Resisting the deliberate medical neglect of our political prisoners


By Julia Wright

Dr Joy James asked a crucial question on a Guerilla University podcast which she co-hosted with Kalonji Changa on February 13th 2024 : “How does one organize a resistance against the medical assassination of our elders behind bars?”

As abolitionists we believe that there is no resistance without testimony and in this case without first person singular testimony about the reality of the hidden and daily torture of death by incarceration that Mumia Abu-Jamal calls slow death row. The common denominator that links all our political prisoners is slow death row.

Pam Africa testifies during the same panel that Mumia was in relatively good health during the thirty tortuous years he was on death row – ” the occasional cold” – but it was when the movement saved him from execution and he was  given life without parole in the general population that his health started to decline. With her usual acuity, Pam Africa points out that when the FOP learned that their illegal framing of Mumia for the death of the FOP cop Daniel Faulkner had failed to lead to the death penalty and that a Black Judge, Judge Tucker, had given Mumia the right to appeal against death by incarceration, that powerful police union proclaimed publicly that they had a “plan” and that they vowed to make Mumia’s life a “living hell.”

We begin to understand here that there is a thin blue line between the “living hell” sentence which the FOP felt empowered to hand down – and the slow but steady decline of Mumia’s health. Let’s break that silence.

Let’s listen to more testimony.

Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio remembers that Maureen Faulkner told her : ” We know that Mumia will eventually go free but we want him to rot in prison for as long as possible.”

Certainly the “as long as possible” can be detected in the arcane dilatory tactics of the courts who are in fealty to FOP ideology as former sitting Judge Wendell Griffen states. To the point where the movement to free Mumia came up against the cruel contradiction of the fragility of the vital prognosis of a congestive heart patient vs the procrastination of those courts. It is to be noted that this is an inhumane contradiction encountered in all our incarcerated elders’ cases – especially those who are political.

On February 11, during a panel called “Mumia and Mass Incarceration,” Isa Abu-Jamal, the oldest son of Mumia and his late wife Wadiya bore the following testimony : “When Mumia walked up to the visiting room, when he walked up to me I didn’t know who he was until he stood exactly in my face. (…) And one thing that he said to me, he said : ‘the loss of your mother just broke me down.’ He is so scarred from my mother’s passing.” Wadiya passed away a year ago and Mumia was unable to attend the funeral even via zoom – only a limited amount of minutes of the viewing as he was watched by several guards.

The conditions on DBI in Pennsylvania – preventing the prisoner from touching the letters sent to him under the pretext of contraband and substituting only censored photocopies, violating his human right to mourn  – are all part of the gradual objective to  deprive him of his sense of self. The threatening of the sense of self identity and the ability to mourn constitute a first step to threatening the body.


The impunity of the medical neglect perpetrated against our political prisoners is tightly linked to the fact that their status of political prisoners is not recognized in the United States. If it were recognized, the Geneva Convention would apply.

We remember how selective the U.S is in recognizing “faits accomplis” which could mean less impunity and more transparency. Initially not recognizing the coup d’etat in Niger was a case in point.

The case of our invisibilized political prisoners is all the more politicized. Our resistance against their carceral torture implies creating the visibility for them that the state denies them, listening to the testimony of their impacted families, supporting those impacted families and exposing the methods of torture used  – often methods honed the better to be recycled in imperial wars.
Mumia has written about how Charles Graner practiced his sadistic skills (slipping a razor in a prisoner’s food) on the death row where he was incarcerated. Charles Graner was later promoted to become the torturer-in-chief at Abu Ghraib.
Conversely tanks and other weapons used inhumanely by the U.S. government abroad have been recycled domestically to militarize law enforcement in our streets.
And as I  wrote in my poem “Prison Blockade” comparing the state of our prisons to the blockade of Gaza :
“just as Palestine is a laboratory
to battle-test new weapons
made in USA,
our prisons
are in vivo test tubes
to experiment
the genocidal methods
a slow death row
already spreading to
our Black Brown and Indigenous peoples



Today Mumia presents a cluster of symptoms that are highly concerning given his background of diabetes,  cirrhosis of the liver, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure and the fact that his prison is denying him the cardiac diet and exercises prescribed to him 3 years ago by his double bypass operating surgeon. These exacerbated symptoms are : hair loss,  weight loss, sleep-depriving itching over the whole body : “I feel like a frog in boiling water.”

We should also take into account the recent national and international context in which this new serious health crisis has alerted us to the fact Mumia has accumulated and worsened morbidity.
The Stop Cop City movement has attracted the attention of the whole radical left to potential young generations of political prisoners’ and their plight in crowded jails in Georgia.
The Stop DBI movement has worked with the United Nations Human Rights Council to denounce death by incarceration as violating the right against racist discrimination, arbitrary detention, torture and the right to life. Included in considerations around the right to life  there is conclusive research on the erosion of health and of longevity during DBI. In response, last March the UN Human Rights Committee has enjoined the U.S. government to declare a moratorium on DBI.

Prisons in the US are slowly, much too slowly but surely, becoming glass houses.


On February 12, 2024, Mumia’s medical lawyer, Robert Boyle wrote SCI Mahanoy, Mumia’s prison, a state of the art letter listing those symptoms and others, enumerating the tests Mumia was prescribed but failed to get and pointing out the denial of the cardiac diet which is a human rights violation under the American with Disabilities Act – even for prisoners. The letter asked that Mumia access a dermatologist.

Then as already mentioned, two panels went viral on youtube the first one on Feb 11 with Cornel West, Marc Lamont Hill, Susan Albuhawa, Pam Africa and Gabe Bryant – the second one three days later on Guerilla University with Noelle Hanrahan and Ricardo Alvarez . And presto, on February 16, to his surprise Mumia was given a different injection than the usual one. This injection prescribed by the prison dermatologist gave Mumia the first relief from his itching he had for a long time and his first real night of sleep as he reported to Pastor Mark Taylor who visited him on February 19th.


Eyes on our political prisoners making them visible.
Words in the first person singular  as incontrovertible testimony.
Unrelenting pressure through phones, emails and social media
– all this is needed more than ever because a different injection could well be a crumb, a tactical deflection the better to continue to deny what remains vital for Mumia’s prognosis : the cardiac diet and the exercises.
Nor is the injection against a symptom tantamount to a desperately needed diagnosis.
Nor can the prison deny that fresh fruit, veggies, fiber, whole grains and legumes, less processed foods and less starch are as costly on a daily basis as the highly expensive antiviral Hep C treatment Mumia sued his prison for and won.
Nor can the prisons in the US of A argue roguishly for much longer against the fact that the best treatment for all our incarcerated elders – is freedom.


Julia Wright. February 24, 2024


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