Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

Several months ago, a movie was released; a science-fiction flick featuring a superhuman, fighting nasty aliens on a forbidding planet somewhere in the cosmos.

As a sci-fi fan I confess interest, but I never heard of the title character, John Carter.

(I later learned that the story was based on the lesser-known works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, known for the “Tarzan” books.)

In fact, as the movie was seeking an audience, another John Carter was facing a deadly force of prison guards, armed with weapons of mayhem. Carter was locked in a prison cell as it was being pumped full of pepper spray.

This John Carter had spent over half his life in PA prison cells following a robbery-murder conviction after he was certified by the courts as an adult despite his juvenile age.

Irony over irony abounds, for this John Carter seems to have predicted his own demise in a letter he wrote to members of the U.S. Congress seeking passage of a bill outlawing juvenile life terms. In his June 2009 letter, John Carter wrote the following:

Now years go by as I struggle to evolve and mature within a cell I now view as my casket. Some days I’m hopeless…some days I’m focused.  But every day I realize that after 14 years I am no longer growing ... I am deteriorating, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Instead of living, I simply exist until my heart stops beating, my lungs stop breathing, and my soul is called into the next life.  I ask myself on occasion – is this the form of damnation other human beings wish upon troubled youth? Are we in a society that believes in a forgiving God, but the same society will turn around and be UNFORGIVING to a child’s trespass?

Witnesses from the Hole at Rockview Prison say John Carter barricade himself in his cell, and armored guards attacked the cell, pumping at least three canisters of pepper spray into the windowless, enclosed area – not only burning his eyes, mouth and nose, but depriving him of any usable oxygen.

When the door was breached, guards rushed in using electrified stun shields to subdue him, repeatedly.

Those in view said the 35 year old man was carried out, his knees and head dragging on the ground.

His friends called him “J-Rock.”

But his name was John Carter on state records recording his death on April 26, 2012.

The real John Carter was a juvenile lifer who was sentenced at 16 years old under a law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled was unconstitutional in Alabama v. Miller.

Irony of Ironies. ‘J-Rock’ never lived to see it.