JailHouse Lawyers- a ReViewSforTheReVoLution

root - Posted on 09 December 2009

PNN reviews Mumia Abu Jamal's powerful new book

PNN reviews Mumia Abu Jamal's powerful new book


by Marlon Crump/PNN

"Jailhouse Lawyers, we are learning, are often people of extraordinary firmness who fight for a law that rarely fights for them."

" Unity is feared...........isolation is favored."

--Politically-condemned, death row prisoner, journalist, and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal in his new book, "Jailhouse Lawyers."

"This landmark legislation (Prison Litigation Reform Act) will help bring relief to a civil justice system, overburdened by frivolous prisoner lawsuits. Jailhouse Lawyers, with nothing else to do are tying our courts in knots, with an endless flood of frivolous litigation."

--Senator Orrin Hatch, former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in his support of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, in his opposition against Jailhouse Lawyers.

On April 24th, 2009 I had the honor of attending an event in Oakland, California honoring an extraordinary revolutionary,writer/journalist, author and former Black Panther. Today was his birthday. This event honored a man, who soundly needed no introduction from his peers and supporters, locally and globally:

Mumia Abu-Jamal!

This event honored not only his birthday, but his latest book titled, "Jailhouse Lawyers." Me and my family of POOR Magazine/POOR News Network attended this event, alongside many Mumia supporters. My family of POOR also purchased a copy of his book for POOR's library, while I purchased a copy for myself.

POOR Magazine has launched the REvolutionary Legal Advocacy project that in many ways is a jailhouse lawyer project outside of jail, working to bring accessible justice to folks caught in the Prison Industrial Complex and the non-profit industrial complex.

After singing "Happy Birthday" to Mumia, a candle-sticked cake was brought out for him. Tragically, Mumia wouldn't be here to blow them out.

Since 1981, Mumia has been wrongfully incarcerated for his alleged killing of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania police Officer, Daniel Faulkner. Despite his innocence vs. a racist prosecution, jury, and judge; Mumia was sentenced to death. The only thing that has (and continues) to keep him alive on death row is his voice, the voice of the people, and Almighty God that refuses to let him die.

Though many continue to fight to have him freed on the OUTSIDE, we at least got to hear him on a speaker. On the speaker, Mumia expressed his love for everyone in attendance to this event.........................FROM THE INSIDE!

"As Mumia has repeatedly pointed out, those of us who live in the 'free world' are not unaffected by the system of state violence, that relies on imprisonment, and capital punishment as pivotal strategies for ordering society. While those behind bars suffer the most direct effects of this system, its raced, gendered, and sexualized modes of violence bolster the institutions and ideologies that inform our lives on the outside."

Former Black Panther, Angela Davis in her foreword review of Jailhouse Lawyers.

"The law, as we have seen, is an elusive thing. Yet how can we say what the law is without looking at the people who wear the title "judge"? Whether one wins or loses in the wheel of fortune that is law, a definitive factor is often the judge on the case." Mumia says in Jailhouse Lawyers.

Jailhouse Lawyers reference those sentiments from above. It details how prisoners seldom receive competent, effective, or even adequate representation from lawyers in criminal trials.

Alternatively, they have to seek aid from inmates of self-acquired legal skills via jailhouse lawyer(or their own selves) who boldly challenge the U.S "Legal System" in spite of their incarceration, or retaliation from prison officials for their efforts.

The court system is allegedly aimed for the "equal rights and justice for all." However, the only voices often heard in courtrooms are the beneficiary-to-the judiciary.

Translation: The wealthy class.

"It is the will of one class made into a rule for all"
Karl Marx, quoted in Jailhouse Lawyers.

Many jailhouse lawyers, (many of whom do not have a high school diploma), are able to articulate facts relating to their own cases to combat the corrupt activities within court system.

Mumia chronicles numerous stories surrounding the experiences of those who faced incarceration, but narrowly escaped with the power of the pen, and the tongue of one (or more) like-minded individuals possessing self-invented legal minds. Like-minded individuals who were immensely unafraid, to divinely deter the injustices they faced in prison.

"Saving someone's life via pen and paper is a rewarding and unforgettable experience." stated jailhouse lawyer, nicknamed "Running Bear."

Mumia deconstructs the entire corruptive constructs rooted in the contradictive, confusing force that is historically known as American Law. Its callous vulture-culture continues to clash its claws upon the working poor, and the poor in general.

Mumia exposes the origins of these constructs from three men, who the U.S monumentalizes as its proud "Founding Fathers." One was wealthy, the other was a lawyer who despised the "common people" (the poor) and last but not least, was another man who was wealthy, yet complex.

Their names: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, the nation's first three U.S Presidents, who stood in the forefront of America's revolt against the British.

He defines and explains the true goal of the "Prison Litigation Reform Act". "Like a thief in the night, the Prison Reform Litigation Act was attached as a rider (a usually minor clause attached to a bill) to an omnibus appropriations bill, and signed into a law................without a committee markup (a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee explaining its provisions) drastically changing the law and legal procedure."

This "act" was "snuck in" by former President, Bill Clinton in 1996. Because of this "law" it led to a destructive effect on the lives and liberties of millions of people.

Mumia provides a link regarding the "Welfare Reform Act" that severely impacted poor people (also enacted by Bill Clinton) and thus far beforehand, the U.S enactment of the "Slave Codes" during the slave era. Today, those very same "codes" are now "Prison Codes." Its true mission, in its fatiguely-facist form is quite apparent, given today's slavery/incarceration-industrial profitable complex.

Ironically, the roots of self-representation occurred during the American Revolution, where most English colonists despised lawyers.

In 1776, over a decade before the introduction of the "U.S Constitution, the State of Pennsylvania's "freemen"adopted a "Declaration of Rights" alongside of the U.S Constitution. In the words of the Ninth Article, 'In all prosecutions for criminal offenses, a man hath a right to be heard by himself and his counsel."

But the extreme crucial question from Mumia, as he said it best was, "What does it mean when you hath a right to be heard, when no one wants to hear you?"

John Africa, founder of revolutionary organization based out of Philadelphia called MOVE, rejects the system, and representation of lawyers. On May 13th, 1981 Africa and other Move members were arrested on May 13th, 1981 for allegedly implementing terrorist acts, by the means of bombs and explosives.

Over a month later during the trial, Africa had this to say to the court:

"Bombs backfire on the people that create them and all those that believe in them, because bombs are explosive, destructive, and corruptive. But wisdom is informing, and when you put what is right to a person, you ain't in danger of getting wrong back! That is the difference between what I use as my defense (my bomb) and what the government use as their so-called defense......their bomb."

This, among his many arguments led to the freedom of John Africa, and a few others of MOVE that were facing trumped up charges that would've led to a decade conviction of federal prison time.

In a tragically-ironic, twisted chain of events, Africa and eleven other MOVE members were brutally murdered, by the very terroristic means that he was charged with........... four years earlier: May 13th, 1985! Philadelphia Police illegally obtained explosives (including C-4) from federal law enforcement that killed the eleven members, which included women and children.

"Jailhouse Lawyers" talks about the overcrowding of incarcerated women. Central California Women's Facility (C.C.W.F) in Chowchilla, alongside Valley State Prison for Women (V.S.P.W) is the largest prison complex in the world. "And it is overcrowded." Mumia explains.

"With the growing imprisonment of women comes the need for more jailhouse lawyers to assist them." says jailhouse lawyer, David Resendez Ruiz. Ruiz helped reform the entire prison system that began in 1971, with a 30 pg. complaint and a courageous heart; despite prison official retaliation against him, as he exposed the plantation-equivalent corrupt prisons, within the State of Texas.

Mumia's book not only talks about self-representtion on the inside, but on the outside as well, In chapter four, titled "What about Street Lawyers?" He talks about a lawyer, by the name of Clarence Darrow, who in his 1902 speech, "Address to the Prisoners in Cook County Jail," sparked a wave of self-empowerment to the many in attenance of his address.

Darrow's colleagues, although in agreement with his speech, criticized him for saying his own words to "those people."(prisoners)

"Some of these so-called criminals are in jail for their first offense, but the nine-tenths of you are in jail because you did not have a good lawyer, because you did not have enough money to PAY a GOOD LAWYER." Darrow said in his address. "There is no greater danger of a rich man going to jail."

As I concluded reading Jailhouse Lawyers , I realized in some metaphorical way I personally identified with Mumia. As my mentor "Tiny" Lisa Gray-Garcia, and my family of POOR often refer to me as a "Revolutionary Legal Scholar" and a "Lawyer without a Degree; I often think back to terrible past events that earned me those titles.

Though I've never been incarcerated or arrested a day in my young life, a certain dozen members of the San Francisco Police Department nearly put an end to that accomplishment, as well as an end to my very life.

Exploring an alternate reality, when those police officers illegally stormed my hotel room, unannounced (in a "mistaken identity scenario") with their guns ready to open fire, many what if's come to my mind regarding the night that it occurred.

What if I had a gun (for protection purposes) and I mistook them as burglars? I could've shot and killed one or more of those officers, and they surely would've killed me. Even worse, what if by the grace of Almighty God's hand I survived those barrage of bullets? Who would've believed me innocent, that I was defending myself and my property?

Those of you who read this know the answer. I would surely be in the same political predicament as Mumia Abu-Jamal, himself. In the aftermath of my unsuccessful civil suit against the City and County of San Francisco (as a self-represented party) I became self-fulfilled with the knowledge of how the law, its "system" and the process "really works."

What was additionally-inspiring is at the end of the book in the appendix section; handwritten photo-copied petitions and documents, by the jailhouse lawyers themselves.

This shows the tenacity and willpower of one so driven to receive their justice so badly, they'll do things themselves. Skill vs will, and/or the incorporation of both. As a living testimony of crafting legal pleading papers, citing proper legal authorities, and complying with the paper filing processes, I can second those sentiments.

Reading Jailhouse Lawyers proved many things to me, and to the world of one's remarkable ability of self-representation, and self-empowerment for those that seek justice, un-misguided by fraudulent lawyer representation.

Whether people are incarcerated or not, the following empowering words could be heard:



.IN PRO PER POWER.....................TO ALL PEOPLE!

And at the end of the day, they can tell themselves that NO ONE is really a fool for their own lawyer....................NO ONE!

"Men and women, often self-taught, have developed a tradition of self-less service and in some cases excellence, to serve the needs of society's dispossessed. To be one of that number has been a challenge and an honor to this writer, who offers this reportage to illustrate what transpires in the depths of America, the Prison house of Nations."

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Death Row, January 2009.


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