Mumia Abu-Jamal off death row and in general population in the Pennsylvania correctional system. Photo was taken on February 2, 2012., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Due to mass pressure Mumia transferred to general population
By Berta Joubert-Ceci
Published Feb 2, 2012 8:40 PM
After more than 30 years in the chambers of death, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has been released into the general prison population. Finally, as of Jan. 27, he is now able to embrace his loved ones and shake the hands of all those who have supported him in the struggle for freedom.
In a short message sent to his spouse, Wadiya Jamal, Mumia said: “My dear friends, brothers and sisters — I want to thank you for your real hard work and support. I am no longer on death row, no longer in the hole, I’m in population. This is only part one and I thank you all for the work you’ve done. But the struggle is for freedom!”
On Dec. 7, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he had abandoned pursuing the death sentence for Mumia after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the DA’s appeal to reinstate Mumia’s death sentence. On Dec. 9, a standing-room-only event at the Philadelphia Convention Center drew an unprecedented number of people, young and old, especially from the city, to demand his freedom.
Days later, Abu-Jamal was transferred from the infamous SCI Greene to the supposedly less restrictive prison, SCI Mahanoy, just 100 miles from his hometown of Philadelphia. But what should have been an automatic transfer into general population turned into a yet more restrictive and cruel environment.
For seven long weeks, Mumia was held in solitary confinement or “the hole,” with no access to news, bright lights on all the time, wrists and ankles shackled when he was out of his cell and many more conditions far more severe than the ones on death row. What was called “Administrative Custody” in the “Restrictive Housing Unit” was indeed a form of torture that elicited a major national and international response.
As soon as Mumia supporters found out about the cruel conditions, a campaign started to get him into general population.
An online petition campaign was initiated, which rapidly drew 5,000 signatures demanding not only the release of Mumia from solitary confinement, but the closing of all restrictive housing units around the U.S. On Jan. 26, before delivering these signatures and letters from legal organizations and Mumia supporters to Secretary John Wetzel at the Department of Corrections headquarters in Camp Hill, Pa., dozens of Mumia supporters held a press conference in Philadelphia.
Exposing horror of U.S. prisons
The press conference was a vivid example of the significance of the struggle to free Mumia. The various speakers represented prisoners and their families, community activists, lawyers, educators and Mumia advocates, showing the broad spectrum of the struggle against the prison-industrial complex and the cruelty of the system. Each speaker added a piece to the quilt that is U.S. imprisonment.
Pam Africa, well-known spokeswoman of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, opened the conference by introducing the chair, King Downing, of the American Friends Service Committee.
Several political prisoners spoke through a moving video describing the horrible conditions that they are subjected to as punishment for their activism. The video stated that on any given day as many as 200,000 people endure solitary confinement in U.S. prisons; that up to 80 percent are people of color and 60 percent have mental illness. It was reported and repeated several times that, according to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, prolonged solitary confinement is torture.
Ramona Africa, Minister of Communications of the MOVE organization, said that the reason Mumia was in the “hole” was due to the fury that the state has “because they could not legally kill him.”
Setting the tone for the media event, she reminded the audience that it is the people who have the real power, but it must be used to continue the fight. She concluded her remarks calling for the freedom of all political prisoners.
Prisoners’ relatives spoke like Theresa Shoatz, daughter of Russell Maroon Shoats, a former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army member who has been incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons for almost 40 years — 30 of them in solitary. She spoke not only about the ordeal her father and the whole family have gone through, but how more than 15 young men in their 20s hung themselves in one year alone, because they were in 23-hour lockdown in SCI Greene. Also speaking was Karen Ali, an activist and spouse of prisoner Omar Askia Ali, who has been incarcerated for over 40 years.
Johanna Fernandez, “Justice on Trial”’ filmmaker and professor, described vividly her conversations with Maroon Shoats, who likened Mumia to Frederick Douglass and himself to Nat Turner. Shoats told her that the prison authorities, in the current climate of struggle brought about by the Occupy movement, would never allow Mumia and him together in SCI Greene general population. Indeed, six days later, Mumia was transferred.
Attorney Rachel Wolkenstein spoke on Mumia’s fight to get into general population, a move that was delayed with bogus excuses by the prison like demanding that his dreadlocks be cut and that he give a blood sample and also that they were waiting for the papers about resentencing. Finally, these excuses were all dropped.
Lawyer Michael Coard stated, “We don’t go to court to get justice; we go to court to expose the injustice." He delineated the three approaches of legal action on behalf of Mumia: “At the international level, based on the human rights violation law that states that ‘solitary confinement’ is torture, and torture is a violation of human rights; at the federal level, based on the Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, which his continued, ongoing incarceration constitutes; and at the state level, based on Article 1, section 13, which says the same and even more than the Eighth Amendment.” Coard concluded that the ultimate remedy is to remove Mumia from prison.
Other speakers were Suzanne Ross of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC) and Heidi Boghosian, director of the National Lawyers Guild. They spoke on the fightback and the campaigns to free Mumia. Sandra Jones, of the Delaware Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and Darryl Jordan, from AFSC, also spoke on their organizations’ work.
Although the fight continues until Mumia is free, this has been a victory thanks to the relentless fight of the ICFFMAJ and the supporters at the international and national level. The increase of support in Philadelphia, demonstrated by the significant turnout at the Dec. 9 event, has been a major factor in the turning point of the struggle. The next big action will be on April 24, Mumia’s birthday. That day will be Occupy the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Free Mumia and ALL political prisoners!
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