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Death Blossoms

Review by Mark Cook

Mumia Abu Jamal's Death Blossoms walks the reader through a hallway of mirrors reflecting the thoughts of a prisoner of conscience contending with the oppressive diversion of a death sentence. Death Blossoms evades the State's attempt to silence him. In an effort to silence him the State served him with a write-up, a misconduct report, for engaging in a business by writing and having published his former book, Live from Death Row. The State does not take criticism of its fallibility well. His first order of business, no pun intended, in Death Blossoms is to point out, "the writer who is endorsed by the State is the writer who says what everyone wants to hear." He tells his readers that he will keep "right on writing. You keep right on reading!"

One cannot find much credibility in a prisoner on death row condemning the death penalty but Mumia's perspective appears to hit the nail right on the head given the "get tough on crime" theme of contemporary politicians. Mumia says "the death penalty is a creation of the State, and politicians justify it by using it as a stepping stone to a higher political office." The originality of his further argument fades as he relies on much repeated observations that the death penalty is imposed overwhelmingly on the most vulnerable in the economy, the poor, most of whom cannot afford the resources to develop an adequate defense to compete with the unlimited resources of criminal prosecutors. He observes it is no wonder minority prisoners are the majority on death row, being the majority per capita among the poor.

The death row prisoner stereotype preoccupied with religion is disturbed by Mumia's critical reflections. Mumia's observations of the effect of organized and disorganized religion on himself and, more particularly, as it relates to the African-American community dominates the majority of his thoughts. The reader will find his reality check on religion informative to the point it will be useful in understanding the good, the bad and the ugly of religious traditions. In his search for religion he found his mother's Bible whacking, fire and brimstone Baptist church too unintelligible for him, his father's Episcopalian cold, empty church was not enough. The Synagogue Yiddish requirements were a barrier, the Catholic church was far too racist and the nationalism of the Muslim Mosque proved to be no more than a Baptist church in a bow-tie. Mumia finally settled with the religion of John Africa's MOVE movement, love all life, protect life, move in harmony with life. Mumia's search for religion was more like shopping for a suit of clothes. He finally finds one that fits. But if there is any message in his long monologue on religion it is that one religion does not fit all.

Mumia's dialogue with Allen Hougland at the conclusion of the book allows the reader to view a more composite picture of the author's political and social character. It does not focus on a plea to save Mumia from the death penalty but reveals the social and political character of a person who was sincerely motivated toward contributing to progressive social change while in parallel he sought and continues to seek spiritual peace with all the world, man and beast.

Death Blossoms is a book that should be read by those seeing contradictions in the social fabric, the state and organized religion by those seeking answers to their own troubling thoughts.

To order send $12.00 to: Plough Publishing House, Rd 2, Box 446 Farmington, PA 15437. 1-800-521-8011.

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