We are saddened by the news of Hugo Pinell’s death. Hugo Pinell always expressed a strong spirit of resistance. He worked tirelessly as an educator and activist to build racial solidarity inside of California’s prison system.
Incarcerated in 1965, like so many others, Hugo became politicized inside the California prison system.
In addition to exploring his Nicaraguan heritage, Hugo was influenced by civil rights activists and thinkers such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King as well as his comrades inside including George Jackson. His leadership in combating the virulent racism of the prison guards and officials made him a prime target for retribution and Hugo soon found himself confined in the San Quentin Adjustment Center.
While at San Quentin, Hugo and five other politically conscious prisoners were charged with participating in an August 21, 1971 rebellion and alleged escape attempt, which resulted in the assassination of George Jackson by prison guards. Hugo Pinell, Willie Tate, Johnny Larry Spain, David Johnson, Fleeta Drumgo and Luis Talamantez became known as the San Quentin Six. Their subsequent 16-month trial was the longest in the state’s history at the time. The San Quentin Six became a global symbol of unyielding resistance against the prison system and its violent, racist design.
As the California Prisons began to lock people up in long-term isolation and control unit facilities, Hugo was placed inside of the SHU (Secure Housing Unit) in prisons including Tehachapi, Corcoran and Pelican Bay. There, despite being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, he continued to work for racial unity and an end to the torturous conditions and racially and politically motivated placement of people into the SHU. This work included his participation in the California Prison Hunger Strikes as well as supporting the Agreement to End Racial Hostilities in 2012.
At the time of his death, Hugo had been locked behind bars for 50 years yet his spirit was unbroken.
We are currently working on an audio piece based on one of the last recordings done with Hugo. We will include materials from the San Quentin 3 – David Johnson, Luis Talamantez and Sundiata Tate.
We would like to share this brief poem by Luis ‘Bato’ Talamantez:
Hasta Siempre Hugo
And we are saddened
You when (it) should have
Counted for something and
What your long imprisoned
Life stood for
Now all your struggles
To be free have failed
And only death a
Inglorious and violent
At the hands of the
Cruel prison system
La Luta Continua
-Bato and the San Quentin 3
This is a short poem written by Hugo Pinell from a publication issued in 1995.
How long it takes,
Real Changes will come,
And the greatest personal reward
Lies in our involvement and contributions,
Even if it may appear that nothing significant
Or of impact really happened
During our times,
But it did,
Every sincere effort
Is as special as every human life
-Hugo Pinell (1995)
Here is a link to the Freedom Archives San Quentin 6 collection (note there are 19 non-digitized items as well as those that are already digitized)
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org