Israel Palestinians

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on a residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday. Hatem Ali/Associated Press

When Justin Mashouf’s incarcerated friend Hamza told him he needed help donating money to help civilians in Gaza, Mashouf said he was eager to support him.

When the pay stub arrived, Mashouf was stunned – all $17.74 of Hamza’s 13-cent-an-hour janitorial wages were marked for charity.

When Mashouf shared Hamza’s prison pay stub on social media, users raised more than $102,000 through a GoFundMe campaign, money intended to go to the 56-year-old California man who has been incarcerated for nearly 40 years and is set to be paroled this month.

The Washington Post agreed not to publish Hamza’s legal name – “Hamza” is a chosen name – because Mashouf said Hamza feared he would be risking his parole status by seeking attention.

When Hamza first pitched the idea of donating to civilians in Gaza to Mashouf, he was “concerned and heartbroken” about news that he was watching from prison.

“These last few months, he’s been very anxious about the state of the world, especially since he knows he is reentering the real world,” Mashouf said in a phone interview. “But when people began showing him kindness, it really helped ready him for this reentry.”


“He gave people hope by showing how selfless he is, and then they gave him hope through their kindness.”

Mashouf, a filmmaker, first contacted Hamza in 2009, when he was working on his documentary “The Honest Struggle.”

Hours after Mashouf first posted Hamza’s pay stub for 136 hours of janitorial work for the California Health Care Facility, a prison in Northern California, and donation check on social media, strangers began to ask how they could donate to Hamza.

First, he collected money on Venmo, but soon that got overwhelming, he said.

“There were thousands of people who wanted to help,” he said, and he realized that he needed to set up a GoFundMe page to manage the donations.

Legal records show that Hamza was convicted of one count of second-degree murder in 1986 and sentenced to 15 years to life. He pleaded guilty to the murder when he was a teenager, records show.


Mashouf said Hamza had been convicted of the murder of an uncle.

“Hamza accidentally fired a gun at a loved one … leading to his imprisonment for over four decades,” according to the GoFundMe page.

At the time of his conviction, the sentencing judge told Hamza that he would be released on adult parole, Hamza wrote in an appeal against the denial of his parole in 2013.

Hamza had appeared before the parole board 10 times between 1995 and 2013 and was routinely denied, his documents showed. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records show that Hamza was denied parole three more times between 2014 and 2023.

The GoFundMe page also laid out how Hamza converted to Islam in 1989 and how he would be spending his money once released: health care, housing, clothing, food, a job search and training. Hamza has already decided, however, that some of the donations meant for him will go to others in need, Mashouf said.

After Mashouf told Hamza that the funds were in the thousands, Hamza asked him to disable donations.


“He said whatever has already been donated is sufficient for him,” Mashouf said. “And that he didn’t want to distract people from those who were suffering more than him.”

In an update on the GoFundMe page, Hamza said he was eager to start his new life.

“I look forward to the promise of life, happiness, struggles and dreams, to soar and spread my wings, to be a man, a human being once again now that I know the preciousness and the incalculable value of Life,” he wrote.

Mashouf said that Hamza is a qualified electrician but would need computer and technological training to get up to speed before he joins the workforce outside prison.

Hamza will also be donating his March paycheck to civilians in Gaza, one that he hopes is his final check from prison.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: