Author, activist, and professor of Black and Latin Studies at Baruch College Dr. Johanna Fernandez discusses her new edited volume, Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up world, and welcome to another edition of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. For more than 30 years, supporter of the MOVE movement, former Black Panther party member, and still-practicing broadcast journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has been incarcerated. Despite his imprisonment and recent struggles over institutional abuse, and denial of adequate health services leading to his deteriorating physical condition, Abu-Jamal continues to be among the most vigilant and productive voices exposing injustices the world over. And now he has a new book just published on City Lights Press called Writing On the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Joining us now to talk about the book and update us on Mumia’s condition is Dr. Johanna Fernandez. Dr. Fernandez is a professor in the Department of Black and Latino Studies at Baruch College in New York, from where she now joins us. Welcome, Dr. Fernandez, to the program. Thanks for joining us. DR. JOHANNA FERNANDEZ, BARUCH COLLEGE: Thank you so very much for having me on the show, Jared. BALL: So one, I just want to thank you publicly for the continuing good work you’ve done in maintaining a relationship with Mumia and making sure the rest of the world continues to know about his work and his struggle. So I just wanted to thank you for that very publicly as we get started. And then ask you if you would just update us on first his physical condition, and then let’s talk about the new book that you edited. FERNANDEZ: Well, Mumia’s condition remains quite dire. I visited him approximately two weeks ago, and his skin condition is of special concern. His skin is completely blackened. It remains itchy, it–he looks like he’s got alligator skin, essentially. He has open wounds in his legs, his feet were very swollen. And the demand of the movement is that he be allowed to have his own doctors review his case. He still has a problem with diabetes. We’re talking about a whole host of problems that he’s experiencing, but that other prisoners experience daily across the country. And part of what we have to say is that we live in a system that is barbaric because it is willing to kill prisoners through medical neglect. So we’re asking supporters to continue to muckrake, to continue to be vigilant on this issue, but also to call the Department of Corrections of Pennsylvania, and the prison. And I have those numbers to share with you at the end of the program. BALL: Okay, great. And we’ll also encourage people to check out his continued work, his commentaries at PrisonRadio.org, and to see the documentary Long Distance Revolutionary for more on the background of his case, and his work as a journalist. It is the subject of that work, I believe is–rather, the subject of that work is, I believe, the subject of this, of your new book, Writing on the Wall. And we’ve known over the years that Mumia, again, has continued to publish books and radio commentaries, and to also have those commentaries censored, whether it be from National Public Radio or other venues, as well. He still struggles to have that work reach the mass audience it deserves despite having such a broad audience and network of followers and supporters all around the world. What is it that’s new in this book? I understand that there’s some unpublished material and some fresh things that he’s been writing. Tell us what we can find and expect in this latest volume. FERNANDEZ: Well, this is a collection of approximately 100 of Mumia’s radio commentaries. They’re eloquent, they’re incisive. And they’re about the crisis in American society and in the world in the post-civil rights and black power movement era. These are his earliest writings, beginning with those he wrote immediately after his incarceration in 1982. And the first of these writings is important because in this, in this commentary Mumia declares his innocence and talks about his own case. BALL: This is the Christmas in the Cage–. FERNANDEZ: This is the Christmas in a Cage. And this is important because as you know, Mumia has dedicated his entire life to writing not about his case but about the crisis of mass incarceration, the problems of war, the problems of U.S. empire, and the crisis of capitalism. So we see in the first of these commentaries a rare example of Mumia talking about himself, his case, and what happened on the night that Officer Daniel Faulkner was killed, which led to his incarceration. The first nine essays are unpublished. They appeared initially in a pamphlet produced by the movement in the late 1980s titled Survival Is Still A Crime. And this volume is essentially a black radical counter-narrative to the ruling ideology of the last 40 years. He offers radical counter-narrative to what we hear about the absence of racism in society following the civil rights movement. He offers a counter-narrative to American empire and the war on terror. And he really exposes the bankruptcy of capitalism. We’re going to read about the emergence of Reaganism, the role of Obama in contemporary American society. There are essays about Katrina. Incredible essay on Ferguson. We read about Haiti, about Palestine. So really, this is an introduction to Mumia’s writings and a rich syllabus for those black and brown activists who are coming of age politically today to understand the world in which they live, but to also imagine not just a fight against the society in which we live in, but a struggle for a completely new society. BALL: Absolutely. Well, Prof. Fernandez, we thank you very much for joining us. Let’s go ahead and have you give out those phone numbers. And while you’re pulling those up I just wanted to say very quickly that I want to encourage everybody who sees this to be in touch with Mumia and other political prisoners. Mumia has been gracious in always responding. The few times that, unfortunately too few on my account, that I’ve written, he’s been gracious in response. He was the first to respond with his essay to our volume critical of Manning Marable’s Malcolm X. And I mean, he stays in touch. I mean–so I would encourage people to not only make the phone call, as you’re suggesting, requesting–but also be in touch with Mumia, and let people know, and let him know that people still remember him and are appreciative of his work. But Prof. Fernandez, before we go, please do give out those numbers. FERNANDEZ: So those numbers are the number to the Department of Corrections in Pennsylvania and to the head of that department is John Wetzel. That’s the head of the Department of Corrections in Pennsylvania. And his number, it’s (717) 728-4109. Once again, that’s (717) 728-4109. And then the superintendent at SCI Mahanoy, the prison where he’s housed, his name is John Kerestes, K-E-R-E-S-T-E-S, and that number is (570) 773-2158. Once again, that’s (570) 773-2158. BALL: Prof. Fernandez, thank you very much again for joining us here at I Mix What I Like for the Real News Network. FERNANDEZ: Thank you Jared, for all the work you do. BALL: And thank you all for joining us as well. And as usual, as Fred Hampton used to say, we also say. To you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.
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