Manny’s Attempted Murder by Mumia Abu-Jamal
At first glance the guy looks like a black fireplug. Short, coffee-black, with a clean-shaven, glistening
ome, Manny resembles a mini version of the boxing great Jack Johnson. An ex-boxer of champion status himself, Manny moves with a well-muscled agility, at once at home in a ring, or out. Bigger prisoners regard him with a wary respect. Lately, though, his moves have been a little less than agile, a trifle forced.
Manny’s recent history seems plucked from the pages of a Robert Ludlum mystery, but it is no tale—it is chillingly true. A lifelong epileptic, his life has revolved around the daily ingestion of the anticonvulsant Dilantin, with the sedative phenobarbital. Nonetheless, the last ten years or so had been virtually seizure-free, until coming to the hills of Huntingdon and under the “care” of its medical staff.
After an apparent setup and serious altercation with a white inmate, resulting in his assailant’s hospitalization, Manny was sent to the DC (Disciplinary Custody)* max unit, a walled “prison within a prison.”
There, the mystery.
There, the attempted murder.
No attack on a handcuffed inmate, the joint’s usual M.O. No, tools change with the times, it seems. While in the “max”, Manny experienced a series of seizures, powerful enough to leave him locked in a deep coma.
“What the F-----is goin’ on?” he asked himself. He paid extra-close attention to his food. He waited. He watched. He fasted. Still, the seizures came in waves of increasing frequency and mind-numbing power. Why, he wondered? Why now? He noticed new medications being administered- new colors, new quantities—and asked questions: “What’s this?” The answers, provided by the same persons who gave the medications, the guards, were easy, breezy, and lies: “Aw, nothin’—a new kind of Dilantin, the nurse sez—you want your medication?
The more he took, the worse he got, the more powerful the seizures, the deeper the comas. He stopped. He filed complaints: he demanded and got outside medical care.
At Altoona’s hospital, Manny got his answers.
In addition to the Dilantin/phenobarbital regimen, someone had slipped in the drugs Loxitane, Artane, and Haldol (haloperidol). The mixture was like a chemical cannonball, wreaking havoc on his vision, his balance, and most ominously, his liver.
When an internist began to conduct a micro biopsy of his liver and then halted, refused to go further, and sewed him back up, Manny’s instincts took over. Something was very wrong. The surgeon at Altoona told him there was a glasslike sheath around his liver, and the ultrasound showed that it was swollen, distended. The Haldol, according to the authoritative Physician’s Desk Reference, was contraindicated to use with anti-convulsants like Dilantin, as it “lowers the convulsive threshold”: in a nutshell, it causes seizures.
In dizzying internal pain, Manny continued his battles against the prison medical bureaucracy that brought him from championship form to the brink of death.
That he lives is itself a miracle.
That he fights is by power of will.
That the culprits, those who prescribed this toxic chemical cocktail, still go unnamed is an indictment against a racist system of corruption, masquerading as corrections.
Meanwhile, he waits, he fights, he strengthens himself.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Live From Death Row, Mumia Abu-Jamal (edited by Noelle Hanrahan) Harper's Perrenial, 1995
Tags: Corruption, Disciplinary Custody Unit, Epilepsy, Live From Death Row