Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

This essay was hand-written in a solitary confinement cell by a man awaiting execution. I would like to read you one of his illuminating commentaries, that Senator Bob Dole and National Public Radio have tried to banish from the airwaves.

In Philadelphia, Hank Faye’s name is mud. Convicted of the 1981 rape slaying of a girl child, and subsequently sentenced to death, Faye has lived in a virtual netherworld beneath the usual hell that is death row. Marked as a baby rapist, he has had to withstand the loathing of the many who regard his crime as an act beneath contempt. Faye’s odyssey into the underworld has not been an easy one. Bouts of suicide attempts have alternated with periods of an almost manic evangelical fervor, a living pendulum swinging between visions of hell and heaven, both just beyond his grasp. In late June 1995, while under his second death warrant, and with a date to die in July, Hank would come face to face with the living personifications of his demons and his angel. Even while under an active death warrant with a date to die within two weeks, Faye was transferred to a Philadelphia City prison, rather than the state prison at Graterford, as his customary. When he arrived, he was placed in a cell where the words “Jamie Fay, rest in peace” were scrawled across the wall.

Jamie Fay, a beautiful troubled love-starved young girl, beaten, murdered, and allegedly raped, was Hank Faye’s 18-year-old daughter. She was barely four when he entered hell. There’s more. From impish whisperings of those around him, he learned an astonishing fact that the man charged with beating killing, and raping his daughter was at this prison, and not merely in the same prison, but on the very same cellblock. As if inevitable, Hank met Mark, and the hatred kindled over years melted into a rare compassion. “I hated him, Jamal,” Faye confided. “But when I saw this kid, 18 years old, I realized what a hell he was in for. And also I felt about the pain I’d be causing his mother if I took something and struck him.”

In every prison in America, murder is no mystery. There are men on death row across the nation awaiting execution for killings committed in prison. Hank had two weeks of life left. What did he have to lose?

“You know, Jamal, I looked at this 18-year-old kid, and I remember the look on my mother’s face when she was alive, when she came to visit me, the shame of seeing her son on death row. And I didn’t have the heart to tell this kid, but I could see his mother looking at him the same way. And it hurt me Jamal. It really did, man.”

“What hurt you Hank? What do you mean?”

“Well, it was two things. First, this was a setup. I was supposed to kill this kid. Why else would they put us on the same block? Come on, man. Second, the same people that put me on death row are going to put this kid on death row. But he don’t know it yet.”

“What did you tell Mark?”

“I told him — I forgive you. And I told him to let his lawyer know it and anything I can do to help him and keep him off death row. I’ll do.”

“How did you feel? Tell him that boy that Hank?”

“You know, Jamal, I felt good. I felt like the better man. Because the same system that plans to kill me. That plans to kill him, that same system that set us both up for me to kill him and for him to get killed. Can’t do what I did. Forgive. I loved my daughter Jamal. She was my heart. But me killing that kid can’t bring my Jaime back. And you know what else Jamal?”

“What’s that Hank?”

“I wouldn’t wish death row on my worst enemy.”