United States - "Journalism in Hell": Mumia Abu-Jamal relates his experience as a journalist from his prison cell on death row

    MONTREAL, June 10 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders has just
released "Journalism in Hell," an article by Mumia Abu-Jamal written from his
prison cell on death row, where he has been incarcerated since 1982. At the
time of his arrest, he was known as the Voice of the voiceless for speaking
out as a reporter against governmental abuses and corruption. In this
eyewitness account written on May 23, 2009, at this organization's request,
the journalist describes what has been happening to him and how he has managed
to pursue his profession since his arrest. He notably relates how he had to
plead his case on the grounds that his activity was protected by the U.S.
Constitution's First Amendment in order to obtain the right which he had
previously been denied. His account is published here in its entirety.
    "Although Mumia Abu-Jamal was not arrested and sentenced to death in his
professional capacity, it is certainly likely that his status as an activist
and committed journalist was a driving force. Mumia Abu-Jamal's fate hinges on
human rights, of which the death penalty already constitutes a violation. We
will be giving Mumia Abu-Jamal an opportunity to relate his experience in his
own words" stated Reporters Without Borders.
    As a former Black Panther militant who worked as a radio reporter in the
1970s, Mumia Abu-Jamal, now 55, was sentenced to death for killing a police
officer, Daniel Faulkner, on December 9, 1981, in Philadelphia. A number of
procedural irregularities were noted during his trial - so many, in fact, that
they have raised serious doubts as to his guilt.
    Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence was reversed with an order for a new
jury trial on the question of life and death on March 27, 2008 by a
Pennsylvania federal court of appeals. However the State of Pennsylvania
appealed immediately to the Supreme Court in Washington DC on that issue, so
the reversal never took effect. Reporters Without Borders had denounced, at
the time, the "dogged determination of authorities" to persecute Mumia
    In October 2008 and in April 2009, the Supreme Court rejected two appeals
filed by the journalist's defense lawyer, Robert R. Bryan, requesting that a
new trial be granted. The first one dealt with the sworn statements from
witnesses, pressured by the police and the prosecutor, in order to obtain a
conviction and a death judgment against Mumia Abu-Jamal during the 1982 trial.
The second concerned racism in jury selection. The prosecution removed black
people from sitting on the jury because of their color.
    If you have questions, or would like to make a tax-deductible donation to
the Mumia Abu-Jamal legal defense fund, please contact :

    Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
    2088 Union Street, Suite 4
    San Francisco, CA 94123-4117
    Email: RobertRBryan@aol.com

    Journalism in hell

    Mumia Abu-Jamal (23rd May 2009 for Reporters Without Borders)

    While a young reporter for a local NPR affiliate, housing was my beat.
    In a city which was the oldest in the United States, there were no
shortages of housing issues, for Philadelphia's housing stock seemed in a
permanent state of disrepair, especially in those sections of the city where
Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and poor ethnic whites lived. But which stories shimmer
in the rear-view mirror of memory, brighter than the rest?
    Although I reported in several sections of the city, many of those have
sunk below the ocean of time. An exception was the rent protest by residents
of a dwelling in Southwest Philadelphia, a place I drove by for years, but
never entered, until it became my job.
    The exterior was attractive and distinctive, and set apart from its
neighbors by the decorative mouldings and mortar-work which told of another
age of its construction, when builders were artisans, who took time not merely
to build, but to make the building beautiful.
    When I got a call from a contact of the impending strike, I rushed out
there and finally entered the building.
    The conditions therein made me gasp. Ceilings were dangerously drooping
over children's living quarters, plumbing was backed up, and the general
conditions of lack of repair made the building a threat to all of its
    As I met with the leaders of the strike, their fury was evident.
    When I think back on the story years later, it dawned on me that housing,
per se, wasn't the issue.
    Resistance was. That's what gave the story the meaning, for it
represented everyday, working-class people standing up to the injustice of
unfair and improper living conditions.
    Years later, while in the churning swells of the American House of Pain
(prison), this would be my beat.
    There are tens of thousands of people in these places, and therefore,
tens of thousands of stories.
    I have never had a shortage of them.
    Sometimes, it's the cases which brought a man to this place, and more
often than not, the procedures by which this occurred.
    Like the making of sausages, the American legal process is a messy and
ugly thing when one inspects closely.
    I've written of unjust and improper prosecutions, harrowing brutality,
stunning institutional boneheadedness, and cruelty that would curdle milk.
    In 1995, I was institutionally sanctioned for "engaging in the business
of journalism." It took years of legal wrangling, including sitting in a
courtroom for several weeks, in shackles so tight that one's ankles were
swollen and bleeding, to finally prevail on the principle that the U.S.
constitution's 1st Amendment protected such activity, but it was well worth
the battle (the case was: Abu-Jamal v. Price).
    For years, writing a story meant, quite literally, writing a story. With
an ink pen. On a legal pad. Sometimes with a 4-inch long flex-pen (this is a
pen which has in inner tube of an ink pen, but the shaft is composed of
see-through rubber, with a rubber cap at both ends, one allowing the
1/2-centimeter tip to protrude). It has been likened to writing with a wet
    Two of my books were written with these instruments, and then sent out to
be typed by friends or editors.
    The computer age has not yet dawned on the prison system (at least in
Pennsylvania). I am often amused when I receive letters from people, who
include, quite innocently and helpfully, their e-mail addresses, or their
websites. For it tells me that they actually think I have a computer-here-in
the cell, or perhaps computer (or web) access.
    Not only are there no PCs in here; there are no Ipods, no CDs, no
cassette tapes! (even though cassette-ready tape players are for sale in the
prison commissary!).
    We are, for all intents and purposes, dinosaurs, who live in another age,
at another warp and woof of time, from the millions who dwell without.
    Recently, a man named Amin (Harold Wilson) who won a retrial and
acquittal from several unjust murder convictions, was ordered released after
almost 2 decades on death row. He left the county prison in Philadelphia, with
all his earthly possessions in a trash bag, and a bus token. A local country
prisoner, a Puerto Rican brother, released at the same time, saw the look of
loss on his face, and offered him his cell phone. Amin squinted at the
machine, tiny in his fist, and asked, "What do I do with this?" He had
absolutely no idea how to operate this strange thing, for he had never seen
nor held one before.
    He later told me "My it looked like something straight outta Star Trek!"
    Sometimes, stories come, unbidden, and unwanted.
    Several months ago, a funny and well-liked jailhouse lawyer on the Row,
named Bill Tilley, tired from his years of butting his head against the grey,
judicial walls, and fearful that his emergent health problems were a prelude
to cancer, got up early in the morning, used his laces from his sneakers, and
fashioned a noose, by threading them through the steel grate mesh of the
air-vents into the cell.
    He hung himself.
    After his passing, the scuttlebutt was that he did indeed have cancer,
but medical staff did not disclose this fact, for, as a death row prisoner,
the state wouldn't waste money on such a patient who was going to die anyway.
    Several weeks before his death, Tilley confided to a few friends that he
suspected it was cancer, given the severity of his symptoms, but whether it
was, or not, it was so painful that he remarked, "I don't ever - ever - wanna
go through that again!"
    What we didn't know was that he was telling us, in the only way he could,
of his suicide plans, back then. Perhaps he was saying, in so many words, that
he didn't fear death, but did fear pain.
    His death took place less than 35 feet from the cell door in which these
words are written.
    I broke the story. But it gave me no pleasure.
    There are tens of thousands of stories in this House of Pain, and I have
written hundreds of them.
    This is my hidden beat, one that even the most intrepid of journalists
cannot enter.
    Yet, it is my beat.
    And I intend to do this job with the same thoroughness, the same
professionalism, as I did in days of yon.
    For, though this is a hidden world, one not seen by millions, it is, too,
a public world, for it is bought and paid for with the tax dollars of the
    Shouldn't they know what their investments have purchased?
    Several times a month, in written form, or otherwise (as in books of
commentaries) I offer this service, to the best of my ability.
    I fight against being here, but I am here. And while here, the beat goes

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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