Prison Radio

This interview with Philadelphia hip hop artist and Mumia Abu-Jamal’s daughter, Goldii, was done by Rogelio Velázquez and excerpted in his article “101 Countries Retain the Death Penalty” published in the Mexican magazine Contralínea on August 21, 2011.

Contralínea: Goldii, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this important interview. At Contralínea magazine we consider it important to publish these kinds of legal cases in order to build a world without the death penalty. For this reason, we would like to ask you to describe a day of Mumia’s confinement and also to talk about your experience of visiting him in prison.

Goldii: First and foremost I want to thank you for reaching out to me. My father will be proud that you are doing this work to educate people on abolishing the death penalty.

ContralíneaWe think this work could be helpful not only for Mumia, but also for all the prisoners who spend their lives in these places. First of all, I want to know if you have visited your dad in prison and how often have you done it?

 Goldii: Yes I have visited him in prison. He’s been on death row since I was 2 ½ years old, so I can’t even count how may times I’ve been there to see him. I’m planning to visit him again very soon and I’ll be taking my two daughters… his granddaughters. He’ll be meeting the baby for the first time, so we are really looking forward to this trip.

Contralínea: Could you describe the prison where Mumia is?

Goldii: The prison is called SCI Green, and it is a super maximum-security prison. On the outside it has the appearance of a new college campus or something closely related, then when you get closer you see barbed wire and fences everywhere. There are several buildings with control towers about them for surveillance. The place gives me a chilling type of feeling. Everything feels wrong, and it makes me want to take my dad and go home.

ContralíneaWhat does his cell look like?

Goldii: Since visitors are not permitted beyond the visiting area, I’m not sure what his cell looks like. But the visitation rooms are very small, and a wall with a large plexiglass window divides us. There are screens at the bottom so we can communicate. But the acoustics in the room are bad because the sound bounces off the walls in the tiny room, only making it difficult for us to hear one another.

ContralíneaAre the walls painted? 

Goldii: The walls are all white in the visiting room… then again, I might be wrong, but even if the place were colored like a rainbow, I probably wouldn’t notice because the atmosphere is so cold and unwelcoming there. It seemed all white and bland to me.

Contralínea: Is there furniture inside?

Goldii: There are only chairs in the visiting area. He has a small bunk with a toilet and sink in his cell.

Contralínea: What is the revision process for getting in? (Are you searched? Can you take anything in with you?)

Goldii: When we go in we have to show ID even the kids need a picture ID. Then we get a key to lock up all of our personal belongings. After that, we walk through a metal detector, removing all jewelry, belts, underwire bras… everything with metal on it. Then we are called individually to a room where we are checked by a machine that detects drug paraphernalia or residue on the clothing or skin. They even tested my daughter, and she was about 6 years old at the time. The next thing we did was walk through another set of metal detectors, at which point, we were escorted to a check point where we had to brandish our ID again to be permitted to enter the visiting area. In the visiting area we were seated in a room where my dad came to meet us, on the other side, but sometimes he made it there before we did.

ContralíneaDo your family and friends visit him? How often?

Goldii: Yes my family visits as often as we can.

ContralíneaTell me about your trip from your house to the prison. How do you feel on the road?

Goldii: The trip takes about 5-6 hours and it’s a very desolate road full of mountainous terrain. It seems like no one lives there.

ContralíneaWhat do you think about?

Goldii: When I’m traveling to the prison so many things go through my mind, but I always seem to arrive at this one thought where I’m imagining my father’s first ride to SCI Green, and all the things he was thinking about and all the feelings he had. I imagine him feeling afraid, and powerless, not being able to get away and come back home to us. It’s a lonely ride, and I imagine him feeling incredibly alone. I’m always happy and excited to see him, but the ride makes me sad.

ContralíneaDo you feel happy when you see him?

Goldii: When I see my father I have so many feelings. Of course I am happy, but I’m also frustrated that I cannot embrace him, and that he can’t hold and hug my daughters. I also feel hurt and angry that he is treated as less than a human being, locked away and caged like a beast. It’s a very painful experience having to see him being treated that way.

ContralíneaHow much time and money do you spend when you visit him?

Goldii: We visit as a group, and split the cost of gas between each person riding. The ride is between 5-6 hours long, and we are allowed to visit for 5 hours.

Contralínea: What do you talk about with him?

Goldii: We talk about our family. I share funny stories about my girls and my nieces and nephews. I love to hear his laugh; it’s like a temporary escape from the hell he has to live in. We also talk about politics, music, what’s going on with hip-hop. I tell him about the rallies we have to free him and about the massive crowds of people of all kinds that come from all over the world in support of him.  We talk about everything.

ContralíneaWhat is he like? I mean, is he optimistic despite his condition?  Is he calm, friendly, sad, shy, serious, quiet, etc?

Goldii: He is brilliant. Simply put, he is an amazing individual that I am blessed to love and to know. He stands tall behind that plexiglass window with an aura of positive light around him. He is welcoming and warm, silly and fun, serious and introspective and surprisingly nerdy (laughing to myself, this is a personal joke between my parents and myself). Death row was designed to break the human spirit, but his spirit is alive and well. His mind is razor sharp, he is impressive to listen to… very intelligent.

ContralíneaWhat did he used to be like before imprisonment?

Goldii: My memories of him before imprisonment are very limited.

ContralíneaBesides writing, what kind of things does Mumia like to do?

Goldii: He studies and writes music. He wrote my mom the most beautiful love song. He is also an amazing artist as well.

Contralínea: What is the hardest experience for you during your visits? And for your family?

Goldii: The hardest part of visiting my father is leaving him in that place, knowing he doesn’t belong there. It’s a shattering experience. Leaving him in that hell hole.

Contralínea:What do you think about on your way back home?

Goldii: I always wonder what he’s doing and what happens to him as soon as we leave. I think about our conversation and imagine him smiling.

ContralíneaHow is the family life affected when a family member is condemned to death?

Goldii: This has been devastating for my family. Without being too detailed, let’s just say I could write a book about it. 

ContralíneaDo you trust in the U.S. system of justice after the 29 years that your dad has been a prisoner?

Goldii: I’d like to think the justice system was fair at this day and age, but history has shown me otherwise. No I don’t trust the justice system.

ContralíneaDo you think Mumia’s sentence is racist? Why?

Goldii: Yes, I know that his guilty conviction was based on race. The judge that sentenced him was a racist and was overheard calling my father a Nigger. In addition to that, Black and Latino men and women are placed in prison and especially on death row in largely disproportionate numbers as compared to their white counterparts who are convicted of similar crimes. He was targeted as a danger to society, a black man in the media with the potential to awaken the minds of the community, the potential to stir up rebellion against the oppressor… In the U.S., that’s a problem that ‘needs dealin’ with’.

ContralíneaDo you think racism continues to exist in the U.S.?

Goldii: Yes absolutely. Despite the fact that the U.S. President is a Black man, racism continues to exist in America, and it would be foolish to believe that it doesn’t.

ContralíneaWhy do you think the death penalty continues to be a punishment in the U.S. system?

Goldii: Politics maybe??? The courts are like vampires… blood-thirsty.

ContralíneaThe current U.S. President, mister Obama, promised a historic political change. Why, despite this, is your dad is still in jail?

Goldii: My father is still considered to be a dangerous individual… his mind is what they fear, there is overwhelming evidence that would exonerate him of his conviction. He is an innocent man and the commonwealth has always known this, but being too black, too smart, and too strong… are all more threatening components than the characteristics present in any crazed murderer in society.  The government will silence anyone that possesses the power to open the minds of “the People”.

ContralíneaDo you think if Mumia were liberated, it would mean justice?

Goldii: Justice delayed… but yes.

ContralíneaWould it be possible to make up for the time he spent in prison?

Goldii: It is impossible to replace time. I can’t go back and be 3 years old again, I can’t go back and graduate from 5th grade again, so he can be there. There were events in life that he missed, that will never, can never be replaced. That is incredibly saddening.

ContralíneaPlease explain the latest legal information in the case.

Goldii: The courts have agreed with the defense team that there were disputable issues with the sentencing phase of the trial. That means that they are going to review and make a new decision as to whether my father will remain on death row, or serve a life sentence. The issue of guilt/innocence is not a current consideration in the courts. His conviction is being upheld. The conviction needs to be placed on the table, because he is an innocent man.  

ContralíneaFeel free to add anything that you consider relevant.

Goldii: Thanks. We will be keeping up with all the new information on the case.

ContralíneaGreetings from Mexico City.