By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
— UPDATED APRIL 6 — Supporters of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal are on emergency alert concerning his deteriorated health. Protests have been held around the world demanding that prison authorities grant Mumia his right to proper medical treatment.
On March 30, Mumia fainted in prison and was taken to the Schuylkill Medical Center in Pottsville, Pa., where he was diagnosed as having been in diabetic shock. His blood sugar level had shot up to 779 (a count of 800 often results in coma).
As we go to press on April 6, Mumia is back in prison, at SCI Mahanoy, but he is still in medical danger. His blood-sugar levels are still high; he has lost a great deal of weight and receives visitors in a wheelchair.
At a news conference at the hospital on March 31, Mumia’s family members and supporters charged that the prison health-care staff never gave Mumia the proper care for his ailments, which made his condition worse, leading to nearly fatal consequences.
Johanna Fernandez, of the New York Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, stated: “That Mumia had diabetes was a complete shock to all of us. For the last three months, he has been under medical care in the prison and diagnosed with eczema. And since he had three ‘comprehensive’ blood tests since February, diabetes should have been diagnosed and treated accordingly. But it never was. Instead he has been subjected to hell by the prison medical system.
“In January Mumia was shaken out of a deep sleep by guards during count. For the infraction of not being awake during count he was punished for two weeks, without calls or yard. Deep trance-like sleep and lethargy were the first signs of the problem.
“In addition to the physical depletion produced by untreated diabetes, he was/is also dealing with a severe outbreak of eczema. He likened his skin to that of an elephant’s. It was raw, blistered and bloody all over. He was so sick that he was not taking visitors. The ‘meds’ he was given for his skin produced an extreme adverse reaction. His skin swelled and ruptured and he was put in the prison infirmary for two weeks.”
Fernandez drew the obvious conclusion: “We are calling for Mumia’s immediate release. It’s time to bring our brother home.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s brother, Keith Cook, stated, “The rules that the prisons have are very arcane. They don’t give out any information about prisoners to their families or anyone else. It’s like you have your hands tied because you don’t know how the prisoner is and you have no way of talking to him. I remember a month ago, Phil Africa [of the MOVE organization] exercising in the prison—next thing they know, they moved him to a hospital and didn’t tell his family where he was, and three days later he was dead.”
“It’s scary,” said Cook. “This situation needs to change. The prison authorities need to be more humane to the families of prisoners.”
Prison Radio, which has steadily released updated bulletins on Mumia’s health, states: “Let us be clear: The prison is enacting arbitrary and capricious rule changes each time folks call or visit. Yet, the pattern is not in the direction of access and care. In fact, the prison is limiting communication and preventing a treatment plan from being put in place. Rise up for Mumia. Take Action Now. Call, rally, and demand he receive care.” Mumia’s supporters are urged to phone SCI Mahanoy prison superintendent John Kerestes at 570-773-2158, ext. 8102.
On the same day that Mumia was sent to hospital, March 30, trial hearings proceeded in Harrisburg, Pa., concerning what has become known as the Silencing Act, the Pennsylvania law that restricts the rights of prisoners to publish or speak out in public if such endeavors might cause “mental anguish” to victims of personal injury. The law was passed by the legislature last October in retribution against Mumia following his commencement address to the graduating class at Goddard College. Mumia has authored six books, and his commentaries have been read and listened to around the world.
Mumia Abu-Jamal and several other prisoners are plaintiffs in the suit, and are asking that the censorship law be invalidated on constitutional grounds that protect the right of free speech.