The US-Panther conflict: the plight of Larry Watani Stiner


The US-Panther conflict, exile, and the black Diaspora: the plight of Larry Watani Stiner

Larry Watani Stiner and Forward by Dr. Scot Brown (UCLA)

Strife between the US Organization and Black Panther Party generated one
of the most devastating intergroup rivalries among factions within the
Black Power Movement. This feud ultimately yielded violence throughout
the black public sphere in southern California, with the most notorious
being the fatal clash in January 1969 on the University of California,
Los Angeles (UCLA) campus that left Black Panther leaders Alprentice
“Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins dead, and US member Larry Watani Stiner
wounded. (1)

As both groups and their supporters became more sectarian in this
rivalry, so did a lexicon that positioned the Panther’s “revolutionary
nationalism” at odds with US’s “cultural nationalism.” Partisan
subjectivities notwithstanding, competition for dominance within Los
Angeles black nationalist and radical politics supplanted ideological
difference as the basis for the US/Panther tensions. Battles over
control of certain “turf” occurred in multiple public places in Los
Angeles and San Diego, and manifested in mass rallies, community
meetings, schools, and among student organizations. Through much of 1968
and 1969, the Black Students’ Union at UCLA would emerge as one of the
most contentious theaters of this conflict. (2)

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence measures
provoked and encouraged violence within this California-born
sectarianism. Several scholarly works, however, have asserted that
undercover agents provoked and participated in the shootings at UCLA.
(3) Some have problematically and uncritically resuscitated versions of a
story advanced by a Penthouse magazine interviewee named “Othello,” who
alleged that Larry and George Stiner were FBI agents who orchestrated
an assassination of Carter and Huggins. The most powerful rebuttal to
the contention of US complicity with the state in the killings of
Huggins and Carter has yet to find a public voice, that of Larry Watani
Stiner himself.

Having spent the last decade in San Quentin Prison, his unpublished
memoir goes beyond personal vindication, expanding our understanding of
both the spatial and ideological terrain of political exile among Black
Power activists. The very notion that Stiner, a cultural nationalist
activist, would find himself wrongly imprisoned, exiled, impoverished,
and re-imprisoned runs counter to characterizations of cultural
nationalists as inherently complicit with the state, in opposition to
“revolutionary nationalism.” A lingering binary view of the US/Panther
conflict in Black Power scholarship obscures FBI director J. Edgar
Hoover’s monolithic conception of diverse activists and organizations in
the black freedom struggle as composite forces within a singular
category, “Black nationalist hate groups.” For FBI purposes, the “hate
group” mantra operated with the same elastic utility as the “communist”
label during the late 1940s and 1950s Red Scare. (4)

Along with large numbers of African Americans in the latter half of the
20th century, the Stiner family in 1955 migrated westward from Houston,
Texas, to Los Angeles when Larry was seven years old. By 1963 his family
had bought a home on West 75th Street, off Florence Avenue in South Los
Angeles. Two months after Larry graduated from Manual Arts High School,
the Watts Rebellion of August 1965 erupted, transforming the politics
of black radicalism in Los Angeles. Larry, along with his brother
George, joined the cultural nationalist US Organization in 1966. Larry
Stiner eventually rose to a leadership position in the US paramilitary
wing, the Simba Wachanga. By the late 1960s under the leadership of
Maulana Ron Karenga, US had grown into a major black nationalist force
in southern California, but its leadership was experiencing an
ideological and organizational challenge from the Black Panther Party
(BPP). Panther chapters in Los Angeles and throughout urban America grew
rapidly after a highly publicized armed protest at the California state
capitol in Sacramento in the spring of 1967. As the two groups clashed
in a contest for position in the black public sphere, the UCLA campus
became a fateful arena in which both groups competed for influence over
the Black Students’ Union. In a struggle over the leadership and
direction of the Black Studies Center, the US/Black Panther Party
rivalry intensified, exacerbating ever-mounting violent clashes,
culminating in the deadly campus shootings on 17 January 1969. (5)

The prosecution in the Stiners’ case argued that, though never firing a
shot during the UCLA incident, Larry and George Stiner were participants
in a murder conspiracy. After conviction, the two were sentenced to
life in prison. Larry Stiner went to Soledad State Prison and George
Stiner went to San Quentin. The sectarianism that enveloped radical
politics on the streets did not find an analogue in prison. In fact,
Larry had ties with associates of the Black Guerilla Family, whose
notable members were known as the Soledad Brothers–George Jackson, John
Clutchette, and Fleeta Drumgo. (6) The three were placed in solitary
confinement in the same wing as Stiner. Conversations between Stiner and
imprisoned Black Panther Party members led to their understanding that
both groups had been victimized by state repression and suffered from
serious leadership problems.

The uniform manner in which the FBI categorized various ideological
camps of the Black Power Movement as “Black nationalist hate groups” was
akin to Soledad’s mass relocation of all suspected militants to San
Quentin Prison in the aftermath of the killing a white guard in 1970.
Larry Stiner was moved there, along with George Jackson and many others.
Jackson was killed by guards at San Quentin shortly thereafter.
Jackson’s death was one among many systematic killings resulting from
the collusion of white guards and inmates who targeted black radicals in
San Quentin. In 1974, after numerous attempts on his life, Stiner
escaped from San Quentin and fled to Guyana in South America.

During this period the Guyanese government under Forbes Burnham gave
support and safe haven to African American revolutionary exiles. Upon
arrival Stiner was embraced by a community of African American activists
living in exile there. (7) As time passed, Stiner would come face-to
face with the limits of sanctuary, after attending Working People’s
Alliance (WPA) meetings led by Walter Rodney, activist-scholar and
formidable critic of Burn ham’s People’s Nationalist Congress (PNC). A
PNC party minister threatened to have Stiner killed should he continue
to express sympathy for the WPA or attend its meetings. In the midst of
government repression of dissident voices, Stiner fled to Suriname only
months before Walter Rodney was assassinated in Guyana. Suriname was
also experiencing political turmoil in the early 1980s, as the regime of
Sergeant Desi Bouterse emerged as the ruling force out of the ashes of a
protracted civil war.

Throughout his exile in Suriname, Stiner subsisted by selling goods such
as sugar and soap as well as t-shirts and calendars that he printed. In
1982 he moved in with a Surinamese woman, Nisha Nelstein, and they went
on to have six children together. The family lived in a small house
near the airport, just outside of Paramaribo. By 1992 when the Bouterse
dictatorship was forced out and the military activities near the airport
increased, Stiner’s family was forced to leave their house when it was
expropriated for use as a military post. He and his family fled to the
interior bush region in 1993 where they lived without electricity or
running water. In these desperate circumstances Stiner decided to
negotiate his surrender with U.S. government authorities on the
condition that his family would be permitted to relocate to the United
States. Stiner’s reflections illuminate tensions between “revolutionary”
ideals and problematic political realities in multiple spaces within
the African Diaspora, and the Black Power movements in the U.S., Guyana,
and Suriname. Uncertainty and abandonment are predominant themes in the
experiences of many Black Power revolutionaries who fled the U.S. to
Cuba, Tanzania, Algeria, and other countries. (8) In 1994, in a
destitute condition, Larry Stiner surrendered to U.S. authorities and
was returned to San Quentin Prison where he remains to this day. (9)
What follows is an excerpt from a memoir that Stiner is currently
writing.

When I scurried up that hill, leaving behind those walls and gun towers
surrounding San Quentin Prison on the night of 31 March 1974, I never
thought I would see this place again. Serving a life sentence for
conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting deaths of two Black
Panthers, my brother (and co-defendant) George and I had planned the
escape with both inside and outside help. As we reached the grounds
outside San Quentin, a car was waiting to assist us in escaping from
California’s oldest and most violent prison. By the time our absence was
discovered the next morning, we were miles away. George has never been
seen or heard from again.

On 30 March 1974, the day before our escape, my brother and I had an
overnight visit with our parents. At 9:00 p.m. we reported to the main
security east gate, located just below San Quentin’s Gun Tower #1, for
the evening count. When we returned, I shared another two hours of
stories and laughter with our parents, then said goodnight at around
11:30 p.m. The next morning we were gone. At 8:30 a.m. our stepfather
appeared at the security east gate and told a guard that his two sons
were missing. When guards investigated, they found two
dummies–rolled-up pillows and blankets designed to simulate a body–and
a note bidding farewell to our parents. I was eventually driven from
Oakland to Memphis, Tennessee, in a U-Haul van by a driver from New York
City. In Memphis I was groomed as a traveling preacher, donned
minister’s robes, and traveled with a group of itinerant preachers to
Miami and Puerto Rico. Using a phony driver’s license, baptismal papers,
and a government clearance to enter Guyana via Trinidad, I boarded the
plane and flew out of the country to South America.

On 1 May 1974, International Labor Day, I left Trinidad and landed at
Guyana’s Timeri Airport. At that time Guyana was one of the centers of
international Black Power. “Socialist” Prime Minister Forbes Burnham had
come to power in the early 1960s in a racially divided and violently
contested election–descendants of formerly enslaved African workers and
indentured East Indians solidified his base of support among the
Afro-Guyanese. Burnham also found international credibility by opposing
all ties with apartheid South Africa, and through his unequivocal
support for black self-determination and African liberation struggles.

Almost immediately upon my arrival in Guyana’s capital of Georgetown, I
joined the bustling refugee community. In 1976, however, Guyana began to
experience a severe economic decline. Corruption, high unemployment,
and shortages of basic goods led to mass emigration and political
unrest. Sugar workers, who comprised mainly the East Indian segment of
Guyanese society, went out on strike for over four months; consumer
goods virtually disappeared from store shelves. Guyana became the second
poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. (10)

ENCOUNTERS IN GUYANA

During the latter 1970s the religious cult the Peoples Temple, led by
Rev. Jim Jones, settled in Guyana. In 1978 more than 900 members of the
group died in a mass suicide. (11) Stiner had a brief encounter with the
group.

News of an American settlement [Peoples Temple] sparked considerable
outrage among Guyana’s political opposition. No parliamentary discussion
or debate was ever held on the issue of land allocation to foreigners.
The opposition wanted some answers. (12) Three investigative reporters
from the oppositional Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) pulled up in a
clanking old Land Rover in front of the home of a friend of mine,
seeking directions to Jonestown. They had been granted a rare
face-to-face interview with Rev. Jim Jones. Curious about what the place
looked like, I climbed into the back seat and the five of us headed up
the narrow dirt-covered road to Jonestown.

I watched as the three reporters were greeted at the doorway by two
people before going inside to their scheduled interview with Jim Jones.
We stepped outside the Land Rover and waited for their return. While
leaning against the hood of the Rover conversing, we observed a group of
about forty people, mostly black, busily working in the nearby fields.
They spotted us and we politely acknowledged their waves with one of our
own.

About two minutes later, they were waving at us again. Once more we
reciprocated. It was not until after their fourth consecutive wave that
we thought their welcoming gestures a bit excessive. When they waved for
a fifth time (roughly in two-minute intervals), I concluded that these
people of Jonestown were kind of strange. We looked at each other,
shrugged our shoulders, and then decided to wait in the Rover to break
the cycle of what was becoming more of an obligation than a courtesy.
Not more than five minutes later (after we had elected to ignore them),
we suddenly found ourselves completely surrounded by Jim Jones’s
followers. They were enthusiastically waving their hands and
exaggerating their smiles. Some of them were so excited that they began
banging on the hood of the Rover. Their behavior per se was not
necessarily threatening–just overzealously bizarre. My friend casually
rolled up the window on his side.

The three reporters were returning from the house when suddenly the
crowd turned from us and began waving and cheering them onward. They
paused for a few confused seconds, then hurriedly got into the Rover,
looked over at us and asked, “Wah reeely go on?” The driver quickly
started up the engine, tooted his horn, and soon we were on our way back
to my friend’s home. Without receiving any explanation, the three PPP
reporters had been denied their scheduled interview with Jim Jones.
Jonestown was a really weird experience.

At the University of Guyana, students began to mobilize and organize
against Burnham and his pronounced “paramountcy” of the ruling People’s
National Congress (PNC). Government corruption, austere economic
policies, compulsory national service, and rigged elections were some of
the major issues surrounded by oppositional outrage. (13)

Guyana’s renowned young scholar, Dr. Walter Rodney, became Burn ham’s
chief opponent and a powerful rallying voice of student resistance. (14)
Following one of the meetings I had attended, I was informed that the
government was considering turning me over to U.S. authorities as an
example to other exiles who dared to flirt with, or participate in,
activities opposed to the PNC regime. Although I did not feel that I had
done anything particularly egregious, I was criticized by the African
American exile community for being “naive” and “ungrateful” to Burnham
after he granted us sanctuary in his country. My “political excursions”
were putting everyone at risk. My reaction was prompt and defensive:
“How can you all sit still and pretend like there is no oppression
here?” I soon realized just how politically tenuous our sanctuary was.

The minister of home affairs summoned me to his ministry to admonish me
about my attendance at gatherings sponsored by groups that opposed the
Guyanese government. I told him that my presence was merely an
educational endeavor and in no way supportive of oppositional views. The
minister left me with a rather clear and chilling threat: “The U.S.
government would not even claim your corpse if it should mysteriously
wash up on our shores.” I decided it was time for me to leave Guyana. I
fled Georgetown, moved into the bush, then crossed the border into
neighboring Suriname. I was in exile once again.

FLIGHT TO SURINAME

A former Dutch colony, Suriname only achieved independence in 1975. On
25 February 1980, the elected government was overthrown in a military
coup. The country became immersed in a civil war that raged on and off
for the next six years. Eventually, Desi Bouterse, a sergeant in the
army, emerged as the strongest force and ruled for most of the next
twelve years. By the time he was driven from power in 1992, unemployment
was over 20 percent and the annual per capita income hovered around
$500. (15)

I arrived in the country just days after Bouterse had seized power. At
first, I made my living buying household items like soap and sugar to
sell across the border in Guyana. Later, I printed and sold calendars,
and also made money selling printed t-shirts, incense, insurance,
coffee, and recycled products. In 1982 I met a Surinamese woman named
Nisha Nelstein. When we began dating, Nisha was already the mother of a
young son, Raoul. By the time I turned myself in to U.S. authorities in
1994, Nisha and I had six children of our own.

Our family lived in a small house by the Zanderij International Airport,
just outside of Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital. As the government
devoted more resources to battling internal enemies, the airport became a
center for military activity. One night the military came, weapons
drawn, and ordered me and my family out of the house immediately, or
they would begin shooting. We were chased from our home so that the
soldiers could use it as a military post. Angry and humiliated, and
without income or shelter, I fled with my family into the bush.

Prior to my life in Suriname, I was always a father-on-the-run, never
settling down long enough to be there for and enjoy the company of my
children in both Guyana and the United States. For me, it was always the
bigger picture–the “organization,” the “ideology,” and the
“revolution”–which took precedence over everything else. But now in the
heart of Suriname, I was more concerned with saving my children than I
was with saving the world. Perhaps it was my advancing age and the
veiled cynicism I had acquired for leaders and governments-with their
lofty promises and repression–that compelled me to narrow the
perimeters of my revolution to that of my family.

As the Surinamese economy continued to worsen, cholera and tuberculosis
epidemics swept through the country. The school system, without money
for books or teachers, ground to a halt. By 1993 my family was living in
a small “bush house” without electricity or running water, growing
vegetables for market and selling herbal medicine and coffee. The
soldiers would always shout “Volgende week!” (“Next week!”) from their
departing trucks filled with containers of water, but rarely did they
deliver the water on schedule. I began to worry about the health and
future of my children. I pondered ways of getting my children to the
United States. But as a fugitive, I could not simply move with Nisha and
the children out of the country. And I did not want to leave them
behind: Would my freedom be worth the welfare of my children?

The situation in Suriname was becoming more and more desperate by the
day. After convincing Nisha that my surrender would ensure a better life
for our children, I decided to enter the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo. I
faltered at my initial attempts to walk through that door, recalling
five years of caged existence, the constant state of racial tension, and
the reasons why we had escaped. But I just had to get my children out
of the country. On 24 November 1993, I had garnered enough courage to go
inside. I told Marjorie Ames, vice consul at the embassy, who I was and
that I would willingly surrender to U.S. authorities and return to
California if my Surinamese wife and our children were allowed to
immigrate to the United States.

After confirming with the Justice Department that I was indeed the
“Larry Joseph Stiner” who had escaped from San Quentin State Prison,
Ames assured me that my family would be provided for and allowed to
travel to the United States. Further meetings between us took place to
resolve details concerning the legal status and financial situation of
my children.

I signed a surrender agreement and Ames continued to promise that my
children were legal U.S. citizens and would be permitted to follow me to
the United States (any children of U.S. citizens born overseas are
automatically U.S. citizens themselves). She also arranged for Nisha and
me to be married so that Nisha could apply for a visa as the spouse of a
U.S. citizen. Ames cabled to Washington concerning my state of mind:
“Stiner’s main concern is what becomes of his family–A-1 priority!”

The office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-California) also became
involved. My sister Tamu eventually became a congressional liaison for
the U.S. Postal Service. She enlisted the aid of Pelosi’s Director of
Casework, Pat Dobson, who in turn contacted Marjorie Ames. According to
Ames, the embassy would provide U.S. passports, Surinamese birth
certificates, and consular reports of foreign births for my children.
Dobson also received assurances from the Department of Health and Human
Services that the U.S. government would pay the cost of flying my family
from Paramaribo to the United States. For her part, Tamu signed an
“Affidavit of Support,” affirming that she and her husband would care
for my children while I was in prison.

These events convinced me that my family would indeed be allowed to
follow me to the U.S. On 4 February 1994 in Paramaribo, I surrendered to
the custody of Rinaldo Campana, a U.S. Justice Department official
stationed in Caracas, Venezuela. Together we flew to Caracas and then to
Miami, where I was turned over to domestic agents of the Justice
Department for my return to California. Campana provided further
assurances that my family would be cared for and allowed to emigrate.
However, once I was back in the United States I was told that my family
had been denied permission to enter the country because they lacked the
resources to support themselves without government assistance. By then, I
was back in custody, facing a trial for escape and the return to prison
to resume my life sentence.

RETURN FROM EXILE

Upon my return to California, I was taken to Marin County Superior
Court, where I still faced charges stemming from the 1974 escape from
San Quentin. Not surprisingly, the jury took less than three hours to
convict me. After the verdict was announced, I could see that the jurors
were uncomfortable with coming to a verdict that challenged their
conscience. However, they had no choice. Throughout the hearing the
jurors heard convincing evidence supporting justifications for my having
escaped from San Quentin. The farewell note we left for our parents was
part of the trial evidence and could not be dismissed or entirely
discredited by the district attorney. But regardless of my reason or
justification, I had indeed escaped. Thus recognizing their dilemma
after the guilty verdict, I rose from my seat and told them, “I’m sure
you did the right thing.”

Probation Officer Robert Roush prepared a report for my sentencing
hearing, in which he wrote, “A review of the extensive cable
communications between the American Embassy in Paramaribo and the State
Department in Washington indicates clearly that the primary motive of
the defendant in returning to the U.S. and to custody, was the well
being of his family. The content of the various cables from December
1993 to February 1994 makes it clear that the State Dept. understood Mr.
Stiner’s request that, as part of the surrender process, the State
Dept. would agree to assist the defendant’s family in relocating to the
U.S.” Roush further stated, “It has been clearly established that the
defendant did have sufficient cause to fear for his own safety during
incarceration at San Quentin.” He recommended that I receive probation
with a year in county jail concurrent with my earlier prison
sentence–in effect, serve no additional time for the escape.

Deputy District Attorney Barry Borden, stating that “the probation
report is lacking in its analysis,” urged the court to give me the
maximum three additional years in prison. “Granting [Stiner] probation,”
he said, “would be rewarding him for taking the criminal justice system
into his own hands by escaping and basically making a mockery out of
the criminal justice system, as well as sending the wrong message to
prisoners at San Quentin that would be basically if you escape and you
don’t get caught while you’re out, that’s okay; you’ll just get a hand
slapped and you can come back to prison if you’re ever caught and finish
out your prison term.” Borden also ridiculed Roush’s argument that I
had escaped out of fear for my life. “The best evidence in this case
clearly shows that the reason he escaped was not because he felt that
his life was in danger, but rather because he just didn’t want to serve a
long prison sentence.”

Challenging the assertions of the district attorney, I addressed the
court. “First, I want to say that although my escape in 1974 was about
my own life, my surrender in 1994 is about the life of my family. It’s
not about me. It’s about the concerns and love that I have for my
family. I’m not expecting anything from anyone. As long as my family can
benefit from whatever action I take, that’s all that concerns me. Your
honor, I could really do my time. I just can’t do my family’s time.”

I began reading a letter from my stepson Raoul describing the conditions
under which they were living: the lack of water in the area, the days
and nights left alone, the questions and promise, the lack of gas and
food, and their inability to attend school. I struggled to maintain my
composure as I read aloud the words that reflected the painful reality
of my children’s situation. I finished the letter with difficulty and
took my seat, waiting for the judge’s response.

Finally, the judge spoke. “This is an unusual case,” she began. “You
don’t see these very often where people come back after twenty-some-odd
years to turn themselves in from an escape.” She acknowledged, “I have
really mixed feelings about the sentencing because I think in terms of
you there’s no question that you have rehabilitated yourself. You’re no
longer a danger to society. While it clearly is wrong what you did in
escaping, the fact that you committed no new crimes for the last twenty
years, that you led a law-abiding life, that you took care of your
family the best you could, is certainly a positive sign.” Judge Taylor
placed me on probation for five years and sentenced me to serve one year
in the county jail concurrent with my sentence from Los Angeles, thus
imposing no additional time for the escape. Her last words to me were,
“Okay, Mr. Stiner, now it’s up to San Quentin.”

Under California’s sentencing scheme as it existed in 1969, I became
eligible for parole after serving seven years. I am entitled to
reconsideration of my parole status up to five years of each denial. My
first parole eligibility hearing with the Board of Prison Terms (BPT)
occurred on 26 March 1996. A psychiatric profile prepared for my hearing
concluded, “There was no evidence of any potential for violence.”

Ironically, had there been no threat upon my life, and I had chosen not
to escape, I probably would have been paroled soon after reaching
eligibility. In the mid-1970s, before Rose Bird was appointed
California’s chief justice, and before Willie Horton frightened state
officials everywhere into clamping down on releasing inmates, the parole
board routinely released prisoners early in their sentences. Nearly
half of all life prisoners who came up for parole consideration in the
mid-1970s were granted release. Over the past two decades, however, the
percentage of those granted parole has declined dramatically.

During the years of my exile, what was once the California Adult
Authority has undergone a draconian transformation from “rehabilitation”
of prisoners to years of warehousing them in the name of “punishment.”
The Board of Prison Terms (BPT), responsible for recommending inmates
for parole, consists of an arbitrary panel of political appointees,
completely beholden to governors who are intimidated by the powerful
California prison guards union. Although a few more releases have been
granted under Arnold Schwarzenegger, the current governor, the board
still maintains a virtual “no-parole” policy. The punitive political
climate that has swept across this country has spawned a massive
prison-industrial complex unparalleled in this nation’s history. In
1974, the year I had escaped, the total prison population of California
was less than 25,000. By 1994, the year of my surrender, that number had
skyrocketed to more than 100,000.

Speaking for the prosecution at my first parole hearing was Los Angeles
Deputy District Attorney Mark Vezzani. Vezzani described my conduct as
being “exactly about hate. This man is the biggest racist I have ever
been around. All the hate groups, all those terrorist organizations, the
Black Panthers and the [US], then and today, want only one thing and
that is to foment hate and disruption. He now has gotten himself seven
children. He wants to bring back a wife and seven children to the very
country he did everything he knew how to do to tear down and destroy,
and he wants it to give him shelter and funds and money and insurance
and take care of his family. It’s a great example of hypocrisy. I don’t
believe this Board should find this man suitable now, or at any other
time in the future.” The BPT agreed with the district attorney and found
me “unsuitable” for parole. According to its decision, I “would pose an
unreasonable risk of danger to society if released at this time.” Six
subsequent hearings resulted in the same “terrorist” accusations and
reason for denying me my freedom.

After spending my first year in solitary confinement (six months in the
Adjustment Center), I was finally returned to San Quentin’s mainline
population. The prison is no longer the hotbed of militancy and violence
it once was in the early 1970s. There are other prisons in the enormous
California prison system that house the most violent offenders. Hugo
Pinell (Yogi) and Ruchell Magee (Cinque) are no longer the young vibrant
prison warriors they once were. And neither am I. The revolutionary
spirit of George Jackson has been exorcised from the walls of San
Quentin. It is almost certain, however, that unjust laws and the rapid
rate of incarceration in California will evoke his spirit again.

Now looked up to by the younger generation as an “OG,” I learn as much
from them as they seek to learn from me. I see daily the lost souls, the
holes in the spirits that carry most of them, and their yearnings for
the broken fathers who have abandoned them. Perhaps mirrors of what will
become of my own children.

As far as the fate of my children is concerned, I began contacting
various religious organizations and relief agencies, requesting aid for
them as soon as I was on U.S. soil. For a time, the Salvation Army
helped with clothing and arranged to get some of my children into
school. However, that source soon dried up. Friends and family in the
United States, including Maulana Karenga and his US Organization, have
been consistent with financial support for my children.

Unfortunately, Nisha has been unable to maintain control of the
family–or herself. After I had surrendered, and the plans for her and
the children to come to the United States retracted, she began using
cocaine and exhibiting bizarre behavior. She has not lived with the
children for many years now and sees them rarely. Nisha had tragically
found her own way of surrendering.

Fortunately, my children were rescued by a local relief worker who found
them living alone and without food and running water. Their mother was
declared mentally unstable to care for them, and they were subsequently
separated and shuffled off to overcrowded foster homes. No longer could
they even draw support and comfort from each other’s presence.

For an entire decade the U.S. government officials with whom I had
negotiated my surrender showed no interest in following through with
their agreement, or in addressing my children’s plight. Then, in August
2004, I was surprised to learn that after all those years, there were
rumors that perhaps plane tickets were forthcoming after all. How and
why this came about, half a childhood later, I do not know, but on 17
January 2005, my six children arrived in the United States. Raoul, now
with a wife and small baby girl of his own, remained in Suriname, as did
Nisha. Currently, my children are all living with my eldest son Larry
Jr. and his lovely wife Diane, who have decided to take on the huge
responsibility of caring for them until my release. (16)

“I Write for My Children”

I write for my children
in words only hearts can fathom.
I write for my children
pen-drenched in love storms
and magical poems;
each alphabet a teardrop,
every page a river.
I write for my children;
no longer can I see their glow-
a soft and tender sadness
illuminates their souls.
I write for my children
to invoke their spirits;
faint breaths upon my face
as sprinkles of giggles
tickle my lobe.
I write for my children
to rescue my drowning faith
in a pool of regrets.
I write for my children
in a language that dances
on lyrical islands
and miracle streams.
I write for my children
because writing is a blanket
I weave around their hearts.

I write for my children …
Watani Stiner
B19861
San Quentin, CA 94974
NOTES

(1) Curtis J. Austin, Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and
Unmaking of the Black Panther Party (Fayetteville, 2006), 224-40;
Jeffrey Ogbonna Green Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics and African
American Identity (Baltimore, MD, 2004), 115.

(2) Scot Brown, Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism (New York, 2003), 107-30.

(3) Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s
Secret War Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian
Movement (Boston, MA, 1988), 42-43; Stokely Carmichael and Michael
Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely
Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York, 2003), 665. In separate published
statements made by two persons, Louis Tack wood and a man calling
himself “Othello,” both claimed to have worked for the FBI or local
police and funneled weapons to and worked with infiltrators in US for
the purpose of destabilizing the Black Panther Party. Othello’s account
found in an interview in Penthouse magazine, is cited in Huey Newton’s
dissertation, “War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in
America,” University of California, Santa Cruz, 1980, 104-10; Tack
wood’s story can be found in a book entitled The Glass House Tapes (New
York, 1973). His account added fuel to scholarly attempts at advancing
similar allegations against US and Karenga–see Rod Bush, We Are Not
What We Seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle in the American
Century (New York, 1999), 217. Prior to the publication of The Glass
House Tapes, Tack wood’s credibility was undermined by constant changes
in his story, and evasive and poor performance on a lie detector test;
see Los Angeles Times, 17 October 1971, pp. 1, B1, B4 for details. While
taking the test he specifically refused to answer questions relating to
his claim that he supplied Karenga with guns and money to disrupt the
Black Panther Party.

(4) Kenneth O’Reilly, Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black
America, 1960-1972 (New York, 1989), 261-324; United States Federal
Bureau of Investigation, Cointelpro: The Counter-Intelligence Program of
the FBI (Wilmington, DE, 1978), microform.

(5) Austin, Up Against the Wall, 113-58; Brown, Fighting for US, 95-99.

(6) Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative
History of Black Power in America, 1st ed. (New York, 2006), 251-52;
Winston Grady-Willis, “The Black Panther Party: State Repression and
Political Prisoners,” in Black Panther Party Reconsidered, ed. Charles
Jones (Baltimore, MD, 1998), 377-78.

(7) For an analysis of Bum ham’s foreign and domestic policies, see
Festus Brotherson, Jr., “The Foreign Policy of Guyana, 1970-1985: Forbes
Burn ham’s Search for Legitimacy,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and
World Affairs 31, no. 3 (1989): 9-33.

(8) Ruth Reitan, The Rise and Decline of an Alliance: Cuba and African American Leaders in the 1960s (East Lansing, MI, 1999).

(9) “20 Years Later, It’s Still Prison,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4 August 1994.

(10) Perry Mars and Alma H. Young, Caribbean Labor and Politics:
Legacies of Cheddi Jagan and Michael Manley (Detroit, MI, 2004), 152;
Walter Rodney, Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African
Intellectual (Trenton, NJ, 1990), 74-79.

(11) Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee III, eds., New Religious
Movements, Mass Suicide, and People’s Temple: Scholarly Perspectives on a
Tragedy (Lewiston, NY, 1989).

(12) James Petras, “A Death in Guyana Has Meaning for Third World,” Latin American Perspectives 8, no. 1 (1981): 47.

(13) Pierre-Michel Fontaine, “Walter Rodney: Revolutionary and Scholar
in the Guyanese Political Cauldron,” in Walter Rodney, Revolutionary and
Scholar: A Tribute, ed. Edward A. Alpers and Pierre-Michel Fontaine
(Los Angeles, CA, 1982), 24-33.

(14) Clive Thomas, “Walter Rodney and the Caribbean Revolution,” in ibid., 122-31.

(15) Anthony De Sales Affigne, “Radical Politics in the Postcolonial
Americas,” in Southern Political Science Association Annual Meeting
Proceedings (Norfolk, VA, 1997), 7-11.

(16) Jordan E. Rosenfeld, “Asylum Granted: Prisoner’s Family Comes to
America” North Bay Bohemian. 20-26 April 2005; Matthew Fleischer,
“Children of the Revolutionary,” Los Angeles Weekly, 22 August 2007.

Larry Watani Stiner and Scot Brown*

*Scot Brown is Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

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