'40 Years a Prisoner': Where are the MOVE Nine now? First release came in 2018 with final in 2020
The first of the MOVE Nine to be released was Debbie Sims, who had been 22 years old -- and eight months pregnant -- when she went to prison
HBO's latest documentary, '40 Years a Prisoner' chronicles the controversial 1978 Philadelphia police raid on the radical back-to-nature group MOVE and the aftermath that led to a son’s decades-long fight to free his parents. Through eyewitness accounts and archival footage of the escalating tension that resulted in the controversial confrontation between police and MOVE members, the film illuminates the story of a city grappling with racial tension and police brutality with alarming topicality and modern-day relevance.
MOVE is a militant anarcho-primitivist group that was founded by John Africa (who was born Vincent Leaphart). The group was inspired by the Black Panthers and lived in a communal setting in West Philadelphia, where they combined their revolutionary ideology with animal rights activism. In their compound, MOVE members lived together and brought in the animals they rescued off the streets. Alongside the Black Panthers, the organization was central to the volatile and at times violent struggle for black equality that lasted until the 1980s.
In 1978, in what would be the first of two major standoffs between the organization and the Philadelphia police, members of MOVE protested while in their compound -- from which they were demanded to vacate. The confrontation became a shootout during which one police officer was killed, and 16 police officers and firefighters were injured. Nine members of MOVE were charged with the death of the police officers, however, eye witness accounts had noted that the officer was likely shot by another police officer in friendly fire. Each of the nine members was sentenced to a maximum of 100 years in prison. They were Chuck, Delbert, Eddie, Janet, Janine, Merle, Michael, Phil and Debbie Africa.
The first of the MOVE Nine to be released was Debbie Sims, who had been 22 years old -- and eight months pregnant -- when she went to prison. She gave birth to Michael Davis Africa Jr in secret, with the baby being taken away from her a week later. Debbie was released on June 16, 2018.
Debbie's release renewed attention on the MOVE members arrested in 1978 and led to more releases. On October 23, 2018, Mike Africa Jr's father, Michael Davis Africa Sr, Debbie's husband, was released on parole. In May 2019, Janine and Janet Africa were released on parole after 41 years of imprisonment. On June 21, 2019, Eddie Goodman Africa was released on parole. Delbert Orr Africa was granted parole on December 20, 2019, and released on January 18, 2020 -- he died of cancer at home in June 2020. The last of the MOVE Nine either to be paroled or to die behind bars was Chuck Sims Africa who was released on parole on February 7, 2020, after 41 years of imprisonment. Chuck was the youngest of the incarcerated group and had been in custody since shortly after he turned 18.
Two members of the MOVE Nine died in prison. In 1998, at age 47, Merle Africa, and in 2015, at age 59, Phil Africa, died while in custody.
'40 Years a Prisoner' airs on HBO on Tuesday, December 8, at 9/8c.