Thursday, February 09, 2012

Mumia's Letter to Princeton Seminary students

From Mark Lewis Taylor of EMAJ –

The commentary/letter by Mumia, below, needs a brief explanation. Mumia sent this to me for my students at Princeton Theological Seminary, in a class I teach, “Incarnation and Incarcerated Bodies.” He wrote it while in “the hole” (Restricted Housing Unit - RHU) at SCI-Mahanoy, before being transferred – after 50 days! – to general population. Before I knew he was going to be in the hole, I had invited him to phone in a spoken commentary to my class, as he has done on two other occasions. Once Mumia went into the hole, I expected to hear nothing. It is testimony to his indomitable spirit and political commitment, that Mumia got this five-page handwritten text, and discerning analysis, out to my class – while in the hole!  Below, you’ll find my typed-out version of the text.

Then, on one of his first days out of the hole, he recorded the letter onto audio tape, only slightly altered from the handwritten text. I found this audio version in my online Dropbox, as “a surprise,” he said. This was made possible, also, by the good efforts of Prison Radio’s Noelle Hanrahan. That audio version will be posted soon this week. His audio tape arrived just in time for me to play to my classes this past week – to great effect!

Enjoy – everyone; post and send as you wish! And now – let’s get Mumia free, so that he is teaching live in our classrooms, helping us all to dismantle “Incarceration Nation.”

Keep on!

[lecture 1/19/12] © 2012 M.A. JAMAL

Fellow students, Dr. Mark Lewis Taylor; I think you for this rare opportunity to join you, if only on paper. For the first time in nearly 3 decades, I join you, free from a death sentence; yet, I write from the nation’s growing public housing population: its prisons.

As Michelle Alexander, Angela Y. Davis, and a plethora of scholar-activists have more than aptly demonstrated, we are in the throes of an imprisonment fever, holding millions of men, women and children in shackles. It is what I call, “Incarceration Nation.”

As I am now in the “hole,” and thus in transition to population (or so I’m told), my access to phone is restricted, so my words and paper must suffice. No matter, I am a writer, and am fully able to use this medium to press my points.

As this is both an academic as well as a theological setting, I intend to share with you voices that may not necessarily be commonly heard or expressed here, but are vital to the mission of institutions such as these, as they arise from the very heart of Black religious practice, albeit of various spiritual traditions. Indeed, the first is drawn from a uniquely artistic tradition, and is therefore, a performance of a performance (you’ll understand more, shortly, I trust).

For the Black preacher has been, since Africans arrived in the nation, the central voice of Black yearning, Black hope and yes, Black resistance to the system of white supremacy and racist terror against black life.

Acclaimed Black dialect poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, in his 1896 poem, “An Antebellum Sermon,” brings out the soul and the satire inherent in the traditions of Black preachers, thus:

                We is gathahed hyeah, my brothahs,
                    In dis howlin’ wildaness,
                Fu’ to speak some words of comfo’t
                   To each othah in distress.
                An’ we chooses fu’ ouah subjic’
                   Dis – we’ll ‘splain it by an’ by;
                “An de Lawd said, ‘Moses, Moses,’
                   An’ de man said, ‘Hyeah am I.’”

                Now ole Pher’oh, down in Egypt,
                   Was de wuss man evah bo’n,
                An’ he had de Hebrew chillun
                   Down dah wukin’ in his co’n’
                ‘Twell de Lawd got tiahed o’ his foolin’,
                   An sez he: “I’ll let him know –
                Look hyeah, Moses, go tell Pher’oh
                   Fu’ to let dem chillun go.” . . .
                But fu’ feah some one mistakes me,
                   I will pause right hyeah to say,
                Dat I’m still a-preachin’ ancient
                   I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout to-day.

                But I tell you, fellah christuns,
                   Things’ll happen mighty strange;
                Now, de Lawd done dis fu’ Isrul,
                An’ his ways don’t nevah change,
                An’ de love he showed to Isrul
                   Wasn’t all on Isrul spent;
                Now don’t run an’ tell yo’ mastahs
                   Dat I’s preachin’ discontent.

                ‘Cause I is n’t; I’se a-judgin’
                   Bible people by deir ac’s;
                I’se a-givin’ you de Scriptuah,
                   I’se a-handin’ you de fac’s.
                Cose ole Pher’oh b’lieved in slav’ry,
                   But de Lawd he let him see,
                Dat de people he put bref in,-
                   Evah mothah’s son was free.  . . .
                But when Moses wif his powah
                   Comes an’ sets us chillun free,
                We will praise de gracious Mastah
                    Dat has gin us liberty;
                An’ we’ll shout ouah halleluyahs,
                   On dat mighty reck’nin’ day,
                When we’se reco’nised ez citiz’ –
                   Huh uh! Chillun, let us pray!

Paul Laurence Dunbar mined the rich mother-lode of Black speech and oration to fund his poetry, and while it may sound somewhat new to some students here, I assure you – as someone who accompanied my mother to a Black Baptist church in his childhood – the rhythms and intonations of Dunbar are as familiar as an old relative.

That said, it was penned over a century ago, and new deliveries, new attitudes and even new religions were inevitable.

By the ‘60s, voices such as Malcolm X’s would ascend to the pulpit, in the name of an American-born Islam (specifically, the Nation of Islam) which would use new cadences and a different message to give voice to the Black spirit.

The following text of one of his sermons is typical:

My brothers and sisters, our slave masters’ Christian religion has taught us black people here in the wilderness of North America that we will sprout wings when we die and fly up into the sky where God will have for us a special place called heaven. This is white man’s Christian religion used to brainwash us black people! We have accepted it! We have believed it! We have practiced it! And while we are doing all of that, for himself, this blue-eyed devil has twisted his Christianity to keep his foot on our backs…to keep our eyes fixed on the pie in the sky and heaven in the hereafter…while he enjoys his heaven right here…on this earth…in this life.

Of course, the differences in tone, in structure, and even in language, are, to say the least, striking. Yet, both forms are reflections of the central concern of Black people. Freedom. Liberty. Here. Now.

(It is noteworthy, too, that both saw America as ‘wilderness.’)

And it might also be said that both forms resulted in the frustration of hopes dashed, for, in Dunbar’s era, Black people were experiencing the Great Betrayal of Reconstruction, where all the promises of the constitution’s 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were sacrificed on the profane altar of white supremacy and Ku Klux Klan terrorism, and ignored for most of the 20th century.

In Malcolm’s time, meanwhile, we were in the opening innings of the mass incarceration period, where, despite declining crime rates, prison populations, with predominantly Black incarcerees, would, literally rise a hundred-fold between 1970 and the 1990s.

Little wonder that the tones would change, until today, when we’re in “Incarceration Nation,” with millions behind bars.

Malcolm knew something of this, for he did nearly a decade in prison, where he experienced his conversion to the Nation of Islam’s teaching. I think that experience steeled him, and made him the outstanding minister he would later become. It deepened and sharpened his critique.

And yet, we’re still in Incarceration Nation, the Prison Industrial Complex – where prisons are America’s sole remaining growth industry.

Thank you!

From Incarceration Nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.


BERRY, Mary Frances and BLASSINGAME, John W.  Long Memory: The Black Experience in America. New York/London: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 104-5; 102.

Legal Update on How Mumia Got Removed From the Hole

Note below how at the final stage of this protracted battle with the state to get Mumia out of the hole, Mumia was pressured to sign an outrageous agreement he refused to sign.  He was then told he would therefore not be released into general population. But with the escalating struggle of the movement he was nonetheless released the following ay.  The powers that be had to back down.  All Power to the People!

The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition


PA Department of Corrections Gives Up, For Now!

Mumia Abu-Jamal Moved Out of Administrative Custody!

Free Mumia from the Hell Hole of Prison!

By Rachel Wolkenstein

Fifty days after the Philadelphia District Attorney conceded defeat in its attempt to legally lynch Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) was compelled to abandon its efforts to keep Mumia in the tortuous conditions of Administrative Custody (AC) (more commonly known as solitary or "the hole"). In the face of an ever-growing international protest campaign, the threat of legal action and Mumia's courage and political integrity, on Friday morning, January 27, 2012, Mumia was moved into general population at SCI Mahanoy.

For weeks the DOC insisted that Mumia would be held in AC until it received the "paper work" stating he is resentenced to life imprisonment. This bogus rationale is representative of the arbitrariness and abuse of power exercised by the DOC, since its own documents state that the District Attorney agreed Mumia no longer had a death sentence. When Philadelphia District Attorney, Seth Williams, with the backing of the FOP, agreed to life imprisonment rather than trying again for an execution, they threatened to make Mumia's life imprisonment as restrictive and difficult as possible.

Once Mumia was taken off death row on December 8, 2011, he should have been transferred to general population. Instead, days later, Mumia was taken from his cell at 4 a.m. shackled and driven for seven hours across the state with rifles pointed at him and then thrown into the hole at SCI Mahanoy. This precipitous transfer was in response to the howl of rage by the FOP to Mumia's address to an over 1000-strong gathering at Philadelphia's Constitution Center, at which supporters vowed not to accept a life sentence for Mumia, but instead demanded his freedom from prison.

As soon as it was learned that Mumia was in the hole at Mahanoy, without phone calls, his writing materials, books and other property, or adequate commissary, protests flooded the phone lines, fax machines and emails at DOC, SCI Mahanoy and the District Attorney's office.  Mumia appealed his AC confinement stating that the conditions were worse than what he suffered on death row. Legal demands to immediately transfer Mumia to general population were sent to the DOC Secretary John Wetzel stating that Mumia's AC confinement violated his protected liberty interests and his human and civil rights.  Preparation was made to file a federal civil rights lawsuit on Mumia's behalf challenging his continued imprisonment in Administrative Custody.

On Thursday January 26, unbeknownst to each other, two separate struggles were taking place, one inside and the other outside the prison.  Mumia had his weekly Program Review Committee (PRC) hearing, headed up by a Deputy Superintendent at SCI Mahanoy. Before that morning review, Mumia was informed that he would be released into general population. But then a last minute condition was tacked on: signing a "security agreement" that stated (1) Mumia is a former capital case prisoner and therefore an institutional security risk and (2) consent that Mumia would go straight back to the hole if a disciplinary complaint is filed against him.

Mumia rejected this latest coercive measure. Instead he countered that he was being labeled a security risk based on his politics and exercise of constitutionally protected activities.  He maintained that during 30 years of incarceration his only prison infractions were based on his exercise of First Amendment rights. Mumia fought those disciplinary actions using what legal redress was available in the prison and in the courts. In Jamal v Price (1998), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that Mumia has a constitutional right publish his writings from death row free for censorship of its content.  Additionally, during his last five years on death row Mumia was a block worker, given and using tools like shovels in the yard. This would not have been allowed if Mumia was considered a "security risk."  Nonetheless, prison officials told Mumia at the morning PRC meeting and again at a second specially convened meeting in the afternoon that his counter agreement was not acceptable and he would not be moved into general population unless he signed the "security agreement."

During the course of that same day, Mumia's supporters held a Philadelphia press conference demanding his release into general population and highlighting the condition of tens of thousands of prisoners in these torture blocs in the U.S.  Then a delegation drove to DOC headquarters in Camp Hill, PA to present Secretary of Corrections, John Wetzel over 5500 petitions and notice of a complaint filed with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Despite previous notice of the delegation, Secretary Wetzel refused to meet with them. But the presence of the delegation—and the international support they represented— was unquestionably felt.

The DOC did a complete about-face.  Early Friday morning, January 27, Mumia was brought in from the yard and without being given any explanation, was moved into general population.

This was a confirmation, by the DOC's own actions, that Mumia's confinement in AC, under daily conditions more onerous than death row, was punitive and retaliatory, fed by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office and the FOP, for defeating his death sentence and not bending as "the voice of the voiceless."  It is also confirmation, in the words of Frederick Douglas, that "power cedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will."

Book Party, Celebration & Tribute to Pam Africa

On Sunday February 5 the first book party for the Classroom and the Cell was held in Philadelphia, where both authors, Mumia and Mark Lamont Hill, were born and grew up.  This important book party was held in combination with a celebration of our collective victory in getting Mumia not only off Death Row but out of the hole in which the state and prison authorities wanted him to stay in for as long as possible.  The room sizzled with excitement at our recent victory and the remarkable coming together of two such talented and inspired writers and revolutionary intellectuals as Brothers Mumia and Marc.  The three task forces gave presentations on their work, a legal update was presented, family, and friends spoke.  When the program and signing of books were over, people were still talking each other, not wanting to leave the warmth of the event, the moment of victory, and the stimulating discussion.  

One of the highlights of the evening was the chairing of the panel consisting of Ramona Africa,  Michael Coard, and Mark Lamont Hill by Professor Tony Monteira who chose to use that opportunity to pay a very special tribute to Pam Africa.  We say "Que Viva!" to that tribute which follows below:  



By Anthony Monteiro

It's about time AfroAmerica recognized Pam Africa as the great freedom fighter, organizer and Civil Rights heroine that she is. No one has contributed more to the struggle to free Mumia Abu Jamal than she, or worked more consistently and tirelessly than she. No one has more consistently rallied Mumia's supporters worldwide to his defense. Pam Africa by all accounts is a force to be dealt with, a person the ruling class and white supremacist cannot underestimate. As a strategist and tactician of struggle she cannot be taken lightly. She is a modern day Civil Rights icon on par with the likes of Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy, both of whom were leaders of the Montgomery, Birmingham and other civil rights campaigns in the South. As a fearless organizer she is the equal of  Diane Nash and Ella Baker of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Her accomplishments in fierce battles against police repression, mass incarceration and the death penalty are unsurpassed and in the heroic tradition of the Black Panther Party.

Pam believed when others doubted that Mumia was innocent and that we could win his release from death row . She is convinced  we will win his complete freedom. She stood up to Philadelphia's dreaded and fascist Fraternal Order of Police. She fought several Philadelphia Mayors, District Attorneys, especially the lethal and racist Lynn Abraham (called by the New York Times in 1995 the nation's "most deadly DA" because of the numbers of Blacks and Latinos she put on death row) and at least four Pennsylvania Governors. She fought, cajoled and ultimately won over a good part of the Philadelphia Black establishment. Pam brought moral critique upon Black preachers because of their refusal to condemn the unjust imprisonment of Mumia, as they preached what passed for the Christian doctrine of justice and the sanctity of life. In the course of fighting  civil rights leaders and politicians she redefined the civil rights struggle in the so-called post civil rights era. She preceded by at least two decades Michelle Alexander's recognition of the racist prison industrial complex and the centrality of the death penalty to it. She faced off against that part of the white anti-death penalty movement who wanted to exclude Mumia from their campaigns and not acknowledge the death penalty's racist essence and its roots in slavery and lynchings of Black folk.

Pam is a self identified revolutionary holding no regard, respect or trust in the existing legal and governmental systems or bourgeois institutions period. She is a humble woman who seldom when talking about the movement uses the "I", but always refers to the "we". It's always what "we" have done, or what Mumia said. Never what "I" did or what "I" said. She fought several of Mumia's lawyers whose liberalism and belief in the system inhibited their capacity to fight for his freedom and to see the possibilities of connecting what goes on in the courts to what goes on in the streets.

Most Black preachers, intellectuals, politicians and civil rights leaders are invested in keeping leaders and fighters like Pam Africa unknown to the people and their contributions unrecognized. It seems that to recognize Pam is to draw attention to what they have not done and in fact their ties to the establishments they claim to be fighting. The other thing is  Pam Africa doesn't fit the image they have of African American leaders. She's not a Christian; she follows the teachings of her murdered and prophetic leader John Africa. She believes in life, all life, and not God. The other thing, she's a freedom fighter in a time when too many of us think we're free. Pam Africa is a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. While white media recognized and appointed Black leaders' world views and strategies of struggle are based on the lesser of evils among white folk and the mantras of gradual reform and "git in where you fit in". Pam's world view begins with the belief that evil is evil is evil and that evil in all its forms has to be fought.

They say she's not ready to come into the circles of leadership.She's just too radical, too outside the mainstream, too loud, she curses too much, she doesn't straighten her hair, she doesn't dress right, eat right or live in the right neighborhood. She's not part of petty bourgeois and professional networks, clubs and associations. However, the breadth and significance of her life and work is  a judgement upon their narrowness and hypocrisy. She has led a movement that has won a victory few thought possible, getting Mumia off death row and having his death penalty overturned. This legal victory  would have been impossible without the movement and without Pam Africa herself. Consider the tragic fate of  Troy Anthony Davis and Shaka Sankofa to name just two who were executed although they were innocent.

Overturning Mumia's death penalty might be the signature civil rights victory in several decades. However, the epic struggle to win his complete victory and overturn the system of mass incarceration continues and Pam continues in the vanguard of this struggle. She is a tribute to the Black proletariat of North Philadelphia where she and Mumia's roots are ( Mumia grew up and was socialized and experienced his rites of passage in that part of Philly called the "Original Tenderlines")and where her hatred of injustice was nourished. She is a tribute to the revolutionary leaders and movements that emerged from the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Pam Africa is a figure that history must and will recognize; increasingly the world acknowledges this daughter of the Black working masses. Pam has never betrayed her roots in Black Philadelphia as she has become an international leader in the fight for human rights. Hopefully in the not too distant future her own people and the city and nation where she was born will also acknowledge her as a great human rights and civil rights leader.