[Pnews] Mumia’s Skin Disease and Mass Incarceration as Lethal Threat

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 19 11:14:36 EDT 2015

Weekend Edition June 19-21, 2015

*A Chronically Lethal System*

  Mumia’s Skin Disease and Mass Incarceration as Lethal Threat


Mumia Abu-Jamal’s fight today for his physical health exposes the 
pervasive inhumanity of US mass incarceration’s very nature. It is a 
lethal system.

Abu-Jamal is currently incarcerated in a Frackville, Pennsylvania state 
prison, serving a Life Without Possibility of Parole sentence (LWOPP). 
That began after nearly 30 years on death row for a death sentence that 
courts ruled unconstitutional in 2011.

But Abu-Jamal’s imprisoned body is now confined in another way. He is 
encased from head-to-toe by a skin disease that has remained undiagnosed 
since January. Dr. Johanna Fernandez, Fulbright Scholar and historian at 
Baruch College/CUNY, who has visited Abu-Jamal regularly for over a 
decade saw him this past Saturday, June 13, and her report includes 
these descriptive phrases:

    *A leather patch now covers Abu-Jamal’s whole body

    * He is told his hemoglobin levels have been going down

    * His skin . . . is “really, really dark and leathery” from head to toe

    * His face seemed a bit swollen and darker that I’ve ever seen it

    * Two finger tips have visibly cracked lesions that look painful

    * He still has open lesions on his legs

    * His feet and toes were very swollen

    * Prison infirmary doctors tell Abu-Jamal, “when the body is healing
    itself it releases fluid”

    * Nurses and specialists at the nearby Geisinger Medical Center,
    where Abu-Jamal received professional and humane treatment for a
    brief time in May, report they “have never seen a case like this before”

Abu-Jamal’s tightening and painful leather encasement of his body is a 
kind of prison within the prison for him. Indeed, for nearly all the 
confined, especially for the sick and elderly, the chronic systems of 
medical mistreatment in US prisons forge another imprisoning sphere, one 
of sickness, desperation and dying.

Moreover, stunningly, no diagnosis for this condition has been given to 
Abu-Jamal, his family or attorneys. For 6 long months, the prison has 
proven incapable of diagnosing this serious attack on Abu-Jamal’s 
health. Along with the skin disease, he developed diabetes triggered by 
prison doctors’ experimental application of steroidal cream. Despite 
documented, elevated levels of blood sugar in the prison infirmary, 
doctors there did nothing to address the fatally high blood sugar spikes 
until he collapsed and went into diabetic shock. His blood sugar 
registered at 779, accompanied also by a catastrophically high sodium 

Not surprisingly, though, the prison has been quite capable – indeed 
relentless – in keeping Abu-Jamal’s weakened body in custody. Only 
national and international advocacy successfully forced his transport 
from his guarded prison infirmary to outside medical centers. Even then, 
he was kept hidden from family, friends and lawyers. He was monitored 
24/7 by a full six prison guards while at the hospital, where he also 
was kept shackled to his bed, even during medical testing.

In short, prisons prioritize security procedures over medical care. They 
know no other way.

This is mass incarceration’s war on life and health. University of 
California law professor Jonathan Simon writes in his 2014 book, /Mass 
Incarceration on Trial/ 

    . . . the very things that define mass incarceration as a
    distinctive mode of punishment – its scale, its categorical nature,
    and its prioritization of custody over reform or rehabilitation –
    all predict that intensified health crises will be an inherent
    problem (88).

Simon’s words are about California, a state where even the courts now 
have found persistently incompetent medical care to be a form of torture 
and a violation of the Eighth Amendment against “cruel and unusual 
punishment” (89). Simon emphasizes that in California “litigation had 
begun for the first time to define mass incarceration as /the source/ of 
unconstitutional conditions” (108, emphasis added).

Any who may have desired Abu-Jamal silenced and dead – and Pennsylvania 
officials have made no secret about the strength of this desire – have 
only to wait upon the prison system to do its work. Mass incarceration 
kills. This is not death by old age. Mass incarceration /makes/ one 
“elderly,” unduly vulnerable to disease and debilitation. It is the 
manufacture of premature high-risk aging. Analysts argue that by age 55 
one should be categorized as “elderly” in prison – many lower that age 
to 50 for all who are incarcerated more than 10 years. The ACLU’s 
in-depth analysis “The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly 
calculates that by 2030 the number of those 55 and over in US prisons 
will skyrocket to over 400,000, this being a 4,400% increase in elderly 
prisoners since 1981 when mass incarceration rates began to rise 

This chronically lethal system, though, also includes prison guards who 
assume their own right to torture and kill prisoners. They have been 
known to intentionally handle patients roughly. Bureau of Justice 
statistics report that prison guards and staff are responsible 
<http://www.propublica.org/article/guards-may-be-responsible-for-half-of-prison-sexual-assaults> for 
as much as half of sexual assaults in prison. Court-mandated studies 
studies document “systematic hostility of correctional officers to 
medical treatment for prisoners and to those who provide it” (Simon, 
101). Prisons themselves are lethal cultures, simmering with a tension 
that Columbia University Law Professor Robert Ferguson describes in his 
book, /Inferno/ 
/as always prone to violence, a violence that guards come to desire 
(95-137). Prison personnel can kill for various reasons, as in Florida 
of 2014 where there occurred murders of 346 prisoners 
<http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/14/1357661/-Poisonings-beatings-gassings-Record-346-inmates-die-dozens-of-guards-fired-in-Florida-prisons> by 
law enforcement and prison guard personnel.

/The New York Times /ended a 2014 editorial 
“The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, 
social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.”

But no one has written about precisely these matters for so long and as 
directly, eloquently and for so diverse a set of audiences as has 
Abu-Jamal himself. Across eight books – a new one 
<http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Wall-Selected-Writings-Abu-Jamal/dp/0872866750/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1434571085&sr=1-2&keywords=Writing+on+the+Wall&pebp=1434571086888&perid=0FC6ERG5WY4G5H28AHNP> being 
published just this year – and thousands of essays in venues as diverse 
as /Street News, Forbes, /and the /Yale Law Journal, /Abu-Jamal has 
opened the public’s eyes to the multiple ways of the US killing state.

It is Abu-Jamal’s powers of pen and voice for exposing the state’s ways 
of death and torture, and for a mass readership among the poor and 
voiceless, that has driven US officials to seek his death for decades – 
first by execution, and then, failing that, now by the prison system’s 
own chronic modes of lethal assault. Abu-Jamal is an effective catalyst 
for change because he is marked as a “public enemy no. 1″ figure by the 
U.S. killing state while remaining a catalyst for a wide-array of social 
movements against the state’s structural violence.

The people for whom Abu-Jamal writes have kept him alive. Winning his 
release now would be a public event of value to any justice-loving 
people. Abu-Jamal will need well deserved rest and restoration. But with 
his release must come also a coalition of social movement work – to end 
mass incarceration. This means ending its torture of hundreds of 
thousands of elderly in its clutches. It means ending the warehousing of 
the mentally ill 
more of whom are in jails and prisons than reside in state psychiatric 
care facilities. It requires terminating the brutal culture of death 
that mass incarceration institutionalizes. In short, it is time to 
dismantle the US killing state that uses its prison system to control 
and terrorize anyone whose revolutionary work means building truly 
alternative institutions that can safeguard a comprehensive freedom – 
especially for the long colonized, exploited black and brown communities 
and for the growing numbers of the poor today.

This all can begin with the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal today.

/*Mark Lewis Taylor *is Maxwell Upson Professor of Theology and Culture, 
Princeton Theological Seminary and a core member of the Educators for 
Mumia Abu-Jamal team. He will be in DC for the Occupy the Justice 
Department Day on April 24.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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