I turned twenty in 1969. Today, I am 62. Lots of water under the bridge. Many experiences, many friends, many ups and downs. Many lessons learned...some good, some not so much. For me, almost all of that time has been spent in relative freedom. I haven't had guards looking down from their towers with their rifles pointed at me. I haven't had to be prepared every day for violence of some kind. I haven't had to see those I loved through glass, or bars, or in crowded visitors rooms. I haven't had to follow a litany of stupid rules written by fools and created to try and break me. I haven't had to eat unhealthy food, often contaminated, seldom what I desire. I haven't had to only dream of love. I haven't had to fear tomorrow. I haven't had to always be tough. I haven't had to always fight to maintain my dignity and my hope. I haven't had to be constantly courageous.
I am lucky.
Chip Fitzgerald, on the other hand, has not been "lucky" at all.
He joined the Black Panther Party in early 1969. He was 19. He has been in prison since September of 1969.
Black Agenda Report wrote in 2010 about Chip:
"Fitzgerald's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in the early 1970s, when the US Supreme Court ruled the death penalty discriminatory and and unconstitutional. Most of those who were on California's death row at the time have been released. But not Romaine Fitzgerald. Although he has come up for parole no less than 17 times, current prospects for his release seem more remote than ever."
"It's a matter of well-documented historical fact that in 1969 the federal government waged a nationwide campaign of vicious and hostile propaganda, of false arrests and prodecutions and even murder against the Black Panther Party resulting in more than 30 deaths. By any reasonable standard, Fitzgerald is a longtime political prisoner. But California prison authorities have concocted fanciful new rules and arbitrary charges that equate Fitzgerald's former political affiliation and current beliefs with gang membership, for which they have confined him to a prison within the larger prison."
Chip's dedication to the cause of the liberation of black and all oppressed people has not wavered through all the years of his brutal incarceration.
Chip Fitzgerald need to be out here...
The following is from Free Chip Fitzgerald.
“…Upon our release [from Youth Authority], we wasted no time joining the Black Panther Party. Chip worked tirelessly in various capacities in the Westside office of…the Chapter. To be a Panther was a 24/7 commitment, and every single day seemed like weeks due to the volume of activities during that explosive period. We were totally consumed in the Party’s Free Breakfast Program, the tutorial program, selling Panther papers, political education classes and other projects. Chip was a favorite of many in the communities we served, and the children, especially, loved him, reflected in their smiling little faces when he appeared….”