“We have much, much more to do”

Interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia embraces his wife, Wadiya Jamal, and his lawyer, Rachel Wolkenstein
By: Randi Hensley

Randi Jones Hensley conducted a written interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Pennsylvania death row prisoner who is now serving a life sentence in SCI Mahanoy prison in Frackville, Pa. He de­scribes life in the general population and gives his thoughts on what’s next for our movement today. 

We’ve read such moving accounts of people’s visits with you since you’ve been off death row. Can you describe what those visits have been like for you? What else in your day-to-day life and routine has changed since you’ve been off death row? How do you feel to be in general population?

In many ways, these visits are indescribable, even for me, a writer. Many, especially family, I haven’t touched in decades. In that sense, it was weird, but delicious, nonetheless. 

It was also bittersweet. My wife’s kisses were sweeter than honey, and I was made dizzy by it. As for friends, supporters, and brothas and sistas, it was almost like I was meeting them for the first time. Also the sheer sight of children running around me, playing, yelling or even crying. I found it overwhelming.

General population—speak of overwhelming! For a lifetime, I’ve only been in a small dog-run-size cage, with one other guy on death row. To now go to a yard—a REAL yard!—with perhaps 400 to 500 guys. 

What I found amazing is the ages of many of the men. From the very young (I’ve seen guys here who don’t shave yet) to men in the very last years of life. Men in wheelchairs, on walkers, on canes. I found the number of such men, and these extremes in ages, shocking. Shocking! It still takes some getting used to. In many ways, I don’t want to get used to it! 

Over the years, millions have fought for your freedom. What is the next step in the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal? 

That is what we are working on. The movement hasn’t weakened. It’s strengthened. It’s grown. We have much, much more to do! 

You are a hero and inspiration to many people on both sides of prison bars. How did other prisoners react to your presence in general population? 

I’ve been greeted by many, many other men in gen pop—overwhelmingly positive. What is truly remarkable, though, is the sheer size of these joints, and the wild numbers of men (and women) encaged therein. I see it visually now, and it should enliven the movement to really take on and attack the mass incarceration that is present-day America.

The murder of Trayvon Martin has exposed the racism that is so deeply engrained in American society. His tragic murder showed what the criminalization of young Black men means. How do you think we can channel the outrage over his murder into a movement that fights racism?

That is precisely why I said what I said about mass incarceration. That becomes possible when the media and the state can create the mass criminalization of young Black people. That really is an open death warrant for Black and Latin kids. 

Consider what the so-called “Declaration of Independence” sez about Native Indigenous folks: “merciless Indian savages.” That language, that racist picture projected by early American media, set the stage for the mass terrorism that led to the genocide of many, many indigenous families in the lands we call America. The dialectic has never left this land, and operates daily to reproduce the repression that we see all around us. 

Any other messages for your supporters?

This was just a battle. We’ve got to win the war! 

With the legislative abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut a few days ago, we are seeing the growing power of the anti-death penalty movements to change social policy. That must grow into real, active, outspoken and powerful people’s movements to bring real change, in the spirit of Frederick Douglass.

You cats at the CEDP use his quote as a motto on The New Abolitionist. Read it again. Read the long text. Take it to heart. Make it Real: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are men (and women!) who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical—BUT IT MUST BE A STRUGGLE.”

I love you all—down with the Prison Industrial Complex!

Mumia Abu-Jamal / #AM-8355 / 301 Morea Road / Frackville, PA 17932