Sharpe James And Alton Maddox: The Political Prisoner Meets a Juridical Savior

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Sharpe James

As part of an on-going legal series,  Sharpe James, former mayor of Newark met with Alton Maddox, the people’s attorney at the Harlem Branch Public Library to discuss his memoir, "Political Prisoner." 

On May 29 and July 10, this historic political and legal conjunction was organized by Cornelius Rick, the president and founder of Behind the Bench and moderated by Leroy Baylor of WHCR Radio 90.3 FM.

As a political prisoner, Mayor James declares that in the United States of America “you can be indicted, arrested, convicted and sent to prison without committing a crime” as clearly illustrated in the hideous “Central Park 7” case. James maintains that he was similarly “indicted, arrested, convicted and sent to prison without committing a crime.”

For four years, law enforcement officials were spying on James and trying to collect incriminating data on him. On April 16, 2008, James was convicted on several counts of fraud regarding the sale of several lots in Newark to his girlfriend who later sold those lots.

In "Political Prisoner," James describes indignities and an assault, asserting that while in the custody of FBI agents, “they fondled my penis” and “drove directly into an underground parking facility where both agents, without speaking, turned the engine off and exited the car. I was left handcuffed, wrist bleeding, in the back seat of the car with no air conditioning; the temperature quickly rose from 60 degrees to about 90 degrees. After a length of time alone in the car, I began suffocating from heat exhaustion. I was hot and thirsty, and started choking. I was bleeding from the wrist. They were treating me like a caged animal and there was no help around.”

There was more. James notes, “it was slavery time; a reenactment of the movie, Roots. If I thought being handcuffed was uncomfortable, now I was handcuffed and manacled with chains and leg irons. I felt as though I had just gotten off a slave ship, heading to the auction block. I was overwhelmed with feelings of being disrespected, mistreated, persecuted and helpless to do anything about it, even before I reached a courtroom.” Hence, “there is nothing macho about going to prison” – “being in prison is no fun,” James adds.

While Sharpe James is considered to have been a political prisoner by some, Alton Maddox is definitely a prisoner of the legislative and judicial system of the United States. In 1990, the New York State Supreme Court arbitrarily banned Maddox from practicing law, despite his professionalism and impeccable record.

Maddox is best known as a juridical savior. For example, in 1990, Rev. Al Sharpton was acquitted of 67 counts of fraud and theft due to Maddox’s legal scholarship, political acumen, and pro bono legal representation. Moreover, Maddox represented Michael Briscoe, who was not indicted in the ill-fated, controversial “Central Park 7” case where several young men of color were ultimately wrongfully convicted and served time for a crime they didn't commit.

Sharpe James’ "Political Prisoner" is a must read. As his discussion with Maddox reinforced skin color is sufficient to establish "guilt" even absent crime.


Professor Patrick Delices is a political analyst/commentator for the Black Star News and the author of “The Digital Economy,” Journal of International Affairs. For nearly a decade, Prof. Delices has taught Africana Studies at Hunter College. He also served as a research fellow for the late Pulitzer Prize recipient, Dr. Manning Marable at Columbia University. Prof. Delices can be contacted at 

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