Anthology of prison writing by a radical icon.
A divisive figure, Abu-Jamal (Jailhouse Lawyers, 2009, etc.) was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia policeman, a charge he and his supporters have ever since attributed to official misconduct. (In 2011, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.) As prominent fan Cornel West observes in his fiery foreword, “Mumia Abu-Jamal’s voice is always on the side of those who are fighting against domination, and that is one of the highest functions of Black prophetic activity.” Abu-Jamal’s writing tends to be forceful, outraged, and humorous, but he also engages in the bombastic approaches of another era. Early columns focus on his admiration for the cultish radical group MOVE, notoriously bombed by Philadelphia authorities in 1985 following years of conflict between police and blacks. From his captive perspective, the author offers powerful columns on diverse subjects ranging from the plight of black farmers to the crushing of dissent after 9/11. Some remain all too relevant—e.g., those decrying systemic police brutality as seen in flashpoints from Rodney King to Ferguson or the rise of racial disparities in drug sentencing. Abu-Jamal meditates on central figures in the black political narrative, ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Trayvon Martin. Yet some columns indulge in radical-left gamesmanship, as when he dismisses the salutary effects of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling: “Let the bourgeoisie and the Black middle class celebrate Brown. Meanwhile, let the rest of us ignore it.” As a collection that spans from 1982 to 2014, these topical essays testify to the effects of incarceration on mind and spirit. While his prose has sharpened over time, Abu-Jamal remains enraged and pessimistic about an America that, in his view, remains wholly corrupt: “[Blacks] know from bitter experience that while Americans may say one thing, they mean something quite different.”
Bracing polemics that will appeal primarily to the Occupy demographic.