Visiting Mumia Abu-Jamal

by Carole Seligman

I had the tremendous honor of meeting for the first time and having a visit with Mumia this morning after attending the court proceeding Jan. 17th.

Mumia is a warm, welcoming man. Despite a terribly uncomfortable skin outbreak that keeps him from sleeping, and itching that is constant and unrelenting, Mumia has kept on writing trenchent commentaries on all current pressing issues and recording them in his beautiful voice on Prison Radio. We know this about him, but I wanted to meet him in person after writing to him and working for his freedom for many years.

I was introduced by attorney Rachel Wolkenstein who was visiting MOVE prisoner, Eddie Africa, as well as Mumia. Basym Hasan (from the PA Prison Society) and Mumia’s brother, Keith Cook, were also visiting and we had a round table wide-rangeing discussion on many topics including the court proceedings of the previous day, genetic testing, the death penalty in PA, the water quality in the prison (the guards don’t drink from the water fountains) and the itchy skin conditions that many prisoners are suffering; prison food, the upcoming Women’s March and the significance of last year’s Women’s March on the day after the Trump inauguratin; the case of a juvenile lifer, who, after 64 years in prison had his sentence converted to 35 to life, but wasn’t allowed to leave the state to go to family members in the South! Much of the discussion cycled around to the combined conditions of extreme cruelty with irrational idiocy in the prisons.

Mumia, while he was on death row in SCI Greene was in the wing of the prison where they could watch the food preparation. The food was put on carts and delivered to all the different cell blocks, ending with the death row blocks, where it was always cold. When he was transferred to SCI Mahanoy, he burned his mouth because he had grown used to never tasting hot food. Simple cruelty, carried out for years on end.

Mumia told us about new, colorful, cheerfully painted signs on the Mahanoy prison walls saying: “Help is near,” and “If you feel suicidal, contact staff.” Such irony. In the discussion on genetic testing, in which Basym was telling us about how he is learning about his multi-racial relatives, we discussed race and the fact that it is a erroneous concept.  Mumia told about how the white relatives of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings didn’t care much about being descended from a Founding Father and early president of the U.S., only that there was a Black ancestor, and that soon, in the wealthy all-white enclave in which they lived, they started being excluded from some private clubs. Mumia pointed out that all our ancestors were in Africa, where our species evolved; that an African mother is the ancestral mother of every human being.

I feel privileged to have listened and participated in these kinds of conversations with such a big-hearted person.

Mumia’s skin condition seemed to worsen over the time of the visit, with open red areas on his inner arms. His brother Keith gave some sessions of kind relief by scratching Mumia’s back. Lots of brotherly gratitude for that! As our visit was ending, Mumia gave a message of love for Kevin Cooper, on death row at San Quentin and compliments on Kevin’s beautiful art.

Yesterday, a short hearing in Judge Tucker’s courtroom in Philadelphia ended with a 60-day postponement of the orders for the District Attorney’s office to provide the documents that show Ronald Castille’s active involvement in the prosecutorial frame-up of Mumia. Castille went on to rule against all of Mumia’s appeals as a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This failure to recuse himself as judge from cases he prosecuted as DA was ruled unconstitutional [the Williams decision], opening the door for Mumia, and several other convicted Philadelphians to seek redress. Supporters  of Mumia, who filled the courtroom and demonstrated outside the courthouse in the snow, were encouraged by Judge Tucker’s expressing to the DA representatives in the courtroom that he didn’t want the issue “kicked down the road” and ordered a status meeting of the DA and defense counsel in 30 days. A note of caution is in order. This judge has thrown out several worthy cases, including the PCRA petition challenging his conviction brought by Major Tillery, a framed PA prisoner who was punitively transferred from Mahanoy after he saved Mumia’s life when Mumia fell into a diabetic coma caused by untreated Hepatitis C 2 years ago.

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