seek to defend their property through violence, for both of these groups, by their affirmative acts, support the values of the system in which they live. The millions that I would fear are those who do not dream of the prizes that the nation holds forth, for it is in them, though they may not know it, that a revolution has taken place and is biding its time to translate itself into a new and strange way of life. 2
—R ICHARD W RIGHT ,
B LACK B OY
I drove four hours one rainy, cold morning to SCI (State Correctional Institution) Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania, from my home in Princeton, New Jersey, to see the black revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal,America’s best-known political prisoner. We met in the reception area for the prisoners and their families. He sat hunched forward on the gray plastic table, his dreadlocks cascading down the sides of his face. The room resembled a high school cafeteria. It had vending machines on the wall by the entrance, which the prisoners were not allowed to operate, plastic chairs, a few tables, and a booth for the corrections officers. Small children, visiting their fathers or brothers, raced around the floor or wailed in their mothers’ arms.
Abu-Jamal, like the other prisoners in the room, was wearing a brown jumpsuit bearing the letters DOC—Department of Corrections. We dove immediately into a discussion about books. He spoke intently about the nature of empire, which he was currently reading voraciously about, and effective forms of resistance to tyranny throughout history.
Abu-Jamal was transferred in January 2012 to the general prison population after nearly thirty years in solitary confinement on death row. During those three decades, he was barred from physical contact with his wife, his children, and other visitors. He had been sentenced to death in 1982 for the December 9, 1981, killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was amended to life without parole. The misconduct of the judge, flagrant irregularities in his trial, and tainted evidence have been criticized by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. 3 Abu-Jamal, who was a young activist in the Black Panthers and later one of the most important radical journalists in Philadelphia, a city that a few decades earlier produced I. F. Stone, has long been the bête noire of the state. The FBI opened a file on him when he started working with the local chapter of the Black Panthers at the age of fifteen. He was suspended from his Philadelphia high school when he campaigned to rename the school for Malcolm X and distributed “black revolutionary student power” literature. Abu-Jamal has published seven books in prison, including his best-selling
Live from Death Row
, and he was at work on an eighth. Dick Gregory says in
Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary
, the documentary about Abu-Jamal, that he has single-handedly brought “dignity to the whole death row.” The late historian Manning Marable is quoted in the film saying: “The voice of black journalism in the struggle for theliberation of African American people has always proved to be decisive throughout black history. When you listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal, you hear the echoes of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and the sisters and brothers who kept the faith with struggle, who kept the faith with resistance.” 4
The authorities, as they did before he was convicted, have attempted to silence him in prison. Pennsylvania banned all recorded interviews with Abu-Jamal after 1996. In response to protests over the singling out of one inmate in the Pennsylvania correction system, the state banned recorded access to all its inmates. The ban is nicknamed “the Mumia Rule.” And the state did not stop there. In October 2014, days after Abu-Jamal gave a pre-recorded commencement address to graduates of Goddard College, the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, signed into law the