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All Things Censored by Mumia Abu Jamal

Seven Stories Press, 335 page paperback, $14.95

Review by Gary Hunter

For nearly two decades Mumia Abu Jamal has defied the deathgrip of Pennsylvania's death row. For nearly two decades he has revealed secrets that our nation's most powerful leaders do not want the public to hear. For nearly two decades he has proven to be quicksilver in the hands of a rabid institution that clamors for his death.

All Things Censored takes its name from a National Public Radio news magazine All Things Considered, which initially embraced Jamal's work but later, under pressure from the federal government, suppressed it. It is a collection of sensitive and sobering essays about prison life, the judicial system, and especially life on death row. It is a drop of Jamal's quicksilver blood that has slipped through the cracks of a sociopathic penal system, a system that has broken every rule and violated every ethic in an effort to keep him silent. All Th ings Censored : a plague of fiery hail for some and manna from heaven for others.

There are no statistics in All Things Censored ; Jamal has put a face on every single number caged within the dissolute walls of North American justice. He has given a voice to the disenfranchised of every race who have either dared to challenge or simply had the misfortune to encounter the Simon Legree system where colorless men with straight hair dole out selective justice; where "alien rural accents" assault the "urban ears" of America's newest chattel. Jamal is living proof that racism, corruption, censorship, and oppression are alive and well in the U.S. Judicial system.

The opening story is one of victory. Jay Smith, an old white man, falsely accused and convicted of murder, is going home after 12 years on death row. The prosecution couldn't sustain the conviction it built on a foundation of lies and deceit. Jay is a vital beginning. He is the flame of hope flickering inside every heart on death row. Without Jay, without that light, no death row prisoner survives as anything more than an empty shell.

The second story is about "old head," Norman Whaley, the 44 year old prison elder who died of an upset stomach. Years of taking antacids alerted no one to his problem. When the pain got too intense, nurses brought him Tylenol. After days of complaining, they took "old head" to the hospital. The medical tests were negative; they stuck him back in his cell. In the weeks that followed, Norman Whaley died a slow and painful death from pancreatic cancer.

And so it goes, on and on, for nearly a hundred essays, each more poignant than the one before; but none ,more compelling than the life of the author himself. Anyone who does not know the story of Mumia AbuJamal has missed a significant piece of contemporary social history. Violently extricated from the City of Brotherly Love for allegedly killing a policeman, Jamal was slammed onto Pennsylvania death row based on the conflicting and inconsistent testimony of two prostitutes and a drunk. Defense attorneys have shown that all three witnesses had something to gain from their testimony. ALL Things Censored exposes just how corrupt the judicial system can be. A must read for those who would know why the caged bird sings; for those who would know about the "American way of death."

Readers note that Mumia Abu Jamal is a columnist for PLN . His most recent column appears on page 6 of this issue.

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