Posted May 7, 2009

Book release, birthday events in solidarity with Mumia Ab-Jamal

By Betsey Piette

Award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal’s sixth book, “Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A.,” written from death row, pays tribute to prisoners who became self-taught lawyers to help defend the rights of other prisoners who would otherwise be denied legal representation.

On April 24 and 25, the book was presented in over a dozen cities across the U.S. to open a new stage in the battle for Abu-Jamal’s life and freedom. These events also commemorated Mumia’s April 24 birthday shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a review of his case.

In Harlem over 200 people packed a room at Riverside Church April 25 at a program chaired by Sundiata Sadiq and Suzanne Ross, leaders of the New York Free Mumia Coalition.
The speakers included Pam Africa, leader of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Ramona Africa, a former jailhouse lawyer and the sole adult survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia by federal and local authorities; Brother Amin, aka Harold Wilson, who was exonerated after 16 years on death row with Mumia at SCI Greene prison; Paul Wright and Mika’il Deveaux, former jailhouse lawyers; and Jamal Joseph, who was a Black Panther 21 defendant during the early 1970s.

Former political prisoner Angela Davis was shown on video and spoke about the foreword that she wrote for Mumia’s book. Cultural performances were provided by The Welfare Poets and the Academy Award-nominated Impact Repertory Theatre, the singing, dancing and spoken-word youth group.
In Philadelphia over 200 people gathered on April 24 to culminate a week of events focusing on political prisoners under the theme “Revolutionary Week: We who believe in freedom cannot wait. We educate!”
Chaired by former political prisoner Ramona Africa, the meeting featured such entertainers as poet Sonia Sanchez, jazz trumpet soloist Kenneth Taylor, the African American Dance Ensemble, and Goldi, daughter of Mumia and Wadiya.

Speakers included Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, who said laws were “codified by judges to serve the ruling class.” Temple professor Linn Washington Jr. described the many contradictory court rulings on local, state and federal levels used to deny justice for Abu-Jamal.

In San Diego, a celebration of life, courage and struggle honoring Abu-Jamal was held at the Malcolm X library on April 24. All present signed a hand-decorated card for Mumia and heard a birthday greeting from Assata Shakur.
Gloria Verdieu read Selma James’ message from “Jailhouse Lawyers.” Asian American Women’s Alliance members were there in support and solidarity with Mumia, who is an honorary member of their organization.

Many who attended also marched on May Day and then made their way to the World Beat Center in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The video “In Prison My Whole Life” was shown there before a concert. Many people were not aware of some information presented in this video, which traces the events leading up to Mumia’s arrest and conviction with new photos and evidence.

Sylvia Telafaro, president of AAWA, read a poem for Mumia, and Eliote Lieb gave an update on Mumia’s case. The band Wadi said the struggle to free Mumia and all political prisoners must continue.
In Houston on April 25, a multinational crowd filling the S.H.A.P.E. Center’s auditorium was thrilled to hear Mumia’s strong voice greet them via an audio recording he did for those gathering around the country for his birthday.

Njeri Shakur, an organizer with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement that sponsored the evening, told the audience, “It is so important that we are here, united, to stand up for Mumia and continue to build the broad movement that will free him.” Long-time civil rights activist Ester King, Black Panther Ayanna Ade, and gay rights and prison activist Ray Hill read from the just-released book.
Three long-time local activists also read from the book and paid tribute to three Texas writ writers. The room was totally quiet and many had tears in their eyes as former prisoners Bobby Mudd, Black Panther Sensei Benton and activist Prince Imari Obadele told of their life in prison and how they fought the system by working on their own cases as well as those of other prisoners.

A moving tribute was paid to Texas’s most famous jailhouse lawyer, David Ruiz, whose 1978-79 civil trial was the longest in U.S. jurisprudence history. At his trial, 110 prisoners testified at great risk, and were able to force the legal system to listen. Chapter 7 in Mumia’s book is about Ruiz and the changes he made in Texas prisons.

Monica Moorehead, Gloria Verdieu and Gloria Rubac contributed to this report.

Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A. and also Also the movie: "In Prison My Whole Life"
available at