act, tried to deport Joe Johnson, a U.S.-born socialist and member of the Minneapolis/St. Paul (Twin Cities) branch of the Socialist Workers Party. His “crime” was union activity in Canada. Under the Smith Act, anyone who took “political action in a foreign country” would be declared “stateless” and deported. A national defense campaign was undertaken and won by the Socialist Workers Party. Here is the story as told by Joe Johnson in a letter to Socialist Viewpoint.

A member of the Twin Cities branch came up with the title, They Have Declared Me a Man Without a Country for my defense pamphlet. It was a good title. At the time, the Smith Act had an anti-communist section in it that deported anyone who took political action in a foreign nation. Under this provision, those accused had to deport themselves, and were declared “stateless” and held in prison until they did. I was considered to have taken political action by being the head of the Political Action Committee of the Steel Workers of Ontario, Canada and for having voted for the Steel Workers to join with the Canadian Communist Party to form a Canadian Labor Party.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), under the leadership of the Twin Cities branch fought this. The government was not able to prove anything and, eventually, that section of the Smith Act was declared unconstitutional.

One of the legal problems (among many) that the government had was that I was native born, as was my mother and father. And, I had already served two-plus years in prison as a citizen of the United States for a “crime” only a citizen could commit—refusing to fight in the Korean War for political reasons.

The Twin Cities branch of the SWP took on my defense with enthusiasm and with deep experience in “How To.” We got the help of Doug Hall, the main labor attorney in Minneapolis at the time, who we could work closely with; and who gave freely of his time and considerable skill and experience. We raised money, got extensive endorsements, printed a good pamphlet, etc.

For myself, the most exciting part was an extensive national tour I took speaking about the case and raising funds for my defense.

The tour was over 99 days and 25,000 miles long that took me to most of the States, most of the large cities and all of the branches of the SWP in the U.S. The cost of the tour was smallest that anyone had knowledge of. The Greyhound Bus Co. had a promotion travel ticket that year (they never repeated it) where you could get a national one-way ticket for $99.00 that would last for 99 days. We worked out a master-ticket for myself.

I went first to Seattle; then down the West Coast; then back to Denver; then to Texas and the South; then up the East Coast to New Jersey, New York, Boston, etc.; then to the Midwest; to Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, etc.; then back to Minneapolis. I spoke on TV, radio, had newspaper interviews, a full page in the Christian Science Monitor, etc.

I traveled light with one small duffle bag. I tried to sleep in a bed every two or three days. Comrades made me a guest in their homes and gave me cooked meals and a change of underwear. I lived on approximately $2.15 per day. I was able to raise thousands for the defense case and a large number of people told me they joined the party after my speeches. We won the case and I enjoyed the tour greatly.

My most interesting stop was in Mississippi. The bus got into town late—about two or three hours late—on a Saturday night. I was met at the bus station where they were waiting for me to speak. I was to speak then take the next bus out early the next morning.

I was taken to a large nightclub where I was informed that I would be “on” in about half-an-hour and that they would “pass the hat” and that what they collected would be for my defense. It was a large room with a low ceiling crammed with people drinking “set ups” at small tables. There were approximately 500 people. I went on “stage” just after a Black singer who got a mild applause. The club was all Black and I was the only white man outside of the police in that part of town.

In my speech I dealt in some depth with the organization of Blacks in prison that I became aware of while there. The audience was quite interested in this and quite knowledgeable. The room became very quiet and everyone listened closely. I got a good collection from the hat and made it back in time for the morning bus out.

In my opinion, a major prison revolt within the U.S. should be coming extremely quickly. Great working-class leaders and thinkers are developing now within the vast U.S. prisons. As we know, the prison population in the U.S. is the largest of any nation in history. And it’s ready to explode—in both federal and state prisons—and explode with a unity never seen before. Without extensive outside support, the prison revolt cannot be successful against the state and will be put down with much blood. But with support, it can be victorious.