Published June 12, 2005

Death-row visit
A memorable day
with Mumia Abu-Jam

by Monica Moorehead who will talk about her visit with Mumia, tonight, June 12 at 8:30 on a Pacifica radio show hosted by Gloria Rubac


Monica Moorehead and Mumia Abu-Jamal at SCI-Greene prison, March 1996
Photo: Larry Holmes

SCI-Greene Prison in Waynesburg, Pa.

Visiting someone in prison can be one of life's most heartbreaking experiences.

As you approach the prison, you can't help but be affected by the impenetrable thick brick walls topped with coils of barbed wire - or by the steady stream of women and children, disproportionately people of color, who have traveled from far distances to visit their loved ones, who are spending years locked up in steel cages, sometimes for 23-and-a-half hours daily.

This is the situation that death-row political prisoner and revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has faced for almost 23 years now.

On June 5 Larry Holmes and I took a seven-hour car trip to visit with Mumia at the remote SCI-Greene prison unit near the West Virginia border.

After going through the standard security checkpoints to get to the visiting area, we came face to face with a handcuffed, smiling Mumia.

Separated by a plexiglass barrier, Larry and I instinctively press our hands up against the glass to meet Mumia's hands, even with the knowledge that human contact is almost forbidden under these unimaginable circumstances.

Yet somehow the omnipresent physical barriers take a back seat during a face-to-face meeting with Mumia. Since he is allowed only one visit per week, excluding his lawyers, we decided to make every minute count. As it turned out, the six hours that we spent with him went by so quickly.

He said that he is in relatively good health and that the swelling in his feet had gone down. This has been an ongoing problem due to prison conditions.

When we asked him about the May 27 dismissal Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas dismissal of his request for a new Post Conviction Relief Act hearing, Mumia stated that this came to no surprise given the biased nature of the courts.

Mumia can no longer receive an important news sources like C-Span because of new regulations.

The bulk of our political discussion focused on the problems and prospects facing the anti-war movement in light of the deepening Iraqi resistance and the outcome of the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the development of the Black-led Million Workers March Movement, the upcoming Millions More March this October, and the growing impact of immigrant workers' rights on the overall labor movement.

We also discussed the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, which helped launch the modern civil rights struggle, and how to best impart the important lessons this event can have on today's struggle against war, racism and cutbacks. Mumia shared with us his fond memories of his last visit with the actor Ossie Davis, who remained a committed activist until his recent death.

When we were forced to say good-bye and leave him behind, Mumia flashed his stunning smile and with his cuffed hands in fists, told us to tell everyone to keep up the good fight. Larry and I left the prison sad but also so grateful for time that we spent with this remarkable revolutionary leader and comrade in the struggle.

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners!

Moorehead, is coordinator of Millions for Mumia, Anti-death Penalty Project and Holmes is a national Co-director of the IAC