Incarceration Nation

Major Tillery, The Man

Interview by Shakaboona Marshall

Shakaboona, the editor of The Movement, the quarterly publication of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) conducted this interview with innocent Pennsylvania lifer Major Tillery over the fall of 2016. Since then, Stephen Patrizio, a well-established criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia has taken up Major’s case pro bono, but still requires funds for the costs of legal filings and continued investigation. (See below.) Major’s post-conviction petition challenging his conviction on grounds of actual innocence and gross prosecutorial and police misconduct was filed on June 15, 2016 and dismissed by the judge without even holding a hearing on September 26, 2016. Major’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court will be filed by April 12, 2107. For more information, go to:

Shakaboona Marshall: Major Tillery is a well-known, highly respected man, revolutionary, prisoners’ rights activist, religious leader, and human rights advocate. I have had the honor of interviewing Major Tillery from September—October 2016, sometime after he was retaliated against by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) for exposing the death plot on political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life at State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy and after newly-discovered evidence was presented that undoubtedly prove Major Tillery’s innocence of murder. The below question and answer will give people a better understanding of who Major Tillery is as a person, and that he is more than the man who saved Mumia Abu- Jamal’s life. Meet the Man, Major Tillery.

Shakaboona Marshall: As-Salaam Alaikum my brother. I salute you with a raised clenched fist. It’s an honor to finally interview you. In political activist circles they are calling you “the man who saved Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life.” What are your thoughts about that? And take us through what happened with Mumia Abu-Jamal at SCI-Mahanoy?

Major Tillery: Wa-Alaikum-Salaam. In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful. Thank you for interviewing me Brother Shakaboona. The only thoughts I have about saving Mumia is that I’ve been in prison for 33 years and have watched men, known and unknown, die from the lack of human concern for prisoners by prison staff. Prisoners used to care for each other and force the prison staff to seek medical help for each other. Now, due to the lack of concern and the fear many of these new prisoners have for the Hole (Solitary Confinement), they will step over each other and let you die. I saw brother Mumia wasting away and explained to him he needed to go to the hospital. I really didn’t know how disoriented and sick he was until I saw him in the law library. I then saw Superintendent John Kerestes on the block and explained to him that Mumia was in his 60s and needed emergency medical attention. He was deliberately indifferent to Mumia’s medical situation and explained to me how I should worry about myself. I told him that Mumia was my business and that I was going to see to it that he gets the medical attention he needed. I then took action. I would have done the same for any prisoner that was in the predicament that Mumia was in.

Shakaboona Marshall: I was informed that there was a huge backlash of retaliation against you by the PDOC for making the public aware of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s dire medical condition. Why was the PDOC so angry and hostile towards you over Mumia? And in what ways did the PDOC retaliate against you for coming to Mumia’s aid?

Major Tillery: Well, the PDOC is angry at me because I foiled the conspiracy to murder Mumia by way of intentionally denying him medical treatment. The PDOC retaliated against me because I exposed the plot to kill Mumia through their medical department to the world. That day, my assigned cell was searched and ransacked by guards. I was removed from my prison job as a Peer Educator Specialist. The next week my cell was searched and ransacked twice more by the Security Officers. The week after that, prison staff packed my property up, placed me in a transport van, and emergency transferred me to SCI-Frackville where I was immediately placed in the Hole for allegedly receiving a letter with drugs [on] it. I have a civil lawsuit in about the PDOC’s retaliation and phony drug accusation against me, along with a sworn affidavit from the man the letter allegedly came from. The PDOC never even contacted the man to investigate the matter, because it was a false accusation to begin with fabricated to justify the emergency transfer of me and my placement in long-term solitary confinement.

Shakaboona Marshall: What is your situation like now? And what can the political activist community do to further support you.

Major Tillery: My legal investigator Rachel H. Wolkenstein sent you the new evidence of my criminal case that proves my innocence. People can help me retain an attorney to represent me in the post-conviction appeal process to help me get free and can pressure the PDOC to have me transferred from SCI-Frackville, which is a punitive prison. You know about the racism and oppressive purpose of this prison.

Shakaboona Marshall: Yes. I’m very aware of the culture of white supremacy and wickedness of SCI-Frackville’s officials against Black and Latino prisoners and I hope people help pressure the PDOC to transfer you from that place. I have read the newly discovered evidence in your post-conviction appeal case showing and proving your actual innocence, and with the right attorney you can definitely regain your freedom. Can you give a brief overview of the police and District Attorney’s (D.A.) frame-up of you and the corruption they engaged in with your case?

Major Tillery: As you know I was a member of The Nation Of Islam (NOI, The Nation) since 1968. In the late 1970s under the leadership of Imama Warith Deen Muhammad—son of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad—we turned over from what we called The First Resurrection in the NOI to following Sunni Islam. I was never in the so-called Black Mafia, which the white press invented along with the term Black Muslim. I have never wanted nor have been inspired to be or copy off of White Gangsters or any gangster. I grew up on The Brotherhood of our religion Islam. Yeah, I engaged in gang war when I was a young boy from the 49th and Woodland Avenue gang. But in my teens, in the 1960s, I became aware of America and Black people’s deplorable position here and wanted to do something positive about it. I mention that to say this, the State’s jailhouse informant witness Emanuel Claitt explained—which I sent you the affidavit statement he made and that’s also on YouTube—how the D.A.s office and detectives hated me for my participation in The Nation Of Islam and falsely accused me of being a member of The Black Mafia in order to convict me of a crime I didn’t commit. You have to remember that the government’s COINTELPRO (the FBIs Counter Intelligence Program) operation was going on at the time to destroy radical Black organizations, and The Nation Of Islam and its leaders were on that list to be neutralized. D.A. Barbara Christie and Roger King and Detective Lawrence Gerrard played their part by setting up a lot of brothers and sisters in the early 1970s.

I know you haven’t seen the video of this lying witness Emanuel Claitt on YouTube, but you have this and Robert Mickens’ recanting sworn statements showing how the D.A. and Detectives coerced and bribed the jailhouse informants with sex with their girlfriends while in police custody and with reduced sentences in their criminal cases, just to have them say what the D.A. wanted them to say for my conviction. Jailhouse informants Claitt and Mickens, along with a lot of other informant witnesses, were recruited to be professional witnesses for the Philly police department and D.A.’s office. The evidence shows this.

Shakaboona Marshall: Although the public is just coming to know you as “the man who saved Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life,” you are a highly respected and well-known—some say legendary—prisoner activist, jailhouse lawyer, religious leader, and human rights advocate in your own right. Even Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote admiringly of your brilliant legal acumen and activism in his book, Jailhouse Lawyers, when describing your historical victory in the precedent-setting class action lawsuit of Tillery v. Owens. There aren’t many prisoners who don’t know the name Major Tillery and of your contributions to the human rights prisoner movement in Pennsylvania. For the general public’s sake, can you tell everyone about yourself?

Major Tillery: I’ve been in prison for 33 years now. I was sent to the Marion Illinois Federal Prison by the PDOC in retaliation for filing the class action suit Tillery v. Owens to help mentally ill prisoners and more. The PDOC never had a Special Needs Unit (SNU) for the mentally ill until we won the Tillery v. Owens lawsuit. I grew up in the 1960s with Edward Africa (Goodman) of the MOVE organization who lived next door to me and were best friends. He went and joined with MOVE and I joined The Nation Of Islam. I have been sent to prisons all over the United States due to my political activism. The PDOC would trade me for other prisoners, the way they traded slaves. The reasons they gave for the transfers were that I had influence over other prisoners and was a threat to the Department of Corrections because of this. Because I fight for prisoners’ human rights, am influential with prisoners, am a jailhouse lawyer, and am a man that demands respect and humane treatment in prisons, the PDOC have kept me in the Control Units in every state prison I’ve been to for over 20 years! I’ve had 12 misconduct reports against me in 33 years of imprisonment, yet I’ve been sent to out-of-state prisons more than any other Pennsylvania state prisoner.

Shakaboona Marshall: In 2015, Mumia filed a civil lawsuit in Federal Court concerning the PDOC’s denial of curative Hepatitis C medical treatment in the case Mumia Abu-Jamal v. Kerestes. Recently, the court denied Mumia’s motion for preliminary injunction for allegedly suing the wrong officials, though that wasn’t true. Have you read the court’s opinion yet? If so, what are your thoughts about the court’s decision?

Major Tillery: I felt the exact same thing you did about the court’s opinion. But I think the court is giving the PDOC time to change their policy before our Brother Mumia amends his lawsuit.

Shakaboona Marshall: You’re right about that! Men and women are dying weekly in the prisons’ infirmary because these pigs don’t want to pay the cost to medically treat prisoners. In addition to that, the government uses the health crisis in prisons to extra-judicially murder well-known political prisoners from the 1960s—’80s under the guise of medical neglect. For example, look at the intentional medical neglect deaths of political prisoners Marilyn Buck, Mondo we Langa, Merle Africa, Phil Africa, and the brother from The Angola 3 (Herman Wallace.) Not to mention the near-death medical neglect of political prisoners Lynne Stewart, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, Leonard Peltier, Imam Jalil (formerly H. Rap Brown), Mumia Abu-Jamal, and recently Brother Lumumba (co-defendant of Maroon.) What do you think about this?

Major Tillery: What I’ve learned is that the America system—even in the times of the ’60s—leaders had great patience and would act like we’re winning and are making great progress. But they knew, through the history of slavery, we were taught to have short attention spans. So the oppressors wait for the political-minded brothers and sisters to get old, knowing the young generations would forget. They know time and just the “everyday struggle” will weed the potential leaders among us out. So the stand-up ones who are left are discredited, caged, or killed by the enemy of our people. They place the real brothers who understand the fight in prisons and then in the Holes of prisons, which are really mental asylum dungeons. And there, the oppressors—using their Department of Corrections—hope that this environment will break you down to a mental basket case, a feces thrower, or one who grinds-up other prisoners on behalf of the enemy to the point that those prisoners break as well. So when the pigs take brothers and sisters that their “Hole” can’t break, they try to snuff out their lives in other ways, like intentionally denying them medical treatment for cancer, diabetes, and Hep-C until they die. Because they don’t want such influential prisoners to teach other prisoners how to raise their consciousness, how to survive together, and how to resist.

Shakaboona Marshall: In light of the out-of-court settlement victory in Shoatz v. Wetzel in 2015, we are now seeing the gradual dissolution of the PDOC’s use of indefinite solitary confinement as a weapon against mostly conscious prisoner activists and political prisoners. Is it now possible that, with legal representation and outside support, political prisoners like Joseph “Joe-Joe” Bowens and Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson can now finally get released from indefinite solitary confinement as well?

Major Tillery: Yes. As of this moment, the Federal District Court recently has ordered Cetewayo’s release from permanent solitary confinement after serving almost 40 years in the Hole, at last! So many prisoners in like situations can now get out the Hole.

Shakaboona Marshall: In regards to indefinite solitary confinement, courts across the country are pronouncing rulings against its use, like in the case of Incumaa v. Sterling, 791 F.3d 517 (4th. Cir. 2015). Are Pennsylvania courts headed in the same direction?

Major Tillery: Yes. Kicking and screaming all the way. And still trying to find ways to keep you locked-down in the Hole.

Shakaboona Marshall: You’re right about that! Now in Pennsylvania there’s also a growing movement to pressure the state’s legislature to pass a law to provide parole eligibility to prisoners serving Life-Without-Parole (LWOP)/Death-By-Incarceration (DBI) prison terms. How can prisoners assist in this endeavor?

Major Tillery: I’ve been reading the instructions you and Brother Omar Sistrunk have been giving about this issue, and I would only repeat what y’all said. We need the public support. We need to organize prisoners, our families and friends, our neighborhood churches and mosques, our community organizations, and our grassroots activists and student activist to strategically confront the Pennsylvania political establishment through voting, protests, boycotts, occupations and more.

Shakaboona Marshall: The Pennsylvania Commutation Board is being challenged now too. A campaign to get commutation for prisoners serving LWOP/DBI sentences is in effect. Have you any suggestions about this matter?

Major Tillery: I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. But Pennsylvania is so out of touch from what’s going on in other states. I would suggest that all prisoners and their families join the commutation campaign. Find out the organization(s) that’s spearheading the commutation campaign, join it, and become active in it.

Shakaboona Marshall: What’s the current state of the Human Rights Prisoners’ Movement in relation to human rights issues of mass incarceration, abuse and torture, solitary confinement, LWOP/DBI sentences, Prison Abolition, and Black Lives Matter?

Major Tillery: I’m very happy to see so many young people coming to the realization that it’s up to them to take the forefront of the fight. And as our history and the present show, it’s the Black women who are out-front in the struggle for justice and freedom, arguing and fighting for the police to stop shooting down unarmed Black women, men, and children. That’s why any young brothers that come my way, I’m at them about two words they like to use, “bitches” and “niggers.” Because they’re offensive and degrading terms towards our women and men, and what you think and call yourself matters. It’s the sisters (Black women) out there fighting for our asses—not “bitches!” Ya dig. Remember that. And it tells a lot about a “people” by the names they “accept” to be called.

Shakaboona Marshall: Brother, statistics show that we are suffering today the same or greater economic hardships, social injustice, racism, and oppression in America despite some modest gains than our generation before us have had. Do you think the Black Lives Matter movement activists are showing us and other oppressed peoples a radical way forward in dealing with our condition as a people? And is it enough?

Major Tillery: No one group can carry 400-plus years of oppression. But the young people out there are starting to move forward. What we have to show them is how we made our mistakes in the 1960s and ’70s by thinking we won and allowing ourselves to be sucked into a society and culture that put us back to sleep in mental death and modern slavery. At 66-years-old, it seems to me like the movie “Groundhog Day,” where we as a people keep falling for the banana in the tailpipe of the car trick by the enemy, generation after generations.

I hear the brothers my age always complaining about the young brothers not being shit. And my response to those old guys is the same, if young people ain’t shit, then what does that make us? Because these are our children and grandchildren, so how can we separate ourselves from them. We’re the ones that miss-taught the young brothers and sisters out there in society, so that means we must not be shit either. They learned from us, ya dig. And that’s a fact we have to correct. The worse thing in life is an old fool who waits until he’s 50 years old to be a gang leader. Man up! Until the day I walk free or get carried out this joint, I will fight for the rights of prisoners, our youth, and people who identify with our people’s struggle for truth, freedom, justice, equality, and peace.

Shakaboona Marshall: Well my Brother, it’s time to bring this historical interview to an end. Are there any final thoughts?

Major Tillery: Brother Shakaboona, first I want to thank you and commend you on the work that your do. Secondly, I wish to express my deepest appreciation for the help I received from Rachel H. Wolkenstein, Esq. and Nancy Lockhart who has investigated my case on mostly her own dime, and for their undying support. Rachel and Nancy believe in my innocence and were among the first to reach out to help prove my innocence and regain my freedom. I thank them both.

I have a real chance to be free once more, but I need the people’s help. I need a lawyer to help me with my appeal. My case is one of the largest police and D.A. corruption cases in decades that need to be exposed to the public and courts. I don’t have to tell you but a lot of Philly lawyers will not touch this kind of corruption case, ’cause they’re too scared to be labeled as “persona non grata” in their circle of judicial peers. So I need the support of the people, first and foremost, and of judicial activists. And together WE WILL WIN!

Stay strong Shakaboona. It was good speaking with you. As-Salaam Alaikum.

Shakaboona Marshall: It was an honor to speak with you once again Major. Likewise, stay strong, healthy, patient, wise, and unbroken. My raised clenched-fist salute to you Major Tillery!

Walaikum As-Salaam.

For more information and to make a financial contribution via PayPal: or Mail checks to: Major Tillery. PO Box 13205, 2347 N. 7th Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall is Co-Founder and Editor of The Movement magazine, Prison Radio Correspondent, founding member of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and a Child Life-sentenced prisoner.

Write to:

Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall #BE7826

SCI Graterford

P.O. Box 244

Graterford, PA 19426-0246

Write to:

Major Tillery AM9786

SCI Frackville

1111 Altamont Blvd.

Frackville, PA 17931