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Russell Smith (prisoner activist)

Russell Smith is a former U.S. federal prison inmate and continuing prison activist.

Early life and activism

Smith had become an activist in behalf of rape victims in the prison setting through his prisoner organization, the National Gay Prisoners Coalition (NGPC). His experience in prisons began with his incarceration in the Stonewall Jackson Training School in Concord, North Carolina in 1963 from ages 13 to 15. At 15 he was sent into the jungles of the southern road chain-gangs for auto theft. There he was raped repeatedly and, depending upon the attacker, he was often enslaved for prostitution or for "wife-hood", which he considered to be as bad.

By the time he turned 23, he was in the federal prisons, where he found conditions to be worse than in the North Carolina state prisons. At the U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana he began raising awareness about prisoner rape and advocating an if-necessary-violent response to the threat. He made strong alliances with stronger prisoners. It was in this atmosphere that the NGPC was born.

He was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois in 1974 at the age of 24 ostensibly for the general population. Upon arrival, however, he was ushered into the Control Unit. There he met numerous other activists who were willing to treat him as an equal, something he had never known before. He attributes his confinement in the Control Unit to his efforts to avoid being a rape victim and his work against rape. This brought him to the attention of the Committee to Support the Marion Brothers and Barry Mehler.

Smith was raped after his release from the Control Unit two years later and charged with assault for what he claimed was self-defense against attempted further rapes. The International Committee to Free Russell Smith (ICFRS) was created by Mehler, Judy Miller, and David Kopp following this.

Life after prison

Smith was released from prison in 1980, and with the support of the ICFRS and the NGPC formed People Organized to Stop Rape of Imprisoned Persons (POSRIP). Due to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of his experiences and his inability to maintain a residence, he gathered all of his personal papers and turned them over to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's Labadie Collection (consisting of personal political writings in the 19th - 21st centuries), where they remain to this day.

Meanwhile, POSRIP survived, and that organization was reorganized in the mid-1990s into Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.. In the 2000s, due to certain disagreements Smith had with the new organization, he attempted to revive POSRIP as a separate organization.

See also


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