The following slightly edited April 10 commentary by political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is available at prisonradio.org/media/audio/mumia.
For nearly a month now, all prisoners in Pennsylvania state prisons — over 40,000 men and women — have been locked down. What does “locked down” mean?
When I was on death row, all of us were locked down — as the saying went: “23 and 1.” Or for 23 hours a day, with 1 hour for out-of-cell exercise in a cage. After over a decade, it went to 22 and 2.
But this lockdown is occasioned by the coronavirus. Meals in the chow hall, visits with family and friends, religious services, classes, prison jobs — all are offline.
On the rare occasion a prisoner leaves the cell, he or she wears a paper or cloth face mask. Several states, like New Jersey, for example, have followed suit. And then there are county prisons where the sheer overcrowding leads to chaos.
In Philadelphia county prisons an estimated 18 people — prisoners — have the virus. Then comes Cook County, Ill., where over 400 men have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s a county joint.
For some men and women, being in prison in county jails isn’t just something that resembles death row. For them it will be a new death row. For that jail cell will be the place they die.
Mass incarceration is so much a part of U.S. life that the opposite idea — decarceration — begins to sound crazy. But the truth is it wasn’t always this way.
This scourge is the product of neoliberal politics. And if neoliberalism caused this problem, how can it ever solve the problem?
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.