Last week, an email from Prison Radio that noted political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s medical condition had worsened sent shock waves through the activist community. From Detroit to New Jersey, concerned citizens began to rally behind a petition to give Abu-Jamal the hepatitis-C medicine he needs.
“Governor [Tom] Wolf, I am a former superintendent of Detroit Public Schools and an author, columnist and radio commentator,” wrote John Telford. “I am also a supporter of Mr. Mumia Abu-Jamal. I implore you to please give Mumia his anti-viral treatment, release his blood-test results to his lawyers and ensure that his blood-sugar level is carefully monitored.”
On March 21, the People’s Organization for Progress, voiced a similar plea as they joined the international human rights community’s outcry “over the dangerous medical abuse facing Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
A year ago, Abu-Jamal, who will be 62 on April 24, went into diabetic shock and nearly died. Having endured more than a generation on death row, his death sentence was overturned and he was returned to the prison population. But now, many of his supporters believe that he is currently facing another form of execution, by being refused the vitally needed medicine.
Alarmed by Abu-Jamal’s latest round of sickness, including a recent outbreak of a rash and fatigue, I traveled with Dr. Joe Harris to see him last Sunday. But after driving for three hours to the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Frackville, Pa., filling out the paperwork and passing through a metal detector and into the waiting room, we were summoned by a guard and told we could not see Mumia.
Because he’d had a visitor Saturday, he had exhausted his weekend visitation privileges. It would seem that a regulation such as that would have been evident on their computer as soon as we arrived. We felt something had gone down because the guard was constantly on the telephone with someone. “Only the superintendent can approve your visitation now,” he told us.
Because there is nothing in the visitor’s guide about this regulation, and Harris, who visits Mumia regularly, had never encountered such a restriction, we felt we had been checked out, or at least they ran a check on me and discovered I was a journalist. But that was strange because I had been allowed before.
“There is such a rule on visitations for Mumia,” Pam Africa, an unstinting advocate for Abu-Jamal, told me later. “And even when Johanna [Fernandez] visits him, she is allowed to take only one sheet of paper inside the visiting room.”
“Keeping us from Mumia is another infringement on his civil rights, another way of denying him the human contact he needs,” said Harris. “Moreover, there is the prohibitive cost of the hep-C medicine at $1,000 a pill. And to get the full treatment it would cost him $90,000.”
Harris said there are thousands of inmates suffering from hep-C, “but Mumia is the poster boy, he symbolizes the inadequate care and treatment of those burdened with this disease.”
“We are appalled beyond words to learn that Mumia is still not being properly treated,” said Lawrence Hamm, POP’s chairman.
Abu-Jamal’s attorneys, Bob Boyle and Bret D. Grote, said last week that their client is “seriously ill.” Although they report that Mumia can walk, he is suffering from the same symptoms that led to the incident of diabetic shock. “Right now, we’re hoping for a positive decision for the hep-C medication,” Boyle told reporters.
Meanwhile, the attorneys are awaiting a decision on their briefs filed for Abu-Jamal after a hearing last Dec. 18 before U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani.
One activity that may help to keep Abu-Jamal’s spirits up is his current study of opera. “He is getting periodical lessons on opera by an instructor who visits him,” said Africa. In several ways his life and the struggle he has endured have operatic overtures.