By Johanna Fernandez.
Comrades, Brothers and Sisters:
Heidi Boghosian and I just returned from a very moving visit with Mumia.
We visited yesterday, Thursday, February 2. This was Mumia's second
contact visit in over 30 years, since his transfer to General Population
last Friday, Jan 27. His first contact visit was with his wife, Wadiya,
on Monday, January 30.
Unlike our previous visits to Death Row at SCI Greene and to solitary
confinement at SCI Mahanoy, our visit yesterday took place in a large
visitor's area, amidst numerous circles of families and spouses who were
visiting other inmates. Compared to the intense and focused
conversations we had had with Mumia in a small, isolated visiting cell
on Death Row, behind sterile plexiglass, this exchange was more relaxed
and informal and more unpredictably interactive with the people around
us...it was more human. There were so many scenes of affection around
us, of children jumping on top of and pulling at their fathers, of
entire families talking intimately around small tables, of couples
sitting and quietly holding each other, and of girlfriends and wives
stealing a forbidden kiss from the men they were there to visit (kisses
are only allowed at the start and at the end of visits). These scenes
were touching and beautiful, and markedly different from the images of
prisoners presented to us by those in power. Our collective work could
benefit greatly from these humane, intimate images.
When we entered, we immediately saw Mumia standing across the room. We
walked toward each other and he hugged both of us simultaneously. We
were both stunned that he would embrace us so warmly and share his
personal space so generously after so many years in isolation.
He looked young, and we told him as much. He responded, "Black don't crack!" We laughed.
He talked to us about the newness of every step he has taken since his
release to general population a week ago. So much of what we take for
granted daily is new to him, from the microwave in the visiting room to
the tremor he felt when, for the first time in 30 years, he kissed his
wife. As he said in his own words, "the only thing more drastically
different than what I'm experiencing now would be freedom." He also
noted that everyone in the room was watching him.
The experience of breaking bread with our friend and comrade was
emotional. It was wonderful to be able to talk and share grilled cheese
sandwiches, apple danishes, cookies and hot chocolate from the visiting
room vending machines.
One of the highlights of the visit came with the opportunity to take a
photo. This was one of the first such opportunities for Mumia in
decades, and we had a ball! Primping the hair, making sure that we
didn't have food in our teeth, and nervously getting ready for the big
photo moment was such a laugh! And Mumia was openly tickled by every
second of it.
When the time came to leave, we all hugged and were promptly instructed
to line up against the wall and walk out with the other visitors. As we
were exiting the prison, one sister pulled us aside and told us that she
couldn't stop singing Kelly Clarkson's line "some people wait a
lifetime for a moment like this." She shared that she and her parents
had followed Mumia's case since 1981 and that she was overjoyed that
Mumia was alive and in general population despite Pennsylvania's
bloodthirsty pursuit of his execution. We told her that on April 24 we
were going to launch the fight that would win Mumia's release: that on
that day we were going to Occupy the Justice Department in Washington
DC. She told us that because she recently survived cancer she now
believed in possibility, and that since Mumia was now in general
population she could see how we could win. She sent us off with the line
from Laverne and Shirley's theme song - "never heard the word
impossible!"- gave us her number, and asked us to sign her up for the
We're still taking it all in. The journey has been humbling and humanizing, and we are re-energized and re-inspired!!
In the words of City Lights editor, Greg Ruggiero:"
"Long Term Goal: End Mass Incarceration.
Short Term Goal: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!"