Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

Death Row: Then and Now.

It is a daunting task to describe death row. That peculiarly American institution of ultimate excellence, where men, women, were sent to rot, to sit, to die. In the beginning, guy spent 23 and 1, meaning 23 hours in a cell and 1 hour out. After some minor protests and hunger strikes, the regime became 22 hours in a cell, and 2 hours outside. That endured for years.

And then, a United Nations expert, Juan Mendez, the body’s special repertoire on torture, issued an official opinion declaring that any amount of time past 13 days in solitary confinement constituted irreparable damage to the psyche and, thus, violated international law. Armed with such research, the Abolitionist Law Center of Pittsburgh contacted the state’s prison administrators to challenge the lockdown of death row.

After months of haggling and negotiations, a new reality dawned on death row. Men spent over six hours a day out of cell, had contact visits with family and friends, and intermingled with other guys in population. They went to the yards with other men. To many men who spent decades on death row, this new thing became unrecognizable. More importantly, some men gained new trials, and several went home. Over the years, you’ve no doubt heard me speak of many of them and their walk away from the house of darkness. Quietly, dozens of other cases endured resentences, so that some received time served, and others lesser sentences.

And yet, death row remains a weapon. It, therefore, needs far more than reform. It needs to be abolished.

With love, not phear, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.