As I emerge from the sterile lobby of SCI Mahanoy, I always feel drained. On my last visit I was bone tired, sad, yet undaunted.
The warm hug Mumia and I shared standing in front of the visiting room guard’s dais was accompanied by a revealing answer to my question:
“How are you,” I inquired? “Fair to middling,” was Mumia’s answer.
In 31 years I have heard “fair to middling” only a few times, in each case his health was precarious or becoming precarious.
Mumia immediately followed up his comment with what he knew I wanted to hear. That he was “on it.” That he was putting in a sick call slip. That he was “paying close attention,” and that he was meeting and reaching out to his doctor.
Mumia new commentary, No Place for Old Men: Prisons, speaks about the reality of aging inside, and notes that the American Public Health Association watching the number of deaths rise in prison has called for the release of the encaged elderly. APHA notes that the conditions of imprisonment is “elder abuse”, and release of prisoners is an urgent public health crisis.
Mumia’s condition, and the condition of many of our correspondents mean we stay attentive. We listen. We keep visiting. We do the work to expose the inhumane food and conditions policies. We keep our focus. We take it seriously. And we deepen the work to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and realize abolition.
My visit was a legal visit: I was following up on his post double bypass access to cardiac rehabilitation. The two key ingredients in the recovery from heart surgery are a healthy diet and exercise: neither of which is provided or made possible by this prison SCI Mahanoy, or the PA DOC. In March 2021 when Mumia had open heart surgery he was prescribed a cardiac diet upon release from LeHigh Valley Medical Center, but never given access to it. The PA Department of Corrections did acknowledge after rounds of denials of his grievances that he had an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) which required accommodation and that the menu must be “heart healthy.”
They avoid giving him this accommodation by asserting that the menu meets the nutritional standard for cardiac rehabilitation care. His medical legal team is drilling down, documenting the standard used by the DOC dietitian who asserts that it is “heart healthy.”
Mumia is still, some two and a half years after his cardiac surgery, being denied an adequate diet: meaningful amounts of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed protein, i.e., food that is not loaded up with salt and preservatives. The food on the trays at the PA DOC may literally cause heart disease. The majority of calories are from processed starches, the bread, potatoes, and rice are all white. A piece of fruit appears on the trays three times a week. Salad consists of a few pieces of lettuce once or twice a week. On a rare Sunday there will be a piece of whole wheat bread. Entrees have no accounting for saturated fats, oils, or level of sodium and processing.
The PA DOC has the ability and sometimes provides better food to prisoners for a variety medical and religious reasons: renal diets, celiac diets, non-lactate diets, religious diets, etc. Why might they refuse to provide adequate food to everyone? Is it the cozy Aramark contracts? Is it the cost which would only be pennies more per meal? Because brown rice and multi grain flour costs more? Because packaged food with extra preservatives and high salt contents are made by contractors and have a shelf life? Because most of the 40,000 prisoners are poor and folks of color?
Naomi Klein describes how the government uses natural disasters to roll out policies that privilege privatization and profit over health. “Disaster Capitalism” is the phrase she coined, and it applies here to the prison’s use of COVID to modify everything from out of cell time, food service, to visiting access.
Exercise is key to cardiac health, yet, Mumia Abu-Jamal is locked inside his 11 by 7 cell with 18 inches between the bed and the wall and must use a buzzer (answered by guards) to leave his cell to go to the yard or the day room. His cell, where he is most of the time, has less than 5 square feet to stand up in and to move. Let’s not call it walking. Mumia can go outside of his cell for a total of 6.5 hours a day. This time is often cut short as yard can be canceled due to lockdowns, snow, rain, fog, hail, and staffing shortages.
As Jihad Abdulmumit, on the Board of Directors of Abolitionist Law Center, and Chair of the National Jericho Movement, and convener of International Tribunal says – “we must democratize information and we must institutionalize liberation.”
Thank you for standing with us, and Mumia and all of our correspondents, for all of these years.
When We Fight, We Win
When We Love, We Win
When We Survive, We Win
Noelle Hanrahan, Esq. P.I.
Co Director Prison Radio, Board President The Redwood Justice Fund