Happy Birthday, Montell!

Montell and his mother, Gloria
By: Ken Richardson
Monday, January 28, 2013

On January 25, Montell Johnson had his 47th birthday celebration at University Church in Chicago.  About 30 friends of Montell, and his mother, Gloria Johnson, gathered to celebrate another year of freedom for Montell; and vowed to continue the fight to ensure no mother has to endure what Gloria Johnson endured. 

Montell had spent 15 years behind bars; he was diagnosed with chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis in 2001, when he was on Illinois' death row.  In 2003, George Ryan, then the governor of Illinois, commuted his sentence to forty-years.  In 2008, former governor Rod Blagojevich pardoned Montell based on the severity of his illness.  Neither of these things would have happened with constant public and legal pressure, and the determination of his mother, Gloria Johnson. 

Even in 2008, when Montell was pardoned, California wanted to incarcerate him on a separate charge.  Because of his illness, Montell was about 70 lbs at the time, and in 2007, Montell was given seven months to live. It is the epitome of the New Jim Crow for the state of California to see a black man who needs 24-hour medical care as a "threat" and want to fly him across the country to another prison cell; a journey he might not have survived. Prison is a death sentence for so many people who need urgent medical care; states are cashed-strapped, often, prison health services are the first thing cut.  The California prison system is one of the worst example of this problem; the medical system cannot treat the patients it has, let alone someone with chronic-progressive MS.

Many of those who gathered at University Church to celebrate Montell's live understand this; some know the horrors prison system first hand. Former prisoners, Darby Tillis, Mark Clements, Delbert Tibbs, Marvin Reeves and others; talked about their experiences; and admired the strength and determination of Montell Johnson, Gloria Johnson and the friends and family who supported them. 

Montell celebrated his forty-seventh birthday with his mother, friends and family.  Montell was able to do this because he had friends, family and supports that fought for him.  Gloria Johnson mentioned that her fight was for Montell, and all the other mothers who have sons suffering in prison.  Gloria and Montell Johnson's strength and determination is an example of standing up against a system that is inhuman; their victory is an inspiration to activists around the country.