Yesterday I rode in a car caravan from Philly to Frackville, PA. Roughly fifty of us stood on Morea Road in the drizzling rain at the entrance to State Correctional Institution Mahanoy. We held signs and chanted as a delegation of five went in to visit with Mumia. After the visit those that saw Mumia gave a report-back. The news was not good. Mumia was in a wheelchair, at times he slurred his words, some estimated that he has lost 70 pounds in recent months. This is heartbreaking.
The state of his health right now is not accidental. The level of incompetence in the handling this situation is beyond malpractice, and points instead to intentional torture. For nearly three months Mumia has been struggling with a terrible rash, swelling, tiredness. He’s had his blood taken for tests a few times and was never told that he has diabetes. When he went into diabetic shock this week it could have killed him, easily. That is how serious this is. Our movement has helped to fight down two death warrants, but the reality is that without proper medical care another death warrant has been signed and the execution date could be today. It could have been this past Monday. For real.
Over the decades Mumia’s case has shined the spotlight on so many issues and united many struggles. His case has drawn attention to issues of police brutality, the death penalty, mass incarceration, solitary confinement, racism, judicial misconduct, censorship, and much more. The movement for Mumia unifies diverse social justice struggles. The only silver lining to this recent health scare is that hopefully the situation Mumia is in will draw even more attention onto the abhorrent health care in the prison system.
Mumia has survived two execution dates, three decades of the solitary confinement of death row, and thirty four years in prison. He has not only survived, he’s risen above. He’s published many books, written thousands of commentaries, and given commencement addresses. From a cell the size of a bathroom he’s worked his ass off and created a body of work that most authors or journalists could only dream of. He’s experienced tremendous amounts of hatred, mistreatment, and massive campaigns calling for his death.
With all of this it’s easy to lose the man in the cell. As beautiful as our movement is, as amazing as it is that over decades millions of people have worked to save Mumia’s life, at times, the very movement that protects him accidentally obscures his vulnerability. On one level Mumia belongs to the world. He’s a symbol for justice, a beacon of continued resistance to oppressed people. On the other level Mumia is a man who is fighting to survive day to day under difficult circumstances.
With all of Mumia’s endurance and resilience over the years I don’t think I’m the only one who has thought of him as a kind of superhero. It seems as if he can take anything and just keep fighting, writing, and speaking. We call on him for statements, to write articles, to call into radio shows. Those are all good things. It’s great that Mumia’s voice is brought into so many events. But now is the time to just give Mumia love and fight our asses off for his survival and freedom. Now is the time to put Mumia’s work out there more than ever, but to give him the peace to rest and recover. Instead of sending him requests for interviews or things we need from him, let’s send him love letters, poetry, notes about all of the amazing ways he’s influenced us.
For reasons I do not understand I have been privileged enough to visit with Mumia a few dozen times. Many people around the world want to visit with Mumia and wait to get on his limited visiting list, and I’ve been lucky enough to remain on his list for a decade. I am so grateful for that. Mumia is one of the funniest, kindest, and most loving people I know. He has a spirit and an energy that makes you want to be the best person you can possibly be. He’s been a tremendous influence on my life.
Since Judge Yohn lifted the death sentence I think a lot of people have felt that Mumia is safe and that there isn’t as much urgency to get him free. I know many people who support justice for Mumia, who do amazing work around many issues, but aren’t directly involved with work for Mumia’s release. I propose that now is the time for everyone to actively jump into the movement full force. We must mobilize the way we did in 1995 and 1999 to stop the execution. We must use all of the energy to immediately demand proper medical care for Mumia and push for his full release. We must use this energy to shine the spotlight on the abhorrent health conditions of all prisoners. Now is the time to show Mumia massive amounts of love, to reflect back all of the attention that he has given to all of our movements. Let’s find any way we can to bring Mumia’s presence into the public forum. Let’s change our Facebook profile photos, wear our t-shirts, pass out fliers, demonstrate, and spread the word to ensure Mumia’s health and freedom. He’s given all of us so much love with his example and commitment. Let’s give it back!
Please call to demand that outside doctors of Mumia’s choosing be allowed in the prison to see Mumia, and that Mumia be given a healthy diet suitable for someone with diabetes.
Superintendent of SCI Mahanoy, John Kerestes 570 773 2158